Police Beat 104: Graffiti Squad is written off - JuniperCivic.com
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Originally published in the September 2004 Juniper Berry Magazine

Police Beat 104: Graffiti Squad is written off

GRAFFITI SQUAD IS WRITTEN OFF

NY Daily News, August 19th headline.

The NY Daily News reported that Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has discussed this proposal ‒ to merge the Anti-Graffiti and Anti-Vandalism unit with the Transit Bureau's Vandals Squad ‒ with top police brass.

We who suffer the vandalism must speak up. Graffiti on the garage wall down the block from you reduces your property value. It marks your neighborhood as a crime-ridden location. It frequently identifies the vandalized property as the turf of a drug dealer or a gang. At a minimum, graffiti is the illiterate product of idle minds. Graffiti is always a threat; it is never art.

Would the Police Commissioner make the same kind of announcement that the department was eliminating the burglary unit by merging it with the traffic unit? Or consider merging the homicide unit with the parking violations unit? If any such consideration were to be made, would it be publicized?

If any merging is to occur, it should have the effect of keeping and increasing the Anti-Graffiti Anti-Vandalism Unit.

Graffiti and vandalism are not minor quality-of-life crimes. The presence of graffiti and the vandalism that occurs are frequent, repetitive and appear throughout the community. They are theft of property value ‒ to the extent of thousands of dollars. Graffiti and vandalism also are deeply indicative of other, serious, problems: drugs, gangs, truancy, out-of-control teens, as well as, very likely, serious family problems in the community.

If you want less graffiti in your neighborhood, speak up by writing to the Mayor telling him what you think.

PROBLEMS WITH 311 and 911

The letter below was faxed to Mayor Bloomberg on August 10th, and, as of August 27th has had no response. Your comments on your own experience with calls to 311 or 911 are welcome.

OPEN LETTER TO MAYOR BLOOMBERG:

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

SUBJECT: The Motorized Scooter Scourge in Our Community and Failure of 311 System

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

This past March I sent a letter to you warning of the Motorized Scooter Scourge. Captain Scott Shanley, the recently installed commander of the 104th Precinct and the officers there have taken the community complaints seriously and have been stopping and confiscating these scooters so effectively that they are now nearly invisible. (Captain Shanley and the officers have also been actively capturing a number of the graffiti vandals in this community.)

The commander has listened to our complaints and effectively followed up on them. That rapid response has impressed us all. But, how are we to communicate, or the officers to act effectively if the 311 Complaint System refuses to forward reports to the precinct?

Last night, August 9 at approximately 8:40PM I phoned 311 to report that 4 youngsters ‒ age from about 10 to perhaps 13 ‒ each riding a motorized scooter west along Penelope Avenue from 81st Street.

The operator told me that he would not send the report on to the precinct, that I should phone the precinct myself. I reminded him that these scooters are illegal, and that a young man was just killed in Kew Gardens in one of these.

Nonetheless, he refused to do what has been routine procedure many times in the past: forward the report to the precinct.

I then demanded to speak to his supervisor ‒ Kimberly is how she identified herself. But the supervisor also refused to send the report to the precinct (though I also reminded her of the death in Kew Gardens.) The supervisor said that she would send a noise complaint to the precinct.

Finally, I demanded to be put through to the Mayors Complaint Line, which I have understood to be an answering machine monitored by your staff. Instead, the supervisor said that she would enter the report and I heard typing as I spoke. She took my name and phone number, at which time the phone went dead. She either hung up or my cell phone went dead. But, I never was given a report ID.

Refusal to forward motorized scooter complaints to the precinct is unacceptable. It is especially unacceptable now that there has been a death, incidentally being blamed on the police.

Analyze the 311 operator's and the supervisor's logic. They already have the facility to communicate with the appropriate precinct and allow the precinct to prioritize the report. Or I could communicate the report by phone (if it would even be answered ‒ another problem) and depend on the officer who answers to forward the report to the appropriate staff. Either way, the precinct must be notified. One way effectively; the other way, doubtfully.

I'm going to take this opportunity to complain about the 911 System for a July 4th fireworks incident.

On July 4th, at approximately 10PM, my block exploded with fireworks ‒ rockets, and explosives both large and small. Nearly ten years ago the house next door and mine were set fire by a single bottle rocket. A house fire is an unforgettable nightmare.

So, this year, when the fireworks started, I phoned 911 only to be told that they were not taking fireworks call. I was told to phone 800-FIRETIPS or some such number, which remained busy throughout the night.

Several repeated call to 911 resulted in the same response by increasingly rude operators who casually told me that there would be an answer to that newly formed and poorly staffed and equipped operation. Furthermore, though you and the police were announcing a zero tolerance for fireworks, you never bothered to announce such a number or staff it properly. In any event, what response would there be to a call to 800-FIRETIPS? Send the police. So why not send them via 911?

I believe that these two failures are symptomatic of a far more severe problem: Serious officer shortages throughout the city, but we in this community know occur at the 104th Precinct. Blocking reports to the police in the 311 and the 911 systems would be an effective technique to disguise the fact that the police are spread so thin that response to the reports no longer occur.

Why are police routinely sent to sport events? These teams can well afford their own private security. Why are our tax dollars spent on private matters?

To fix the 311 and 911 problems you and the Police Commissioner must first fix the shortage of officers.

Sincerely,

Robert E. Doocey

FEEDBACK

We welcome all communication from the community ‒ residents or police officials. You can email your comments to PoliceBeat104@AOL.COM. You can mail your comments to Police Beat 104, C/O Juniper Park Civic Association, P.O. Box 790275, Middle Village, NY 11379.

Feel free to report all graffiti locations, new or old, to this column (after you call 311).

Your feedback will drive this column.