New to the Beat: Officer Nieves trades NYC policing for Darien
Editor’s note: This is the second of an ongoing series profiling new officers joining the Darien Police Department this year.
DARIEN — Christopher Nieves grew up with a godfather and stepfather who worked in law enforcement. However, Nieves, 30, wasn’t sold on policing until he started talking to an officer who worked at JFK Airport while Nieves worked there in ground operations for JetBlue.
“You’d see them work at the airport, just doing general stuff,” he said. “You see them work and the respect they get.”
Nieves went on to work as a mechanic before joining the New York Police Department in 2013 at the age of 27. He was assigned a beat in the tough 67th precinct of Brooklyn.
“I grew up in the city,” said Nieves, who grew up in a part of Brooklyn separate from the neighborhood he was policing. “Nothing about it shocks me.”
Despite being familiar with the neighborhood, Nieves quickly found policing there was different than what he’d seen while working in JFK where he was going to people’s houses and dealing with stabbings and drug deals.
“Going to the [police] academy builds character. But coming out to the worst neighborhood in New York City as a rookie, you have to police a neighborhood and community you know nothing about,” he said. “When you think of violent crime, that’s what happens there. It’s like Bridgeport with shootings and stabbings.”
Nieves said he dealt with assaults, shootings, robberies and gang violence. Along with many other officers, he saw people die in the streets.
“We were lucky that the kids were bad at shooting,” he said. “One shot the other and we caught them three blocks away.”
In addition to dealing with heavy crime, a large part of Nieves’ job involved working with the community, stopping to talk to families on stoops and in stores to build trust between neighbors and cops, as well as gain information about what was going on in the neighborhood.
“I used to get a lot of people on my side just by talking to them,” he said. “My mindset was if I can get them to see my side, I’ll see what I can do.”
Nieves said he was often able to get help from older people in the neighborhood, but many younger people tried to keep their heads down and stay out of both sides of a situation. But ultimately, Nieves benefited from working on foot, talking to people and explaining why he was in the area.
“There was a lot of good people that lived there,” he said. “But we were there for a reason.”
But living and working in the city was never for Nieves.
“I was born and raised in the city,” he said. “That’s my background. I never wanted to live in cities, but out in the suburbs where trees grow.”
“It’s night and day different,” he said of Darien compared to his old job. “But the job is the same. A police officer is a police officer, no matter where you are.”
Nieves said the one major difference in policing in New York was more about reacting to crime, while policing in Darien is more about preventing crime. Though he’s traded robberies for thefts from unlocked cars, he still finds the work he’s doing gratifying.
“It’s a thankless job,” he said. “You do it cause you want to do it. Not everyone sees it as a good choice...but it’s in you.”