The prevailing message at the well-attended 68th Precinct Community Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 20 was that, due to recent events, more police presence is needed in the neighborhood.
Guest speaker NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill addressed this and other concerns from those in the audience.
O’Neill compared crime today with how it was in 1990. “It’s a different city,” O’Neill said. “It’s been transformed. A lot of things have happened over those 28 years.”
He said that in 1990 there were 2,245 homicides in New York City, while last year there were 292. He also noted that there were 5,000 shootings in 1990 and 790 in 2017.
Audience member Liam McCabe took exception with O’Neill’s comments about falling crime rates. “We have had a murder in this community and an attempted rape and an attempted murder,” McCabe said. “So the crime rates are not what we’ve experienced. You’re painting a rosy picture of the crime rates here and that’s not the way it is.”
O’Neill explained that the department knew it had to evolve and change. He cited the 68th Precinct’s neighborhood policing as an example. “We’re going to continue to push crime down,” he added. “Violence does not seem to be your problem here in the 68. So far this year there’s been two homicides and one shooting. But crime is still an issue. Crime is down 11 percent but we can still do more.”
He stated that the officers also have to be responsive to quality of life issues like drinking and smoking marijuana. He implored residents to go to meetings and get to know their neighborhood coordination officers (NCOs), who are on foot everyday working to solve problems within the community.
Jill Infantolino-Hajjar was concerned about how to keep repeat offenders off the street in light of the arrest of an individual in a recent murder in the neighborhood. She said that she’d read that the alleged murderer was arrested 11 years ago and had 10 prior convictions. She wanted to know what the system can do to keep someone like that off the streets.
“We made an arrest in the homicide that occurred on 93rd Street on Sept. 7,” 68th Precinct commanding officer Captain Robert Conwell said. “The suspect is Anthony Valenti. He’s from Brooklyn and resides in the 62 Precinct. He does have a lot of prior arrests and he’s facing some serious manslaughter charges now. . . We put together a very strong case. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in this particular case but we are looking to put him away for a very long time.”
Ellen Bloom asked why we don’t see more of the neighborhood police officers. O’Neill told her that it’s only been a month since the program began in the 68 and explained that the job of neighborhood policing is to be working with, and being involved in, the community. He assured Bloom that she would be seeing more of a presence in her neighborhood.
Urania Kypriotis voiced her concerns about having witnessed homeless individuals provoking riders on subway cars. She feared for her children who take the subway to school each day. She wondered why there wasn’t more of a noticeable police presence.
O’Neill called it a definite challenge, but he assured her that at night she would see more of a presence of police on the trains. “We have 150 officers assigned to ride the trains from eight at night to four in the morning,” O’Neill said. “In the daytime you should be seeing more police officers too, and you will see more of them at the stations during school hours.”
Conwell singled out two officers for Cop of the Month recognition during the meeting, Police Officer Amet Vrzivoli for July, and James Surdo for August. In July, Vrzivoli responded to a robbery in progress and was able to stop the suspect and make an arrest.
The loudest applause of the night was reserved for Surdo, a civilian, who was cited for 20 years of service at the precinct. Conwell explained that Surdo never took a day off except when he was sick. Despite recent health issues, Surdo continues to report to duty every morning at 5 a.m. “Jim is an asset to this department and his work ethic and leadership qualities are the exact example of what the NYPD wants and needs,” Conwell said. “Jim is one of us.”
The meeting was called to order by Community Council President David Ryan.
Assemblymember Peter Abbate presented Ryan with a check for the 68th and told them they had his support in Albany. “We’re trying to get as many bills passed for you, for your families, for your healthcare and to make sure you are well-protected,” Abbate said.
Councilmember Justin Brannan was pleased to see such a big crowd at the meeting. “It’s good to see so many people invested in their community,” Brannan said. He also asked for a moment of silence for Sally Kabel, a six-year-old Bay Ridge resident known as Sweet Sally Sunshine, who had just lost her battle with cancer.
State Sen. Marty Golden thanked Conwell, Assistant Chief Brian Conroy and the police officers of the 68 for their service throughout the community and all of Brooklyn South. He also recognized Fort Hamilton Army Base Garrison commander Col. Andrew Zieseniss who was in the audience.