NYPD Passes on Precinct Realignment

Dawn of an old age: This patch of Chelsea (23rd St. & 7th, looking towards 6th Ave.) will remain under the protection of the 13th Precinct.  Photo by Scott Stiffler

Dawn of an old age: This patch of Chelsea (23rd St. & 7th, looking towards 6th Ave.) will remain under the protection of the 13th Precinct. Photo by Scott Stiffler

BY SCOTT STIFFLER | The blue line that runs through a thin patch of East Chelsea won’t be redrawn — despite a number of compelling arguments made over the years by residents, electeds, business owners and community organizations.

In a letter sent to City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly specified the reasons behind his decision not to alter the 10th and 13th Precinct boundary lines to conform with those of Community Board 4 (CB4).

The blocks in question, West 14th Street to West 26th Street, from Sixth to Seventh Avenues, are currently served by the 13th Precinct. Realignment would unite the area with the rest of Chelsea, which is under the jurisdiction of the 10th Precinct.

Last August, at the same time Speaker Quinn, CB4, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and then-New York State Senator Tom Duane submitted letters advocating for boundary realignment, the Council of Chelsea Block Associations (CCBA) sent its own written request to Commissioner Kelly — along with a petition signed by 469 individuals and statements of concern from condo and co-op boards representing 818 units, as well as letters from 31 banks, stores, museums and community organizations within the affected area.

Five months later (on December 24, 2012), after having evaluated the proposed modifications, the commissioner’s letter to Speaker Quinn concluded that altering the boundary lines “is not a feasible undertaking for the Department particularly in the absence of a pressing public safety concern.” Commissioner Kelly also cited prohibitive costs and logistics involving personnel, resources and technical reconfigurations (such as complaint tracking, emergency call taking and emergency dispatch systems).

“Tasks of this magnitude,” he said, “must be reserved for instances where there is an essential necessity to maintain or enhance police services and public safety.”

 

IMPACT OF DISTANCE IN DISPUTE

Referencing Speaker Quinn’s August 2012 request to study the matter, Commissioner Kelly wrote, “As you observed in your letter, Chelsea residents hinge their request on the distance between the current local precinct and their community.”

Compared to New York City’s 76 precincts, the commissioner pointed out, the 13th “ranks 9th, at 0.9 miles, from the stationhouse to the furthest location within its boundary lines.” With that in mind, he asserted, “the concern regarding the proximity between the Chelsea community and 13th Precinct does not, in and of itself, support the necessity to alter precinct lines.” Besides, he reasoned, “most police services are delivered directly to particular locations within the community and not at the precinct stationhouse.”

That East Chelsea’s distance from area of service to stationhouse ranks well in comparison to the rest of the city provided little, if any, comfort to the CCBA — which has long maintained that its coalition members would be better served by the 10th Precinct.

On January 3, Borock sent an email to Elizabeth Zechella (who serves on CB4’s Chelsea Land Use and Transportation Planning committees). After establishing that he was writing to solicit her thoughts and reactions to Commissioner Kelly’s decision, Borock acknowledged that the NYPD’s “data about the furthest point only being 1.4 miles from the 13th Precinct may be true,” but added that this observation “does not take into account that the blocks we want to change are very close to the 10th Precinct, and that for years, complaints have been made about the no responses or long time responses to calls made to the 13th Precinct. We have been told that they had other priority areas which were more important to deal with than our blocks.” As Chelsea Now went to press, Zechella had yet to reply to Borock’s message.

 

DIFFERENT DECADE, SAME PROLEMS

The public perception of out-of-sight, out-of-mind neglect is not a new one. A July 30, 2010 Chelsea Now article on coterminality (a New York City Charter requirement to align services within the borders of community districts) included a statement from Borock noting, “People in the neighborhood say when they call the 13th, it takes a while for them to come. They were told, ‘We’d like to help, but we have resource problems; our main focus is the United Nations and that area, and you are on the fringe, so it’s difficult.’ ”

Last week, in his email to Zechella, the advantages of coterminality were still part of Borock’s case for boundary realignment. “CB4 basically deals with the 10th Precinct and not the 13th,” he wrote, adding that “our police services would be improved if we became part of the 10th Precinct. Improvement would also come about when CB4’s District Services Cabinet and Committees meet and discuss police matters.” Dealing with the issues of a singular precinct, Borock said, would streamline the follow-up process of dealing with questions that arise within Committee meetings and during the public comment portion of full board sessions.

 

PROXIMITY MATTERS

In our July 2010 article, 100 West 16 Street Block Association chair Paul Groncki (who still serves in that position) also expressed his frustration. “I understand the logistics issue,” he said, after acknowledging effective action by the 13th Precinct in response to drug dealing and noise on the corner of 16th Street and Sixth Avenue. But, he added, “We are in a far, far corner of their district” away from the demands of “Peter Cooper Village and big housing projects on the east side they have to cover.”

Groncki went on to cite the scarcity of Chelsea residents at the 13th Precinct’s monthly Community Council meetings (held at its stationhouse, 230 East 21st Street, between Second and Third Avenues — a considerable walking distance compared to the 10th Precinct’s central Chelsea location, at 230 West 20th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues).

