By Trudy Whitman
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Deputy Inspector Jeffrey Schiff handed over the head position at the 76th Police Precinct to Captain Justin Lenz, a 23-year veteran of the New York City Police Department. Before assignment to the 76th, which encompasses much of Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Red Hook and Cobble Hill, Lenz served in the 112th and 24th precincts, the Taxi Unit, Transit District #1 and Patrol Borough Manhattan North. His last post was as Commanding Officer of Narcotics Brooklyn North. The captain grew up in Queens and now resides with his family in Nassau County.
Lenz’s childhood dream was to join the Army. This he did, and is still active as a reservist in the Army National Guard. He had two tours in Iraq—one beginning in 2003 and another in 2007. It was on leave from a service stint in Italy in the mid-‘80s that he decided to become a police officer, after connecting with friends who had joined the force and were enjoying it.
The 76th Precinct is one of the safest in the city, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t present its challenges, Captain Lenz observed. Perhaps because residents do feel safe, he said, they might not be as careful about their personal property, particularly in bars, restaurants and shops. Grand larceny is a headache in the neighborhood, and Lenz sees as part of his mission educating the public about the need to be vigilant at all times.
Another challenge, he added, is the pure maintenance “of an incredible decrease in violence.” “This has got to be one of the safest precincts in the city, and that’s a challenge in itself just to maintain that level.”
In order to keep crime down, he was asked, what is the role of stop, question and frisk? The issue, which has become a hot button during the campaign for NYC mayor, touches on “the whole concept of how we conduct investigations,” Lenz responded. “When somebody is a victim of a crime, when they give a very good description of the person that committed it, and when somebody is observed that fits that description,” police officers must stop the suspect. Most of these encounters, said the captain, go no further than stop and question, but “that will always have to continue because that’s how the police department works.”
Yet crucial to good police work, Lenz continued, is “respect for the community and the residents.” So during roll call he continually advises his officers to deal with people as they would want their own families dealt with if stopped by police.
It’s no secret that open avenues for communication with residents help prevent crime. Captain Lenz urges people to attend Community Council meetings, which usually take place the first Tuesday of each month. Rather than holding all meetings in the precinct house, Captain Schiff began a tradition of convening in different neighborhoods throughout the district, and his successor intends to continue that effort. However, because Election Day is the first Tuesday in November, next month’s meeting will be on the second Tuesday, Nov. 12, in the precinct house at 191 Union Street. All meetings begin at 7:30 p.m.
In addition, the monthly e-newsletter, which was initiated by another predecessor and which features news about crime and crime prevention in the precinct, will be reinstituted. To get your email address on the list, call the precinct’s community affairs office at 718 834-3207.
Captain Lenz said he is delighted to be in a position to learn about a neighborhood that is new to him. The station house in his last post was so isolated that he had to hop in his car to find a cup of coffee. Here, the choices for lunch or a snack seem innumerable. He appreciates the opportunity to get out of his office, walk around, and introduce himself to shop owners and workers.
“And I don’t mind adding to the local economy and spending some money,” he joked.