SUNSET PARK — The increase in crime in Sunset Park was the subject — and Deputy Inspector Emmaneul Gonzalez, the commanding officer of the 72nd Precinct, was the featured speaker — during a forum organized by Rev. Samuel Cruz, the senior pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church earlier this month.
A sizable crowd of residents gathered at the church, 411 46th St., on Wednesday, Feb. 5 to discuss the issue, as well as the police response, especially in the wake of the new bail reform and discovery laws.
“We have so many concerns and we want to say that we’re unsatisfied with some of the answers provided,” Cruz told Gonzalez. “We’ve heard too often from some officers [that] that they can’t do much because of the new criminal justice reform that is happening in the state.”
One attendee, speaking Spanish, said that he had overheard an officer at a local barbershop say crime had increased because cops can’t do their job. The man said that saying that in public could encourage others to commit a crime.
In a similar vein, another attendee, Andrea H., recalled being told “We can’t do much,” after she reported an intruder who was trying to get into her apartment a couple of months ago.
“Because we made a report, a detective called us to show us some faces that could fit the description of the person we saw,” she explained. “When we were in the precinct, they told us, ‘We can’t do much.’ And if we continue with the report, the person would get our information. We didn’t want that. He told us because of the laws that are now coming up, it was best for us if we moved. With everything going on and for us to hear that from an officer, it’s concerning.”
Gonzalez, who is a Sunset Park native, was surprised.
“I’d be more than concerned. I’d be really upset if someone told me I have to move,” he said. “I apologize for that conversation. It’s really unacceptable to be telling anybody that they have to move. I love this neighborhood and I just want to make it better. These reports are confidential. It’s really concerning and we are going to try to identify that officer. There is some correction that has to be made there.”
Gonzalez agreed that the controversial new bail reform law can be challenging. While noting that the purpose of the reform was to level the playing field, a bit, for less affluent people charged with a crime who previously might not have been able to make bail, he acknowledged, “Is it frustrating to see someone that has committed a crime a day or two later back on the streets? Yes. I think so. But, they still have to go to court and still will be prosecuted by the DA’s Office.” But, he added, legislators are currently looking at modifications to the new laws
Based on the feedback, the well-attended event was a success.
“One of the main things people wanted to get across was they didn’t want to hear lame excuses about not being able to respond, and I was pleasantly surprised that he said those answers from officers were not acceptable and even apologized to us that they’ve gotten those responses,” Cruz told this paper. “The other thing is Sunset Park has been dormant for too long. I’m a lifelong resident here and I think a nice group came out with their concerns.”
He also discussed his hope for the future.
“Our hope is we don’t hear ‘We can’t do anything about it,’ because to be honest ,I was suspicious what some of the officers were saying is ‘We don’t like the criminal justice reform.’ It seems without a doubt that is not Inspector Gonzalez’s attitude.”
“I think it went well,” agreed Andrea H., a 36-year Sunset Park resident. “We definitely need to stick together as a neighborhood. I do think there’s work to do within the Police Department internally.”
But, she added, “I was satisfied with the answers of the inspector.”
“It was great that Inspector Gonzalez came out,” added Stacy M. “He seemed really sincere and it’s great that he’s open from comments to the community. He seemed to be genuinely concerned about getting the right message out to the community that the police really want to do their job in spite of what new challenges there might be because of new law enforcement policies.”
She also said more foot patrols would be welcome, in addition to the precinct’s NCO program.
“I think we need a lot more of that, because it discourages a lot of the criminals,” she added. “If they see cops walking down your block, they’re not going to do their drug deals there.”
What she wants to see, she added, is “A friendly police presence, not turning into a police state, but just knowing help is nearby if we need it. A familiar face that people feel comfortable approaching, I think that’s important for the police to have.”