Of­fi­cers hoof it in ‘hotspots’ to bridge com­mu­nity di­vi­sions

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Virtanen

Two of­fi­cers wear­ing bul­let­proof vests walk block af­ter block through one of the tough­est neigh­bor­hoods of this small city that has earned an over­sized rep­u­ta­tion for vi­o­lence, with 55 shoot­ings last year.

Nearly ev­ery third house they pass is boarded up. Oth­ers are strewn with trash. Some young men sit­ting on stoops give hard stares. But the of­fi­cers keep mov­ing, talk­ing to dozens of res­i­dents as they pass.

“Where’ve you been? I’ve been wor­ried about you.” “What’s up, man?” “Did you go to school to­day?”

Older res­i­dents seem happy to see them. Some ask them to stick around. Young chil­dren, herded by their moth­ers, wave and smile.

“You get more by be­ing friendly than by be­ing mis­er­able,” Of­fi­cer Jeff Perez said.

New­burgh’s push to exit squad cars for more fre­quent foot pa­trols is part of an ef­fort in the state’s vi­o­lent crime hotspots to bridge the di­vide be­tween poor urban com­mu­ni­ties and law of­fi­cers sus­pected of pick­ing un­fairly on mi­nori­ties. And it comes at a time when po­lice killings

of mi­nor­ity sus­pects any­where — most re­cently in Colum­bus, Ohio; Tulsa, Ok­la­homa; and Char­lotte, North Carolina — have the abil­ity to cre­ate ten­sions on the street ev­ery­where.

“It’s af­fect­ing us. Things half­way across the coun­try. It’s crazy,” said Of­fi­cer Chris Tabach­nick, Perez’s part­ner on the foot pa­trol.

The foot pa­trols were done in pairs for safety, even be­fore re­cent events, Lt. Richard Car­rion said.

“There was a time in so­ci­ety they were hurt­ing them­selves and we were just the po­lice,” Perez said. “In this day in so­ci­ety, po­lice are tar­gets.”

With about 28,000 peo­ple in nearly 4 square miles, this city 70 miles north of New York City con­sis­tently

has one of the high­est rates of vi­o­lent crime in the state. In­clud­ing the 55 shoot­ings, it recorded four mur­ders, 19 rapes, 128 rob­beries and 261 ag­gra­vated as­saults last year.

New­burgh’s 85-of­fi­cer depart­ment shared a small part of the state’s $13.2 mil­lion grants this year aimed at re­duc­ing vi­o­lent crime, money that went to 20 po­lice de­part­ments in 17 coun­ties. One key em­pha­sis of the 3-year-old pro­gram is en­sur­ing that in­ter­ac­tions be­tween of­fi­cers and in­di­vid­u­als are re­spect­ful, fair and per­ceived that way.

“It’s the face-to-face con­tact, meet­ing peo­ple as peo­ple on equal terms,” said Michael Green, ex­ec­u­tive deputy com­mis­sioner of the

state’s Di­vi­sion of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Ser­vices, which ad­min­is­ters the grants. “It’s hard to do that with a po­lice car.”

At a bodega at the end of their route, Tabach­nick pointed out a man whose brother was killed in a con­fronta­tion with po­lice a few years ago and threat­ened re­venge. And there was an­other who had been shot at but re­fused to say any­thing to po­lice be­cause he is skep­ti­cal of them.

Larry Wil­liams, a retired ware­house worker sit­ting on a stoop by his house, ban­tered with Perez, who met him with a fist bump.

“I en­joy them,” he said of the of­fi­cers. “I don’t know about the rest of the peo­ple.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.