Precinct Commender Takes Stock After 18 Months of Duty

by Yitzchok Wagshul – The Crown Heights Chronicle

Deputy Inspector Frank Vega

Deputy Inspector Frank Vega, commanding officer of the 71st precinct, is taking stock.

“I’ve been in the precinct for 18 months now,” the Inspector told the Crown Heights Chronicle before Pesach, “and during that initial period I was gauging things, getting a feel for the precinct and the community. Now, I want to reach out.”

More in the Extended Article.

Referring to the monthly public meetings of the 71st precinct community council, held the third Thursday of each month in the auditorium of Intermediate School 21 at 420 Empire Blvd. (just across from the 71st precinct), Inspector Vega said, “I value the Council meetings; you have people from all backgrounds coming together to make Crown Heights a better place. Still, now, I want to reach out beyond the regular attendees. I need to hear from more people, and get better ideas. For example, I’d like to get input from block associations, community patrols, graffiti cleanup. I’ve been doing clergy outreach, going to neighborhood churches to speak to the members and hear what they have to say to me.”

Asked whether he would do the same in synagogues, the Inspector stated he would like that very much, and said he planned to contact organizers at several Crown Heights shuls in the near future.

“I believe that things are going well in terms of community relations just now,” the precinct commander reported. “There are no real tensions to note between the police and the Lubavitch community, or between the black and white populations of the neighborhood. That’s why this is a good time to do this interview: it won’t be perceived as coming in response to some crisis. Proactive is always better.”

The Inspector was asked how he views our community’s civilian patrol group, Shomrim. “They are certainly helpful,” he responded. “They work well with us, and are doing the community a great service by acting as the eyes and ears of the police. I’m quite happy with the organization.”

In terms of crime, it is down in the precinct by 6% overall compared to the same period last year. Nevertheless, there are always fluctuations when it comes to specifics. For example, Inspector Vega noted, there’s been a spike in Grand Larceny Auto lately, and there were a few overnight shootings recently at neighborhood social clubs. In response, police are reallocating resources to the areas and the times affected, and paying closer attention to the sources of trouble.

“Recently, we held a meeting attended by all the supervisory personnel in the precinct,” commented the Inspector. “We have 22 sergeants and 8 lieutenants [as well as Deputy Inspector Vega himself and his second-in-command, Captain Mark DiPaolo, the precinct’s executive officer], and we all met at Medgar Evers College with the commanding officer of Patrol Borough Brooklyn South, Assistant Chief Joe Fox [himself a former 71st precinct commander]. We looked at the precinct overall, and we tried to determine where we’re at and what we need to focus on more. We decided to focus more attention on youth; we’re seeing a trend of 14-18 year olds involved with robbery and gun possession.

“To counter that, we’re doing more follow up in the Family Court in order to keep offenders in jail longer, or to do counseling where that is the more appropriate thing. You have to decide on a case by case basis which is needed.”

To illustrate, the precinct commander told of something he noticed while visiting a neighborhood church. “I was sitting in a pew, and I noticed that someone had written graffiti on the back of the pew in front of me,” said Inspector Vega. “My first reaction was to think, ‘How disgraceful that someone would desecrate a house of worship this way. That person should really be punished.’

“Then I looked closer and saw that what the person had written was the phrase, ‘Help me, G-d!’ That made me realize that maybe this person hadn’t intended to commit vandalism, but had been motivated by desperation or some sort of religious feeling. You shouldn’t write graffiti on a pew anyway, but in a case like this, maybe jail would have been the wrong response. On the other hand, your violent criminals, your armed robbers and people like that have got to be locked away,” he concluded.

Several weeks before this interview was conducted, community concern had been high over recurring traffic accidents at the intersection of Empire Boulevard and Albany Avenue. In response to a question about this, Captain DiPaolo—who, together with Community Affairs officer Vinny Martinos, also attended the meeting with the Chronicle, and whose responsibilities at the precinct include traffic matters—explained that the precinct had studied the problem and had made a request to the Department of Transportation to change the frequency of the traffic light on that corner. What seems to happen, he said, is that motorists going east on Empire Boulevard notice that the next light (one block farther east, at Empire Boulevard and Troy Avenue) is green, and they speed through the intersection at Albany Avenue hoping to make both lights. The DOT now must make its own survey of the situation to determine whether they can desynchronize the two traffic signals.

Another matter of significance at the time of the interview was the recent anniversary of the murder of Ephraim Klein HY”D. Inspector Vega said that for a week or so around that anniversary, police stationed the mobile command post in the area of the shooting and re-leafleted the neighborhood, going “car to car and house by house” in an effort to publicize the $22,000. reward for information and reawaken possible tips. Unfortunately, however, no new leads have come to light as yet.

With summer approaching, the Inspector suggested that community residents take advantage of a valuable free service offered by the precinct: Crime Prevention Officer Joe Johnson is available to come to your home or apartment and conduct a free security survey. Officer Johnson will evaluate your locks and car alarms, and offer tips on keeping criminals away. To schedule an appointment, contact the 71st precinct at 718-735-0511.

Finally, these upcoming events may be of interest to the neighborhood:

This Sunday, April 22nd, the annual Brooklyn South Showcase will take place from 12:00 – 4:00 at Prospect Park West and 15th Street. This is a police-sponsored fair of sorts, in which each precinct in Brooklyn South highlights its unique culture, including music, food, etc.

Likewise, the 71st precinct’s own annual Harmony Day Picnic is scheduled for June 3rd. Further announcements will be forthcoming with more details.

And, last but not least, the Police Academy is scheduled to graduate another class of new police officers on June 25th, which, according to Inspector Vega, should translate into more police officers to add to the 180 already working at the 71st precinct—and, hopefully, into making our neighborhood an even safer place to live.