Vol. 20,  No. 9 May 3 - 16, 2007


Brief Chicken Joint Shutdown a Lesson in Resilience of Drug Trade


Everyone knows illegal drugs are being sold from inside and outside of the 24-hour Kennedy Fried Chicken on the Grand Concourse and 198th Street, but that doesn’t stop it from happening.

At any time, day or night, neighborhood residents say, you’ll see a group of young Hispanic males, teenagers mostly, some maybe in their early 20s, standing outside of the brightly-lit fast-food restaurant. There is a red sign in the window near the door that says: No Standing.

The owner of a nearby store, who didn’t want to give his name, said they are there selling drugs. One of the young loiterers angrily approached a photographer recently, discouraging him from snapping any more pictures for this article.

Community stalwarts, Monsignor John Jenik of Our Lady of Refuge Church and John Reilly of the Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation, both said the restaurant has been a drug haven ever since it opened several years ago.

About a month ago, the Police Department shut the restaurant down in another attempt to thwart the blatant drug dealing by using the Nuisance Abatement law that targets crime-riddled commercial properties. The law debuted in New York City in the 1970s and was used primarily to shut down brothels.

In this case, the manager of the restaurant was taken to Civil Court after police reported three confirmed drug sales through confidential informants. The place was shut down for a day and then resumed business. So did the drug dealers, Reilly said.

Lieutenant Steve Phalen, the director of special operations for the 52nd Precinct, has only been on the job here for a few weeks, having just transferred from another Bronx precinct, but he is already fully aware of the history of problems at the fried chicken joint.

Using Nuisance Abatement laws is one of the tactics the precinct’s Street Narcotics Unit (SNU) uses to stop drug dealing in front of commercial establishments, which are often used by dealers as cover. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not as effective as it should be.

“It’s tough with the franchises,” Phalen said, meaning bigger chain restaurants like Kennedy have the resources to fight efforts to impose more severe legal penalties.

He said they originally thought the Kennedy manager was involved in selling, but now Phalen believes the manager is simply being intimidated into not helping the police. He said it’s often “kids” who are selling hard drugs inside of the establishment.

Phalen said SNU teams will continue to target the restaurant and increase surveillance there, “but we have to get complaints. We have to get [restaurant] management on board.”

Attempts to reach management for comment were unsuccessful.

Nicole Jackson, an assistant Bronx district attorney who does similar work as part of the DA’s Narcotics Eviction unit, said the hope is that Nuisance Abatement closures will ramp up pressure on the owners of troubled buildings and force them to evict the offending tenants.

Even before the restaurant opened, Jenik said there was the equivalent to an open-air drug market on that block of the Grand Concourse. He used to bring his congregation to the block and protest the illegal activity. Now, it’s reached the point, he said, where he has lost hope that the situation will ever change.

The firebrand priest, who has long butted heads with the Five-Two over what he perceives as a lack of drug enforcement, said stopping the drug trade is simply no longer a priority in New York.

He said the proof is in the weekly crime statistics report, otherwise known as Compstat, which doesn’t list drug dealing as one of the major crimes.

Ignoring the problem, Jenik said, “undermines the public’s faith in the powers that be.”

Bill McDonald, a former beat cop who now teaches criminal justice at Monroe College, said blatant dealing doesn’t necessarily mean the cops are ignoring the issue. In fact, the Nuisance Abatement closure means they are exploring every legal avenue to combat this type of activity. But he said the pressure has to be consistent, otherwise the dealers will continue to return.

“Police don’t have unlimited power,” McDonald said. “They have to work [within] the laws.”

Reilly, a longtime Bedford Park resident and activist, said he expects more drug activity at the Kennedy Fried Chicken throughout the summer, but wouldn’t mind if the place was shut down permanently. “I have no idea how the chicken is,” he said, “but we could certainly survive without it."

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