By Kieran K. Meadows
Veteran 42nd Precinct Officer Tony Panos and his partner, Officer Greg Zukoff, agreed it was an unusual morning Wednesday as they patrolled the Morrisania section of the South Bronx. They handled only one call – or “job” – a landlord-tenant dispute at the beginning of their shift in sector “Henry,” the eighth sector in the precinct. Since that call: nothing. Officer Panos admitted the morning shift was usually a little slower, but he was still surprised by the lack of calls.
“I haven’t seen it like this in a long time,” he said. “We can’t even back someone up. This is unusually quiet today,” he said. To illustrate his point, he mentioned there was at least one major gun job per day.
Officer Panos, 38, clean-shaven with greased jet-black hair combed and parted on his right, crossed one leg over the other. He looked like he was sitting in a porch chair rather than the front passenger seat of a police squad car.
Since 1990, Officer Panos and Officer Zukoff have patrolled the hilly Morrisania in the South Bronx. They have witnessed dramatic changes over that period. Morrisania is still considered a high-crime area but crime is down over 65 percent in the neighborhood since the early 1990s. Back then it looked like rubble or a war zone, they said. Vacant overgrown lots, burnt-out buildings and abandoned cars on every block have now been replaced by numerous private and public developments.
The squad car drifted along Crotona Avenue past two and three family beige-brick developments marked with “Fedders” and “Friedrich” air conditioning signs. The police receive fewer calls to these smaller units compared to the larger public housing developments that dominate the area, the officers said.
As they drove down Webster Avenue, the officers noted other changes, such as the laptop computer between them, which they use to run ID checks. And while the old light and siren control box used to have only two buttons, the current one has 17 buttons.
“It’s like a Broadway play,” said Officer Zukoff, 44, slightly balding, with a graying mustache curled slightly upward at each end. Officer Panos fidgeted with his handheld radio. After a moment of silence a voice crackled on the other end about another family dispute, but in a different sector.
“[These] two hours could be quiet now, but the next two hours could be nuts,” Officer Panos said. “Boom—you never know when it’s going to hit.”
The day before, two Queens transit cops were shot after they stopped someone who tried to beat a subway fare. The officers have gotten used to the unpredictable nature of the job.
“You gotta not be complacent,” said Officer Panos in his native Forest Hills, Queens accent. “You gotta approach every situation with your guard up,” he said.
Officer Zukoff, wearing dark Aviator sunglasses, looked in the rear-view mirror and nodded. He drove slowly and made a right just before the Cross Bronx Expressway that marks the edge of the precinct’s command.
As they waited for the next job, the officers counted down the years until they could retire and collect their pension—the best part of the job, they said.
“Two more to go,” Officer Panos said when asked when they could retire. “And we are,” he added.