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Captain Jason Zeikel on leading Greenwich Village’s 6th Precinct

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Jason Zeikel’s learning curve was zero when he took over the reins in March at the 6th Precinct. In a rare move for the New York Police Department, the captain was promoted internally, bumped up from the precinct’s executive officer, or second in command, to commanding officer.

Zeikel is 37, making him a Millennial. (The average age for precinct commanders is early 40s.) He has an upbeat, friendly personality, often breaking into short bursts of laughter. He’s very data driven. In an interesting fact to note, he almost became a lawyer when he was younger.

The Village Sun sat down for an interview with the new C.O. in late June. It was a particularly busy time for Zeikel. The Pride March, the precinct’s biggest event of the year, had just been that past weekend.

Pride all went well, with no serious incidents, Zeikel was happy to report. He was glad, though, to have a moment to catch his breath, so to speak, after overseeing the logistics of policing the major affair, including all the preparation that goes into it.

Police at the Pride March. (Photo by Q. Sakamaki)

“That’s like the Super Bowl of events for us,” he said, adding his officers did a “great job.”

“A lot of the officers were working 15-to-24-hour days,” he noted of the team effort.

Park stabbing

Zeikel was also dealing with a crime that rocked the precinct. Only a week before, there had been a fatal stabbing in Washington Square Park’s drug-saturated northwest corner. There have been no arrests so far.

“There are two suspects,” he stated.

He didn’t want to reveal any more details of the case, though, not wanting to jeopardize the investigation.

“Just trying to get everything nailed down,” he said of the case, adding that the suspects “are known to the precinct.”

Despite the shocking, broad-daylight homicide in Greenwich Village’s landmark park, the 6th remains one of the city’s safest precincts. Yet, concerns remain, in particular, about quality-of-life issues in and around Washington Square Park.

Rising through the ranks

“I was lucky enough to slide over to commanding officer,” Zeikel said of landing the job of the precinct’s top cop. “I love working here. It’s a great place to work. The community is amazing.”

Earlier in his career, he worked all over the city, logging time on the beat in Brownsville, Coney Island and Brooklyn North, among others, as well as doing a stint at the Internal Affairs Bureau, which focuses on fighting police corruption.

He was also previously commanding officer of the department’s recruitment section. He said his focus there was specifically on signing up more Black males and Asian-American females to join the Force.

“We had moderate success in it,” he said. “We did a good job.”

He started at the 6th as executive officer in November 2021. Stephen Spataro, the commanding officer back then, in February was promoted to deputy inspector and transferred to a Staten Island precinct.

“This command is very busy,” Zeikel reflected of the Village, though adding, “it’s not as violent” as some of the hardscrabble precincts he worked in before.

“But we have our own conditions here — nightlife conditions, alcohol, people drinking… . We’re more of a grand larceny command…people leaving their property unattended,” he offered, referring to high-value theft.

In the past, the precinct has tried to educate the public, for example, about not obliviously draping purses over the back of restaurant chairs since they are a prime target of thieves.

“Over all,” he said, “it’s a very safe command.”

Crime is down

To illustrate the point, he read from some printouts on the desk in front of him, showing that crime in the 6th was down 20 percent over the prior 28-day period, and down 7 percent year to date over all.

“Down in every single index crime,” he said, referring to the seven major crime categories — homicide, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny, rape and grand larceny auto.

Captain Zeikel at roll call at the Sixth Precinct. (NYPD)

Getting down to issues, The Village Sun asked the captain about quality-of-life concerns for some residents and local businesses, too — all in Washington Square Park — namely, hard drugs, weed vending, general vending and skateboarding, as well as — in the streets around the park — homeless encampments, homeless persons with untreated mental illness and open drug use.

Zeikel denied that, as some charge, the police’s “hands are tied,” in terms of doing enforcement.

“If the laws are on the books, we enforce them,” he stated. “If you’re using or smoking crack [in public], you’re going to get arrested. If you’re shooting up, you’re going to get arrested. We do arrest drug dealers in the park,” he said.

Zoom meeting anger

Just a few hours after the June 19 murder in the park, Zeikel had to host the monthly Zoom meeting of the 6th Precinct Community Council, where locals hear from police about crime and can also voice their feelings about area conditions. During the meeting, Zeikel was peppered with complaints about the park and the blocks around it, with some residents saying it’s the worst they’ve ever seen in their lives. It got to the point that Maureen Remacle, the community council’s longtime president, vocally objected to the angry barrage — but people insisted on having their say. During the subsequent interview with The Village Sun, Zeikel acknowledged that, even though the stats show local crime is dropping, people also just need to “feel safe,” too.

