After chasing killers, commander settles on UWS
By Max Sarinsky
Christopher McCormack has spent most of the past two decades pursuing notorious criminals in some of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. So he may have felt a little out of place when in July, less than three months after being promoted to captain of the 20th Precinct on the Upper West Side, he received his first major assignment in the new position: to secure the neighborhood for President Obama’s appearance on The View at the ABC Studies on West 66th Street.
“He didn’t get hurt in my command, and there was no incident,” McCormack said wryly. “You know you live in a nice neighborhood when the president comes to visit twice.” (Obama returned to the district in September for a reception at the American Museum of Natural History.)
While McCormack is no longer fighting high-profile crime like he did in homicide and narcotics squads in the Bronx—his signature initiative now is cracking down on theft of attended property such as handbags—he’s found that his new job comes with its own challenges. He said that petty thieves can be just as hard to catch as murderers, since they rarely leave any traces.
“You’re basically fighting ghosts,” he said. “My whole career I’ve had to fight violence.”
McCormack said the best way to fight such crime is through sting operations, which he’s promoted heavily since taking command of the precinct in May. So far he’s happy with the results; in the first four weeks of October, the stings were responsible for the arrests of a half dozen individuals for grand larceny.
McCormack quickly developed a comfortable routine in his new role. His day begins each morning around 9:30 with a briefing from his crime analyst, which he uses to devise a patrol strategy for the 134 officers under his command. “You have to adjust your strategy” on a daily basis, he said. “If you wait a week, some guy could wipe out Columbus Avenue.”
Though he typically works most of the day from the precinct before leaving around 8 p.m., he hasn’t lost any passion for fighting crime hands-on.
“Once in a while, I like to get out on the streets and see what’s going on,” he said. “That’s the fun part.”
One aspect of his new post that McCormack warmed to immediately is the neighborhood. Having spent most of his 21-year career policing neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, he was surprised by the wide respect that the police commanded in the community.
“People really appreciate what you do,” he said of the Upper West Side. McCormack added that he and his wife Maddy, who live in Westchester with their son and daughter, have begun spending time in the area—the first time during their 18-year marriage that he’s taken her to the neighborhood where he works.
“Columbus Avenue is gorgeous,” McCormack said.
Even still, McCormack said that working on the Upper West Side hasn’t softened the suspicions he developed as a police officer. He said that he routinely reminds his wife at the movie theater to hold onto her pocketbook rather than leave it in the adjacent seat.
“Even if you’re in a nice area, there are criminals everywhere,” he said. “I don’t like anybody being up close to me.”
McCormack, 42, said that he expects to work another 21 years until forced retirement kicks in. But otherwise, he’s conflicted over the direction of his career.
“I’d like to get back into the work of stopping violence,” he said. “But this is the first time I’m at a stable location, and maybe I’ll stay here for a few years.”