By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
A young woman named Monique, who lives one block west at Chauncey and Ralph, says she has been stopped and questioned so many times that she has lost count. "Something like 22 times in a month," she says. "They harass you for sitting on your own stoop, and they take you if you don't have your ID."
Kim Carter, a manager of the Unisex Barber Shop on Howard Avenue, showed the Voice a summons she received for having too much cut hair on the floor just after Thanksgiving last year.
"I'm still going to court for it," says Carter, who has worked in the shop for 10 years. "I think it was wrong, and I think it was total harassment. They mess with the people who are working in the neighborhood."
And a little ways west, along Malcolm X Boulevard, there's Henry Rebaza, a 57-year-old security guard, who says he was given a ticket for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk for less than half a block. He says he was on his way to work.
Business owner Butch Johnson, 51, however, says Mauriello has been a help. "His tactics are unorthodox, but it gets the job done," he says. "I don't have a problem getting searched if I did nothing wrong. I don't mind him bending the rules some, because it's a hot zone."
On the west side of the Brevoort Houses, the Voice spoke with several people at 120 Chauncey, a development named for Jackie Robinson. This is the complex the precinct wanted "blown up."
Once known as a home for middle-class families, the complex has sharply deteriorated in recent years. For at least the past two years, it has been targeted as a troubled location by the police, who routinely place a stationary post outside in the evenings.
Since January 1, 2009, the complex owners have been slapped with 39 building complaints and two dozen violations. The elevators break down constantly, and the complex is listed as one of the city's worst elevator offenders. On a recent visit, the odor of marijuana was strong in the hallway, and someone had spilled a beer in the elevator.
In addition, residents have filed 55 complaints for no heat, no hot water, leaks, cracked ceilings, mold, roaches, and flies in the past year. City inspectors have issued 52 violations on the complex since 2003, including leaks, cracks, mice, bugs, garbage in the hallways, and broken door locks.
A resident named Andre Wade reached into his pocket and pulled out a summons for an arrest outside the complex on April 20, 2010. The officer hadn't even written a specific charge on the ticket.
"They pulled up on the sidewalk, and took four of us down to the precinct for nothing," Wade says. "They say you have a warrant, but when you get to the precinct, there's no warrant."
Another resident, E. Jackson, says he recalls one occasion when a precinct supervisor sang "Danny Boy" as his officers cuffed eight young men for standing outside 120 Chauncey Street.
Ron Hayes, 32, a basketball star at Boys and Girls High School who went to SUNY Farmingdale and played overseas, opted to return to 120 Chauncey with his wife and kids. He runs a small rap recording label called Chauncity Music Group.
Hayes says the police campaign has been too aggressive, and has failed to discern between gangbangers and folks just trying to live their lives: "A lot of these kids end up with criminal backgrounds for no reason," he says. "You take a good kid who ends up getting caught up in a sweep, and that's going to show up in a background check when he goes for a summer job or something else."
The aggressive policing strategy should be coupled with an effort to connect with the community, he says. There aren't a lot of outlets for young people.
"They come here and write tickets all day," he says. "Why not have Community Affairs come and work with the kids?—maybe that will change things."
Even after two years of the aggressive campaign, crime has risen so far this year by 11 percent compared to 2008. There have been eight murders in the precinct so far this year, compared to four at this point last year. Moreover, on several recent nights, the corners were still not clear of people.
Given the increase in killings, Hayes wonders whether the campaign is working.
"Don't you think it's time to change the tactics?" he asks.
The sheer number of arrests in the precinct's street-clearing campaign is all the more remarkable when you take into account just how shorthanded the 81st was.
Overall, the NYPD is down 6,000 officers since 2001. By one estimate, there are only half as many officers assigned to patrol than there were in 2001.
The decline has been caused by retirements and other attrition, and by shrinking budgets. But what also makes it tough to put cops on the street are the numerous work rules, special units, and special assignments and details, which draw officers away from their core duty of patrolling the precinct.
In 1999, the 81st Precinct had 201 uniformed officers. Last summer, that number was down to 171. But 47 of those officers were assigned to special units and 10 were executive staff, leaving 114 officers on patrol. Divided into three shifts, that leaves about 38 officers to work the streets at any one time.