Greg Bucceroni sat down in his office chair and insisted he describe where his life’s path has led him. In the 1970s, Bucceroni was a juvenile delinquent in the Brooklyn and Manhattan. “I was very violent as a kid, and some of the people I associated with were the real life gangsters from the movie ‘GoodFellas,’” he said. As a runaway youth, he would steal, would be the eyes and ears of prostitution rings and would loot various stores across southern New Jersey, New York City and Philadelphia. He told the story no hesitation and little emotion, until a positive feeling started to come into his voice when he spoke of 1977.
“The ‘Son of Sam’ murders were really a turning point in my life,” Bucceroni said. With a serial killer on the loose, the New York Police Department offered troubled youths like Bucceroni the chance if he helped find the killer. Equipped with whistles, flashlights and baseball bats, he traveled with other juvenile delinquents to high-crime areas in Brooklyn. This was his first partnership with the police. “We were kids motivated to do the right thing without knowing how to do the right thing,” he said. There were physical fights with people on the street, and Bucceroni was no stranger to the violence. “We didn’t end up catching him. They [the police]did later on, but we messed up a lot of people that summer,” he said.
The “Son of Sam,” who was actually David Berkowitz, confessed to killing six people and wounding seven others and has been in prison for these crimes. He created fear in the city for more than a year as police tried to find him. As a native of Philadelphia, he returned home with a sense of a new outlook on life. “For the first time, I felt good about doing something positive,” Bucceroni said. “I started thinking about being a cop, not a mobster.”
Former Mayor Frank Rizzo set up programs for troubled youths who were at moments of indecision in their lives. Bucceroni began patrolling subways, the streets and eventually began helping other juvenile delinquents. That was the beginning of giving back to the community instead of terrorizing it–something that has stayed with him for over three decades.
Bucceroni has been doing programs as a volunteer for over 32 years now and there are always different dilemmas. The city has given him a small office in the 24th and 25th Police Districts on Whitaker Avenue. Much of his time is spent around the Hunting Park area, as well as creating and helping the less fortunate out of state. “I’ve assisted the NYPD during 9/11 for about 90 days, helping families of those missing put fliers up. I helped hand out thousands of fliers during the [Washington, D.C.] sniper case, one of which ended up in the hands of the guy who called him in,” Bucceroni said.
The programs are not all related to crime, as he helps kids without jobs obtain general-education degrees. He helps young parents get economic assistance to help pay the bills. “Anything to reduce stress in young people is what I do, so that they don’t commit crimes. Young people sometimes end up doing things they don’t want to do but have to do,” he said.
Over 30 years ago, Bucceroni was in the same position that the kids he helped in Courtroom B are in today. He was lost, violent and searching for something to define himself. Three decades of volunteer work around Hunting Park and areas across the country have changed a troubled youth into a citizen, who watches and protects his community. “Forget political purposes,” he said, “it’s all about helping the public and public safety.”More recently, he has worked with local programs to give $5,000 for each victim in the Feltonville tragedy–in which a woman and three children died when a car crashed into them–to funeral directors to help pay for the funerals and grief counseling. “I want them to be as least painful as possible,” he said, “because sometimes victims are victimized twice, once by an offender and once by the system or another force.”
There are many volunteers like Bucceroni who help their communities in ways that can’t be measured. Sometimes the best activists are offered jobs at the district attorney’s office or at a civic group. He has been offered jobs time and time again, and he has rejected each one. Bucceroni considers himself one of the most passionate people in this field, and he refuses to take money for his work. “You have activists who do it because it’s a passion, like someone who practices religion. It’s of great importance to their lives. There are others who do it for the financial gain, they’re paid to do it,” he said. He said a number of times in a multitude of ways that he will never be corrupted by money because he thinks that could tie his hands in the politics of the city. “I’ve pissed off a lot of people because I don’t play the political game,” he said, “and you can never really use the words politically correct and activist in the same sentence.”
Bucceroni said that the most dangerous person in the world is an activist without political ties because he or she can’t be threatened or have funding cut. He has seen other activists like himself fall in line with politics after they take new jobs. “My goal, our goal is to help solve things. Every entity wants glory for themselves when it comes to solving crime or saving lives: the police, the district attorney or anyone else. But instead of working together, they’re messing everything up by wanting the glory,” he said.