The 61st Precinct Community Council received a rare visit from First Deputy Commissioner Rafael Pineiro, the second highest-ranking official of the NYPD, to acknowledge the transfer of Captain John Chell and welcome incoming commanding officer Deputy Inspector Carlos Valdez to the post.
The meeting served as a ceremonial passing of the baton, with community members heaping praise on Chell who served as head of the command for 22 months and is now being transferred to the 79th Precinct, covering Bed-Stuy. But Pineiro also faced some heat from residents who questioned the long-standing NYPD policy of regularly reshuffling commanding officers around the city, as well as other concerns.
Pineiro’s trip to the command was unpublicized, and his arrival, with security in tow, raised eyebrows among those unsure of the purpose of the dignitary’s visit. But the second-in-command appeared to be present to speak to the service of his commanding officers.
“I want to express on behalf of the department our deep appreciation for the great job he did here, effectively addressing crime conditions and quality-of-life conditions while he was here,” Pineiro said. “He was instrumental in shephedring the community … though Superstorm Sandy, and he also hosted the 60th Precinct members” who were flooded from their stationhouse.
The deputy commissioner switched his attention to Deputy Inspector Carlos Valdez, who has taken the reins of the command. Valdez arrives from PSA 1, which patrols public housing developments within the 60th, 61st, 63rd and 69th Precincts.
“He did a great job [at PSA 1],” he said. “He was instrumental during those very dark days that we had where we lost police officer Dennis Guerra as a result of that fire that took place in that housing development. He conducted himself with a tremendous amount of professionalism and dignity and spent a great deal of time with the family. I want to commend him, he’s an extremely competent, confident guy.”
Pineiro, a Cuban immigrant who is the highest-ranking Hispanic-American on the force, also spoke of the department’s changing demographics and its reflection on the opportunities available in New York City. It is unclear if Valdez is the first Hispanic-American to lead the 61st Precinct.
“The evolution, the transformation of this agency is representative of what this city can offer. I was given an opportunity to come here, become a citizen, join the agency that I had no relation to … and I was able to go up through the ranks” and pursue education with help from the NYPD, he said.
Many neighbors at the meeting heaped praise on Chell for his time in the precinct. But Pineiro, who took questions after his remarks, was challenged on the department’s staffing policy. Commanding officers generally serve two-to-four years in one precinct before being switched to another area, and some in the audience believed it prevented them from learning and understanding the unique neighborhoods in which they work.
“Try to explain to me why, when things are working perfectly, somebody has to mess up the whole thing. No disrespect to the inspector who is about to take over, but Captain Chell was doing such a good job … and all of a sudden he’s moving on,” said Gerritsen Beach resident Bob Banham. “No disrespect, but it’s going to take [Valdez] over a year to turn around and point out what’s going on in the community.”
Pineiro urged residents to “have faith,” saying he believed in Valdez’ abilities.
He added that the shifting of personnel allows them to learn new techniques and develop broader expertise, which they bring to new commands as they move.
Chell seconded the confidence in Valdez during his outgoing statements.
“I sit here and get the props and thank yous, and I appreciate it, but the [officers of the 61st Precinct] are the ones who did it, and I get credit for it. And I thank you on their behalf,” he said. “Inspector Valdez is going to do well for two reasons. And it’s the only two things you really need in this job. You work hard, and your heart is in the right place.”
Valdez promised to work closely with the community to continue Chell’s work.
“I look very forward to being here. I’m very excited, and I’m very community oriented. I will try to address your issues and your problems that you present to me and my staff as much as possible,” he said.