There goes the “there goes the neighborhood” story.
Word that the federal court system would open a probation office on Pierrepont Street, next to St. Ann’s School, spread like wildfire through Brooklyn Heights last Friday, with residents fretting that the facility posed a clear and present danger to neighborhood kids — but it turns out that two such offices have been operating in the area since the 1930s.
“We used to be anonymous, now that’s changed,” said Tony Garoppolo, chief probation officer for the U.S. District Court.
The “new” center in the ground floor of 147 Pierrepont St., would actually be a consolidation of the existing probation offices, one at 75 Clinton St., between Montague and Remsen streets, near the Packer Collegiate Institute; and the other at 111 Livingston St. at Adams Street, near a Quaker elementary school.
Few in the neighborhood knew that the offices were even operating — and an initial report about the “new” facility on the Web site Brownstoner.com fanned the flames.
“Unbelievable; it is almost like there is a group conspiring to ruin all of the progress made over the last 10 years or so,” one person posted on Brownstoner.
Elected officials were flooded with calls from scandalized parents, prompting Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D–Gowanus) to issue this statement last Friday: “Locating a parole office just steps away from a school is extremely troubling. Anything that puts the security of our children at risk is unacceptable.”
Of course, the ex-cons have been milling through the neighborhood for decades with no reported problems, said Garoppolo.
“We’ve never had a crime committed by one of our offenders in Brooklyn Heights,” he said.
“This is the last place they’d do a crime.”
Garoppolo says insider traders, members of the Russian and Sicilian crime families, high-level drug dealers and small numbers of murderers and viewers of child-pornographers make up most of the 1,700 names on their rolls. About half are met with “in the field,” and “85 percent of our offenders have no history of violence,” Garoppolo said to reassure worried minds about the tendences of the mobsters, drug dealers and kiddie porn fans.
Still, many parents are alarmed that children in the lower grades of St. Ann’s will enter the school just a few feet away from where the ex-cons will arrive for their appointments in the ground floor of the Bruce Ratner-owned “One Pierrepont Plaza” building. St. Ann’s conducts some classes in the building, as well.
“That street is usually full of kids,” said one message posted on Brownstoner. “Absolute worst spot you imagine for this facility. This is really bad news.”
Others said they could think of a much better use for a ground-floor retail space between Clinton and Court streets.
Though the relocation of the probation office caught many people off guard, Garoppolo and his staff have a reputation for openness.
“The probation office has been very forthcoming in answering my questions,” said Robert Perris, district manager of Community Board 2.
Garoppolo said he wants to smooth things over with the school and neighbors and has offered to meet with groups or take calls from anyone.
St. Ann’s School did not return calls for comment.
To contact Tony Garoppolo, call (718) 534-3717.