NYPD 24th Precinct Commander DI Yaguchi Talks Shootings, Homelessness and the “Slowdown”

Deputy Inspector Naoki Yaguchi, commanding officer of the 24th Precinct

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.

DIY:  Yes.

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. 

Belnord Hotel arrivals, photo by Nazim

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. 

WSR:  Black Lives Matter protests also altered the culture this summer. Some precincts have responded with barricades. The 2-4 seems to have kept a more open-door policy. 

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. 

Open door at 24, photo taken July 6, 2020

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.

NEWS | 24 comments | permalink
    1. Tag Gross says:

      It is absolutely despicable the way the Mayor and his allies have treated the NYPD. It has emboldened criminals of all typess and the disbanding of teh street crimes units have led to more guns being carried and therefore used on the streets. CB7 should be passing a resolution that supports the 20th and 24th precincts and recognizes the service their officers provide to our community.

      • Josh says:

        Respect is earned. The NYPD has, quite literally, turned its back on our elected leaders and the people of this city who they represent.
        Most cops are good and deserve our respect. But the recent NYPD temper tantrums aren’t about pay or pensions or issues that effect most cops. The NYPD and their union representatives have chosen to raise hell over protecting the worst members on the force from any consequences for their actions. The decision to go all in on defending bad cops discredits every good cop on the street. Citizens are right to be angry, and the most cops would be too if there wasn’t a culture of intimidation stretching back to the 70s that keeps good cops silent.

        • paulcons says:

          On the money Josh. Given recent events in Kenosha, I wonder if there ARE any good cops left?

    2. CrankyPants says:

      His hands are tied not only in Action but in Words. All he could really say was that he couldnt say!
      NYPD are heroes and Im grateful theyre hanging in there to help us weather the storm. Thank you for your service!

    3. Leon says:

      He perfectly described the problem – there is now no penalty for anti-social behavior. The change in laws was ridiculous – deBlasio wanted to try so hard to be the anti-Bloomberg and has gone way too far. Do the crime, do the time, especially if you are a repeat offender. And this should apply to everyone – rich, poor, white, black.

      And one quick question – if you are urinating in public, aren’t you by definition exposing yourself? I’m not sure what the differentiation is?

    4. UWSer says:

      I wish WSR had asked and the commander had provided persective on why so many police officers do not wear masks. It seems dangerous and disrepectful to the community.

    5. Tom Burnett says:

      Excellent interview. In this time of rapid increases in violent crime, we must support our Precinct and the officers who keep us safe. We hope to resume our monthly public Community Council meetings with social distancing guidelines and masks in the fall. We look forward to seeing many of you at our meetings
      Tom Burnett, President of the 24 Precinct Community Council

    6. Rob G. says:

      Our current mayor turned their back on the NYPD and encouraged a dangerous atmosphere of hostility against them the day he stepped into office. The legacy of de Blasio and the pandering by our elected officials will go down as a shameful time in New York’s history.

    7. Mel says:

      Regarding the Citizen app, when the app says “police responding” — which by far the majority do — it means that someone has called it in and police are responding. The app is the only insight we have as residents into just how much crime is taking place here and I feel it is a valuable resource.

      • EricaC says:

        It can be valuable – but if people mistake “police have been called and are responding” with “a crime has actually occurred”, Then they are not getting facts, they are getting false information and a false impression. It’s important to use Citizen as a trigger to get more information, not as a real source.

    8. Robert Lafayette says:

      Herein lies one of the causes of the increase in overall crime in NYC and lack of respect for NYPD. Inappropriate behavior formally criminalized, is now approved of by City Hall in that nobody expects a homeless person to pay a fine. Thus, policing is made so much more difficult.

      THANK YOU MAYOR DE BLASIO AND YOUR CRONIES.

      : “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.”

    9. Lizzie says:

      Thanks to WSR and DI Yaguchi for doing this interview.

      I would like to respectfully ask the DI to take a look his own block. The triple parking by officer’s private cars, which are often driven onto the sidewalk to maneuver them in and out, speaks volumes about the respect for the neighborhood shown by his officers. Because of the crowded parking, the street is never cleaned and it’s trash-filled. He should be embarrassed by this situation. A block dominated by a police precinct should be a model of lawful behavior.

    10. Acme says:

      I worked for decades here in EMS and it couldnt have been any more different than PD when a coworker messed up. On the very rare occasions a medic was accused of misbehavior the others were quick to condemn and throw overboard. Nobody wanted to become known for the bad acts of those few bad apples. PD is pretty much the exact opppsite: the accused cop is always in the right to hear them tell it. Well to hear their union tell it anyway.

    11. Mager says:

      Are there any social services provided to the homeless in the hotels?
      which precinct covers 72 street?

    12. Judith Regina Norell says:

      Thank you for the interview. It gives a different, more personal perspective on our local police force and counterbalances the media’s vision of cops in riot gear.

    13. Alan Scott says:

      Why bother?

      1. Cops can’t touch a Alleged criminal to Arrest them
      2. The DA will not charge
      3. The Judge will Dismiss
      4. If charged no bail set to show up
      5. If appears in court it will be dismissed
      6. Alleged criminal get free Mets tickets

    14. TaHesi says:

      Di Blas is weak. Patrick is a thug leader and most cops act like untrained children, if they don’t get what they want they’re not playing. Cops actually thinks it’s their right to brutalize the ppl who pay their salaries. There’s a blatant disregard cops have when speaking to members of the public esp ppl of black and brown communities. Change have to come from the top on this one.

    15. James Sullivan says:

      Great interview.The job of a precint ccommander is to utilize the resources as DIY explains on a daily basis to make the streets safe and livable.Recent negativity about the uws makes it a more pressing issue.The cops have to be one with the community.It take a real leader to accomplish this task and instill this in his officers.It is about being respected and leadership.A very difficult task in todays society.If for nothing else the cops have a vested interest in every precint for the economic viability of NYC and its future.Retired Lt,NYPD

    16. James Schummer says:

      DI Yaguchi is doing a great job overall. 24 is pretty user friend even in the height of the crisis. This interview also shows he’s good with PR related stuff. Promote Yaguchi!

    17. Bob G says:

      My mother-in-law lives in NYC on the eastside of Manhattan. We fully support the NYC Police and believe they are all committed to serving the people of NY. Regardless of race, creed or political beliefs. Thank you for your service and may God bless and protect you during this very difficult period.

    18. Small Business Owner says:

      Due to the laws, I know the NYPD are severely limited in the things they are allowed to do to help with quality-of-life and crime issues, but the 24th has never given up to try to assist me. They come by to check on us because of the homeless problems we have and move someone dangerous-looking along who is preventing people from coming in our door.

      We would not make it without the 24th and CO Yaguchi.

    19. Marcos says:

      Nice to see people talking past one another in the comments as per usual. Looking at the CompStat sheet, it appears that crime is up but still below levels during the Giuliani administration. I’ll leave it to you to determine which narratives are undermined and which are reinforced.