Replacement Named for Controversial Commanding Officer of East New York Precinct

Replacement Named for Controversial Commanding Officer of East New York Precinct
NYPD Deputy Inspector Rohan Griffith. (Image: NYPD)

The New York Police Department has chosen a new leader for one of the borough’s most troubled precincts, months after announcing that his controversy-laden predecessor would be re-assigned.

Deputy Inspector Rohan Griffith is the new commanding officer for the 75th Precinct, which includes the East New York and Cypress Hills neighborhoods. The Department announced in March that Griffith’s predecessor, Inspector John Mastronardi, would be moved to the Chief of Detectives’ office after local activists campaigned against him for his handling of a fight between cops and civilians over mask rules last April, which was caught on video.

Though the NYPD’s press arm declined to answer questions related to Griffith’s appointment, saying it was not yet official, Griffith’s name and photo now appear on the precinct’s webpage and Twitter account.

As Bklyner has previously reported, the 75th Precinct has long been a hot spot for issues related to public safety and police accountability. Last year, the precinct had both the most shooting incidents and the highest number of police misconduct complaints of anywhere in the city. The precinct, which was the focus of a documentary about police corruption in the 1980s, is also among the city’s largest geographically and by number of officers assigned.

Griffith, 39, previously served on the Queens Larceny Squad and more recently worked as the head of Police Service Area 2, which patrols the 42 NYCHA developments within the confines of the 75th Precinct, as well as the nearby 73rd and 77th precincts. The PSA 2’s headquarters are located less than a mile away from the 75th Precinct’s station house on Sutton Avenue.

Griffith is one of the first precinct commanding officers appointed since Mayor Bill de Blasio instituted a policy that gave local precinct community councils more input into deciding who gets the role.

The 75th Community Council’s president, Alberto Ramos, declined to comment on this story. But another community member involved with the process, Paul Mohammed, described the engagement process as a closed-door meeting with a small panel of community representatives.

The panel included Mohammed—who co-chairs Brooklyn Community Board 5’s public safety committee and participated on behalf of CB5 chair Andre Mitchell—Ramos, Pamela Lockley of the Linden Plaza Leaseholder’s Tenant Association Council, and a local business owner. Senior police officials including NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison also sat in, according to Mohammed.

Over the course of four hours, Mohammed said, the panelists were presented with four candidates, including Griffith, along with a packet of information containing the officers’ resumes and disciplinary history, among other information. Candidates spoke about their professional history and answered questions. The panelists were then asked to submit written notes and ratings for the candidates to the Department, who had the final say on the decision.

“I think this should be the way of the future, but this is the tip of the iceberg,” Mohammed said of the process. He wants further reforms, including the passage of a bill that would give more power to the city’s police oversight agency.

“I have no illusion that we control the process, because we didn’t choose the candidates nor did we have the last say.”

Nevertheless, he said he and the other panelists agreed that Griffith was the most qualified for the role.

“What stood out to me the most is that he doesn’t have a large learning curve here in the 75th,” Mohammed said. “I don’t need someone here that’s unfamiliar with the territory. The greatest selling point is that he’s been there for two years.”

Other local community leaders also expressed satisfaction with the pick.

Griffith “has a great relationship with the East New York community,” said Reverend Kevin McCall, who had pushed to have Mastronardi removed, outside the precinct house on Tuesday. “We commend him on the leadership he has provided within PSA 2, now he can provide it for one of the biggest precincts in New York City.”

Another local activist, Chris Banks, said called Griffith “an inspector that I believe is going to fight with us, work with us and fight to make sure the community relations are much better.”

According to a February post on the Department’s Facebook page, Griffith was born in Fort Riley, Kansas, and raised in Brooklyn and Queens by military veteran parents. He graduated from Stony Brook University and interviewed for a computer information security job before eventually joining the police academy.

“I’m not here to just say that I, Rohan Griffith, succeeded,” Griffith is quoted as saying in the post. “I’m here to make sure that my cops succeed in what they want to do and to make sure the community succeeds. For me to be that positive influence and mentor for somebody that follows in my footsteps will give me great pride.”

Calls to the precinct to request a comment from Griffith were not returned. When Bklyner stopped by the 75th Precinct office, a reporter was turned away and told to request comment through the agency’s press office.

A database of police misconduct records organized by the news outlet Propublica shows a single complaint against Griffith. The complaint, made in February 2012, includes two allegations, one of which was substantiated by the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB).

According to the database, a 39-year-old Black female accused Griffith, who was a 30-year-old Sergeant at the time, of “Abuse of Authority: Threat To Damage/Seize Property” in the 77th Precinct in Crown Heights. The CCRB substantiated that complaint and recommended “Instructions,” the least severe form of discipline, sometimes recommended for officers who misunderstand a policy, though the CCRB database shows the NYPD, which has final say over disciplinary measures, took no action.

The CCRB exonerated Griffith in another allegation included in the complaint, of “Abuse of Authority: Stop,” from a 16-year-old Black female. Such a ruling means the officer was found to have committed the alleged act, but was within the boundaries of the law in doing so.

In his new role, Griffith will have to mend frayed police-community relations while simultaneously working to address public safety issues in the area. The 75th Precinct has continued to struggle with violent crime in 2021, particularly gun violence incidents. There have been 16 shooting incidents in the precinct so far this year, according to police data, the most of any precinct in the city.

“We want him to have an open-door policy with a much needed emphasis on the respect for the community he’s controlling, and a more hands on approach that’s supportive to dealing with cure violence programs,” Mohammed told Bklyner. “We want to work with Deputy Inspector Griffith but also hold him accountable.”

He will also have to meet the demands of local elected officials. In a comment to Bklyner, Council Member Darma Diaz, whose district includes the northern half of the 75th Precinct, wished Griffith success in the role and said “community representatives choose him, therefore I expect community engagement like never before.”

“Not only do I need the new Commander to bring down the criminal acts, I also need for quality of life concerns to be made a high priority,” Diaz said, citing loud music and “triple-parked cars” at Highland Park as examples.

Issues there and around the district, Diaz said, “require administration attention beyond what we have received.”

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