Richmond Hill officer bridges cultural gap

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When police officers experienced trouble moving a crowd of distraught Sikhs who had gathered in front of their burning 118th Street temple the morning of March 8, they knew exactly who could do the job.

Enter Rudy Toolas Prashad, the community affairs officer of the 102nd Precinct, who is the only such officer of Indian descent in the entire city. Known throughout Richmond Hill as Mr. Rudy or Officer Rudy, Toolas Prashad, who grew up in Guyana, instructed the grieving onlookers it would be safer for them to move to the corner, where they could observe the scene from behind police barricades.

Quickly, and without objection, the previously defiant observers moved down the block. From their corner perch, many flashed thumbs-up signs at Mr. Rudy, indicating they understood he was just doing his job.

“People from India and Guyana are scared to come into police stations,” Toolas Prashad said in an interview in his 118th Street station house office just hours before the temple fire broke out. “Here they’re starting to understand we have an open door policy and if they have a problem, we’ll take care of it.”

A former Queens County Savings Bank teller who graduated from Queens College with degrees in political science and communications, Toolas Prashad, 32, has over the past three years helped to bridge a gap between the 102nd Precinct and Richmond Hill’s growing Indian population, community leaders said.

When police from the 106th Precinct wanted to move the popular Hindu Phagwah parade, he stepped in and helped negotiate a compromise that kept the parade, which will be held March 30, on Liberty Avenue.

“He’s one of the people who has really spent time helping the community and bridging gaps within the community,” said Vishnu Mahadeo, the only person of Indian descent on Community Board 9, which covers Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill, Woodhaven and Ozone Park. “His presence has almost single-handedly changed the outlook of the people towards the precinct.”

Toolas Prashad, who had previously received an award from the Sikh Cultural Society, helped maintain calm in the aftermath of the fire and used his connections in the community to help temple leaders secure a nearby church gymnasium for Sunday prayers.

“He has played a very constructive role in alleviating misconceptions between the Police Department and the community,” said Harpreet Singh Toor, chairman of the Sikh Cultural Society.

Toolas Prashad has lectured at Police Academy diversity training seminars, often uses his relationships within the community to help detectives solve crimes, and is active in police recruitment drives. He recently persuaded 15 people from Richmond Hill’s Indian communities to join the precinct’s auxiliary force.

His office contains both the Bible and the Koran and the walls are peppered with awards from groups as varied as the Independent Bikers of America, the Richmond Hill Moose Lodge 14 and the Sikh Cultural Society. There are 40 in all and the former bank teller is quick to point out that they are not just for work with Indian communities.

Toolas Prashad, who joined the Police Department in 1992 as an officer in the Community Policing Unit of the 46th Precinct in the Bronx, rattled off a list of priests, rabbis, politicians and business leaders with whom he works on a regular basis.

“He is one of the most dedicated not only community affairs officers, but police officers in the department, said Capt. Thomas Cea, commanding officer of the 102nd Precinct. “He works seven days a week. His doors and phone are open to anyone and he will do all he can to help everyone.”

While munching on a chicken sandwich during a recent working lunch break, Toolas Prashad worked with a Little League official on a parade permit, helped a church leader arrange a summer fair and gave an interview for this article.

Three others came to the station house looking for him and were instructed to sit in a precinct waiting area.

“Everyone from the Indian community, whether they’re from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Guyana or Trinidad, whether they’re Sikh, Hindu or Muslim, they all come to me,” he said. “People get pulled over and I don’t even know them or their names and they’ll tell the police officer they’re my cousin.”

The only problem, Toolas Prashad said with a chuckle, is that the name droppers don’t know his last name.

“They say ‘I know Mr. Rudy,’” he said with a smile.

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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