More than a dozen parents from the Lower East Side’s Bard High School and the Nest+m school came to the 7th Precinct Community Council meeting Wednesday, to complain about the lack of police response to assaults and attempted robberies against their children.
These acts of violence take place, according to the parents, on East Houston Street near Essex. The first complaint to the police was made as early as December 13, 2006.
The parents requested more patrols along East Houston Street at the time of school dismissal. They also asked a dedicated phone number at the precinct for complaints regarding assaults on schoolchildren. They felt that 911 calls were not necessarily reaching the precinct in a timely fashion. One parent told of an incident where their child did call 911 immediately and that there was no response. Another parent said a marked police car came but that the officers were not very quick to get out of their car and intercede.
Parents expressed their concern that their children were losing any confidence in 911 and beginning to have a bad feeling about the police because of the lack of response.
Executive Officer Patrick Donohue, substituting for Captain Frank Dwyer, was not familiar with the situation. But precinct officers Valdie Lurch and Barbara Jew and Lieutenant Joseph Delduca advised the parents to follow up phone complaints with a visit to the precinct to fill out a report about any incident as soon as possible, to facilitate a full investigation.
At least two parents said that in fact they had come to the Precinct following some of the incidents, and that they and their children had filled out a report – without a response so far from the police. One father said his son could identify his assailant but that he knew of no attempt to take the investigation even that far.
After precinct officers said they thought the violence was being caused by high school students from outside the neighborhood, one father said that he had found the person that his son had identified in a local playground and confronted him. He thought the man was in his 20’s.
Another parent identified a precinct officer named Raab, with whom he had in fact filed a complaint in December. But none of the precinct staff present seemed to recognize the name.
One reason given by the police for the slow response was that school dismissal time coincides with the change of shifts at the 7th. Officers said that they would look into a way to overcome this and that perhaps the 12 new graduates from the Police Academy assigned to the precinct could help.
Parents inquired about local gang activity, since the assaults and attempted robberies seem to be perpetrated by the same group of boys. Lieut. Delduca said he had no knowledge of any gangs in our area.
As the encounter between parents and cops wore on, the attitude of the officers seemed to change significantly, and they were becoming obviously concerned with the impact of the parents’ discontent. At some point Executive Officer Donohue told the parents that the precinct wanted to have a separate meeting with them.
Other officers announced that they would have vans and officers available to go out with parents and children who could identify the alleged assailants. They also pledged to respond with similar urgency on future complaints.
Officer Jew said that she would try to re-establish a program of Safe Haven, in which the police enlist store and restaurant owners on the route children use to and from school to post a sign identifying their establishment as a place a child may run into for protection from an assailant.
There was talk about creating a Safe Corridor for children on route to public transportation. This corridor would be monitored by police and students would travel there in groups.
The police also offered to create a map of the local area for the children, with all of the local street names, since so many students come from outside the neighborhood. This would help children clearly identify the location of an assault when they call 911.
One of the places that students have been assaulted is a construction site along the route. Susan Stetzer of Community Board 3 said that she had been successful in the past in getting Con Ed and other corporations to set up additional security, at their expense, to protect people passing through dangerous construction areas. She promised to contact the construction site and try to get the added security.
Henry Martinez of the Auxiliary Police said that he was offering help in this area as well and that he had worked successfully on school safety issues.