Volume 18 • Issue 49 | April 21 - 27, 2006

Chinatown’s precinct leader finds you can go home again

By Albert Amateau

Deputy Inspector Michael Lau became commanding officer of the Fifth Precinct on Jan. 2 of this year, not quite 20 years after he first set foot in the station house on Elizabeth St. as a rookie cop.

“It’ll be 20 years on July 20 —just a blink of an eye,” Lau told Downtown Express earlier this month. “It’s just like coming home. I grew up in the neighborhood, went to P.S. 2 and then to I.S. 131.”

The precinct, between Broadway and Allen St. from Houston to Frankfort Sts. and the East River, encompasses densely populated neighborhoods including Chinatown, Little Italy, and part of the Lower East Side.

Before taking command of the Fifth Precinct, he spent more than two years in Police Headquarters and prior to that, on his promotion to captain, he served as executive officer (second in command) of the 109th Precinct in Queens. “It’s a large precinct geographically – 13 square miles,” said Lau, “The Fifth is only .64 square miles. But they’re both very diverse.”

As a lieutenant, Lau worked for three years in the Queens anti-gang unit, based in Astoria. It was a lot of fun,” he said, “We dismantled some drug gangs and made a lot of gun arrests.”

Before that, he served as a sergeant in the Seventh Precinct, which covers the rest of the Lower East Side just east of the Fifth Precinct.

“The top priority is always to reduce crime and and improve the quality of life,” he said, “That’s true in the Fifth Precinct and in every command.” Since January, Lau has been dealing with an increase in felony assaults, up by eight incidents from the same period last year.

“We’ve also had 14 grand larcenies, about 10 of them involving unattended property in bars and restaurants. Although that’s not too bad, considering we have more than 220 licensed premises in the precinct,” he said.

Unlicensed vendors and the sale of counterfeit merchandized are an ongoing issue in the precinct, which includes both sides of Canal St. between Broadway and Allen St. “We’ve conducted several warrant searches for counterfeit merchandise,” Lau noted.

Lau’s boyhood ambition was to be a New York City police officer. “I knew since the age of 12 that I wanted to be a policeman,” he said. “My mother got robbed in front of me. I was scared and I couldn’t do anything about it. I knew want I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure I could do it. I was a short Chinese kid and I never saw a Chinese cop.”

The precinct’s relations with Chinatown has soured some in recent years as residents have complained about personal vehicles from police headquarters and the precinct taking up the limited parking in the neighborhood.

Lau went to high school at Brooklyn Tech, which requires tests for admission like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science “When I was a kid I was smarter than I am now,” he quipped. After high school he went to New York University for three years. “I was just waiting until I was old enough to apply to the Police Academy,” he recalled.

“This is my only hobby. Even when you’re off you call up to see what’s going on,” said Lau, who lives in Queens with his wife and their two children, a boy, 10, and a girl, 6. “I bought a brand new motorcycle last year and I haven’t had the chance to use it much yet.”

Albert@DowntownExpress.com


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