2008-02-22 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Young Cops Speak, And The Community Is Outraged
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Sometimes, people are their own worst enemies. They talk too much to people who they shouldn't have talked to in the first place.

That might sound like a strange statement from a newspaper editor, whose stock-in-trade comes mostly from getting information from people who don't want to give it, and certainly don't want to see that information in print.

It's true, nevertheless.

The city, for example pays lots of money to press officers. Most of the major mayoral departments have a myriad of press officers. The Department of Education has several. The NYPD has mostly cops who have worked their way off the street and are wary of anybody who doesn't carry a shield.

The sanitation department has then and so does the Parks Department. They are hired to provide information to the media via press releases and to answer press inquiries.

The do the former very well, the latter not so well.

Take the Parks Department, for example.

You would think that when the lifeguards pull a person from the ocean off Rockaway's shore, the press office would see that as a positive event, something to get the agency some "good press." Nothing of the sort. The Parks Department press office circles the wagons.

The names of the lifeguards that made the great save. Sorry, can't have them. Availability to interview them to get some details of the rescue. Sorry, our employees are not allowed to speak with the press.

Details of the save? Sorry, we don't have that information. Call the NYPD or the fire department.

See how it works?

The DOE has a one-statement-fits-all reaction to stressful situations.

Parents demonstrating against the school's teachers?

"The DOE is working with all the parties to resolve the problem."

A student dies running around the school's track.

"The DOE is working with all the parties to resolve the problem."

Astudent pushes a teacher down the stairs.

"The DOE is working with all the parties to resolve the problem."

See how it goes?

That's why I was surprised last week by a long February 5 story in the Village Voice by Matt Schwarzfeld that really made two young cops in the 101 Precinct in Far Rockaway appear foolish as well as insensitive to the people they serve.

The piece was entitled "Getting Out of Dodge," and the drop-head was "Young Cops In Far Rockaway Recite the NYPD Blues and Try To Flee To Suburban Jobs."

The article was a frank discussion of how the cops felt working the Rockaway projects.

The two cops were obviously unhappy with their jobs and the people they found in the projects and they made no bones about it.

When I first read the article, I wondered how the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information (DCPI) allowed the two young and experienced cops to ride along with two Village Voice reporters on one of their tours. There was no way that was going to happen, and it certainly was not going to happen with two young cops who were unhappy with their lot in life.

My next thought was that the reporters were friends of one of the cops and the ride was unauthorized, but I kind of discarded that on the theory that no cop would be that stupid.

Recently, a source with some secondary ties to the department told me that the cops had been duped.They thought that they were doing an approved ridealong with two college students who were thinking of becoming cops. That would explain their frank discussions with the two reporters.

When I questioned the Village Voice about the story, however, the managing editor of the paper, Tony Ortega told me that the author of the article is a journalism student at NYU and that his professor set up the ride-along as an assignment. The NYPD approved the ride along knowing that the two young men were journalism students and the cops were told that as well, Ortega said.

"The two young students chose Rockaway and the NYPD approved it," Ortega said. "The cops not only knew that they were reporters, they went off and on the record with them, something the students respected when the story was written."

The two cops who patrolled the housing projects in Far Rockaway are Adam Deoliveria and Lisa Bonsignore. I use the past tense, because I am sure that before long they will no longer be partners and will be reassigned to somewhere in Staten Island or the farthest reaches of the Bronx.

Schwarzfeld wrote, "On a late November afternoon patrol, the two young officers spoke candidly about their frustration and their detachment from the areas they police. Like most of the cops in the 101, Deoliveria and Bonsignoire commute to this mostly African-American and low-income area from middleclass Nassau County towns. Their feeling of detachment - which some of the people they serve have picked up on - is compounded by the fact that they both hope to leave the NYPD ASAP."

"This neighborhood would be great if we could get rid of some of the people," Deoliveria says. "The good people, the people who work and do right, they're not the ones we see. We see everyone else - the one who don't work, who are on welfare."

"During their patrols," the author of the story writes, [the two cops] are surrounded by signs of Rockaway's struggles; dense and dimly lit public housing, unkempt beaches, vacant lots, drug addicts and large numbers of people with nothing much to do."

Not exactly a flattering picture of Rockaway or of the cops who patrol the precinct area.

At one point, Bonsignore is quoted as saying, "When you get on this job, [crime] is all you see, you almost get biased." The author added, "Some longtime residents say the lack of positive connection with the NYPD has worsened the area's gang problems.

The reaction to the article, as you would expect, has been swift. Many officials and residents were outraged by the young cops and their disdain for the Far Rockaway community.

"If they don't want to be here protecting us, they should just get out and go somewhere else," one resident of Redfern wrote to The Wave. "We don't need cops who don't see us as people."

Meanwhile, the two cops are trying to leave for jobs in either the Nassau or Suffolk County departments, where the pay is much higher and the job much less wearing.

"It's hard feeling like you're putting your life on the line for so little," Bonsignore told the reporters. "It wears on you."

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Fascinating. I teach a course

Fascinating. I teach a course in criminal justice at a college in Manhattan. I send my students on these ride-alongs. The application for the ride-along makes it clear that journalism students are not permitted to participate; I hadn't entirely understood why this was the case until reading your editorial. Thanks for answering a question my students and I had about the policy.

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