5-0’s new leader vows neighborhood policing revamp

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With a new commanding officer helming the 50th Precinct, police officers could be tweaking a few things when it comes to cracking down on crime in Kingsbridge, Marble Hill and Riverdale.

Former 5-0 commanding officer Terence O’Toole — who left his position just before Thanksgiving — officially said goodbye to Community Board 8 at its full board meeting Dec. 11 to praise and a standing ovation. But with the deputy inspector’s farewell, it’s the start of a new era as Capt. Emilio Melendez — a nearly three-decade veteran of the police department who’s also served in the military — takes the lead.

“I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” Melendez told the board. “If I can give you 50 percent of what (O’Toole) gave you, I think I’m giving you a lot.”

In an age where terrorism, hate crimes and mass shootings dominate local and international headlines, “The NYPD is up to the task,” Melendez promised. That includes in Riverdale, where some synagogues have ramped up security in light of the Pittsburgh mass shooting last October. It also includes at Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy on West 237th Street following a reported social media threat last November and later, two students bringing a gun to campus — left their peers, parents and school officials shaken at the start of a new academic year.

In spite of that, Melendez noted a more than 4 percent drop in major crimes at the Dec. 11 meeting, adding much malfeasance within the 5-0 actually isn’t quite so frightening, but rather “mischief crime,” from leaving property and cars unguarded.

“We know we have individuals out there who are just opportunists,” Melendez said. “It’s the holiday season. Don’t leave your gifts in your cars.”

Despite the overall decrease, robberies had climbed as of Dec. 11 compared to the same time the previous year, Melendez said, while burglaries were down. Those are among a litany of nuisances and quality-of-life concerns he’s looking to tackle right from the get-go.

And while Melendez acknowledged his predecessor’s solid work, he also plans to make a few changes.

“Come Jan. 1, the 50th Precinct offensive starts all over again,” the captain said. Not that anything’s really that bad — just there’s always room for improvement.

“We have to take a look at what we did right in the past (and) continue working on that,” Melendez said. “But what we did wrong is what’s more important. That’s where we really want to make the turnaround.”

And while severe violence and gang issues are less of a problem in the 5-0 than in Melendez’s former commands — including the 44th Precinct — property crimes, while “totally different,” are still important as far as quality of life.

So what’s the captain’s plan?

“We still need to focus on the little things, in order to prevent the big things,” Melendez told The Riverdale Press.

“The 5-0 has been very fortunate it hasn’t (a lot of) violent crime. The community has a sense of responsibility. Violence is never tolerated.”

Still, 2018 saw a spike in murders — more than doubling the previous year’s total, according to New York Police Department statistics as of Dec. 16 — as well as a slight jump in shootings. But Melendez called these anomalies, some related to domestic disputes — his “No. 1 target” in 2019.

That means focusing on residents who may own guns, Melendez said, because “those who have access to weapons have a propensity to use them.”

The second target is recidivists, who “for some reason, through the years, continue to wreak havoc on nuisance crimes such as car break-ins” and minor theft, Melendez said, which may eventually lead to bigger burglaries and grand larceny.

Cracking down means working closely with the district attorney’s office, pinpointing the 5-0’s top-10 repeat offenders.

“That way, from arrest to prosecution, we can follow the case, and see the status” of perpetrators, Melendez said.

Not that this kind of precision enforcement wasn’t happening before Melendez — or even O’Toole — but it wasn’t quite as focused as it is now.

“Let’s target those individuals that have the biggest bang for the buck to bring down crime,” Melendez said, and in some cases offer help — by steering them toward drug treatment programs, for example.

But Melendez’s vision also hinges on the 50th Precinct’s still relatively nascent neighborhood coordination officer initiative.

“Because they’re in charge of their specific section — because of their interaction with the community, that cooperation — the NCOs are crucial to this,” Melendez said.

Chief among their priorities are car thefts, break-ins, and continuing weeding out those feisty rogue tow operators, said Sgt. Mark Giordano — who leads the  NCOs —while “getting information out there for people to know how to prevent that from happening to them.”

Prevention also involves sharing information with other police departments, Giordano said, including Yonkers.

And so far — after barely a month overseeing the 50th — all of these initiatives seem to be working, Melendez said. Yet, he’s quick to point out it’s a synchronized effort involving all of his officers, including patrol.

“There’s a sense that they have a big stock in this community, and I love that,” the captain said. “They care about the community. A lot of these cops are legacy cops in the 5-0. They know everybody in the command.

“And we win a war that way. Because when an officer takes a stock in their sector, in what they do, there’s nothing they can’t accomplish.”