Steps on the long road to end violence

Police top brass take to streets in these 'dire times'

Against the backdrop of a soaring triple-digit homicide tally, some of the Police Department's top brass put on their uniforms and took to the streets last night.

About 30 commanders - from captains to deputy commissioners - were in regular uniforms, riding around some of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods for a four-hour tour of duty.

Commissioner Johnson, attending roll call yesterday in the 25th District.

The top cops formed the first wave of Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson's newest anti-violence effort, which calls for about 120 veteran commanders to patrol the city from 6 to 10 at least one night a week.

Johnson attended a roll call yesterday afternoon of regular patrol cops in the 25th District, headquartered on Whitaker Avenue near Erie.

Though it seems hard to believe - especially after a murder-filled weekend that left the city with 104 homicides - Johnson said, "Our overall shootings are down. Our overall violent crime is down. But homicides are up."

Hence the new effort, which will allow veteran leaders to get their hands dirty alongside younger cops.

Johnson said the commanders won't have to respond to 911 calls or traffic accidents, but are expected to get involved if they come upon serious crimes. The initiative will last "until the day I retire," he said.

Without the benefit of a partner to ride in the seat next to him, Johnson said he planned to tour the city's violent East Division in his black Ford Crown Victoria last night.

Other commanders were going to be scattered throughout the city, and Johnson said some have already volunteered to work the extra hours for more than one day a week. "We're doing everything we can," he said.

Although Johnson's leadership and initiatives have come under heavy criticism as the city's homicide rate has steadily risen since 2005, for the most part his latest plan has been well-received by top-ranking cops.

"I do think this accomplishes a couple of things," said Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross.

"It allows us to have even more of a presence out there, and it demonstrates to the rank and file that we're not too big to get out there and do what they're doing."

Ross said the plan is not a publicity stunt, either. "It's a good way for us to stay in touch with folks in the neighborhoods," he said. "We're in dire times, and we need to get out there and do what needs to be done." *