It may sound clichéd, but Chris Helms, a community affairs officer with the 19th Precinct, became a police officer in 1994 for all the right reasons.
“Before joining the NYPD, I was working in a restaurant waiting tables and bartending while I was going to college,” Helms recalled. “I decided to become a police officer because I like helping people.”
Helms said his parents taught him to be a good person and to always “do the right thing.”
Growing up in Sloatsburg in Rockland County, Helms said that being a police officer looked exciting as a career option. “The hustle and bustle, going from place to place while protecting the citizens of New York, meeting people, talking to people—those were things I liked to do,” Helms explained.
“I just couldn’t see myself sitting behind a desk or having to stay in one place for too long,” he said.
At age 44, Helms, who has spent his entire police career with the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side, has done anything but sit behind a desk.
“My typical day is always different; every day our precinct is affected by things that happen all over the world,” he said, explaining that he frequently gets involved in preparations for various visits from dignitaries including President Barack Obama, Pope Benedict XVI, other world leaders and celebrities.
“As a community affairs officer, you have to plan for many large-scale events such as parades, street fairs, demonstrations and generally taking care of the community within the precinct’s borders,” he said.
Prior to being assigned to community affairs in 2007, Helms worked in various units, including community policing, where he tackled quality of life issues including street narcotics, prostitution, unlicensed vendors, panhandlers and the homeless.
While Helms says he’s had many “good arrests” in his career, nothing compares to his time helping out at the World Trade Center in the aftermath of 9/11.
“I was working and trying to help out at ground zero for the months after the attacks,” he said. “It was probably the most memorable time in my career…nothing comes close to dealing with what happened down there.”
Asked if he’s seen the city’s quality of life improve over the years, Helms said he sees a big difference from when he first joined the force nearly 18 years ago.
“The quality of life has definitely improved in the city,” he said. “There are less homeless on the street and fewer quality of life crimes throughout our precinct.”
Latha Thompson, district manager for Community Board 8 in Manhattan, has nothing but praise for Helms.
“Chris is an outstanding police officer who is always willing to help the community any way he can,” Thompson said.
In his downtime, Helms, who is also an avid golfer, enjoys spending time at home with his wife of 9 years, his son Ryan, 8, and daughter Katelyn, 6.
He said he gets along with almost everyone he meets in the community and added it is a special place because it is home to some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world as well as everyday working folks.
“There is no place in the world like the Upper East Side,” Helms said. n
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