It's 1972, And The Village Is Getting Rough

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Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
September 7, 1972, Vol. XVII, No. 36

Police without guns: 'We act as a deterrent'
By Alan Weitz

An editor is robbed and beaten on Sixth Avenue in the afternoon. A woman is raped on Bank Street. A rash of burglaries hits Patchen and Milligan Place. The stories pile up day by day. Greenwich Village is in the midst of the worst crime wave residents can remember.

The Sixth Precinct -- which covers the area -- claims crime in the Village is actually decreasing. According to Deputy Inspector Salvatore Matteis, who only recently was promoted out of the precinct, "serious crime" fell 12 per cent last year and is falling at a rate of 30 per cent this year. But few residents believe those figures. All Villagers know is that they are afraid -- day and night, in their apartments and out on the streets.

And the high police command, with its recent decision to send Neighborhood Police Teams into the neighborhood, has shown that it recognizes the seriousness of the problem.

Crime has united Villagers like no issue before it; everyone feels something must be done about it. But the citizens don't all agree on how to go about making the area safe again. Some feel the best way to accomplish that is by applying pressure to City Hall. The city's plan to move a ferry boat/methadone clinic docked at the end of Christopher Street that residents think is a prime cause of crime in the area, and the sending in of police teams, are results of this tactic.

Other residents, believing the city incapable of cleaning up the area, talk of forming vigilante groups and promise to rid Christopher and 8th Streets, Washington Square Park, and Sheridan Square of junkies, hustlers, winos, dope dealers, and other "undesirables." They claim they will not hesitate to use force.

Another tactic of protection is the hiring of armed guards to patrol certain locks and streets. Bank and Jane Streets in the West Village believe in this approach.

And then there are those who join the Police Department's Auxiliary Patrol Force. The unit is made up of men and women who patrol the streets of the precinct in which they live and help out with clerical work at their local station house.

At present there are about 4000 Auxiliaries in the city. Each member of the force has taken a 10-week course (two to three hours one night a week) at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and spent a certain amount of probationary time on patrol. Any United States citizen who can read and write and is between the ages of 17 and 55 can apply to join the body. If an applicant fails the John Jay course, or if a negative Police Department investigation report is turned in on him (the Department mainly looks into his character or any criminal record), or if his superiors feel his patrol performance is unsatisfactory, he will be turned away or dropped from the force.

The force is a completely voluntary unit (members even have to pay for their own uniforms) whose structure is independent of that of the regular Police Department. A member is required to go on patrol at least three nights a month, from 7 to 12 p.m. There is workmen's compensation for men or women hurt while working, but since the force is voluntary the superior officers are not quite sure whether there would be any compensation if a man on patrol were killed.

But the chance of a man on patrol getting hurt or killed while working are quite low, due to the definition of the job. The Auxiliary Force is quite different from the regular police force, as I found out when I recently met some of the 25 Auxiliaries attached to the Sixth Precinct (Brownsville has 200 Auxiliaries, but many areas have fewer than the Village).

"The main idea behind the Auxiliaries is to get a uniform out on the street," said Deputy Inspector Mortin Dubin as we met at the Sixth Precinct station house. "We are not the regular police and we are not here to play cop. Our job is not to get involved in the solving of a crime or the catching of a criminal. That's why we don't carry guns. We act as a deterrent. A criminal is going to think twice if he sees a uniform on the street. And if we could flood an area with uniforms we think the crime there would really drop."

The Police Department tried just this a few months ago. It took all the Auxiliaries out of their local precincts for a night and stationed them in Little Italy and Chinatown. There were two uniformed men on every block. The Department claims crime in the area dropped 80 per cent that night.

We left the station house for a tour of the Village and headed east on Christopher Street. Inspector Dubin attracted many stares as he is a heavy-set man with almost shoulder-length graying hair and long bushy sideburns. He joined the Auxiliaries seven years ago and rose through the ranks. By day he is a "successful television producer" and, accordingly, his main Auxiliary function is public relations. He describes himself as a "liberal" who joined the force because he felt he should "return something to the city."

With us were Frank Ottomaneilli, captain of the Sixth Precinct Auxiliary Force, and Patrolman Paul Katz. Ottomaneilli works in his father's landmark butcher shop on Bleecker Street during the day. One or two nights a week he walks the streets he and his customers grew up and live on. I asked him why he joined the force. He is a strong, proud-looking young man and he chooses his words. "I have an interest in the community. I've lived here all my life. I have a certain amount of love for it and I've seen things that shouldn't be. I always wanted to be a policeman but I have other obligations."

Paul Katz is a tall, slim man who lives in Washington Square Village. His craft is photography. He has been on the force only a year, though he looks older than most of the other Auxiliaries I met. "I have a great feeling for the community," he says in answer to the same question. "I'm not a politician, there's no way for me to change it politically. But I think a great deal of change is needed and this is one of the ways I can do it."

At Sheridan Square we met four other Auxiliaries. They were assigned to stay close to the Square for the night. Danny O'Connor is the oldest of the group, a short, heavy man of about 50. He has lived in the Village his whole life and joined the force two and a half years ago "because I didn't like what was going on." He is blunter than the other members of the force, ticking off in a hoarse voice the things that bother him: "narcotics, people running around, jostling other people. We're trying to clean it up the best we can." O'Connor thinks Auxiliaries should be allowed to carry guns.

Frank is the youngest of the Sixth Precinct Auxiliaries. He has completed his courses at John Jay but cannot wear a badge because he is not 21. He, too, grew up in the Village. Why did he join the force? "I've seen some kids that I grew up with make it, but some haven't. A lot of them turned junkies. I know a few that OD'd already and are dead." Like every other Auxiliary I talked to, Frank is sick of "what's happened to the Village."

We left the group and walked across 8th Street, through Washington Square, and headed west. At one point a woman ran up to us and complained that her purse had been snatched 10 minutes earlier. The incident pointed up what the Auxiliaries are all about, for all they could tell the obviously disappointed woman was to report the robbery to the Sixth Precinct. It was not their duty to try to track down the criminal.

We made our way back toward the station house and everyone agreed it was a quiet night. Of course, even on a hectic night the Auxiliaries, since they act as deterrents, can never really tell what kind of a job they are doing.

But some things are apparent on a patrol. The Sheridan Square Park, for instance, is usually crowded with winos and assorted hustlers. On the night I accompanied the patrol, four men were stationed across the street from is and the park was empty. And in Washington Square two group s of apparent junkies quickly broke up their huddles when they saw us approaching.

A unit like the Auxiliaries is often thought of as a haven for right-wing extremists who are looking for a chance to knock around the people they see as a threat to the peace of a city. Instead, basically, I found them hard-working, normal family men who sincerely care about the state of their community. And they feel, at this point, their community is in very bad shape -- an opinion shared by most Villagers.

What the Auxiliaries are aiming for now is a strong, large force that most nights a week could saturate the area with uniforms. They are confident that if this could be accomplished, the fear so pervasive in the Village could be laid to rest.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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