UPPER WEST SIDE — When Deputy Inspector Marlon Larin took up the post as commanding officer of the 24th Precinct three months into 2014, the neighborhood was already experiencing one of its worst years in terms of traffic fatalities.
It was also the inaugural year of the Mayor's Vision Zero policy aimed at reducing all of the city's deadly traffic crashes down to none.
Larin spoke to DNAinfo about the precinct's focus on traffic safety — especially enforcement efforts along the 96th Street corridor, one of the most crash-prone in the precinct — and how to stay one step ahead of the next major crash.
Moreover, Larin also has to ensure his tactics are working to decrease major crimes in the neighborhood. He also talked about where his policies have paid off and where there's been room for revision and improvement.
DNAinfo spoke with Larin about a day (and night) in the life of a commanding officer, while explaining why there's a fast burnout rate for people in his post:
Emily: Deputy Inspector Larin, I would love to start off learning a little bit more about your trajectory, how you got to where you are today.
Deputy Inspector Larin: I have a total of fifteen years of service and that's starting as a police officer in the year 2000. I was assigned to the 47 Precinct in the North Central Bronx and right away I realized that I would like to be a manager in the police department. I studied for sergeant and then I went to Harlem and the 28 Precinct. I was there for about a year and I did some time at the Police Cadet Corps and the Police Academy. What that program is, it's a police apprenticeship program and it helps college students, juniors and seniors with tuition stipends and also with a flexible hourly job, typically at a precinct. And the idea is that they achieve a bachelor's degree within four years and they come on to be police officers. I actually am a product of that program.
After I did that, I studied for lieutenant and I spent some time at the 33rd Precinct in Washington Heights and some time here at Patrol Borough Manhattan North at the overhead command for all the precincts uptown. Then, I studied for captain and once I achieved that promotion, I was in East Harlem, the 25 Precinct, which is also the neighborhood where I grew up. Again, going back to my roots-
Emily: I was going to ask you.
Deputy Inspector Larin: Yes.
Emily: You grew up in East Harlem.
Deputy Inspector Larin: I went back as a captain. I keep going back to my beginnings and it's nice to see things go full circle. It was good to work in East Harlem and to go back to my old neighborhood. I was there-
Emily: Do people recognize you from growing up?
Deputy Inspector Larin: No. Surprisingly no. No. Not at all. I was very quiet. I just went to school, went home and did my work, so not a lot of people recognize me on the street, but I was very familiar with the terrain. I never had to look up at the streets to realize where I was. I would just know.
Deputy Inspector Larin: It was just second nature, so that was beneficial to me. After two years there, I was tapped to be the Precinct Commander here at the 24th Precinct and it's really an honor to be in this neighborhood and to serve everyone who lives here, works here, visits. It's a beautiful neighborhood and it's our goal to make it better as your police department. Just this December, the past, I was promoted to Deputy Inspector as a result of the hard work of the men and women of the precinct have done and the positive community feedback, because without that we wouldn't be a success. I'm happy to say that it will be two years here on April 7th and our average lifespan for a precinct commander is about three years, so we'll see what the next step is for me.
Emily: Does that mean you have to leave at three years?
Deputy Inspector Larin: That's the average time. We don't really have a choice at this level. All of those moves are figured out by the Police Commissioner, the Chief of Department. What they do know that the job of a police commander is a 24-hour commitment, so that's why that's the average time. If it was maybe less demanding, then we would last a lot longer out here. Usually, it's another precinct we get sent to or an administrative assignment, like Headquarters or the Police Academy.
Emily: You know, you've spent all this time getting to know everybody and the new person has to start fresh.
Deputy Inspector Larin: Right, well, that can be unnerving for the community stakeholders, our block associations and that is some of the comments I've been getting lately, because after the promotion the community knows that usually the commander is on the down trend and on their way out.
