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Ozone Park Capt. Gets to the Bottom Of School Crime

December 12, 1994

Artie Storch, the new captain of Ozone Park's 106th Precinct, suspected a cover-up.

In October, he discovered an Indian student had been robbed at knifepoint at JHS. 226 the previous week. School authorities hadn't reported the incident to police. The student's father told officers that when he went to the school the next day, the principal, John Baxter, wouldn't let him use a phone to call the cops. The parent had to use a pay phone across the street. And although a police officer was at the school when the son identified a teenager as the robber, Storch said, Baxter let the suspect leave by a rear door.

"Baxter wouldn't cooperate,' said Storch. "He said the kid told him he didn't mean it. Well, what else would you expect the kid to say?"

Parents reported other incidents to Storch: An Indian girl was beaten and robbed by eight girls outside the school. A seventh-grade Indian boy being beaten in a school stairwell escaped by running into a school official, who sent him back to class, where he was then mugged.

School authorities didn't report those incidents to police either, said Storch. Only after he intervened were they reported to the school superintendent.

Storch sent in a team of officers. Over Baxter's objections, he said, 20 students were arrested on robbery charges, including the suspect Baxter had slipped out the back door. He turned out to be a former student, currently living at a youth home in Dobbs Ferry, who roamed his ex-school's hallways.

Storch then began meeting with teachers in the school. Joe Capra, the school's United Federation of Teachers representative, said they welcomed his support. The Indian students, they explained, were especially vulnerable because many are of slight stature and do not fight back.

"Where we grew up," says Lal Somwaru, the father of the boy beaten on the stairwell, "you are taught not to hit back. You go to the person in authority. You go to a teacher. When my son was beaten on the stairwell, he had no alternative but to follow instructions and return to class."

Acting Dep. Supt. Kenneth Grover, Baxter's superior, acknowledges Baxter was slow to report the incidents but denies a cover-up. "He [Baxter] said he was unaware of the incidents. If you report everything, you get a reputation that may be unfounded - people may say this is an unsafe school. But unless a report is filed you don't get the necessary school security." In an interview last week, Baxter said he was unaware of any robberies at the school and didn't recall the incident on the stairwell. "I don't look at myself as a policeman," he said. "I am an educator. I've been in the system 39 years, 26 years as a supervisor."

With the increased police presence, for the next six weeks all muggings and beatings ceased. Then last Wednesday, two incidents occurred. A student Printable versionwalking to school was cut with a box cutter and needed 19 stitches. And a teacher was slugged in the face by a student, who snatched her jewelry from around her neck. This time, Capra immediately called police, who arrested four suspects. "We're on top of it," says Storch. "This school is now a safe place."

Moves. Chief of Department John Timoney is moving into New York City. That way he will establish residence to take the job of first deputy commissioner when Dave Scott retires in January.

And Chief Charlie Reuther is expected to move into Joe Borrelli's spot as chief of detectives.

Timoney's move will cost him a bundle - his wife and kids are staying in Rockland County, where the kids are both in school, which means he'll rent a pad that could cost him $ 20,000 annually.

But the rewards can be bountiful. He could follow former first deps Ray Kelly and Dick Condon, who succeeded their bosses as commissioner. Or, should Bratton actually stick around through Mayor Rudy Giuliani's full term, he could steam into a robust corporate job like former first deps Patrick Murphy and Alice McGillion.

Boston Billy redux. With his private Bay State pension bill down the tubes, Commissioner Bratton's minions have introduced another - what is known as a "non-person-specific" pension bill.

What this means in English is that Bratton has glommed on to a dozen or so others who, like himself, have spent more than 20 years with different Massachusetts police agencies that are not part of the same pension plan. That means they don't get pensions.

Bratton doesn't qualify because his 21-year career, mostly with the Boston Police Department, includes three years with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), which has a separate retirement plan. Boston City Council President James M. Kelly's legislative aide, Paul Walkowski, says the new bill seeks to transfer the years Bratton and the others spent with the MBTA to the Boston Police Department. "The first time, we ran into some opposition because the bill was written specifically for Bratton," Walkowski says. Adds Mike Travaglini, executive officer of the State-Boston Retirement System: "His private pension bill hasn't gone anywhere. If not tied to a specific individual, it might have a chance."

If the bill is passed, our $ 110,000-a-year commissioner would receive another $ 40,000.

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© 1994 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.