South Bronx community members had a chance to air a mixture of frustration and appreciation with officers from the 40th Precinct last Tuesday, during the annual National Night Out. The event is held every year around the country, with the goal of reducing tension between citizens and the police who serve them.
This year’s event was held on Brook Avenue in Mott Haven, a few blocks away from the site of a 2020 clash between police and protesters during the Black Lives Matter rallies.
The commanding officer of the precinct, Deputy Inspector Joseph Tompkins, said the annual event helps ease tensions between officers and residents, and that programs like the Young Explorers, through which young people are encouraged to consider a career in law enforcement, are key factors.
Tompkins said the precinct’s long anticipated move from the century-old station house at the corner of E. 138th Street and Alexander Avenue to a brand new building on E. 149th Street and Brook Avenue is still on hold.
“We don’t have a timeline,” said Tompkins. “We were told last year it would be this year and this year that it would be next year, but we don’t know exactly.” Officers have long complained they need more space than the old station house provides.
The metal barricades that were erected in front of the entrance to the station house several years ago will come down when the precinct moves, Tompkins said, easing public access.
Gabriel De Jesus, who serves as president of the 40th Precinct Community Council, said residents have told the council they feel a decline in their sense of safety on the streets of Mott Haven, Melrose and Port Morris.
“We do get a lot of complaints about the breaking in of cars and the quality of life, when it comes to people drinking in the streets and stuff like that. You know, that was something that was being addressed at the meetings,” said DeJesus.
Dejesus also noted an increase in reports of vehicle theft when owners ill-advisedly leave their vehicles running, then express frustration at the lack of consequences for the thieves.
Tompkins said his officers are attuned to these problems, and urges the public to call the police to report problems.
Barbara Holmes, president of the Public Housing Authority 7 council, said residents of public housing are complaining to her and her fellow volunteers about people urinating and defecating in the lobbies and hallways in their buildings, and of naked people camping out there.
“They are doing it because they can do it in public housing,” Holmes complained, adding that although police toss out mattresses and other items homeless individuals use to camp out, the intruders simply retrieve them from the dumpsters and reuse them. Even when police arrest the intruders, she said, the same people simply come back.
“They told me if I catch them being naked, I call 911 and they’ll lock them up, but for how long?” she said.
Some residents who attended National Night Out said the event lowers the community’s distrust of law enforcement, like Mill Brook Houses resident Patricia Jackson, who brought her her grandchildren for the music and food.
“Mill Brook has come a long way,” she said. “There were always shootouts over here for years. Drug dealers and all that type of stuff,” but the NYCHA complex’s active community center and more available jobs have helped tamp down the violence, she said.
Jackson views police favorably, due to the kindness they displayed when her son died of cancer at ten years old.
Another Mill Brook resident, Roosevelt Hedgepeth said he had mixed feelings, praising police’s hard work, but wishing they would tone down aggressive treatment of his fellow Bronxites and do more to engage residents.
“It should be a lot more going on besides this,” he said.
One resident, Annie Laboy, said she would like to see PSA-7 go back to conducting vertical patrols, to keep her building safe, but stresses that officers’ responsiveness helps her feel at ease.
“We have to go and confront these drug users. And get them out of the rooftops. We had to take them out and we called PSA-7, and they did come,” she said.