My message to the community is not to fret, because the team will typically be the same. All of the people that are standing behind me, the domestic violence officers, the traffic safety officers, the crime prevention officer, community affairs officers, that team stays intact. Really what you're seeing is just a new face to the precinct. I know that can be unnerving, because you learn somebody then they leave and then you have to learn somebody else, but the way that the job of the Precinct Commander is designed, by virtue of what we do, we have to be responsive as much as possible, because that's really the only way to solve problems.
Emily: You mentioned it's a 24/7 job. What does a typical day look like for you?
Deputy Inspector Larin: Traditionally, precinct commanders work from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with Saturdays and Sundays off, but we have to move with the events. If there is a local parade happening, we have to be present just to ensure the safety of everyone involved, the participants and then just the regular folks that are walking up and down the street. Then, also, we have a lot of meetings, a lot of traffic meetings, crime meetings, strategy meetings that we respond to — to our overhead command Patrol Borough Manhattan North and also downtown at Headquarters.
A typical day for a precinct commander, there is relatively no downtime, lot of phone calls, lot of emails, lot of meetings and then on your own time you find yourself doing things as well just to catch up because you can't afford to fall behind.
Emily: What if something really horrific happens? Do you have to then come back into the Upper West Side and be there?
Deputy Inspector Larin: Yes. The typical job that I call the job where you wake the president, so to speak...
Emily: Right. Right.
Deputy Inspector Larin: ...would be a police officer-involved shooting. If an officer discharges his or her firearm against someone or if an officer ends up being hurt as a result of someone shooting them or a stabbing, then we are expected to come in a coordinate the resources, the response, notifying community stakeholders, the media, just to let everyone know what exactly is happening and just to assuage any fears. When an officer is involved in a shooting the response is Herculean. It is just a lot of resources that go into it and it can be scary for folks in the neighborhoods.
Most recently we, unfortunately, reported a traffic fatality in January on 96th Street and Amsterdam and in that case I was already off-duty, but I was in the city and I was able to come back just be present and to insure that the investigation is being handled properly and that no stone is left unturned. It's always good to come back if you can because-
Emily: You live a little outside the city, so-
Deputy Inspector Larin: Yes. Not far.
Emily: Do you ever find yourself turning around in your car?
Deputy Inspector Larin: I have. I have. Absolutely. If it's something that serious, it's just better to be there because you are present as the information is coming in as opposed to coming to work a day or two later and trying to catch up. It puts you at a significant disadvantage. If you're there, you take in the sights, you take in the sounds and you're able to really respond to what's happening and you're intimately involved and that's what's really expected of us.
Emily: Yeah. Do you sleep with your phone by the bed?
Deputy Inspector Larin: Yes.
Emily: Waiting for calls?
Deputy Inspector Larin: Yes.
Emily: You can't put it on silent, can you?
Deputy Inspector Larin: Oh, no. We cannot. Also, the police department has our home numbers as well in the event that the cell phone goes down, we would get a phone call at home.
Emily: It might even make sense to sleep at the precinct. Have you ever done that? Do they have a cot for you?
Deputy Inspector Larin: They do, but it's very difficult. It's very uncomfortable.
Deputy Inspector Larin: It's hustling and bustling and the sounds, it's hard.
Emily: We've talked about a lot of calls seem to be coming from certain locations that there's repeat offenders in locations and one of them was Freedom House, the shelter on 95th Street. Why is it that there are these hot spots?
Deputy Inspector Larin: What we see and like you said, I do appreciate the question, the Freedom House, there are others that come to mind. The Yale at 316 West 97th. There's another site at 312 West 109th. What we see is just the concentration of folks that are crammed into these places. They don't have the best of life circumstances and regrettably, what happens is that those who feel that they are at more of a disadvantage than others, meaning their own neighbors, they'll take the opportunity to take things from them.
Most recently, we had a burglary committed at the Yale where a television was taken out of someone's room. In another case, they have common bathrooms, meaning that all of the persons on the same floor have to share the restroom so some of them don't lock the doors. That leaves them open to victimization. A cell phone was taken recently. I just feel that the folks should just live in harmony in the same place, but it doesn't happen, unfortunately. They're doing it to themselves. Some people are just more prone to theft, they can't help themselves and they see an easy way to capitalize off of it. A stolen cell phone they can fence it and sell it for a couple of dollars. If they're into substance abuse or alcohol abuse, they can feed their habits. Unfortunately, it's just too much of the same, so to speak. We also will see some type of assault with a knife or even empty hands and the tempers flare when you put a lot of people in cramped quarters and again, with maybe not the best of resources. They just don't use much foresight and they behave impulsively.
Emily: In the case of Freedom House, there were a lot of outstanding warrants and you did raid the shelter to try and round up those people that were living there with outstanding warrants, but not everyone agreed with that tactic. Why did you chose to do that and would you do it again?
Deputy Inspector Larin: Right. What happened at the time, that's when I first arrived at the precinct, which was in 2014 and what I noticed, the difference between the Upper West Side and East Harlem, where I was a captain, was that up here most of our index crimes are property thefts, so burglaries, grand larcenies, breaking into autos to remove a GPS system or even loose change. I did not have any hard data that linked the residents of the shelter to these crimes, but what we did was we did conducted a survey of the residents with open warrants and what we looked for were the folks were prone to these kind of crimes. People who had-
Emily: Just stealing things.
Deputy Inspector Larin: Yes.
Emily: Breaking into cars.
Deputy Inspector Larin: People who have been arrested for burglary, for grand larceny, for committing property thefts in the transit system. Others who did not have that kind of history, we did not target for the sweep and what we did is we worked together with the staff at the shelter and we conducted the early morning warrant sweep and we removed, if I'm not mistaken, about 22 persons to court to present them before the judge. The issue there was, just coming in very early in the morning, some folks felt that was a little too intrusive and alarming. I can see how that can be interpreted. The direction that we're going now is that we will pursue someone with a warrant in a shelter, but it would have to be a little more high value than that, than let's say, a summons for failing to go to court for urinating in public. What we would look for is someone who is wanted on an active misdemeanor case or an active felony case, again something that has a little more substance to it as opposed to a criminal court summons.
Emily: Did crime drop after that raid?
Deputy Inspector Larin: Surprisingly, it did not. It actually picked up a little, so we couldn't make a direct correlation between bringing in the folks who had active warrants and these arrest histories and the crimes. Based on some of the arrests we've made, not all of them live in the neighborhood. We have people that come in from uptown or even from the Bronx. We've had some folks with Brooklyn addresses. No, we couldn't make that direct correlation. It was just a plan that we devised just to see if it would affect it, but we haven't done any since then and we don't see ourselves continuing it in the future, unless, like I said, they have an active investigation into a major crime.
Emily: One of the precinct's major area of patrol is the 96th Street corridor. That's also where a lot of crashes happen. What is the strategy there?
Deputy Inspector Larin: Yes, 2014 was a very active year in terms of traffic fatalities, for the 24th Precinct in particular. It was a very sad year. We recorded a total of seven and at the beginning of the year, in January, there were three fatalities alone on the 96th Street corridor. The response was multi-agency. I believe it was swift in terms of DOT with their re-engineering and the way they structured West End Avenue, the 96th Street subway hub, which gains significant traffic in terms of foot traffic of folks coming in and out of the train system. With the enforcement, which is significant in this corridor, we spend most of our time along the 96th Street corridor, more towards the West Side than to Central Park West, because we do no want a reoccurrence.
We also combine that with education, so we visit schools, senior centers. I have done so personally as well. We are aggressive in terms of the enforcement, insomuch that in 2015 we did not sustain anything close to what we did 2014 along the 96th Street corridor. Our one fatality in 2015 was way up on 109th Street on Columbus Avenue, but we are also working with the elected officials. Some resolutions have been passed where even if someone ordinarily would not get arrested on-site, now they could if they failed to exercise due care. Our fatality in November on 109th Street, the taxi driver was arrested for that, so no longer does it have to be someone outrightly under the influence of drugs or alcohol or someone who just drove in an extremely negligent manner. I think all of these things blended together have attributed to the reduction in traffic fatalities.
Unfortunately, this year in January on 96th Street and Amsterdam, we lost a person to a motorcyclist that was traveling eastbound on 96th Street and collided with a pedestrian. Again, the response was very swift. We implement, after a death, a 72-hour plan and in those plans we seek to enforce as many violations as we can so that the Department of Transportation and we can conduct an assessment as to what can make that intersection better. What improvements can we recommend for more safety for the pedestrians in the future and, in this case, we noticed lighting could have been a factor, repainting the crosswalk markings, the street markings for vehicles. We issued over 130 summons within just three days and then also about seven arrests. We do that, again, just to give us time to study the intersection. Before this fatality occurred, I believe there were about 50 motor vehicle collisions in the precinct up until that time, up until Jan. 14 and we only reported two on 96th Street and Amsterdam. It wasn't necessarily in our sights, so to speak, because of the volume of collisions, but the entire 96th Street corridor is something we always concern ourselves with.
Something that has come up in conversation — just thinking about and brainstorming about 96th Street as to why does it attract this kind of attention and these fatalities is probably, as a contributing factor — is there are not many streets in Manhattan that will take you from one highway directly to the other. We did notice that 96th Street you could get off on the Henry Hudson Parkway and travel directly across and catch the FDR Drive. Other major thoroughfares in Manhattan, they have significant breaks or rerouting. Again, we will continue to enforce whatever we can enforce and the hazardous violations, the Vision Zero violations, they're always at the top of the list and those would be cell phones, texting, failing to yield to a pedestrian, things of that nature, disobeying a signal, disobeying a red light, and speeding. I really do not anticipate that we'll see another year like 2014 again, just because we are a lot more focused now and, unfortunately, we learned a lot of lessons with the deaths of pedestrians.
Deputy Inspector Larin: Our supervisors are also tasked with being aware where the next hot spot may be in terms of traffic so as to not put all of our eggs in one basket, so to speak. There may be another intersection in the precinct that something is going on and if we see and uptick of motor vehicle collisions, we'll visit the site and see exactly what it is. Sometimes it's a sign that the wind blew off or vandalism and we can ask for our partners at the DOT to just bring that back or implement something new. We do rely on enforcement as the first part of the three-pronged traffic approach, which is enforcement, education, and engineering.
Emily: Yeah. Do you worry about what the next hot spot is going to be? Do you spend time analyzing the streets and the data?
Deputy Inspector Larin: Yes we do.
Emily: Trying to predict that.
Deputy Inspector Larin: Yes, absolutely. What we have in place is we have a computer program that tabulates the motor vehicle collisions that come in and every month the program identifies collision-prone locations or CPLs. It works on a point system, so if we have a high amount of motor vehicle collisions where there are no injuries, it makes its way into the program. If we have a lesser amount of collisions with some injuries, again, it makes its way into the program and a traffic fatality is an automatic. It will qualify for the collision-prone location. Since we get this on a monthly basis, what we'll do is we'll pool our resources and conduct enforcement there and it does help, it does abate the condition and then we'll move on to the next spot. Even if there is an intersection along 96th Street that doesn't make this list, we still spend our time there just because of the historical problem that it's become.
Emily: Right. Are you worried about the bike lane or do you think-
Deputy Inspector Larin: I think that the bike lane, from what we see on Columbus Avenue, it has helped in terms of reducing the injuries. What we, as a police department on our part, we have to ensure that the double-parking situation is corrected because once a vehicle double parks, it's almost like it's in the middle of the road. The protected bike lane takes up a former parking lane, so once you have the protected bike lane, row of vehicles that are parked legally, and then this double-parked vehicle, it literally feels like it's in the middle of the road and it can cause the traffic to be reduced one lane if you have double parkers on either side. We have noticed that that's a newly manifested problem, but it's something that we continue to address.
