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Cops to take the place of barricades

Wooden barriers erected to deter dollar vans have fallen and been replaced with flesh and blood alternatives: police officers. As this paper has chronicled, the barriers were set up on East 52nd Street, East 53rd Place and East 54th Street, after residents were helpless to find a better solution to the dollar van traffic that had slowly changed life on their block from peaceful to frenetic. It was thought that the barriers might come down after New Year’s, following the arrival of a new commanding officer at the 63rd Precinct. The former commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Kevin McGinn, supported the barriers. But the new commanding officer of the precinct, Captain Frank Cangiarella, said he would study the issue. “We are working on your concerns. We have an aggressive plan,” Cangiarella told Community Board 18 at its Jan. 17 meeting. Two days after that remark, the barriers were pushed aside, opening the streets up for the first time in months. City Councilmember Lew Fidler, who along with Assemblymember Alan Maisel supported the barriers, said the removal is “directly contrary to what Cangiarella told the assemblyman and myself.” “I feel I was deliberately misled,” Fidler said. “Captain Cangiarella has taken every possible position in the last 10 days.” “We have a serious credibility problem with this commander,” Fidler said. “I am doing everything I can to get them put back up,” the city lawmaker vowed. But that might be a long while, according to Lt. James Woods, the commanding officer of Brooklyn South Community Affairs. “Legally, we don’t see a time when they’ll be put up again,” he said. “Right now, the problem should be dealt with by actual police officers, in the field.” Asked about Fidler’s remarks, Woods said he wasn’t privy to the conversation between the commanding officer and the city lawmaker. “It’s been the position of Capt. Cangiarella that they would be coming down as soon as he had the proper resources.” Last month, Cangiarella told this paper that the barriers “are up now, and there are no plans to take them down.” Throughout, Cangiarella maintained that he planned to look at the big picture. “We would love to open the streets, but we have to solve the problem,” he said. Woods said if Fidler is unhappy, “I guess we weren’t clear enough.” Fidler agreed that as long as there is a cop on every troubled corner, the need for the barriers disappears. “But we all know that’s not going to happen,” he said, saying he was not confident the presence would be sustained. “I live in the real world and I known that at some point in time that will stop,” he continued. “The van drivers will return and we will be back to where we were five years ago when we first tried to solve this problem.” Woods said cops will be stationed in the area as long as necessary. “We intend to keep the proper amount of resources there to deal with the problem,” Woods continued. “If it takes a car or a foot post, we’ll do that. It depends on the severity of the problem.” “Right now, the problem is in check, so it seems to be working,” he added. Asked if Cangiarella’s predecessor made a mistake by sanctioning the barricades, Woods said, “For the amount of resources [he had], he felt it was the proper practice….he thought that was the way to handle the problem. The new commander thought he could handle it in a different manner.” Typically, cops will block off a street for public safety reasons. At the time he sanctioned the closings, McGinn said he was designating the streets as “play streets.” East 54th Street resident Patricia Delury said she isn’t happy about the removal of the barriers. “The problem was not solved before the barriers were lifted,” she said. “They’re [the cops] not going to be here forever, and then we’re back to square one,” Delury said. “The confrontation between cops and the van drivers shouldn’t be on residential streets, it should be on Flatbush Avenue,” she added. “Essentially, you have a problem that hasn’t been solved,” Delury said. Contrary to his colleagues, State Senator Carl Kruger has been a vocal opponent of the barriers, citing safety concerns, and the letter of the law, which allows closures only for short periods of time. “I guess the secret weapon is additional overtime and manpower to try and summons the vans,” Kruger said. “It’s a no-brainer to me that the rule of law should prevail—you can’t take streets and close them up,” he said. The closing of the streets could have initiated a public review process, as per a law passed by the City Council which requires hearings when streets are closed for long periods. Fidler argued that it was unclear whether these streets are technically closed, as residents were able to move the barriers in order to pass. “There’s a million reasons those streets should be opened,” Kruger said. “But that doesn’t mean the vans shouldn’t be stopped,” he said. “Confiscate them, take them out of service, and where legally appropriate, arrest the drivers,” Kruger suggested. At the community board meeting, Kruger laced into the cops, saying they were “unwilling” to do their job and enforce the law. Afterwards, he said that was a “gross exaggeration,” but stopped short of apologizing. “I wasn’t wrong,” he said. “They have the ability—we need to match that with the willingness,” he said.

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