Veteran police officer Tommy Accomando had more to worry about than getting shot in the face when chasing a Trinitario gang member down Creston Avenue in the Bronx.
There’s no good time to be running after a suspected drug dealer and known gang member with a long rap sheet in the city’s poorest borough — especially when he pulls out a loaded gun.
But when NYPD vehicles are being attacked, when there are calls to defund the police, when criminals put officers in headlocks and particularly when new legislation hampers how cops take down suspects — the stakes are particularly high.
“You’ve got enough stuff going on in your mind,” Accomando told The Post last week, the second of two Friday night tours a reporter spent riding along with Special Ops cops from the 46th Precinct — aka “The Alamo.”
Here shootings are up 53% over last year, with 26 so far in 2020. Citywide, the summer has been brutal, with the NYPD struggling with a 167% increase in gunplay between June 1 and July 26 compared to the same period a year ago.
“At first you’re thinking, does he have a gun? Then he takes the gun out and you wonder, is he going to point it at me? Then, does he have another gun? Am I going to get shot?
“Then when you take him down and cuff him you think, did I do that right or did my knee hit his back, in which case I’m going to jail.”
Many of the sweeping new regulations signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio since the shocking police killing of George Floyd on May 25 — especially the so-called “diaphragm bill” — are among the most restrictive facing any cops in the country. NYPD officers now have to collar even the most violent suspects without touching them on the torso, head or neck — or face criminal charges themselves.
The politicians are never around in the adrenaline-fueled split seconds that make up the most dangerous police work — but nine-year-veteran Accomando, 35, and his fellow officers have to play by their rules anyway.
The streets of the 4-6 clog up in the early evening with groups of mainly young men drinking, smoking hookahs and blasting music on giant speakers until 4 and 5 a.m. Some ride by on dirt bikes without helmets, bouncing off sidewalks, running red lights and yelling “f–k you” at police.
Most of the calls officers get are noise complaints. But when cops show up to disperse the crowds, many push back against the police.
“Then you gotta watch out for the airmail,” Officer Ramon Garcia, 29, told The Post, pointing up at the grim River Park Towers housing project on the Harlem River. “Airmail” is the rocks, bottles and even the occasional air conditioner dropped on cops from the rooftops.
Accomando lucked out in his July 23 confrontation with the gunman, which unfolded after he and his partner spotted the man riding a Revel scooter in the wrong direction. Accomando gave chase, the perp nervously threw out his gun, and Accomando was able to cuff him without too much difficulty, the NYPD said.
One of Accomando’s precinct colleagues wasn’t so lucky on July 1. That officer was put in a headlock, punched and had his head gashed as hostile crowds screamed, “F–k him up! F–k him up!”
Accomando responded to the dreaded call of an officer down at Grand Concourse and Morris Avenue.
“It was very disheartening to see him with blood coming down his face,” Accomando said, pointing to the spot where it happened.
“You feel helpless. But this is what it’s like now. You’re going into the arrest with 15 rules to follow and the guy you’re arresting doesn’t have to follow one.”
The incident happened just after the 4-6 lost its precinct commander, the well-liked Deputy Inspector Richard Brea, who retired in protest of the growing anti-police sentiment and lack of support from both One Police Plaza and City Hall.
Riding in the back seat of the patrol car, the lack of support was obvious on the streets. As officers raced from job to job, siren blaring, the hate was palpable from Morris Heights to crime-ridden Davidson Avenue.
“Yo motherf–kers, get the f–k outta here!,” one thirtysomething man yelled.
“We’re going to shoot you!” hollered another, as his friend gave the cops the finger.
“You keep rollin’ — this is our city, you aren’t wanted,” said one young man as Accomando and Garcia stopped to investigate a report of a woman whose foot had been slashed.
At another point, the officers pulled up at Featherbed Lane in the Bronx on a report about an EDP, or emotionally disturbed person, with his chest partly slashed. But when they got there, the man screamed at the cops to stay away from him, saying, “I don’t want no help from the police.”
“You feel helpless,” Accomando said. “The perps know how little we can do and they’ve lost all respect for us and they have no fear. It’s scary out here.”
In the early 1990s, during the Mollen Commission hearings on police corruption, the 46th was known as a dumping ground for some of the worst cops in the city. Bernard Cawley, a 230-pound lunk from the 46th, testified how he and other officers would beat up drug dealers and civilians alike, steal drugs and burglarize residences. Cawley was nicknamed “The Mechanic” because he was so good at “tuning people up.”
But the 4-6, and the NYPD, has changed, observers say. Corruption is much harder to pull off with the predominance of surveillance cameras, and the high-tech equipment employed by the department, including the ability to trace squad cars 24-7, and officer-worn bodycams. And a force once dominated by white men has also changed, with the NYPD now 18% percent female, 29% Hispanic and 15% black.
Officer William Bravo, 29, who was part of the NYPD’s tough anti-crime unit operating in the 4-6 until it was disbanded on June 15, is a dark-skinned Dominican-American who grew up in the South Bronx. He said he faces “‘daily insults” hurled at him from the street from those who say he’s a traitor to be in the NYPD.
“I tune it out,” he told The Post. “I don’t take it personally.”
Garcia and Accomando, eating greasy pizza in the middle of their 4-to-midnight tour last week, said despite the new dangers, they are still living their childhood dreams.
“And I’m not going to lie,” Accomando said. “Even if it sounds corny, I’m still always going to get the bad guy.”