By Joy Bergmann
Since becoming commanding officer of the 24th Precinct in January, Deputy Inspector Naoki Yaguchi has led policing between West 86th and 110th Streets amid protests, a pandemic and an unnerving increase in shootings.
The first Japanese-American to reach NYPD’s rank of captain, Yaguchi was born in Oregon and raised in Connecticut. He came to New York City to attend NYU before joining the force at age 22. Now 38, Yaguchi calls himself “a pretty boring person” who’s single, loves to eat and spends his off-hours reading and running in Riverside and Central Parks.
Yaguchi agreed to a 30-minute phone interview with West Side Rag on Friday afternoon because, “I think the citizens of the Upper West Side should know what’s going on.”
The following transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
WSR: Nine people have been shot in the 24th so far this year, compared to one shooting victim last year by this time. What’s going on?
DIY: I can’t get into it too much because a lot of the incidents are still under investigation. What I can say is the incidents are pretty much concentrated around the Frederick Douglass Houses and we’ve had a couple of incidents around Wise Towers [between 90th and 91st between Columbus and Amsterdam].
WSR: Is this the continuation of beefs between two long-standing UWS street crews, or is there a new crew in the area?
DIY: Again, I don’t want to go too much into that because a lot of these incidents are recent in the sense that they began this summer. They’re still being investigated by the detectives.
WSR: What are you doing to respond to this escalation in gun violence?
DIY: Putting more cops out there, and we’re changing the hours they’re working to be out during the times shootings are happening. I’ve also been in close contact with my Housing counterpart Captain Ralph Johnson of PSA 6 to make sure that we’re working together and have maximum coverage.
WSR: Some readers may not be aware that NYCHA developments like Douglass and Wise are patrolled by NYPD’s Police Area 6 units, not the 24th. Does that confuse who is in charge of what?
DIY: They’re responsible for policing the housing developments, but we definitely help out. When things take an uptick, like we’ve seen this summer, there’s definite overlap and that overlap is done on purpose to maximize our coverage. We’re on the phones, we’re texting, we’re calling each other, emailing to make sure that our resources are coordinated.
WSR: So if there’s a shooting outside Wise Towers, who handles that?
DIY: If it’s not on NYCHA property, then we handle the shooting.
WSR: It’s alarming to see this 800% year-over-year jump. Should Upper West Siders be afraid?
DIY: I’m not gonna sit here and say that they shouldn’t be concerned. Obviously that’s an increase and people should be aware of it. Whether it’s shootings or whether it’s robberies or whether it’s some kind of phone scam, the biggest weapon that we have to combat that is awareness of the citizens.
I don’t want people to be afraid to go out, out to eat, to work, walk with their kids, whatever the case may be. We have put out deployment, we’ve put out extra costs to deal with that, to make people feel safer.
WSR: Smartphone apps like Citizen alert people to calls seeking NYPD and FDNY assistance. But, in my experience, many of those alerts turn out to be unfounded. What advice would you give people to increase their awareness, but not be misled?
DIY: I think the best way is to balance out that kind of instant information with the official crime numbers. It’s also great to see everybody come out to our Build-a-Block meetings and log into Community Board 7 meetings. We want to listen. Residents’ complaints do matter and become part of how we deploy our officers. I also encourage everyone to follow us on our Facebook and Twitter pages, as we put a lot of information out on social media.
WSR: Looking at the CompStat official data ending 8/23/20, I see 103% increase in burglaries over 2019, 112 vs. 55 incidents. What’s that about?
DIY: We’ve seen a huge increase in package thefts. People gaining entry to common areas of apartment buildings and stealing packages delivered there.
WSR: In a bit more comforting news, crimes like felonious assault and robbery where a perpetrator physically confronts a victim are about the same as last year. And rape is down 83%, one incident vs. six.
WSR: However, the 24th has had eight murders versus one in 2019. Stabbings as well as shootings. What can you share about that?
DIY: Three of the incidents were domestic incidents, which are troubling, including a murder suicide. We have a dedicated domestic violence unit, as does every precinct. We’re on top of any kind of domestic incident that we take. Whether there’s a crime committed or there’s a simple dispute, a domestic violence unit triages pretty much any report that we take regarding a domestic. When it comes to the other five incidents, just like the shootings, we follow the investigation and we deploy our resources accordingly to prevent any kind of retaliation or anything like that.
WSR: Any update on the most recent homicides? Victims Nayquan Garden, 29, and Apolonio Rivera, 58?
DIY: No arrests yet, but we’re working on it. I don’t want to speculate or get into the investigations. So, my apologies.
WSR: Two hotels in the 24th — the Belnord and the Park West — are now providing emergency shelter to the homeless. That’s in addition to multiple supportive housing programs and some enduring street homelessness that existed pre-COVID. What are you hearing?
DIY: We’ve had a bit of an uptick in the general homeless encampment complaints and complaints about things like urinating. The basic quality of life complaints. Our approach, prior to all this happening, was to put as many cops on Broadway as possible. We take crime on Broadway and we get a lot of quality of life complaints on Broadway. My approach is to increase our presence there.
WSR: What can and can’t your officers do about these situations?
DIY: So something like urinating or drinking in public, these are civil offenses that we can issue summonses for. If someone is exposing themselves, that’s an arrest that we can make.
WSR: If you’re dealing with someone who’s homeless and likely penniless, who accumulates 10, 20 tickets and never pays them, is there a next level or does the counter just keep going?
DIY: A couple of years ago, the City changed the law where a lot of our criminal court summonses became civil offenses. So if you had not shown up to court for a criminal court summons, a warrant would be issued for your arrest. Now it’s a civil issue essentially. So, technically they could just continue to rack up fines.
WSR: How has COVID impacted your team?
DIY: COVID was definitely a challenge. We had a significant number of officers contract it. And those who didn’t were concerned about being out there, dealing with the public and bringing it home to their families. Some of them made arrangements to live away from their families to help keep them safe. I commend the cops here for sticking through it.
DIY: I know people are upset and are frustrated. But we also have personal relationships with the residents of the Upper West Side. So we try to take a needs-based approach. I don’t want to get too much into our security posture. But we put up barriers when we felt like it was justified or we had legitimate concerns. We took them down when we felt that those measures weren’t necessary.
WSR: Does being a person of color bring a different perspective to your policing?
DIY: Obviously I’m in a unique situation, but I haven’t really thought of it in that way to be honest with you.
WSR: Some people are saying there’s currently a work slowdown by NYPD, with fewer arrests and a perception of less vigorous enforcement overall. What’s your response?
DIY: My job is to supervise these cops, to make sure that they’re doing their jobs. And I’m tough on them. I expect the best from them. And so I can tell you for sure that’s not happening.
An example. About a month or so ago near Wise Towers, a shooter came, shot somebody, shot at somebody else and pistol-whipped another individual. Our cops responded — there was no slowdown in that response — canvassed the area, chased him down, arrested him and recovered a gun.
Whether it’s arresting someone as dangerous as that or as simple as a shoplifting arrest, our cops are still out there. They’re still working. From my own experience, being here day in and day out, there is no slowdown going on.
WSR: What do you want your precinct to be known for?
DIY: I hope people see that we’re a fair precinct. That when people deal with us, whether it’s when they call 911 or when they come to us or they call the 2-4, that they see we’re here to help them. That’s what I signed up for.