WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — More than 70 Washington Heights residents packed the 33rd Precinct Community Room last Wednesday to meet new commander-in-chief, Capt. Fausto Pichardo.
"Is my hair a mess?" asked Pichardo, who sports a nearly bald look, drawing laughs.
He also warned the crowd to not fall asleep during his opening remarks.
"I can talk, talk and talk away so be prepared to be here for a while," he said.
Pichardo, who met the community on several occasions through visiting local businesses and talking to residents on the ground, formally introduced himself for the first time last week. He assured them he was going to try to do just as good of a job as the very popular commander he replaced, Brian Mullen.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Capt. Mullen," Pichardo said. "I'm very fortunate to follow in his footsteps and have gained a lot of direction from him."
Mullen will now be moving to a precinct in the Bronx where he spent much of his career.
"I will miss this precinct and the great people of this community," Mullen said. "You are definitely in good hands with Capt. Pichardo. He is extremely energetic and I expect him to do good for the community."
Pichardo, who was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the Lower East Side when he was 3 months old, had a difficult time expressing how much it means to him to be the first Dominican-American captain of the 33rd Precinct.
"It is an honor to be the first Dominican-American to head up this precinct," he said. "To be chosen by the police commissioner to be the first one is amazing. I have the best job in the world."
Pichardo has seen the NYPD's ranks become more diverse in his last 13 years on the job.
"I remember my class only having three Dominicans in 1999, and now you have Dominican police officers all over the five boroughs," Pichardo said.
The community and the many Dominicans who live in the area are excited about his appointment as well.
Modest Nuñez, 33, who is Dominican, attended his first community council meeting to not only voice a complaint, but to also see the new captain.
"I'm excited about it," Nuñez said. "I think it's extremely important to have someone who was born and raised here and grew up like myself and could relate to your family and culture."
The youngest of four brothers, Pichardo, 48, started his career 13 years ago working in the Midtown South Precinct as a beat cop covering the Times Square area. He then moved to Harlem working in the 28th precinct, then became a sergeant in the 25th Precinct and a lieutenant at the 19th Precinct.
Pichardo was inspired by his uncle, who was also a cop.
"I saw the work of my uncle as a cop and saw the issues in my Lower East Side neighborhood and I wanted to be part of a group of people tasked with helping to fix the area," Pichardo said. "I then became a cop."
Michael Mowatt-Wynn, the president of the 33rd Precinct Community Council, is excited about the new captain in charge.
"I feel it's an outstanding selection considering the demographics of this neighborhood," Mowatt-Wynn said. "To have an Afro-Latino lead this precinct is amazing. It's like getting two for the price of one in this diverse neighborhood."
Venus Williams, who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly two decades, was sad to see former Captain Mullen leave, but is optimistic about Pichardo's appointment.
"The crime has gone down in this neighborhood and judging from tonight, I don't see any reason why Captain Pichardo won't continue to keep those rates going down," Williams said.
Pichardo, who has 4-year-old twin girls, is looking to unite the community even more.
"I used to hang out here when i was in college and I've seen how much this community has changed," he said. "And while we've made a lot of strides with statistics, we want to keep bringing people together. That's my job. To make the police and the community not two separate entities, but one."