Two cops patrolling a housing complex where someone shot at police a month ago found themselves not dodging bullets, but mediating a domestic quarrel involving car keys, toiletries, and crack cocaine.
The two cops, Officers Carlos Ortiz and Reggie Holston (left to right in photo), normally drive patrol cars in Dixwell and the Hill, respectively. They were on an overtime walking beat Thursday for the first time together. They were assigned from 4 to 8 p.m. to Presidential Gardens, a Newhallville housing complex bordering Dixwell Avenue and Shelton Avenue.
The assignment was part of a summer anti-violence initiative designed to mitigate the increase in city crime that has historically accompanied the year’s hottest months. The city has allocated $500,000 to spend on the program, known as SAVI (Summer Anti-Violence Initiative), to give top neighborhood cops up to 40 hours of extra overtime a week to tackle hot spots.
Presidential Gardens, where a young man fired bullets at police officers a month ago, has been one of those spots. (Read stories here and here for more stories about the complex’s troubled past.)
Holston’s and Ortiz’s shift was noteworthy for violence that did not occur.
Holston and Ortiz chatted with neighbors at Presidential Gardens, which remained quiet during their overtime shift.
As they spoke with tenants, a middle-aged man approached them at one point, pointing to a woman standing 50 feet away near the entrance to a different apartment complex, at 579-595 Dixwell.
“Sir,” he asked, “can you tell her to give me the keys to my car?”
According to the man, his live-in girlfriend of just over three months had stolen his car keys from him and refused to return them. The woman had no license, and the man himself had neither license nor registration for the vehicle. He produced a bill of sale for the vehicle and asked that the officers assist him with the retrieval of the keys.
Holston turned to the woman: “Why don’t you give him the keys?” She did not acknowledge him. “We can discuss this in the house,” she said.
The officers and the couple trudged up to a second-floor apartment, where the officers negotiated the return of the keys. The woman complained that her boyfriend does not take proper care of her due to his work schedule. He countered that he does a more than adequate job.
“She tells her mother I don’t support her enough,” he complained. “Every weekend, I take her shopping. I spend $100 at Walmart, wherever she wants.”
Holston then rebuked the man for not taking proper care of his car. The man responded that his negligence was due to a rigorous work schedule—12-hour days, six days a week—that leaves little time for taking care of his DMV duties. Holston decided to put a sticker on the car declaring it unregistered.
“I ain’t going to tow your car. You’re a working man,” he said.
The man added that his girlfriend has a substance abuse problem. He said he had discovered the residue of crack cocaine among her belongings in the apartment.
The officers agreed this was a serious problem. “If I were you, man, I’d get rid of that,” said Holston.
The officers returned to the Presidential Gardens complex, where rain forced them to take shelter for a while. After nearly an hour, while near Dixwell Avenue, they saw the woman once again exiting the nearby housing complex.
Her boyfriend said he would be leaving the apartment to go live with his brother, the woman said. She said she was fearful of arousing suspicion that she had committed domestic violence.
“What if the police are coming?” she asked Holston and Ortiz. Holston told her that the multitude of updates available via both his and Ortiz’s police radios, covering both Channels 2 and 3, told them no such event was underway.
Regardless of whether the woman was in danger, she said she did not feel safe remaining at her boyfriend’s apartment. She resolved to go pack her things and move to a nearby residence. The police accompanied her as she trudged up the 583 Dixwell Ave. stairs. Sure enough, as the woman climbed the stairs, she noticed a number of toiletries and makeup items, as well as other miscellaneous items dumped, presumably by her boyfriend, along the stairs up to the second-floor landing.
The officers then entered the apartment to discuss the situation with the man and his brother, who maintained that they had not been the ones to dump the materials down the stairs. In the meantime, the woman began depositing the personal items on the stairwell into a suitcase. Officer Holston approached and asked whether her boyfriend’s allegations of substance abuse were true.
“I was clean for six months,” she replied, “But I — I did have a relapse last night.”
Holston recommended she stay at a different apartment and maintain her sobriety. “You’ve got to stay clean,” he said.
As the woman nodded and walked back down the stairs, the officers returned to the apartment to speak to her boyfriend and her brother. The boyfriend had no plans to call authorities in an attempt to accuse his girlfriend of domestic violence, he told them. The officers thanked him and left.