Captain John Chell, head of the 61st Precinct, gave his first report last night to the 61st Precinct Community Council since Hurricane Sandy tore his patrol area to pieces.

The meeting was solemn and subdued, with only 13 people in attendance – far less than usual. Also tragically absent was the council’s Sergeant-at-Arms, Dr. Cy Schoenfeld, who passed away from heart failure as he attempted to escape his Manhattan Beach home during Hurricane Sandy. Schoenfeld will be fondly remembered by his peers on the council and at the Community Board, his neighbors in Manhattan Beach, and by this reporter.

With such difficult news to bare, alongside the continuing suffering of many in the community who’ve lost friends, loved ones, possessions and property, Captain Chell abandoned the usual report in which he provides crime statistics and discusses emerging trends in the neighborhood, and instead spoke of the many acts of kindness and community he has seen in Sandy’s wake.

“I appreciate all the praise that comes my as the commanding officer and the captain here, but I’m going to reverse it back to you and thank all of you,” Chell said. “It was quite remarkable, from Gerritsen Beach to Manhattan Beach, to the center to everywhere else, how the community all pitched in, and that’s what it’s really all about.”

The visibly exhausted Chell also spoke briefly about his own experience as the storm rolled in.

“In all my years of service I never witnessed what I saw that night, the sense of desperation, the sense of not being able to help everyone who needed help,” he said. “We did the best we could.”

Chell did touch on the neighborhood’s crime, specifically the opportunists who emerged after the floodwater receded, knocking on doors and trying to take advantage of victims. He reminded neighbors to be diligent, and request identification before letting anyone in your home or giving them information, and to also use common sense to avoid cons and price gouging.

In response to the storm, the precinct received approximately 100 extra officers to help patrol the neighborhood. Chell noted that the reinforcements will remain on the ground for the foreseeable future.

He also said that the city is not yet towing any abandoned cars or cars destroyed by the storm that remain curbside, though some have been “corrected” to allow traffic to pass. He said they are waiting for insurance companies to catch up on their backlog so NYPD-contracted tow trucks don’t confuse vehicles that will be towed by insurance companies with those that have been legitimately abandoned.

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