By Trudy Whitman
One Christmas when Jeffrey Schiff was a youngster, his mother gave costume kits to her two sons; Jeffrey received a police officer’s kit, and his brother opened a box containing toy versions of a doctor’s tools of trade. It appears that Mom was a visionary; the toys she thought her boys would enjoy predicted their future vocations. Jeffrey Schiff became a law enforcement officer, his brother a physician.
Captain Jeffrey Schiff, a 16-year veteran of the NYPD, is the new commanding officer of the 76th Precinct, headquartered on Union Street. Learning about his assignment upon return from his marriage and honeymoon aboard a cruise ship, Schiff took his post on April 12. He revealed during an interview in his office that he is still smiling about his double stroke of good fortune.
Captain Schiff comes from a long line of service-oriented family members — both military and law enforcement. After completing a computer engineering degree in college, he was accepted into the Navy, but his relatives convinced him he had applied to the wrong branch of service, and since he hadn’t put his foot on base yet, he was permitted to switch to the Air Force. Just then, the U.S. cut its defense budget and stopped recruiting incoming personnel. “That’s when I segued into the law enforcement profession,” Schiff explained.
The Air Force’s loss was the NYPD’s gain. Schiff graduated third in his class at the Academy with top academic honors. Because of his performance, he was allowed to choose the precinct at which to start his career as a police officer. He picked the 103rd in South Jamaica. Quickly moving up the ranks, Schiff was promoted to sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. He actually served before in the 76th — a brief stint as executive officer from 2007 to 2008 — before moving to the 68th in the same capacity.
But his short time in our precinct was certainly not his introduction to our neighborhood. As a child, Schiff and his family lived at 131 Amity Street. His adolescence was spent in Queens, and he now lives in Nassau County.
Captain Schiff’s predecessor, Captain John Lewis, was with the 76th for only 18 months before being transferred to the 71st Precinct. I asked Captain Schiff why the majority of top cop appointments in the 76th are short-term.
“I can’t pretend to know the rhyme or reason behind some of the transfers,” he responded. “But if you want to speculate, this is a nice command to learn to become a C.O. A lot of the postings in the 76th seem to be first-time C.O.s.”
He went on to explain that the 76th is a low-crime precinct where officers have a good relationship with the community. “I assume,” he continued, “that when they [Police Department officials] see you doing a good job here, they may want to put you in more challenging areas.”
Not that the precinct is without its problems, Captain Schiff stressed: “The biggest challenges are the insidious, sneaky crimes — burglary and petty larceny.” Because officers cannot patrol closed-off and fenced locations such as the backyards that characterize neighborhoods such as ours, Schiff noted, officers have to use “proven police techniques and make sure they dot their i ’s and cross their t ’s.
The captain used a recent action at Trader Joe’s as an example of careful police work. After receiving reports of theft of customers’ wallets and cell phones, the 76th went undercover at the popular store. Sure enough, on April 24, officers arrested an individual caught in the act of stealing an unattended wallet.
“Upon further investigation of this individual,” Captain Schiff wrote in the 76th Precinct Community Newsletter, “we discovered that he had pick-pocketed another Trader Joe’s store customer and one other IKEA store customer . . . earlier that day.”
The suspect was tied to a rash of other burglaries that had occurred within the precinct in the weeks leading up to the Trader Joe’s incident, and since he was apprehended, there has been only one burglary reported to the precinct. “An amazing coincidence?” Captain Schiff posited in the newsletter. “We think not!”
The captain believes “wholeheartedly” in the “broken windows” theory of law enforcement, encouraging his officers to act on their observation of minor crimes in hopes of discovering something larger. It is known, for example, that pit bulls and rottweilers appeal to gang members. Since it’s an offense for any dog to be without tags, individuals can be approached by officers for the transgression and searched.
Recently some officers stopped an individual drinking beer in public, which is illegal. The man was unable to provide identification. He was arrested, and a search found him in possession of a gun. It was the first gun arrest of the year, Captain Schiff said.
Captain Schiff concluded by saying that he counts on an engaged citizenry to help fight crime. While quality of life problems should be reported to 311, anything that might be considered criminal intelligence should be communicated to the precinct. A precinct email change of address is in the works. Currently, neighbors can send observations to [email protected]. The new address will be 76th [email protected].
May 23, 2012 - 1:23pm