Deputy Inspector James King, who in April will celebrate two years as the commanding officer of the Police Department’s 61st Precinct, oversees a force serving Sheepshead Bay, Gravesend, Manhattan Beach, and Gerritsen Beach, where just one murder occurred last year, according to department data. But that statistic will likely triple in the first month of 2019 alone, following three alleged murders at an Emmons Avenue restaurant on Jan. 15. Still, most crime is down in King’s command overall, with an 8.6 percent drop in complaints between 2018 and 2017 — except for rapes, which jumped from 11 to 17 reported incidents over that same span of time, reflecting a city-wide rise in such claims as a result of the ongoing Me Too movement against sexual harassment and assault, according to Police Department reps. Much of the area’s decline in crime, according to King, is due to the precinct’s neighborhood-policing program, which he instituted last January and employs eight Neighborhood Coordination Officers across four sectors of the 61st Precinct. The commanding officer sat down with us to explain how the program improved the area’s police–community relations while making it safer at the same time, his command’s response to the recent hammer attack, and more in an exclusive interview:
Kevin Duggan: What would you say to those in the community still reeling over the alleged triple homicide on Emmons Avenue?
James King: It’s an isolated incident. I really can’t comment further on it at this time, because it’s still an ongoing investigation. But I assure you they are safe.
KD: Why do you think most of your crime statistics improved over the last year?
JK: I couldn’t have done it without the men and women that are out there every single day. I put a plan in place, but they executed, and that’s the most important part, the execution. We had a drop in robberies, felony assaults, grand larcenies, stolen vehicles.
KD: Tell me more about that plan you put in place.
JK: In January 2018, we introduced the Neighborhood Coordination Officers program, which really connects the cops and the community. They can listen to concerns on a more personal basis, rather than residents just calling 911, or waiting for a monthly Community Council meeting.
KD: Other than the drop in most crimes, what else has the program changed?
JK: I’ve met so many more locals since we debuted a NCO program, and there hasn’t been one negative comment from the community about it. I, and the cops, get to experience real one-on-ones — members of the community are comfortable speaking to us about a wide range of things, whether crime-related, about quality of life, or just about how their holidays were. It’s more personal. The cops and community love it, and it works.
KD: What does your daily routine look like?
JK: I come into work, review the previous day’s crime statistics, look over the crime numbers, and check my e-mails for any community concerns. Then I confer with my multiple units: my crime-analysis unit, my special-operations unit, which includes the plain-clothes guys, my lieutenant who supervises the cops doing our crime prevention, as well as with my community-affairs officers, to see if any community members have brought any concerns to them. Once we go over that, we put together a plan to address whatever concerns or complaints we took for the day, whether it be double parkers in a certain area, or graffiti in another.
KD: You came to the 61 after serving at Coney Island’s 60th Precinct. How are the two different?
JK: A lot of the interaction in Coney Island is visitors, because of the Boardwalk, things of that nature. Overall, the 61 is very residential. But we have our busy shopping areas — Kings Highway, Avenue U — and we have our visitors with Manhattan Beach, so that’s very busy over the summer.
KD: Superstorm Sandy hit parts of your neighborhoods very hard. How is the 61 prepared to respond to future storms?
JK: We have two boats at the ready to help anyone who might be caught in water. We also have a large Zodiac truck [which transports inflatable Zodiac boats], meant for the south end of the precinct, specifically Manhattan Beach, which was affected by Sandy. We have cops that are trained to use the boats with special equipment, and they are constantly going through training seminars to update their training.
KD: The area is home to a lot of high-traffic thoroughfares, such as Gerritsen Avenue, where some calming measures have been implemented. Does traffic continue to be a big issue?
JK: It’s always a concern. We have Coney Island Avenue, Ocean Parkway, Ocean Avenue, Nostrand Avenue, Bedford Avenue, Gerritsen Avenue, Avenue U, Kings Highway, McDonald Avenue — all major thoroughfares. Double parking is the complaint we get most frequently. We have cops addressing that every day, at all times.
KD: What are some other big issues in the precinct?
JK: Quality of life. Crime-wise would be car break-ins, specifically at night, so we have plain-clothes cops out there addressing that. Traffic-wise, we had some speeding complaints, specifically in Manhattan Beach, that we addressed. Highway [Patrol] is a great partner, it covers the Belt Parkway for us.
KD: The area’s population only continues to grow. Do you think there’s a need for more police?
JK: I assure you that the community is safe. We are more than able to address any concerns residents might have with the resources that we have.
KD: What do you like about working in the 61?
JK: I love the residents. I’ve become very involved with many of them, gotten to know them on a personal basis. I come to work every day and I have fun. There are great moments, there are sad moments — like at the restaurant the other day. But overall, it’s very rewarding knowing that I get to protect the residents of the 61 Precinct.