By George Capsis

“I would like to come and see you, Mr. Capsis” Alan Silverstein excitedly offered on the phone. He came in ten minutes and parked in front of my Charles Street door with license plates that allow him to park at the steps of City Hall. Holding a copy of WestView News—that had the anti-graffiti program on its front cover—he was excited.

I learned later that Alan Silverstein is one of the most active volunteers of Community Partners, a civilian organization working with the police’s Neighborhood Coordination Officers (NCO) division— which is, of course, now very much needed.

Here was WestView News, a community newspaper vigorously supporting a city-wide police effort that has the police and civilians side-by-side painting out graffiti, and doing it as the whole country was waiting for the verdict on a police officer who made the wrong decision when asked to get off the neck of the subject of his arrest. Just maybe, Silverstein thought, our paper could become the voice of the police.

Alan, as we have come to call him, continually juggles the names of top cops that are his buddies, so we asked him to arrange for us to interview one. He not only got a top cop to agree, he brought him to our garden at 69 Charles (amazing!).

Chief Sal Comodo and Police Officer (PO) Natasha DeLeon from NYPD headquarters, both with relaxed soft smiles, arrived to discuss the 4/10/21 anti-graffiti event and how we could keep the momentum moving, now that every precinct was no longer on “lockdown.” 

PO Natasha DeLeon, with a relaxed tone, told of rolling paint over graffiti with children from a local school, feeling that this was all that was needed. But I stopped her, to suggest that the verdict to sentence a police officer for murder was a critical nadir in police/civilian relations. 

I recalled, when I was a kid in the nineteen-thirties, the tall cop on the beat on Hamilton Place, how we knew his name, and how he knew us. And now, I have to ask for permission to interview the new captain of my local precinct (he declined to be interviewed). But now we had on the front page of WestView News, two police officers rolling out graffiti at the request of a civilian complaint.

Chief Sal Comodo has been with the force since graduating from the police academy, and is now a 38-year veteran of the department. As a Spring shower of hail started and we rose to move inside, I grabbed his arm for balance and discovered a youthful muscle; he confessed he still “worked out.” Chief Comodo emphasized, “We are committed to building better relations with the community, and making a positive impact on citizens’ lives.” He also wished that graffiti artists would turn their talents to the commissioned work around the city that actually pays to improve the streetscape.

When I was a kid, you had to be six feet to join the force because you walked a beat all alone—now pairs of officers tour the precinct in patrol cars.

Now, just maybe, joining with our local precinct to wipe out graffiti, we civilians will learn their names again and they will learn ours.

Brian Pape contributed to this reporting.

George Capsis met with NYPD Chief Sal Comodo and PO Natasha DeLeon, arranged by Alan Silverstein (far right), with Bruce and Suzanne Poli, Dusty Berke and Brian Pape of WestView News, to discuss the 4/10/21 anti-graffiti event, and ways to continue the efforts. Photo by Suzanne Poli.

1 thought on “Police Chief in the Garden

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      Dear George,

      I was deeply saddened by your characterization of the murder of George Floyd by the sociopathic police officer Derek Chauvin, who had 18 complaints of abuse on his official record. This wasn’t one bad decision in an otherwise blameless life.

      Your ill-written sentence in the story “Police Chief in the Garden” on the cover of the June issue brought to mind so clearly the sight of George gasping “I can’t breathe.” This traumatic moment galvanized millions of people around the globe in protest of police brutality and violence inflicted on Black peole.

      Your description of the murder missed the mark and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the zeitgeist of this time and the views of our readers. I feel deeply ashamed to be associated with the paper. It hurts my heart the way you diminished a helpless man gasping to breathe—then breathing no more—and the ferocity of that historical moment.

      I want to tell the readers of WestView that the opinions of the publisher most emphatically do not reflect the opinions of the contributors to this paper. We stand against violence, oppression, and racism. We join all those who mourn the senseless loss of life and who work to build a more just world. Black Lives Matter.

      Sad regards,
      Karen Rempel
      Cosigners: Kim Plosia, Bob Cooley

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