INWOOD — Tension is simmering in Inwood as an investigation continues into the death of a grandfather who was fatally shot by an undercover cop during a drug bust on Post Avenue.
Residents expressed their anger during a conversation with the commanding officer of the 34th Precinct during its community council meeting.
They said although the area needs a more concentrated police presence to deal with crime, cops must become more aware of the distinction between locals and drug dealers.
“There are no animals on Post Avenue,” said one resident at the meeting who identified himself as Esteban, a former resident of the block where John Collado was shot and killed on Sept. 6. “They are just people, people who sometimes make mistakes.”
In the wake of the shooting, many residents have stressed that the neighborhood is made up of hardworking men and women who are trying to support their families, but drugs have long been a problem in the area.
In fact, the smell of marijuana wafted over precinct council attendees and police as they left the meeting held on Sherman Avenue Wednesday night, just one block west of Post Avenue.
Narcotics arrests have actually dropped in Inwood and Washington Heights over the past decade, according to DNAinfo’s Crime & Safety report.
In the 34th Precinct, which patrols Inwood and Washington Heights above 179th Street, narcotics arrests saw an 8.3 percent drop between 2009 and 2010, with 670 arrests made in 2010 versus 730 in 2009.
In the 33rd Precinct, which patrols Washington Heights below 179th Street, narcotics arrests saw a 23.7 percent drop during the same time period. In 2010 915 arrests were made, compared to 1,199 in 2009, according to the report, which matches NYPD statistics against U.S. Census data.
It was not immediately known how many narcotics arrests have been made so far in 2011, but the recent crime wave in the 34th Precinct has been acknowledged by the NYPD.
“2011 has been a challenging year,” said Deputy Inspector Barry Buzzetti, the commanding officer of the 34th Precinct.
“When incidents like these happen they erode some of the trust, some of the security people in the community need to live. We know it will be a long time building that trust back up,” he said.
The Collado incident is the latest high profile case involving a police officer in Inwood. It followed the August arrest of an off-duty cop who allegedly raped a woman in Inwood, and the shooting death of a knife-wielding man who threatened cops on Vermilyea Avenue last October.
Collado was shot after he intervened in a drug arrest of a neighbor in his apartment building. Rangel Batista, 23, was charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest, but police said they did not find drugs on him. He is currently awaiting trial on charges of criminal possession of cocaine stemming back to January of this year.
Cops said Collado placed the plainclothes officer in a chokehold, leaving him on the verge of passing out. A family lawyer and friends have argued Collado was a “good man” who was sticking up for a neighbor.
“John Collado died because he loved that troubled young man,” a neighbor said at the community council meeting Wednesday night.
Many residents say they are more apt to reach out to a neighbor than cops when it comes to problems on the street.
"Even though this neighborhood seems disconnected, we are very connected when it comes to our neighbors," Alex Martinez, a member of the Inwood Little League, said during Wednesday's precinct meeting.
"I can tell you, if Buzzetti is in trouble and he’s in plain clothes, I’m gonna help," he added, mentioning the precinct commanding officer by name.
One resident said she is concerned about a perceived increase in cops shooting citizens throughout the five boroughs, linking Collado’s death to that of the shooting death of Sean Bell by undercover cops.
Buzetti challenged the assertion, stating there has been a “huge decrease in instances of police fire arm discharges.”
Earlier this summer, the former commanding officer of the 34th Precinct, Jose Navarro, said undercover narcotics operations would be taking place in the area.
Although many residents of Post Avenue said they have seen an increase in uniformed police, some say that has brought an increase in aggression between cops and residents.
“You should see how these shake downs are done on the street,” said one Post Avenue resident who asked to remain anonymous. “There is a very real problem with stop and frisk in our community. You can’t treat everyone like drug dealers.”
“It’s time for the 34th Precinct and the community to reaffirm our vision for this community,” said another resident at the precinct meeting.
Although the police at Wednesday’s precinct meeting stopped short of accepting responsibility for the breakdown in community relations, they said they recognize a lack of communication between residents and police and asked for help in building that relationship.
“We need the community’s support,” said 34th Precinct Community Council president George Espinal. “The police can’t patrol the whole community, they don’t live here. They don’t know what you know.”