“I go to a council meeting [at their headquarters],” said Groncki, “and rarely is anybody west of Park Avenue there. The ones who are interested in going are older ones, and it’s a long walk for them. We would get more attention if the precinct were closer to us, because more people would go to the meetings.”

Senator Duane’s August 2012 letter to Commissioner Kelly touched on similar concerns, noting that bringing the disputed area under 10th Precinct jurisdiction would “allow people with similar problems and similar neighborhood identities to be served by the same precinct, and would foster greater community-police engagement among those who have been reassigned to a precinct to which they have greater proximity and community ties.”

Reached by phone on January 7, Groncki stood by his 2010 assessment of the situation, confirming that little if anything has changed since he told Chelsea Now, “I see more 10th Precinct cops on Seventh Avenue around the corner from me. When I see a 13th Precinct police car, I stop because it’s such a rare event. They say they do patrol. but I don’t know when because we haven’t seen them.”

Still a regular attendee of the 13th
Precinct Community Council Meetings, Groncki bemoaned the fact that he is often the lone Chelsea resident in the room. “Nobody is there,” he says of his neighbors. “There’s the odd businessman from the Sixth Avenue area, but in terms of residents from west of Park Avenue, they just don’t come.” As for his previous statements about the lack of a visible 13th Precinct presence in East Chelsea, Groncki confirms that this problem remains unchanged since he last spoke to us about it in 2010. “It’s a hollow feeling you get, that you’re all alone out there,” he says. “It’s a question of sensing a police presence, as opposed to an actual lack of police presence. When you see the cops, you get a sense of, there’s somebody here if I need them. But when you never see an officer, you wonder where they are.”

Groncki does have high praise, however, for the response time and general attentiveness once a problem is brought the distant precinct’s attention. “I have to say,” he notes, “that when I call [Community Affairs Officer] Ray Dorrian, he calls me right back. I send him an email with a question, and he responds. So I know, on some level, there’s somebody there. But the other people in my block association ask, ‘Where are they?’ ”

 

WHAT’S SO DIFFICULT ABOUT CHANGE?

“In my opinion,” says Borock, “the change we requested was not extensive and would not have been as costly, problematic and labor-intensive as Kelly’s letter implied.”

Particularly frustrating to the CCBA, says Borock, is the commissioner’s refusal to redraw Chelsea’s precinct lines given the time and resources spent by the NYPD to realign parts of Brooklyn to compensate for the newly opened Barclays Center. Why, Borock and others wonder, does the changing dynamic of that neighborhood justify new boundary lines when Chelsea experienced its own influx of new residents, tourist foot traffic and accompanying quality of life concerns years ago?

Within the package of letters Borock hand-delivered to 1 Police Plaza on August 31, Edward Stein (President, 143-5 Owners Corp.) wrote on behalf of his cooperative — located on 20th Street, less than one block from the 10th Precinct.

Acknowledging that the current arrangement may have been appropriate “when East Chelsea had a small residential population and very few retailers,” Stein asserted that “as the population density has increased, the concerns raised about the adequacy of police response times for our neighborhood has grown.” If those in his building could take their concerns to the 10th Precinct, he reasoned, “the improvement in police response time and sense of community with the police officers would be drastic.”

Even though Commissioner Kelly maintains the Brooklyn realignment was “mainly undertaken because public safety demanded it,” the project was nonetheless approved even though the NYPD was aware it would have some negative consequences. “Technological reconfigurations of this scale render all previously captured data within the affected systems not comparable to future data captured,” Commissioner Kelly wrote, “thereby undermining the benefits afforded by the ability to compare past and present data.”

“It seems weak on my part,” says Groncki of the disconnect between bringing change to Brooklyn despite such consequences, yet invoking it as a contributing reason to maintain Chelsea’s status quo. “We change City Council lines,” he reasoned. “We change congressional districts. But he’s saying we can’t change precinct lines because our data won’t track?”

 

QUINN WEIGHS IN

“While we are pleased that Commissioner Kelly reviewed our request,” said Quinn Spokeswoman Zoe Tobin in a January 8 email to Chelsea Now, “we are disappointed with the outcome. Ideally, police precincts and community district boundaries should closely align.”

Tobin continued, noting that the Speaker “supports the needs and requests of Community Board 4 in relation to this issue” — a point that was underscored in her report to CB4, which is regularly sent to coincide with their monthly full board meeting (the most recent of which was held on January 2). In that report, Speaker Quinn prefaced her remarks by declaring that, “We have among the best police precincts in the city with some of the most community minded personnel.” Yet, she added, “There are residents of Chelsea who would feel better served if the 10th Precinct, Chelsea’s neighborhood precinct, was theirs.”

Moving forward, the speaker told CB4, her office “will continue to ensure that all city services are being delivered to those in need in the most expeditious and efficient manner possible.” And although Tobin assured Chelsea Now that Speaker Quinn and her staff will “work with neighborhood leaders, residents and businesses to address any public safety issues in the community,” the fact remains that those issues — if they originate in East Chelsea — will have to be filtered through the 13th Precinct.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *