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'Scooter Cops of Bed-Stuy' Documentary Chronicles Local Officers' Legacies

By Camille Bautista | November 30, 2016 6:04pm
 A documentary in the works called
A documentary in the works called "Scooter Cops of Bed-Stuy" follows the careers of NYPD officers Joseph 'Scooter Joe' Willins and Kenneth Kaufman as they solved crimes in the 79th Precinct.
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Scooter Cops of Bed-Stuy

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — They were assigned to write parking tickets and check potholes, but wound up solving murders instead.

A new documentary following the careers of NYPD officers Joseph ‘Scooter Joe’ Willins and Kenneth Kaufman sets out to tell the stories of the “Scooter Cops of Bed-Stuy.”

Willins and Kaufman worked out of Brooklyn’s 79th Precinct from the late 1960s through the '80s, patrolling the neighborhood on two wheels.

“The crime rate was astronomical and drugs hit this neighborhood like the atomic bomb,” Willins, 77, said.

“We wanted to be active, so what happened is Ken and I formed an alliance and ended up putting people in jail for murder.

“We were not detectives, we were scooter patrols. In spite of that, we dug into the most serious elements of crime and saw these difficult cases.”

Co-director Travis Benn, 30, became neighbors with Willins in 2013 and quickly learned of his influence in the Bedford-Stuyvesant community and the neighborhood policing he and his partner were known for.

“With all the stuff going on in the news, I think everybody’s aware of the polarized policing environment that’s going on in the country,” Benn said.

“I felt that this was an important story to speak to that issue. Their story speaks to people on both sides because they treated people in the community with respect and also worked in one of the most dangerous precincts.”

Benn and co-director Gideon de Villiers started filming at the start of 2016, reaching out to Willins, Kaufman and the 79th Precinct’s former commanding officer, John Chell, who was recently assigned to another post in East New York.

Other interviews in the documentary give insight to the officers’ impact back in the day, with input from locals and community leaders.

“He had these streets under control,” one resident said of Willins in the film’s trailer.

“Scooter Cops of Bed-Stuy” chronicles the partners’ backgrounds and introductions into the police force, as well as the neighborhood’s history and cases the pair helped crack.

In one 1973 homicide solved by the officers, the duo arrested a man in connection to the death of a subway change clerk on Fulton Street and Nostrand Avenue, according to reports.

“They solved it very quickly and it’s a testament to the way they operated in the neighborhood, what their stature was in the area,” Benn said.

Willins and Kaufman made dozens of arrests in their 20 years on the job without having to once fire their guns, Willins added.

“We honor life. When people dealt with us, they saw us, they knew we treated people with dignity and respect,” he said.  

“People wanted to help. Your badge isn’t your biggest asset — it’s the trust the community has for you. We treated people on a one-to-one basis.

“What happened was the people trusted us and they believed in us, so when there was a murder or serious crime committed, the community banded together and said let’s contact the scooter guys.

"That’s an element that’s missing today between police and community. You have to break down the barriers that exist.”

He and Kaufman still talk two to three times a week, he added, and the two had their story told in the book “The Incredible Scooter Cops” by David Fisher.

Benn and de Villiers are continuing interviews for the documentary and hope to finish the film by summer 2017.

The filmmakers look to raise money to shoot recreations of some storylines and license archival footage, Benn said.

He hopes to team up with community organizations in the neighborhood and beyond to host panel discussions on police and community relations and screen the final product.

“The 79th Precinct will be a great place to start but we want to take it to places across the country that need this type of dialogue,” Benn said.

For more information, visit the “Scooter Cops of Bed-Stuy” website or email info@scootercops.com.