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78th Precinct Starts Up Monthly Community Meetings on Street Safety

Here's an idea that should start spreading to police precincts all over the city as NYPD focuses more attention and resources on preventing traffic violence: Brooklyn's 78th Precinct is starting a new monthly public meeting devoted exclusively to how to improve street safety.

Deputy Inspector Ameri (left) and Lieutenant Ahmed of the 78th Precinct. Photo: Wayne Bailey

An hour before the regularly scheduled precinct community council meeting, anyone can come to the 78th Precinct house off Sixth Avenue and Bergen Street and talk about street safety issues in Park Slope and Prospect Park with the commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri.

The inaugural traffic safety meeting happened Tuesday night. It was a low-key and friendly affair, where Ameri followed up on ideas that came out of the Park Slope Safe Streets Partnership forum last month. The 78th is going to look into putting a big electronic message board alerting drivers to the new 25 mph speed limit on Prospect Park West, and Ameri wants to help keep curbs clear during pick-ups and drop-offs at schools throughout the precinct. "There's no reason a kid should have to go between two parked cars after getting off the bus," he said.

Ameri also gave a short round-up of last week's crosswalk enforcement operation. Officers ticketed drivers for failing to yield to pedestrians at four locations, all of which include wide streets and see lots of pedestrian traffic. While the precinct wants to keep drivers on their toes and wouldn't go on the record with the specific crosswalk locations, Ameri said they were suggested by members of the Park Slope Safe Streets Partnership, who had done a walk-through with the precinct to identify hotspots.

Next month, Ameri said, officers from the Highway Division will come to talk about speed enforcement and how it can be done on surface streets.

Word had yet to get out about the new format, so the seats didn't fill up for the street safety meeting. But afterward, during the regular meeting, most of the questions were about traffic issues too. (As Dana Rubinstein reported in Capital, Ameri also got a lot of love for the crosswalk stings and clearing snow out of the one-block stretch of the Bergen Street bike lane by the precinct house.)

All told, the meeting yielded an open and productive exchange of ideas -- the kind of partnership with local residents that should be a model for other precincts. If you want to get your local police precinct to start up something similar in the neighborhood, it clearly helps to have a commanding officer like Ameri who's receptive to taking traffic violence seriously. The new message from City Hall and 1 Police Plaza is also having an impact. "We've got Vision Zero and the new mayor and the commissioner are talking about it," Ameri said.

The element that can't be stressed enough, though, is how residents banded together to show police they want more to be done about traffic safety. Ameri, who has been the top officer at the 78th for about two years, said he decided to start the meetings in part because he was struck by the tremendous turnout at the launch of the Park Slope Safe Streets Partnership.

Before that, a smaller group of concerned parents and residents had been priming the 78th by regularly attending precinct community council hearings to bring up street safety problems. In November, this group swelled to a few dozen parents and kids, who came out after 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed by a driver on Prospect Park West. "Ameri really listened to everybody and let everyone speak," said Doug Gordon.

While other precincts are responding to traffic violence by ticketing pedestrians, the 78th is distinguishing itself by focusing firmly on dangerous traffic violations like failure to yield. To get your local police to follow suit, the best way to start is to round up a few neighbors and head to your next precinct community council meeting.

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