Emily: You'll be on the double parkers.
Deputy Inspector Larin: Yes, we have to. We have to for the sake of keeping the traffic flowing, otherwise it comes to a complete standstill. Right now one of the recurring problem is Columbus Avenue from 97th to 100 Street. We're working on that every day.
Emily: Shifting gears a little bit, on 93rd Street earlier this fall there were a series of attacks and retaliatory attacks involving middle schoolers. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about why you think that happened and what you did to prevent it and why we haven't seen any more.
Deputy Inspector Larin: What we saw there was that we have two housing developments within the confines of the precinct. We have the Douglass Houses up north of 100th Street and then we have the Wise Towers down by the lower 90s. Even before my time here, there is a long standing feud between the young persons who live in both developments. Both developments do have their respective gangs or crews, as we call them. The Douglass Houses have the Columbus Avenue Gunners, they turn out of there, and out of the Wise Towers is the Money Comes First Crew, but what we were seeing on 91st Street was that some of the younger kids who live in Douglass were being targeted by the younger residents of the Wise Towers. Now, they were not old enough to be part of these crews and they did not necessarily identify themselves with these crews, so it seems it was more territorial than anything else and just not liking the fact that someone from a rival housing development is attending a school near their development. Now, that's something that that student can't really help if they're zoned to attend that school or their parents want them there for any other reason, there is absolutely no reason for them to be assaulted or robbed or picked on just because of where they reside.
What we noticed in November was an uptick in just that where residents of the Douglass Houses were being assaulted and much like traffic, as soon as we see these reports, we prefer to saturate the area with a uniform presence. That way we're no further away than the next corner. We also like to increase the awareness. We reached out to our stakeholders. We reached out to our principals, our teachers, our local media just to put the word out to the parents that this is going on and we just want more eyes and more ears because the best way to help us is to be the best witness possible, because sometimes we can't be everywhere. When we raise the awareness, some people became very uncomfortable, but I did feel that it was more beneficial than hurtful for parents to know exactly what's going on. That way they can give their child better safety tips, such as don't use the phone unnecessarily in front of a crowd of people, if you need help go to your nearest merchant, ask for the phone, or just go back to the school.
We were able to make some arrests and also stem the tide, so to speak. With an information campaign, it gives us and our detectives time to really study and investigate and find out who was committing the crime as opposed to just being passive about it and allowing more crimes to occur. It's been working in our favor and we have made significant arrests.
Emily: Do you have officers stationed just non-stop at the two major developments?
Deputy Inspector Larin: To directly answer the question, we don't have a specific set of officers in the developments. Instead, we have our regular sector officers who are responsible for a geographical area and they will pay attention to the crimes and conditions that are happening. Late last year, we had our midnight officers stationed inside the Douglass Houses just for an undetermined amount of time just to ensure that there's a presence. A lot of residents responded positively. They would walk up to the officers and thank them, because usually what we see is just a select few of people that are causing the majority of the problems. That's our goal, to find out who these people are and to address these people appropriately to correct the problems that are there.
Emily: You mentioned getting help from the community as being very important. Do you think there's less of a "stop snitching" or a "don't talk to the police" atmosphere up here on the Upper West Side?
Deputy Inspector Larin: I think that there is and something that surprised me and that I was very proud of was, and we've spoken about was the homicide of Bubacarr Camera, who was working out of the store on Amsterdam Avenue and 104th Street. In that case, the killers, they removed the surveillance system from the store, so it put us at a disadvantage where we were now looking for video surveillance or any other kind of imagery from side streets or corridors. We could not immediately identify who these three men were. Once we reached out to Crime Stoppers and we submitted a request for media attention, a lot of phone calls came pouring in and had it not been for the community's help, we would have not been able to identify these three men. As you know, they were successfully indited under federal standards because of the severity of their crimes.
