New Leader of Brooklyn's 71st Precinct Takes on 'Knockout' Attacks
CROWN HEIGHTS — Deputy Inspector George Fitzgibbon has had a busy first two months at the helm of Brooklyn's 71st Precinct.
The 28-year NYPD veteran became the precinct's commanding officer at the end of October, just as heat was building over the alleged "knockout game" attacks, in which young assailants appeared to be targeting Orthodox Jews in the neighborhood, punching them in the face but not stealing anything.
"I think I walked in in its inception," Fitzgibbon said of the attacks, three of which were solved last month with the arrest of four young students. "We did a lot of work with the community's help and with our community affairs officers and community people, reaching out to all the schools in the proximity where these were going on."
For the commander, who started his career in the southeast Bronx's 43rd Precinct and most recently led Canarsie's 69th Precinct, it was a crash course in a community that is both denser and more diverse than any he's been charged with running before.
"Each location, they’re all different, but with this location here...it's not a big geographic location, but it’s very dense, there's a lot of people," Fitzgibbon said.
The 53-year-old father of three grew up on Long Island, where he still lives with his wife. Fitzgibbon said the hourlong commute to and from Brooklyn gives him time to chat on the phone with members of the community, where he is the second new commander in 18 months.
"He's a wonderful person," said Karl Cohen, president of the 71st Precinct Community Council. He first introduced Fitzgibbon to the community at a meeting in November, where he told residents the new commander "holds the key to our safety."
Aside from the spate of "knockout" attacks, Fitzgibbon said he was pleased with his predecessor Deputy Inspector John Lewis' progress curbing violent crime in the neighborhood — where shootings have dropped by more than 40 percent since 2011, according to data compiled by the NYPD.
"They struggled in the beginning for probably the fist half of the year," Fitzgibbon said, referring to a string of shootings and robberies that plagued the district in the spring of 2013. "This year so far violence-wise, shooting-wise, they’re doing very, very well here."