SI Residents Still Wary of Police

Justin Durán, 22, works near the place where Eric Garner died. (Photo by Camille Padilla-Dalmau via El Diario)

Beginning this month, Staten Island’s 123rd Precinct will become the latest to implement the New York City Police Department’s neighborhood policing program.

Mayor Bill de Blasio made the announcement outside the precinct alongside Chief of Patrol Terrence Monahan and Borough President James Oddo.

“When New Yorkers know and trust their local police, we are all safer as a community,” said the mayor, who is spending the week on Staten Island as part of the “City Hall in Your Borough” initiative.

The mayor detailed figures showing that the precincts where the Neighborhood Coordination Officers (NCO) program has been implemented have seen a reduction in the top seven major felony offenses, which include robbery and homicide.

Also, during the first trimester of 2017, the precincts in the program saw a drop of 29.45 percent in shooting incidents, while precincts not part of the initiative reported a 9.68 percent increase. (Across the city, shootings have decreased 23.2 percent).

Still, the positive effects of the program on crime statistics do not denote that residents of the borough where Eric Garner died choked by a police officer feel more comfortable with the police or trust them more than before.

“People try to avoid contact with them,” said Justin Durán, 22, as he arrived at his work at a mobile phone store located near the place where Garner perished.

The young man said that he has been interrogated on the street by police officers for wearing a black hoodie. “I find them to be more an annoyance than helpful,” he added.

Durán, who is Dominican, was not the only one to speak about his bad experiences with the police. David Figueroa, 47, said that, six months ago, a policeman stopped him simply because he considered that Figueroa looked “suspicious.”

“I think that there is more distrust now than ever before,” said Figueroa.

Figueroa, of Puerto Rican descent, said that he does not believe that things will get better for him “until the officer who is responsible for [Garner’s] death faces justice.”

Garner died on Staten Island [in 2014] within the jurisdiction of the 120th Precinct, where the neighborhood policing program was implemented in 2015.

The program is now active in more than half of the city’s police precincts, including every precinct policing public housing.

Although the program has been in place for two years, 34-year-old Peruvian Evelyn Oblitas said that she does not know the name of any police officers and that she has not noticed any efforts on their part to improve relations with the community.

“I think that there is more respect than trust,” she said about the relationship between the police and the community while she walked with her 5-year-old daughter.

Still, not all residents said they feel distrust. Pier 76 cook Víctor Cruz, 35, said that he has never had a bad experience with police officers and that they frequently visit the pizzeria. “I know who they are, and they wave at me,” said Mexican-born Cruz.

The NYPD is currently developing a system to exchange ideas and suggestions to gather more information on the impact the program is having on communities.

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