I do feel there is a sense of trust that is coming back. People aren't outright walking into the precinct telling us things, but we do encourage the sharing of information, because the residents and the workers and visitors are the ones that are out there and see things and are able to ingest things a lot more than we can. The only way to make this a better place is to do it together. I'm a firm believer in that.
Emily: The precinct is so diverse. There's people living in NYCHA developments, there's extremely wealthy people, young people, older people, people with disabilities. How do you serve all those different communities?
Deputy Inspector Larin: That's a very good point, because this is actually the first precinct that I've worked in that, the way I've described it, it's almost at odds with itself. We have so many different people representing all sides of the socioeconomic strata and somehow they are all able to coexist. Our officers, they are very well balanced to the point where our civilian complaints were significantly down last year. They are trained on de-escalation techniques, on meeting people where they are, so to speak. Most of the people we come into contact with are frustrated and our officers are as sympathetic as they can be. They're able to toggle between different situations, so, as you said, our officers may respond to an apartment where someone says their $50,000 time piece has gone missing and they may respond to a shelter, where someone says their $20 watch was taken from their unit, but we treat them all with the same level of importance, with the same level of urgency. As the Police Commissioner says, we look to make it safe and fair everywhere.
Emily: The neighborhood is very affluent. It's gentrifying. Do you think people have a false sense of security of not having to watch their purse or their bag?
Deputy Inspector Larin: To a degree, yes. Something that we've been pushing at our meetings is crime prevention, because a lot of the crimes that we record up here are preventable. It is a very nice neighborhood, but we also have to take into account that there are persons out there who don't have to go to work. Instead, they have a full day to roam around, so if you're in a store, we do not recommend to leave a purse in a shopping cart with your credit cards or your phones. We recommend you keep these items on your person. If you feel that someone is unusually close to you or if they bump you, we recommend that us look right away. We don't recommend that you confront the person, but by just taking a quick survey of your items and if you see that it's missing and someone bumped you, you would be able to give us a physical description of who did it and it gives us a better starting point for our investigation and we would be more successful in our apprehension efforts.
One of the trends we're seeing lately is in Riverside Park. We do have an officer at Riverside park, but the players in the soccer field, they get very into their game and they leave credit cards and phones off to the side and, unfortunately, that just takes a matter of seconds for someone to pass by and now they're using your credit card and all of the headaches that come with that, with restoring your credit scores and just calling your credit card company. We do believe that a lot of these crimes can be prevented and I believe we can do it. If we band together and get this information out, you would see that there would be a significant crime reduction. Sometimes if you look at the CompStat sheets, it looks like the command is a runaway train, but it's not. A lot of the crimes are property crimes. There are also a lot of scams over the telephone.
Emily: You were promoted recently.
Deputy Inspector Larin: Yes.
Emily: To Deputy Inspector.
Deputy Inspector Larin: Thank you. Yes.
Deputy Inspector Larin: Thank you.
Emily: Part of that was, you mentioned, the success of the precinct, but are there things that you could be doing better or that are goals of yours?
Deputy Inspector Larin: Criminals can get very savvy, such as putting skimmer devices on ATMs. If we can put the information out to the residents of the neighborhood and ensure that it's accepted, that it's received, that it's acknowledged, as better communicators, being more transparent, we could achieve a lot, more so than with traditional crime-fighting methods, because, again, a lot of these crimes are preventable and they happen under the most quiet of circumstances. Someone shopping in a supermarket is very difficult for a regular patrol officer to be able to detect that someone is removing your purse out of your shopping cart. If we can be more aware and make ourselves harder targets, so to speak, I think we can achieve a lot together and you would see significant crime reductions. That is our goal, to keep communicating that and to keep letting the folks know that we'll do everything possible to apprehend these individuals, but in the meantime, let's make it hard for them.
Emily: Absolutely. Thank you so much for talking with me. I really appreciate it.
Deputy Inspector Larin: Thank you for having me, Ms. Frost.
Emily: Thank you.