Crime Edges Up Across the City with Spikes in Every Borough

By Patrick Wall on May 2, 2012 7:08am 

More cops are patrolling Upper West Side streets following a recent uptick in crime.
More cops are patrolling Upper West Side streets following a recent uptick in crime.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

NEW YORK — Crime is up across the city with every borough showing alarming spikes in grand larcenies, robberies, rapes and misdemeanor sex crimes.

New Yorkers have reported more than 10,700 grand larcenies this year — 888 more than in the same period last year, according to NYPD CompStat numbers.

Police have responded to more than 930 misdemeanor sex crime complaints, which include sexual abuse and groping — a 15 percent surge over the first four months of 2011.

Experts say some of the rise, particularly in sexual assaults, owes to improved police reporting and responsiveness. Others note that crime in the city remains near historic lows, with the number of murders and car thefts dipping below levels during this period last year and the year before.

But thefts of property — with expensive electronics topping the most-looted list — continues, leading some to wonder if the NYPD has hit a crime-reduction wall.

“It’s a wakeup call that I need to be more careful,” said Kimberly Watkins, a fitness instructor in Harlem’s 28th Precinct, where grand larcenies are up 52 percent over the same period last year.

Thieves recently smashed through a back window of Watkins’ car and pulled out a portable DVD player, despite the presence of a nearby police surveillance tower.

“This hasn’t changed my life,” Watkins said, “but I want to see the police department start doing more.”

Grand larcenies are up 9 percent, robberies 6 percent and burglaries 4 percent over the same period last year. Grand larcenies, which include stolen credit cards or looted goods worth more than $1,000, increased in 55 of the city’s 76 precincts.

Across the city, burglars stalked high-traffic commercial districts and identity thieves preyed on the refuse of the rich, while gadget-crazed robbers struck just about everywhere else.

In north Williamsburg, after a rash of burglaries this winter, bar owners beefed up their security, setting alarms and even paying staff to sleep in their storefronts overnight.

On the Upper East Side, City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin sent her constituents an alert last month that warned of criminals poaching financial information from trashcans and “using it to commit financial fraud in record numbers.”

And on April 19 in the Riverdale section of The Bronx, robbers gunned down 26-year-old Hwang Yang, a cook at The Modern at MoMA, and ran off with his iPhone, according to police sources.

“To come out of your house or the train with your cell phone out, you’re making yourself a target,” Captain Philip Rivera, commander of the 41st Precinct, said at a community board meeting last month in Hunts Point, The Bronx, referring to a wave of thefts in his precinct.

Rivera added that of 27 recent robberies and grand larcenies in the 41st Precinct, 18 involved cell phones.

Citywide, 42 percent of all property crimes against individuals in 2011 involved a cell phone, according to the NYPD.

Police and community leaders offered a range of explanations for the surge in stolen goods — easy to resell electronics, unsuspecting tourists, high unemployment, the unusually warm winter and even the rising price of gold.

“As the price of gold goes up, perpetrators immediately try to steal your gold,” Inspector Kevin Catalina told Bronx residents in March at a 44th Precinct Community Council meeting.

Reported incidents of rape have steadily risen, up more than two percent over this period last year and up 20 percent over the same period two years ago.

Unlike with most crimes, advocacy groups see the reported rape increase as a breakthrough, a sign that victims feel more confident that police will take their claims seriously and that law enforcement officials are pursuing these complaints more vigorously.

“What we’re seeing are the police department and the district attorney working together to protect victims of rape,” said Leticia Remauro, district manager of Community Board 1 on Staten Island’s North Shore, where 17 cases of rape have been reported since January — a 70 percent increase from the same period last year.

But the expanded reporting has a dark flipside, advocates say.

“The irony is that we’re not getting as much done because there’s more reporting,” said Susan Xenarios, director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center of St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital.

Xenarios said that the “sheer volume” of reported rapes and misdemeanor sex crimes has “overwhelmed” investigators from the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit, who now respond to most sexual assault calls rather than patrol officers.

“They don’t have enough resources in order to do it and to do it right,” said Xenarios, who called the situation a “logjam” and insisted that more well-trained investigators are needed.

Meanwhile, some criminologists question the validity of the NYPD’s crime statistics, arguing that internal pressure to drive down the numbers spurs some officers to downgrade crimes or decline to file reports.

“I still think the pressure is enormous to make the numbers look favorable,” said Eli Silverman, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and co-author of a new book about NYPD crime statistics called “The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation.”

Silverman added that the department’s own “narrative," which says "crime will inevitably go down," is unrealistic.

“After a while, you can only squeeze so much juice out of one orange,” he said.

In an emailed statement, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne cited research by UC Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring, who Browne said used independent data to confirm the city’s crime declines.

The NYPD did not respond to a request for explanations of the recent crime increases or a list of measures they have taken to address them.

However, several precinct commanders told DNAinfo New York that they had responded to upticks by deploying more officers to “hot spot” areas — a tactic that has triggered declines in some precincts.

“The assignment of additional personnel has allowed us to stabilize crime in a very active area of the precinct and deploy resources to other areas where they are needed,” said Deputy Inspector Barry Buzzetti, referring to rookie patrol officers who were assigned to the 34th Precinct as part of the NYPD’s Operation Impact.

Buzzetti’s precinct in northern Washington Heights and Inwood has seen 50 fewer crimes than during the same period last year — a drop of about 15 percent.

Even in precincts with recent upswings, crime has plummeted from its peak a couple of decades ago.

During a recent stroll through Midtown, Wendy Ortini, a traveler from Pittsburgh, said the city was “a dream” compared to her memory of it in the 1990s, when she last visited.

“I'm sure there's crime happening,” she said. “But this is New York, of course there's going to be.”

Hwang Yang, 26, a cook at The Modern at MoMA, was shot and killed on April 19, 2012.
Hwang Yang, 26, a cook at The Modern at MoMA, was shot and killed on April 19, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

Additional reporting by Leslie Albrecht, Meredith Hoffman, Mathew Katz, Jeff Mays, Nicholas Rizzi, Julie Shapiro, Andrea Swalec, Carla Zanoni and Amy Zimmer

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