2016-12-14 / Front Page

NYPD Commissioner O'Neil Speaks At Astoria Civic Association

By Thomas Cogan

Every New York City police commissioner has spoken before the Astoria Civic Association since its founding in October 1933, and last week new Commissioner James P. O’Neill joined his predecessors. Reflecting his busy schedule, his address before the ACA at Riccardo’s by the Bridge on 24th Avenue was the third he’d made that day.  In it, he had some personal history, made a comparison between crime conditions these days and a quarter-century ago and talked about the “strong sectors” neighborhood plan that is in operation in the 114th Precinct and which he aims to see in effect in all the city’s precincts.  He concluded with remarks about terrorism and his department’s effort to prevent attacks such as the ones in the past few years in Europe and one recently in New York.  He answered questions about upgrading old precinct facilities, hate crimes and body cameras.  There were also remarks by Commander Deputy Inspector Peter Fortune of the 114th Precinct and Peter Vallone Sr. and Jr. 

The commissioner said he wanted “to let you know how the NYPD is doing.”  Few if any previous commissioners were rushed into action as fast as he was, when after being sworn in September 17 he had to respond the following day to a bombing on West 23rd Street that later appeared to be related to  another bombing, in New Jersey.  He said there was swift investigation on the part of the departments in New York and Linden, NJ and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, entailing the transport of evidence to be inspected at the FBI facility in Quantico, VA.  The result was that the police had a full picture of the terrorist operation in a day and a half.  That led to the arrest of a suspect who now awaits trial.  More than two dozen were injured in the explosions but no one was killed.  The commissioner now has greater knowledge of anti-terrorism and described personnel in two new anti-terror commands.  He marveled at the technology available to current police officers and compared it to his rookie days in the early 1980s when he was equipped with a gun, a nightstick “and a radio that maybe worked.”  (While making comparisons, he said that the police are projecting 335 homicides by the end of this month and year.  In 1992 the city had to endure more than 2,400.)

He joined the force by way of the transit police and later became a commander in three precincts, including the 44th Precinct in the south Bronx, an experience that he said changed his life.  He recently succeeded Commissioner William Bratton, who ran the transit police before becoming commissioner for the first time, during the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.  Having worked for Bratton on three occasions, O’Neill said he has tremendous respect for him.  He also expressed his respect for D.I. “Pete” Fortune, saying “we pick the best” as precinct commanders.  D.I Fortune is, of course, one of the first commanders of a precinct adopting the neighborhood policing program, a major initiative for the commissioner, who intends to have it in operation in all the city’s precincts.  The program divides the precinct into four sectors and has two neighborhood cooperation officers, or NCOs, in each of them.  D.I. Fortune said he already sees the program driving down crime and improving neighborhood relations.  Commissioner O’Neill said precinct police officers have a heavy load of duties, which he hopes to alleviate in the case of the NCOs by letting them concentrate on neighborhood relations while cutting their “911 time” by nearly one-third. 

When it was time for questions, Jim Condes, Woodside resident, asked when the NCO plan would be coming to the adjacent 108th Precinct, and the commissioner said it would be implemented soon.  Vitold Rak, also of Woodside, asked if the 108th is going to get funding for repairs of much of the precinct’s old and worn infrastructure.  The commissioner said that at present just two precincts in the city are receiving funding for extensive repairs but many others are on the list, the 108th among them if only the funding becomes available.  Rak also asked about Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s request for $35 million to pay for the police protection of Trump Tower since the election.  The commissioner said he hoped the request would be honored by Congress in Washington.  (Later, Congress granted $5 million, much to the consternation of the mayor and others in New York.)  Another person asked about body cameras for police officers and the commissioner said there would be 2,000 in operation by the beginning of the year, with more to follow.  He said he was skeptical about them when they were first presented to him but now sees their value.

Peter Vallone Jr., formerly a city councilman and now a criminal court judge, made observations about CompStat meetings he has attended, saying that they can be an anxious time for precinct officials who have to answer questions from CompStat inquirers about crime statistics for their respective precincts.  He said that in the courtroom he is at present quite busy with members of an organized ring of pickpockets operating in the fertile territory of Queens Center in the holiday shopping season.  When asked if many of these and other holiday criminals are likely illegal aliens, he said yes, making a slighting reference to “sanctuary city” exponents and concluding that he sees a steady stream of them in his courtroom.

Peter Vallone Sr., formerly speaker of the City Council, was frankly disappointed that he still hears of citizens who fall for some of the hoariest confidence swindles despite incessant warnings about them.  Telephone calls from “Con Edison” and other sources demanding money for bills unpaid to emails from relatives unjustly held in overseas jails and in need of bail money—these and appeals from exiled Nigerian princes still manage to extract payments from unwitting recipients.  D.I. Fortune had some good news:  that mailbox “fishing,” which was much warned about in recent weeks, has apparently dropped off quite a bit.  But crooks are tireless and it’s holiday season so the commander warned, “They enjoy Christmas too.”  Asked about package thieves making off with L.L. Bean and other such parcels left on one’s doorstep, he said one such operator was recently arrested but is out on $5,000 bail.      

 

 

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