Bike Stops Turn Serious

DSCN5578.JPGDavid 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.

DSCN5597.JPG“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.

DSCN5589.JPG“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.)

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posted by: William Kurtz on October 12, 2009  12:17pm

Now that is a well-written Cop-of-the-Week story, and a deserving recipient, too.  Glad to hear the officer wasn’t seriously injured in his scuffle.  And this might be my bleeding liberal heart talking, but I think his expressed concern for the youthful offender is another sign that he is a good cop.  Who knows?  Maybe being treated with a little compassion and dignity during his arrest will make this kid think twice about his next interaction with the police—or maybe there won’t be another one.

posted by: streever on October 12, 2009  12:19pm

Nice work officer—and great cop of the week this week NHI!

posted by: cedarhillresident on October 12, 2009  12:32pm

Great job David!

snap NHI got another NHPD gun shot :)

posted by: nfjanette on October 12, 2009  12:53pm

The boy is lucky to be alive given the potential danger he posed to the police and civilians in the area.  Officers Zannelli and Lozada (and their colleagues) have done their jobs with distinction.  This incident shows that a reasonable understanding of “community policing” can include aggressive engagement of potential criminals and effective enforcement of the law.  Well done!

posted by: juli on October 12, 2009  1:03pm

fantastic job. thank you so much.

posted by: FHR3211 on October 12, 2009  2:22pm

Sorry to be so superficial, but Officer Zannelli is really a handsome guy. Maybe its time for NHPD to start a calendar.

posted by: K on October 12, 2009  3:12pm

Thanks, guys! Next, come on over to Fair Haven and Fair Haven Heights - you never know when a kid is going to ride right out in front of you - AT your car - from nowhere. Chapel, Grand, Quinnipiac all the way from Foxon down past Grand, etc…
Great job on getting all these guns off the streets it makes me feel safer. Plus, this may help solve previous crimes if ballistic testing is done.

posted by: imjustsaying on October 12, 2009  3:17pm

Great job Zannelli.  Keep up the good work.

posted by: bill on October 12, 2009  3:23pm

Good cop doing a good job with a great attitude toward people. Great having someone like this in New Haven, Ct.

posted by: RAY WILLIS on October 12, 2009  4:34pm

K; Are you crazy? What NHPO would risk his life riding down Quinnipiac Ave(like I have for years), do you see how people drive there?!?

posted by: John Fitzparick on October 12, 2009  7:05pm

This enforcement effort is invaluable. I’m often out in West River walking the dog after dark, and somebody riding a bike on the sidewalk can be on top of me in an instant, especially if I’m bent over picking up after the dog. Keeping the bikes off the sidewalks makes our neighborhoods a lot safer. I watched a pair of officers stop a young man for riding a bike on the wrong side of Ellsworth last week, and I believe Officer Zannelli was one of them. The young man was treated courteously and professionally the entire time.

posted by: ok on October 12, 2009  7:45pm

If that cut happened to a Fire Fighter SHE would be off until after Christmas, NAH, make it the New Year.

posted by: anon on October 12, 2009  11:10pm

We should triple the number of these patrols. Not only are they far more effective from a community policing standpoint (actually being in the community rather than driving through it anonymously in a car helps!), but idling vehicles contribute directly to our city’s ridiculously high asthma rates.

posted by: kamb on October 13, 2009  2:42am

Thanks Zannelli for all that you do.

posted by: streever on October 13, 2009  9:51am

Was your commented intended to be sexist? It’s irrelevant to the story, portrays women in a negative light, & I’m surprised it was posted. Maybe I’ve mis-read you, and you are using she in a gender-neutral fashion, and you just dislike firefighters. Either way I am stumped.

posted by: john on October 13, 2009  11:29am

Great work, Officer Zannelli. Inspiring.

posted by: Street Justice on October 13, 2009  3:24pm

Officer Zannelli. You are just too nice of an Officer to be working for the NHPD.  If you want to have any impact on these youths on bicycles, you need to smack the mope up side his head.  Alittle back hand action will keep these youngins in line.

posted by: Kourtney on October 13, 2009  6:32pm

Officer Zannelli seems like a really great cop. And he was genuinely interested in the safety of the 16 year old on the bike. I agree with Lt. Hassett, he must be one of the better officers out there. Thanks for all you do.
Also, I agree with the other poster, he is very attractive! If they do make a calendar, I’d buy one!

posted by: The bottom line on October 14, 2009  1:41am

To OK,
Grow up: If you don’t like firefighters don’t demean women to get that point across!

posted by: Irving Pinsky on October 14, 2009  12:50pm

I liked the article and the danger to all from bad bicycle riders is extremely high.
I have suggested in the past that they add the rules of the road to grade school and other public education.
With films, graphic or otherwise much can be taught.  Saving lives and crippling injuries.
I see young mothers walking against lights. Often with babies in carriages, with their backs to traffic and wearing clothes that makes them all too invisible.
It just makes so much sense.

posted by: Joe Carozza on October 15, 2009  11:41am

Outstanding police officer. Outstandingly written article. Thank you so much for reporting this story.

posted by: Mike on October 15, 2009  8:06pm

A good ending to a potentially dangerous scenario. Good Work!

posted by: jjlowe332 on October 20, 2009  2:00am

This is a great story about a great officer who comes to do his job and is not afraid to perform his duties. Thank you officer Zannelli for coming to New Haven and not being like the other new officers who sit in a car or the police stations and do nothing. You can’t perform if you don’t confront these criminals. These new officers don’t realize that and officer Zannelli performs. The one problem with the police is some supervisors dont recognize the performance of their officers. I see in the paper how an officer in Fairhaven got a gun but the officer is not named. Hello give credit where its due instead of talking about the cop who caught someone stealing a bike from someone. I met officers in Fairhaven and they perform well and get guns (D. Rivera, E. Rivera, Gartner, Rusczcyk and others) but they din’t get credit SHAME!!! Good work to officer Hayden, Folch and Forte they work hard and they deserve credit. Some of the new officers get catered and dont deserve to be an officer. Thanks to the real cops who perform. (you know who you are)