Thursday, August 28, 2008
The Guardian Speaks With Mount Vernon
Police Commissioner David Chong
In light of the spate of violent street crime, shootings and stabbings, over recent months on the South Side of the City of Mount Vernon, we asked to meet with Mount Vernon Police Commissioner David Chong to discuss current policing concerns and to get his take on problems and solutions. We posed the question, “The City, for its size, 4.4 square miles, would seem to present a management problem with respect to street violence and killings. What is particularly unique about the City, from a policing perspective?”
Commissioner Chong quickly said, “We have more youth per capita than anybody else. We are eighty thousand-plus people on top of each
other, and with economic conditions what they are right now, I see an ever-rapidly-increasing number of youngsters on the streets.” To emphasize his point, Chong said, “No good can occur when young people are on the street between 1am and 5am.” He went on to point out the fact that, under New York State law, police cannot treat groups of young people, milling about on the street, as they might treat adults; they cannot be charged with violations such as Disorderly Conduct in cases of street gatherings and disorder.
He went on, “We are dealing with lots of social and economic issues outside the scope of police authority. If they cannot be apprehended
for gathering on the streets, where do I put them?”
We then asked, “Since most of the killings seem to involve young Black men, is it a gang turf conflict; Bloods v. Crypts thing, or have the
knifings and shootings been unrelated, independent incidents?”
Chong responded, “It’s a little bit of each. Unfortunately, among today’s youth, guns are a fashion statement.” Changing gears slightly, he said, “Young people are not turning in their guns.” The Commissioner was referring to the dismal results achieved by so-called gun-buyback programs run by the County, and some Westchester municipalities, including Mount Vernon.
Focusing more on recent developments, we asked, “How has placement of your Mobile Command Unit aided specifically on the South
Side?” Chong confided, “Basically it gives the people a sense of security and closeness to the police because it is so large and so visible.” He added, “Our mounted patrols tend to be noticed as well.”
Then, pausing momentarily, he explained, “We want to stabilize the community and, at the same time, send a message to those who would continue to cause problems that we are out there, and we will apprehend them.”
He went on, “The message is, ‘If you commit a crime of violence in the City of Mount Vernon, you will be brought to justice.’” The Guardian then turned to specific serious concerns that demand long-term planning and persistent attention, asking, “What is your fundamental strategy for controlling gun traffic into the City, as well as drugs? How are you interdicting them?”
The Commissioner smiled, and said, “Without being too specific, let me say our message, in this regard, is, ‘If you are caught with a gun or felony drugs, you will be sent away for a long time.’”
Reflecting for a moment, he added, “Guns have no conscience, and there is no recovery. Also, guns kill twice; the victim and the shooter.
Our young people, over the smallest disrespect, come too quickly to horrendous violence. They possess no skills in conflict resolution.”
We then observed, “Many urban youths behave as though they can squander their future,” to which Chong responded, “There is a common
urban experience that we are seeing in cities across the state and the country. Kids today are living their future. Please understand it gives me no pleasure to put felony records on these young people. What some of them do today forecloses their options for the rest of their lives.”
Guardian publisher Sam Zherka had passed along a question for Police Commissioner Chong: “Would a large-scale program, perhaps funded by the federal and/or state government, that would place street-monitoring cameras in high-crime areas make a significant difference?”
The Commissioner responded, with a resounding “Yes! Tell Sam it’s a great idea.” He then explained, “With the latest ShotSpotter Technology, six units, strategically mounted, would be great.”
ShotSpotter is a network of noise sensors that responds to gunfire, identifying and pinpointing the source and location, guiding police
on patrol to the crime scene quickly enough to more effectively deal with victims and shooters alike. Presently in use in Washington, D.C.,
the sensors are about the size of a coffee can, easily hidden atop buildings.
It can identify gun-fire as far as two miles away and pinpoint the location within a few feet. The Commissioner explained that six such units, and all of the patrol car and base equipment connected with them, might cost about $1 million and would be an excellent project for a federal grant. He indicated that, once up and operating, ShotSpotter would become a “great deterrent to gun-related violence.”
Turning in a different direction, The Guardian asked, “Does your Department sponsor a P.A.L. program?” The Commissioner’s answer was, “It doesn’t exist now, but I would like funding to do it.” He acknowledged that part of the problem is that such a program would
also require a lot of volunteer personnel, something in short supply these days.
Commissioner Chong, who came on board to lead the present 207-member Mount Vernon Police Force, in May of 2006, explained that he had committed himself, at the time, to four principle goals:
• Reduction of crime;
• Bringing back police department morale;
• Professionalizing and modernizing operations;
• Community outreach.
Chong indicated that he felt the Department has made significant progress in each of those areas, but that there is still much to be done. David Chong is clearly a man with a mission. Coming along on the heels of several rapidly-failed predecessors, he has already achieved numerous
significant departmental innovations and improvements while elevating the morale of the Department in little more than two years.
Most significantly, he is a Commissioner who was a real cop, one who believes in Constitutionally-sound law enforcement. Chong’s appointment by Ernie Davis, we suppose, proves Ernie wasn’t all bad. Most importantly, in Mount Vernon, a City hanging in through difficult times, Commissioner Chong just doesn’t talk the talk; he walks the walk as well. He is there at every major crime scene, every event,
hands-on and thoughtful. And, he likes nothing better than walking the beat, meeting and speaking with older and young folks alike; showing respect and earning it.