Naming of long-awaited court officer training facility reignites ongoing controversy
A training facility for court officers across the state opened in Crown Heights on Monday — a deal that was nine years in the making.
The corner of St. John’s Place and Classon Avenue — once the location of a Catholic school where nuns lived — is now home to the 60,000 square feet of classrooms, auditorium and gym of The Captain William H. Thompson, Sergeant Thomas Jurgens and Sergeant Mitchel Wallace Court Officers Academy.
The facility was named in honor of the three court officers killed in the line of duty during the terror attacks on 9/11 at the World Trade Center. The academy will be the primary training center for more than 4,000 Unified Court System Court Officers, who guard all the state’s courthouses.
Officers will go through a four-month basic training that includes instruction in criminal, civil, family and constitutional law as well as arrest procedures. The academy also provides training with weapons including baton, pepper spray and firearms. Officers will learn proper use of force, first aid, CPR, crowd control and other skills deemed necessary by the courts.
The state’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said the new facility will play a “critical role” in safeguarding the courts and will aim to be the “public face of the court system.”
“Even with the best training, we are asked to make instantaneous decisions [regarding] things that occur — that’s what Harry, Mitch and Tom did over 17 years ago [on 9/11],” said Chief Michael Magliano with the Department of Public Safety.
“There is no greater call in life [than] when a man or woman lays down his or her life in the service of others. The names inscribed on this plaque never wanted the spotlight and always put the welfare [of others] above themselves.”
“They must be highly prepared to handle a wide range of situations, including life-threatening emergencies that require courage and decisiveness,” said Judge DiFiore.
“We now have a customized facility that will enable our team of top-notch instructors to pursue and instill excellence in our court officers through a broad range of training activities.”
Across the city for the last two years, courtrooms — in civil, family, housing, criminal and supreme courts — were unable to open because of short staffing of court officers. Yesterday, while the ceremony was underway, 11 courtrooms were closed due to short staffing, according to Dennis Quirk, the New York State Court Officers Association president.
During the last two years, more than 60 court officers suffered injuries while on the job either by inmates or members of the public.
Quirk, along with Patrick Cullen, State Supreme Court Officers Association president, organized several protests at each courthouse in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx to bring awareness to the ongoing issue.
“By next spring, along with the opening of a new Court Officer Academy, three new classes of recruits — totaling an additional 380 officers — will be assigned to the courts,” Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration told the Eagle last month.
Quirk has spearheaded the facility’s opening since the disgraced Gov. Eliot Spitzer and former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman were in office but declined to attend the event on Monday.
“The academy was supposed to be named for three court officers killed during 9/11 and two others killed in the line of duty. They changed that and put two photos in the building,” said Quirk referring to Court Officers Francis Carroll and Albert Gelb, whose names were not included in the building’s final title.
“The other men who were named, they do deserve it — but those two other men too deserve to be on that building. This was a total disgrace to their families. So no, I did not attend.”
Carroll was the first court officer killed in the line of duty during a robbery in progress in Midtown in 1973. Gelb was killed in 1976 in front of his home on 109th Street in Queens, days before he was slated to testify in a mob-related trial.
Quirk said that though the facility is open, it’s still unfinished because the dormitory portion of the building — where the nuns were housed — was not renovated and is a part of the lease.
“What takes 9 years to renovate the building? If a court officer lives far away now, they have to get put up in hotels that the state will have to pay for instead of having a dormitory on the site,” said a disappointed Quirk.
Chalfen said the facilities’ two buildings are completed with a third reserved for expansion opportunities. He added that there plans underway for a memorial wall where all slain court officers will be remembered.
Additional reporting by Todd Maisel
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