A man nodding out on drugs on Eighth Street near Sixth Avenue. (Photo by The Village Sun)

At the Zoom meeting, Zeikel assured the attendees, “You’re going to see a [police] presence in the park after what happened.”

He said cops had conducted “multiple buy and busts” in the park in the previous few weeks and “took out a few serious dealers. Two or three months ago, we did a big drug takedown in the park.”

Wily weed venders

As for weed, if the park dealers have it out physically on top of tables, police will seize it and can give a summons, he said. However, the pot peddlers have a new tactic: putting stickers of their wares — like Sour Diesel or Purple Kush — on top of their tables, with the sales completed “off location,” as in, outside the park.

“So they’re getting around our vendor enforcement,” he told the meeting.

Although there has been criticism of the Manhattan district attorney for allegedly being soft on crime, Zeikel told the Zoom meeting, the D.A. has been “a good partner” on prosecuting more serious crime, mentioning a man who had been assaulting people outside the since-closed Goodwill store on Eighth Street.

A weed vendor’s table in Washington Square Park on July 6. The vendor said he also had psychedelic mushrooms — either plain or in chocolate — and that he makes his sales outside of the park. His whiteboard reads: “Great Weed. Shrooms. Prerolls. Edibles. Eighths.” He said all the stickers on the table represent types of pot he himself has smoked, and that he personally does not do mushrooms. He showed packs of two brands of pot that he sells. (Photo by The Village Sun)

“The heavier stuff, the violent stuff, they’ve been an excellent partner,” he said of the D.A. “Heavy crime, nothing has changed. The mayor, the D.A., the police, we’re all on the same team. We don’t make the laws, it’s the Assembly [state Legislature] that makes the laws.

“It’s not as simple as just going there and grabbing everybody,” he explained. “We have to make buys and cases.”

The goal in making busts is “permanency,” he said.

“I’m a lifelong resident,” one man said, “and the junkies, the dealers, the bums, they own the park.”

However, Zeikel reiterated, “Our arrests are way up, year to date. Our summons are way up, year to date. We’re in the top 10 [precincts] in the city for decreasing crime.”

Homeless encampments

Regarding homeless encampments popping up in the blocks around the park — including recently Eighth Street — Detective Evrim Can, the head of the precinct’s community affairs unit, told the community council meeting that police follow protocol. This involves first asking the individual to decamp. If that doesn’t work, then a notice is posted saying a cleanup at the location will occur on a given date. If the homeless person doesn’t move his or her stuff by then, the Department of Sanitation can remove it. However, what often happens, Can said, is that the homeless person will just move to another location, farther down the block or across the street, and then the process will repeat all over again.

Can said that, prior to the George Floyd protests, police would handle encampments, but that now there is an initial layer where social workers are involved with reaching out to the homeless individuals.

“Sometimes it looks like nothing is being done,” he said, “but this is the process.”

If the Tashkent market opens, it’s hoped the area outside the W. Fourth Street subway station at Waverly Place will straighten up. (Photo by The Village Sun)

As for the W. Fourth Street subway station, everyone, including Zeikel, thinks the situation would improve if the Tashkent Uzbek market finally opens. The market appeared to be off but is now back on, he said.

Shoplifting epidemic 

Shoplifting is another “huge issue” facing the community, Zeikel admitted in the interview with The Village Sun. The precinct has had some success helping combat theft at large drug stores, like the Duane Reade at W. Fourth Street and Broadway and the CVS stores at Sheridan Square and at Sixth Avenue and Washington Place. Officers have been sharing their phone numbers with the stores, so they can respond faster to shoplifting incidents. Zeikel said he’s also been encouraging these places to hire “paid detail” security — meaning armed, off-duty police officers. He was gratified when one of the store’s managers recently wrote him a thank-you note for the police’s help.

In terms of the 6th’s strength, it was at 101 officers on the day of the interview.

“I would like to be at 125,” Zeikel said, noting that around seven years ago the number was higher, 150 officers. These aren’t the only police working the Village beat, though, since there are also the 6th Precinct detectives, plus officers from the transit, narcotics and auto-crime divisions.

Sorting out vending regs

As for the proliferation of vending in the park in recent years, Zeikel asserted that the precinct is on top of it.

“First Amendment vending is allowed in the park,” he noted, referring to vending of expressive matter, like books. Zeikel said things like handmade jewelry and candles can also be sold in the park since they, too, fall under that category. However, activist Robert Lederman, the president of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response to Illegal State Tactics), who is an expert on vending issues, disagrees, saying that, under the regulations, because earrings have a “functionality” aspect — that is, you can wear them — they cannot be sold in the park without a permit. Of course, candles have a functional aspect, too.

