Two dozen spoke, some with a chilled determination, others with hardened anger in their voices, and others still with palpable sadness. Some told of personal experiences, others of things they’d seen or heard.
None, however, had a good thing to say about the 81st.
“The 81st precinct has got to be the worst precinct in the world,” said Dave Miller to choruses of agreement from those in attendance last Wednesday. “My son was arrested five times in seven months because he couldn’t produce identification. It’s like South Africa pass laws.”
The forum comes in the wake of a police scandal brought to light in May by the Village Voice. According to the report, police officer Adrian Schoolcraft created a series of recordings from June 2008 to October 2009 in which Deputy Inspector Steven Mauriello is heard telling his officers to trump up charges, perform more stop-and-frisks, and ignore reports made by residents so as to minimize the crime rate. Schoolcraft then gave the recordings to the Voice.
“We cannot accept, under any circumstances, under the guise of protecting the community, that the police harass people walking down the street,” said Councilman Albert Vann of District 36. “[Mauriello’s officers] were violating the civil rights of the people in our community.”
“We want the police to protect and serve and respect the rights of citizens, not only of this community, but of all communities,” added Reverend Conrad Tillard, senior pastor of the church.
When the story first broke, Vann wrote to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly requesting that Mauriello be removed and replaced with someone agreeable to the community. Mauriello was indeed transferred to a precinct in the Bronx, but his replacement, Inspector Juanita Holmes, caught the community unawares.
“I found out about this through the media,” said Vann.
Holmes was in attendance for most of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting. Clad in her officer’s uniform with a stern look on her face, she listened intently as the people her officers will be policing continued to voice their displeasure with her precinct.
“I have felt extremely angry, scared, and mistrustful of officers in Bed-Stuy,” said Maria Bauman. “I would never call the police for any reason. If I were assaulted, they’d be the last ones I call.”
Bauman was not the only one who voiced her mistrust of the police. In fact, it was a common thread throughout the evening. “The biggest complaint young men will tell you is that they do not trust the police,” said Miller, whose son has been given 50 tickets by police over the last few months.
As the procession of complaints came to a close, Holmes addressed the crowd, noting that she has a strong open-door policy and asked the community to help her address her precinct’s issues, a statement that was greeted with applause.
For Vann, this is a step in the right direction. “A police force is only as effective as its relationship with its community,” he said.