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Neighborhood of tragedy is one of caring

They know they are appreciated here. It is on these streets, with these people, where the officers of B District feel the warmth, see the respect, understand that most folks see them as friends, not as the enemy.

Take people fighting to make a neighborhood bloom amid weeds. Add caring cops. The relationship is not just professional, but personal. Cops are not just a uniform, but a familiar face or a name. In return, the folks in the West Village -- Johnson Park, Whitney Place and others streets in the shadow of City Hall -- are watched over, cared for.

That is the other tragedy of last week's shooting of two downtown B District officers: Patricia Parete and Carl Andolina went down on friendly turf. Varner Harris Jr. is accused of running across Elmwood Avenue to the corner of Whitney, where he shot Parete in the jaw and wounded Andolina, who then tackled and held him.

From Amherst to Angola, people were stunned. In this neighborhood, they grieved.

"We all felt horrible, for this to happen here," said neighborhood activist Marilyn Rodgers. "It's a great crew [in B District]."

Rodgers, 53, is a solid block of determination. In regular meetings with B District Officers Ken Devlin and George Morlock, Rodgers and others pass along tips and hash out problems. Cops do everything from squeeze local slumlords to help close down -- for a while -- a corner store that doubled as a druggie haven.

At a block celebration a couple of summers ago, Rodgers noticed a suspicious van. She mentioned it to Devlin, who had stopped by. Within minutes, police cars converged from three directions and took down what turned out to be a drug courier.

"Some of the officers, we're very close with," Rodgers said. "Others, we at least know by name or by face."

The 6-foot-7 Andolina was familiar as a gentle giant. Parete was seen as a take-care-of-business cop of few words.

The way it is on Johnson Park is the way it should be everywhere between cops and community. Cops see hard-working people such as Rodgers bringing 19th century houses back to life. They know the folks who have a stake here, who against the odds are breathing life back into a gasping neighborhood. Barely a block from Marilyn Rodgers' restored 1830 brick bungalow is the notorious 10th Street, site of numerous drug busts and a recent firebombing.

"In 19 years on the force," Devlin said, "I've never seen people who care so much about their neighborhood and each other."

When the cops were shot -- Andolina is out of the hospital, Parete is in serious condition -- most people felt bad. People in this neighborhood did something.

Local businesses donated food to officers on vigil in the hospital. Folks in the West Village collected more than $600 to donate to the wounded officers.

On these streets, the wall between cop and citizen crumbled. It was just people, some of them in uniform, joined in a shared battle.

"The cops I know will come by, pull into the driveway and say, 'Hey, Jules, how's it going?" said Julie Stayer, a nurse recruiter.

The more you know somebody, the more you want to reach out. It is hard for cops to meet folks when they're running from call to call. Most people only come face to face with a cop when they do something wrong. It is not the formula for a healthy relationship.

On these streets, it is different. Folks are fighting for a neighborhood. The cops are at their side. When somebody goes down, everybody feels it.

"I say a 10-bead rosary every day for the [wounded] officers," Stayer said. "It's devastating. Everybody feels bad."

They wouldn't feel so bad, if they didn't care.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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