However, Zeikel stressed that he has specifically gone through the park with representatives from the Police Department’s Legal Unit to assess the individual vendors as to whether they are allowed to sell there or not. He also said he has made a point of training his officers on the park’s vending rules.

The 6th is also responsible for closing Washington Square Park for its nightly curfew, which it has been doing.

“We will always manage the park,” he assured.

E-bikes, scooters, skateboards…

E-bikes, e-scooters, gas-powered mopeds and more zipping around on the streets and often sidewalks, too, are a big concern for residents, particularly older ones, who fear serious injury. Zeikel admitted it’s a difficult situation for police to keep a handle on.

“It is extremely dangerous to chase after motorcycles and scooters, especially in a crowded precinct like the 6th Precinct,” he said.

Meanwhile, skateboarding — while seemingly the least of the precinct’s problems — is an issue in Washington Square Park, again for some older people, who say it makes them afraid to even enter the greensward, fearing they’ll get knocked down, putting them at risk of breaking brittle bones. Police generally have said they are letting the Parks Enforcement Patrol officers take the lead on dealing with skateboarding, which is illegal in the park.

A skateboarder in Washington Square Park went tumbling to the ground after failing to land a trick. Skateboarders had set out a couple of obstacles to jump over. (Photo by The Village Sun)

“I spoke with PEP,” the 6th C.O. said. “I asked them to focus on the skateboarders. The skateboarders are not as dangerous as a high-speed, 60-mile-per-hour motorcycle.”

As for amplified sound in the park, it’s generally not allowed, he emphasized. Asked about the case of Kanami Kusajima, an “ink dancer” who argued that her little speaker made less noise than drums, Zeikel just shrugged, “Gotta get a permit.”

‘Community loves the police’

Asked about the furious anti-police sentiment that raged after George Floyd’s killing in Minnesota and to what extent police are still facing negative fallout from it, Zeikel responded by saying he feels the precinct has a great relationship with locals.

“I think the overall community really loves the police,” he said.

He reiterated that the precinct is, generally speaking, safe, without much “heavy” crime, as he put it. That said, he admitted police have to keep a lid on all the various quality-of-life issues that locals are concerned about — searching for the right words, he called them “little agitations.”

“They’re not crime — they’re all the little violations,” he said, adding that police do need to address these “so they don’t escalate.”

Elsewhere around the precinct, some merchants in Sheridan Square have complained about aggressive panhandlers, saying they repeatedly need to shoo them out of their premises. The captain said panhandling is not illegal, but that if a person won’t leave a shop, police can respond, and that if someone repeatedly enters a shop, a merchant can get an order of protection.

Also on Sheridan Square, Zeikel noted he has asked Ydanis Rodriguez, the Department of Transportation commissioner, if a large granite rock in the middle of a curb-extension area in front of Village Cigars — which sometimes is a magnet for groups to hang out on — can be removed. While there are some other granite stones around the square, this one is the “main rock,” he said. It’s not clear whether the rock is actually needed for traffic purposes, the C.O. said.

Brooklyn roots

Zeikel, who currently lives on Staten Island, grew up in Brooklyn, in Kensington, and a few other spots around the borough. His father worked for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and his mother “sold shoes for 40 years,” he said, clearly proud of her work ethic.

The future police officer went on to get his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at John Jay College. He studied criminology — which looks at the reasons why people become criminals in the first place. Asked what those reasons are, he said it would need to be a longer conversation. He has also taught at John Jay the past 12 years, which he loves doing, currently teaching the course “Police and the Media.”

“I was either going to do this or go to law school,” he said. “In college, I was studying for the LSATs. I’m fascinated by the law.” A deciding factor, he said, was “being able to make a real change” by being a police officer. “The early retirement, too,” he added. “I’m not going to lie.”

He dropped out of college to enter the Police Academy, and could use his credits from the academy toward his bachelor’s degree.

Baseball fanatic

As for how he spends his time when off the job, Zeikel doesn’t hide that he’s a huge Mets fan. In fact, it’s plainly evident from his desk, which features a couple of Amazins bobblehead dolls, a Mets batting helmet pen cup and a baseball signed by former Mets ace Jacob deGrom.

“My girlfriend bought it for me,” he noted of the ball.

