David Zannelli has the bruises—and the recovered .380 Beretta—to prove it.
Zannelli was stopping another kid riding his bike recklessly in the road. He ended up snagging yet another stolen weapon, and reaffirming his view that a stepped-up bicycle interdiction beat has made west-side New Haven streets safer in two ways: Saner bike-riding. And fewer weapons.
The incident occurred last week at the corner of Orchard and Gilbert near the Hospital of St. Raphael in the West River neighborhood.
Zannelli was on bicycle enforcement duty. He works that duty on the 4-to-midnight shift pretty much five days a week in the Dwight-Kensington-West River district.
He didn’t jump at the assignment when district chief Lt. Ray Hassett assigned him to the patrol four months ago.
“If you asked me if this is what I came to New Haven to do, I’d have said no,” recalled Zannelli, 25, a clean-cut Rhode Island native who grew up wanting to be a soldier and has a polite manner with people he meets. (He says “sir” a lot.)
Zannelli joined the New Haven force a year and a half ago. He previously worked for the cops in sleepy Middletown, R.I. He transferred here for two reasons: His wife teaches in nearby Orange. And he wanted to work in a bigger department where he could have an impact on bigger crime.
“Give it a try,” Lt. Hassett urged him.
Zannelli was a bike-enforcement convert by the end of his first day: One cyclist he stopped had 20 bags of marijuana on him. Another had a stolen firearm with the serial number scratched off.
Bike stops, it seemed, led to stopping other crimes.
Every few weeks he would catch another stolen weapon, Zannelli noticed. He’d catch up with drug dealers, too.
He also noticed that kids were riding their bikes more safely as the word got out about enforcement. He doesn’t necessarily ticket people when he catches them riding on the sidewalks or against traffic or through stop signs or red lights, he said. He usually issues warnings, especially to kids younger than 16. Zannelli loved riding his white Huffy White Heat two-wheeler growing up in Johnson, R.I., right outside Providence. He wants to help kids be able to ride around New Haven, too—without crashing into cars or pedestrians.
“We’re trying to save lives,” he said.
Zannelli was patrolling with fellow Officer Michael Lozada at 5 p.m. on Oct. 5 when he heard car horns blaring at Gilbert and Orchard. (Zannelli’s usual partner, Carlos Conceicao, was on vacation.)
A boy was riding his bicycle in circles through the intersection.
Zannelli made his way out into the road.
“Young man, do me a favor,” he said. “Stop the bicycle. Get off the bicycle.”
He asked the boy to keep his hands visible. At first, the boy complied.
Zannelli asked him his age. Fifteen, the boy said. Then, stuttering, he said, “16. I’m sorry.”
That made Zannelli suspicious.
The boy started looking around nervously. Based on past experience, Zannelli concluded the boy might be looking to run.
“You look a little nervous,” Zannelli remembered saying. “I’m going to pat you down, for my safety and ours.”
Do you have a weapon?
No, the boy responded.
The boy checked out Officer Lozada, who stood nearby. Lozada is taller than the five-foot-eight-inch Zannelli. The boy stood about as tall as Zannelli.
The boy suddenly charged at Zannelli and tried to knock him over, Zannelli said.
Zannelli tackled him. They fell to the ground, right in the middle of Gilbert. Cars passed by. The boy elbowed Zannelli, trying to free his own hands. He scratched Zannelli’s cheek. Zannelli grabbed his hands and held him in a bear hug. He called into the radio on his lapel for back-up. (His Rhode Island accent is instantly recognizable to his cohorts.) Lozada called in more details, then rushed over to help his partner.
“This kid’s running for a reason,” Zannelli thought to himself. Tussling with the boy, Zannelli discovered a possible reason: He felt something hard. That’s either a cell phone or a gun, he figured.
Sure enough, once back-up arrived and the cops handcuffed the boy, Zannelli reached into the boy’s pants—and pulled out the .380 Beretta. It was loaded.
“You OK?” Zannelli asked the boy.
“Yeah, man,” the boy replied.
“Do you need medical attention?”
Then the boy yelled, “The gun’s not mine! It’s my uncle’s!”
Sure enough, the uncle contacted the police to report his gun missing. He said he suspected the boy of stealing it.
Zannelli subsequently interviewed the uncle, who lives in the Hill neighborhood. He said the boy lives with him. It turned out the uncle had a permit for the gun and had kept it safely stored. The boy lives with the uncle. The uncle said the boy’s a star football player at his school. He didn’t say where the boy’s parents are, or why he suspected the boy of stealing the gun, according to Zannelli.
“Let’s just say I went home and said a couple of prayers that night,” Zannelli said. “I’ll take the cuts and bruises. [See photo at the top of the story.] It’s part of the job. I’m glad he’s OK. I’m glad no one got seriously hurt. The gun is in custody. I don’t think he knew the severity of what he was doing, what could happen.”
Cops charged the boy with interfering with an officer, theft of a firearm, carrying a pistol without a permit, and assault on an officer, among other offenses.
He’s Not Alone
Two other cops on Hassett’s beat, Chris Senior and Ekrem Halim, picked up four guns in three days last week, on traffic stops. The revived Dwight-Kensington bike-enforcement patrols complement the motor vehicle enforcement squads that Police Chief James Lewis has sent into the streets all over town in response to public demands for safer streets.
Hassett said “it didn’t take a rocket scientist” to figure out that he needed to revive the bike-enforcement patrols in his district four months ago.
“There were no rules for cyclists,” he said. “Not only were innocent cyclists being hit or striking pedestrians. But there was a gang culture that was using bicycles to rob people and to transport weapons and drugs.”
Hassett himself has ended up charging people with drug or weapons offenses after stopping them for riding on sidewalks or the wrong side of the street. (Click here for an example.)
Hassett estimated that bike-enforcement cops have confiscated at least 10 handguns in the past four months during bike enforcement. And “a lot of drugs. We’re not talking about kilos. We’re talking about bundles of crack, bundles of weed, substantial amounts of street-level narcotics.”
Hassett hand-picks the officers in his unit. He said he’s proud of them, including Zannelli, whom he called “an extremely talented and top-shelf officer.”
“He can do it all,” Hassett said. “He’s one of my best.”
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Sydney Collier
• David Coppola
• Joe Dease
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Bertram Etienne
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
• Dan Hartnett
• Ray Hassett
• Robin Higgins
• Ronnell Higgins
• Racheal Inconiglios
• Hilda Kilpatrick
• Anthony Maio
• Steve McMorris
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• Luis & David Rivera
• Salvador Rodriguez
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• Stephan Torquati
• Kelly Turner
• John Velleca
• Alan Wenk
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zaweski
(To suggest an officer to be featured, contact us here.)