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Common Street Thieves: The NYPD is Building Fortresses of Solitude

The 77th Precinct station house on June 1. Photo: Julianne Cuba

They're supposed to catch thieves — not be thieves.

NYPD officials have stolen roadways and sidewalks in front of police station houses across the city over the past few weeks, and the agency won't discuss why they're doing it or how they've been allowed to do it.

Over the last month, Streetsblog has been visiting police station houses across the city and found many ringed with barricades. In some cases, whole roadways have been blocked off by the cops to prevent the public from accessing public roadways.

Two weeks ago, we had asked Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams why cops are allowed to park wherever they want, a practice that sends an unneighborly message to the community by police — a majority of whom drive in from the suburbs every day. Adams blamed the community, not the cops.

9th pct 1

"Every month there's a precinct council meeting and the residents come in and talk about the things that are high priority for them. ...If that's a high priority for them, if it's crucial for them, they should come in and speak with the commander and the president," he said a unity event in front of the Classon Avenue station house last month. "Let the community decide what they want with their police." (He also claimed that cops park illegally so they can get to emergencies faster — an answer that ignores the fact that cops don't generally take their personal cars on emergency calls.)

Adams's comments suggest that he could recognize something like police parking their own cars on the sidewalk around precincts could be seen as a problem, but his solution — that residents should attend precinct council meetings — is unworkable: Such meetings always happen in the evening, when hard-working people are either deep into a second shift, or caring for their families.

Plus, a Streetsblog tally found that 39 out of 75 precinct community council meetings are held inside the station houses themselves — which means that residents who are sick and tired of how cops behave in their communities would have to confront those same cops inside their own turf! (Reminder: These are some of the same cops who have taken more time to harass the person behind the @placardabuse Twitter account than have actually taken to deal with the misuse of police placards.)

We're not the only people interested in this topic. Bobby Kent tweeted a thread about cops in Harlem and Park Slope. And lawyer Steve Vaccaro shared his personal outrage about being asked to dismount his bike for no reason on W. 127th Street because cops allegedly need access to the full road.

And on Friday, jogger Lindsey Cormack ran to 16 station houses in Manhattan and found that at least nine of them had been turned into Fortresses of Solitudes (minus the supermen). The barricaded streets included those in front of the following precincts:

The barricades at the 26th Precinct station house in Harlem. Photo: Lindsey Cormack
The barricades at the 26th Precinct station house in Harlem. Photo: Lindsey Cormack
The barricades at the 26th Precinct station house in Harlem. Photo: Lindsey Cormack

"I appreciate police. I understand policing is a part of a functional society. But I don’t think it helps police-community relations for police to be able to just close the streets their buildings are built on from the other people who live in, and fund city government. ," she wrote in Medium. "When police can wall themselves off with fiat power over publicly owned streets, they turn their role into something that requires a fortress, versus something that is a part of a greater whole."

Here's Streetsblog's photo essay on the topic:

Brooklyn's 70th Precinct (Midwood)

Cops have not only barricaded Lawrence Avenue to prevent pedestrians and non-police-own vehicles from entering, but they're parking all over the sidewalks (plus, 56 percent of the officers and employees here have multiple moving violations on their cars). Here's a photo gallery:

Go back to those last photos for a second. No only did that brand new Caddy in the foreground get a speeding ticket last month and the fancy BMW has 13 speeding tickets on its record, but all of the police officers' personal vehicles are parked on the sidewalk in front of a center that provides care for people with disabilities who are likely to need to access the block in wheelchairs.

We're not the only one's to notice what's going on:

Brooklyn's 66th Precinct (Borough Park)

Typical situation here (including the lousy driving records): Cops have barricaded the entrance to the station house and stolen the sidewalk. Here are our photos:

Brooklyn's 67th Precinct (Flatbush)

This station house has long been a thorn in the side of its neighbors, given how the cops park wherever they want and commandeer sidewalks right up to the property line. These photos were taken before the George Floyd protests began:

Since the protests began, the station house was turned into the typical fortress.

The 67th Precinct. Photo: Dave Colon
The 67th Precinct. Photo: Dave Colon
The 67th Precinct. Photo: Dave Colon

Brooklyn's 71st Precinct (Crown Heights)

Normal police BS. In this case, cops at the 71 have merely seized the sidewalk. Good luck if you're in a wheelchair.

The 71st Precinct. Photo: Dave Colon
The 71st Precinct. Photo: Dave Colon
The 71st Precinct. Photo: Dave Colon

Brooklyn's 88th Precinct (Clinton Hill)

Here's a favorite of Streetsblog — the same precinct that was featured in our S-Cop-Laws driving record series last year and the place where Borough President Adams was recently asked why cops are allowed to park all over the sidewalks.

Well, that's become increasingly difficult since the precinct has become a fortress of solitude. Here's a photo gallery showing how dangerous the situation is for pedestrians and how cops have even seized an area playground:

Brooklyn's 83rd Precinct (Bushwick)

Few station houses have been transformed into such outrageous paramilitarized zones as the one housing cops from the 83rd Precinct.

Here, cops have seized Bleecker Street in front of the station house with barricades and vehicles. Here's our slideshow:

Brooklyn's 81st Precinct (East Bushwick)

Our visit proved something else about cops: they're pigs.

The street in front station house itself — Ralph Avenue — was open for able-bodied pedestrians (the disabled are almost never able to access the sidewalk at a New York City police station house, of course), but officers have left so many cars parked all over the place that regular street cleaning is impossible. The place is simply a godawful mess, as our slideshow below shows:

Brooklyn's 79th Precinct (Bedford-Stuyvesant)

Several outrages at once are happening at the 79: Not only have the cops seized the sidewalk in front of the Tompkins Avenue station house, but they park their massive personal vehicles all over the neighborhood, blocking curb access for people who get around in wheelchairs.

Plus, the sidewalks around the stationhouse are a mess.

See our slideshow here:

Brooklyn's 90th Precinct (Williamsburg)

This precinct is just the normal barricades combined with cops leaving their cars wherever they want. Also, 55 percent of employees and cops have multiple moving violations on their personal driving records, our investigation found.

The Bronx's 50th Precinct (Riverdale)

We found problems at the 50 before the George Floyd protests and since (52 percent of cops and employees have multiple moving violations on their personal driving records). We first noticed a barricade on the street in front of the station house on April 1. Some weeks later, we asked cops standing outside the station for an explanation. They said the blocked-off street helped them to respond more quickly to coronavirus emergencies because neighbors couldn't double-park, impeding their operations.

Since the BLM protests began, the 50th has since fortified its enclave with even more metal barricades and on Saturday parked an empty SUV cruiser in front of the fortifications in order to enhance them on the Kingsbridge Avenue side.

But before and after, they always park on the sidewalks, a common show of disrespect for the community.

One final note

The 104th Precinct station house on Catalpa Ave. in Queens. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The 104th Precinct station house on Catalpa Ave. in Queens. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The 104th Precinct station house on Catalpa Ave. in Queens. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Of course, not every precinct station house has become a fortress. At the 104th Precinct in a residential part of Ridgewood, Queens, there was a lone cop standing on the front stoop when we showed up. There were no barricades (except for the police officers' cars themselves — see photo, right).

"Hello, how are you!" he said to us as we started to case the joint and take pictures of the scene (including all the illegally parked cars on the sidewalk).

When we left, he got chatty again, "Have a great day!"

It actually sounded like he meant it.

The NYPD declined to comment for this story.

— with reporting by Gersh Kuntzman, Dave Colon, Steven Vago, Angela Stach and Eve Kessler

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