Captain Zeikel reveals Pete Alonso underneath his “Polar Bear” head. (Photo by The Village Sun)

And why did one of the figures sport a white bear head? Because, of course, it’s Pete Alonso a.k.a. the “Polar Bear,” Zeikel demonstrated, lifting off the ursine top to reveal the slugger.

There are some more Mets tchotchkes on a side table, including a Keith Hernandez bobblehead doll. Zeikel quipped that you have to have seen the “Seinfeld” episode for that one or “you won’t get the references.”

Steve Cohen recently built a new mansion at Washington and Perry Streets but, as of last July, was reportedly trying to sell it. Either way, the police captain would be honored to meet the Mets owner, regardless of whether or not he has a place in the neighborhood.

“If Steve Cohen reads this article, I’d like to invite him in,” he said.

Unlike the precinct’s impressive crime stats, however, Zeikel said of the Mets, “The season’s been a little disappointing.”

If there’s one thing he loves even more than the Mets, it’s his two daughters.

Smiling proudly, he said, “I’m a girl dad.”

At one point during the interview, Zeikel had to pause to take a phone call. It was about his assignment for that night — he would be in charge of all of Manhattan south of 59th Street.

“For me, this is a 24/7 position,” he said. “I get [work-related] texts at 1 or 2 in the morning.”

So what lies beyond for him after retirement from the Police Department? Would it maybe ideally be something with the Mets?

“I don’t know if Steve Cohen would give me a job,” he mused, “but that’s a while away.”


  1. John John July 16, 2023

    “If you’re using or smoking crack [in public], you’re going to get arrested. If you’re shooting up, you’re going to get arrested. We do arrest drug dealers in the park,” he said.

    YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME! Can I have a badge? Because I could have made 100 arrests over the last 12 months. Cops are 100% not arresting users. Crack is smoked virtually everywhere around 8th street between 5th and 6th Ave, particularly on MacDougal St between 8th and Washington Square North. In my 9 years living here and last 5-6 sitting outside at Stumptown, I have never seen a cop patrolling on that street! Never! They are not patrolling on foot. Plain and simple.

    • Steven G Hill Steven G Hill July 16, 2023

      We who live around the park see criminal activity every day in the area surrounding the park…the hardcore dealers, their associates & addicts are the source of most of the crime being committed…right out of the W. 4th St. station to Washington Square Park. The pot dealers are now putting 2 or 3 paintings on their table…lots of drugs in the duffle bag…cop did not tell them to move on today.

    • Steve Steve July 17, 2023

      I agree completely with John — there are no police patrolling on the streets. When the police are actually out of their patrol cars, they congregate in groups of 3,4, 5 or more in Union Square and Washington Sq. Park. Don’t know what the heck they are doing. Whether in patrol cars or “out and about,” they are frequently looking at their cell phones. They are certainly not proactive! Quite the contrary! If they don’t want to do their jobs or are reluctant to do their jobs, they shouldn’t be police in the first place.

      I recall hearing that police can only go out in pairs patrolling. If that, in fact, is the case, it’s outrageous. I, an unarmed civilian, don’t take a partner to walk with me through the subways to keep me safe. Why are armed police officers prevented from walking down a subway platform without having a partner escorting them? It’s ludicrous and the City Council should do something about that.

      P.R. from the precinct aside (talk is cheap), it is pretty apparent that the police are doing their best to avoid encountering any trouble, i.e., that means avoiding aggressive homeless, who can be heard screaming/shouting/bellowing as they walk down University Place, for example.

      As but one illustration, the situation in front of the West 4th Street subway station is extremely dangerous. Why are there no police stationed there? It is a round-the-clock danger for people just passing by, as well as those entering and exiting the subways. It’s not as if the area is not known as dangerous to the NYPD. So, why is there no presence there on a regular basis? The City Council should open up an investigation of this. Of course, there has been an abject lack of cooperation by the NYPD with the City Council.

      The situation in the subways is even more egregious. Mayor Adams likes to portray himself as “flooding” the subways with transit cops. What he is doing is fleecing the public purse, resulting in more and more overtime for the police. I have very, very rarely seen a transit policeman on a subway platform. They prefer to hang out right outside or inside the turnstiles. Or, for additional safety, behind the metal barriers protecting the police station located inside Union Square. What, pray tell, does that accomplish? Do they think that they can arrest dangerous characters by positioning themselves there? Come on! Who do they think they are kidding? How many people have to be clubbed, knifed or thrown in front of trains for the transit police to do their job?

  2. JAM JAM July 16, 2023

    Thank you Captain Zeikel and Sixth Precinct.
    Thank you Village Sun.

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