OP-ED: Gramercy Park is grateful to NYPD

Arlene Harrison with Lieutenant Sammy Ponce of the 13th Precinct at a luncheon honoring cops there last week (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Arlene Harrison with Lieutenant Sammy Ponce of the 13th Precinct at a luncheon honoring cops there last week (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Arlene Harrison
President, Gramercy Park Block Association 

On October 8, 1993, my then 15-year-old son Tim was beaten by a random wilding gang of over 20 guys in front of my home on Gramercy Park.

Three months later on January 6, 1994, Rudolph Giuliani became mayor and appointed William Bratton police commissioner.

As a result of my son’s attack, in March, 1994, hundreds of neighbors joined together to form the Gramercy Park Block Association. Its mission – public safety.

That same month (March, 1994) Mayor Giuliani’s office asked me to help organize one of their first neighborhood meetings. Its purpose was to show that crime had become so rampant that neighborhoods throughout the city were affected. The meeting, co-hosted by Congresswoman Maloney, Commissioner Bratton and me, was held at the Brotherhood Synagogue, and was attended by over 900 people.

A major focus was the 23rd St. Kenmore Hotel, which had become the epicenter of neighborhood crime, including drug dealing, robberies, prostitution, gangs, murders and crime that spilled onto the streets.

Maloney and Bratton stayed after the meeting, and devised a plan where Maloney contacted Attorney General Janet Reno. Federal marshals and the FBI began a three-month sting operation, which led to the June 1994 takeover of the hotel, the largest asset seizure in the history of the US government. The success of the operation was credited largely to 13th Precinct Police Officer Scott Kimmins, who for eight years visited the Kenmore daily to look after those who needed his help, and to document the crime. The headlines read “Police Officer Kimmins – Hero of the Kenmore” and the lobby of the Kenmore was named in his honor at a ceremony in front of the Kenmore.

This was one local example of NYPD efforts 20 years ago to make the city safer. In the following two decades, from 1994 until now, as a result of effective policing, New York City became “the safest city in the world.”

Over the last 20 years, our Gramercy Park family and our local police family, including 13th Precinct Police Officers, Emergency Service Unit Truck #1, Patrol Borough Manhattan South, and the Detectives have worked together in many ways, and their family has become our family. On May 19, 1997, when 13th Precinct Police Officer Anthony Sanchez and his partner P.O. Roy Ruland responded to a robbery in progress at 138 W. 17th St., Officer Sanchez was fatally shot. Sanchez left behind his wife Elizabeth and seven-year-old son John, and would have celebrated his thirty-second birthday that week.

To support the 13th Precinct Officers, every day we attended the suspect’s three-month trial, which resulted in his conviction of first degree murder. In April, 1999, our association in partnership with the 13th Precinct sponsored legislation, passed by the City Council, renaming 13th Precinct Street (21st St.) “Police Officer Anthony Sanchez Way.”

During the 2001 horrific attack on the World Trade Center, it was 13th Precinct officers Bobby Fazio and Moira Smith and Emergency Service Officer Brian McDonnell who paid the ultimate sacrifice when they raced into the burning buildings while thousands fled. Moira, the only female Police Officer who perished that day, left behind her daughter, two-year-old Patricia. Few can forget the photo that flashed around the world, of Patricia’s dad Police Officer Jimmy Smith holding Patricia’s hand as they walked across the stage to accept the NYPD’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor, posthumously for her mother.

They and their fellow officers who perished that day became not only our heroes but New York City’s heroes. During the many months of unimaginable sorrow and anguish that followed, we were honored to be in the 13th Precinct Muster Room round the clock to feed and care for the Officers as they returned from that grim search for their brothers and sisters, which soon became a recovery effort. The bonds we formed then, and the closeness we felt became etched in our hearts and will always remain.

They were our heroes then, and they will always be our heroes. In the Precinct we installed a permanent 4×8 foot photographic display documenting our partnership with the 13th Precinct during that time. It’s titled “NYPD – You Make Us Proud.” Outside the Precinct is the Memorial Garden, which in 2003 we had the Epiphany School kindergarten children plant, and we maintain year-round. Its plaque also reads “NYPD – You Make Us Proud.”

Every year, at our community event, we read the names of those who were lost on 9/11, to honor their memory but to also honor the wishes of their families who pleaded with us “to never forget.”

We want our police to know that every day they come to work and put their lives on the line to keep us safe, they are our heroes.  I can think of no other job where you have to wear a bulletproof vest and your family has to wonder whether you will come home at night.

Now, while the president, the attorney general, the mayor and the police commissioner continue their dangerous political blame games, our police officers’ lives are more than ever on the line. When they are not safe, no one is safe. When they are in danger, everyone is in danger.

In light of the challenges and threats to our police today, we want them to know that we love them, are grateful to them, and support them, and that we will never turn our backs to them.

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