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Leaders of 109th recall days of subways, gangs

The two new heads of the 109th Precinct, Deputy Inspector Owen Monaghan and Captain Michael Lau, come from two very different divisions of the NYPD.

Monaghan described himself as a “patrol guy” who has a long history of keeping an eye on the city’s subways. Lau, on the other hand, has spent most of his time on specialty units, tracking gangs and rapists.

Despite their different experiences, the two men share the same goal: to fight quality-of-life crimes in one of the city’s largest and busiest precincts.

Monaghan, a 20-year veteran of the New York Police Department, arrived in February at the 109th Precinct, which patrols Flushing, Whitestone, College Point and Bay Terrace.

The native of Midwood, Brooklyn, joined the force in 1981 in Ridgewood’s 104th Precinct. Four years later he became part of the Queens Quality of Life Patrol, targeting graffiti, alcohol abuse and disorderly conduct among teenagers.

“The volume of crime was much higher then,” said Monaghan. “We dealt with much more ongoing crimes.”

Over the years, Monaghan moved up in the ranks of the police force. In 1987, he was promoted to sergeant and joined the 63rd Precinct in Marine Park. Two years later, he became a lieutenant in downtown Brooklyn’s 84th Precinct. In 1995 the Transit Police merged with the NYPD, and Monaghan was promoted to captain at District 33 of the Transit Bureau, located in East New York.

Monaghan continued to move around the Transit Bureau, becoming deputy inspector in Midtown Manhattan in 2000. At the bureau, Monaghan was in charge of keeping one of the busiest transit operations in the country safe.

“The most exciting time I’ve had was probably working in my last command,” said Monaghan. “Moving people in and out of Times Square was a major challenge. Doing it with such a low incidence of crime was very satisfying.”

Like almost all police officers in the city, Monaghan had to work tremendously hard to keep the city going after it was attacked on Sept. 11. The situation was particularly difficult for Monaghan, whose wife had given birth to a girl just a month before the tragedy.

Monaghan said his wife and older daughter were supportive of him.

“That’s what makes a successful cop: an understanding family,” said Monaghan.

The hard work has not ended for Monaghan, who in commanding the 109th Precinct, runs an organization that he described as similar to a $40 million business.

“This is one of the most challenging times,” said Monaghan, speaking of his goals of reducing crime. “We’re constantly trying to improve ourselves.”

Lau joins Monaghan in his efforts. Monaghan, Lau and Capt. Robert Unverzagt, make up the three heads of the precinct.

Lau immigrated to the Lower East Side from Hong Kong in 1971 at the age of 6.

Six years later, Lau was walking with his mother when she was robbed at knifepoint. Lau, who was just a boy, could only watch and afterwards began dreaming of becoming a police officer in order to try to catch the man who threatened his mother.

“Its stays in your mind,” said Lau.

In 1987, Lau joined Harlem’s 30th Precinct. Two years later, he was transferred to the 5th Precinct in Chinatown to a special unit to track Asian gangs. Lau was the first Asian officer in the unit.

In 1994, Lau was promoted to sergeant and was transferred back to Harlem at the 28th Precinct. But he was quickly called back to Chinatown, where he took part in a task force tracking a neighborhood rapist. The rapes in Chinatown soon subsided, but the cases remain unsolved.

Four years later Lau was promoted to lieutenant of the 105th Precinct, which covers Glen Oaks, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and Rosedale. Within a year, he joined the Queens Gangs Squad.

“It was very challenging,” said Lau. “We had a lot of activity.”

During his work at the gangs squad, which ended when he was promoted to the 109th Precinct in February, Lau helped to reduce gang-related crime in Queens.

“It’s getting better,” said Lau. “It was a relatively new unit.”

Like Monaghan, Lau described his previous assignment as the most exciting of his career. But like his commanding officer, Lau is serious about his new job.

“It’s a lot of responsibility,” he said.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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