CROWN HEIGHTS — Phone thefts and teen brawls have gotten so bad at a Crown Heights McDonald's that police asked the management to turn off the Wi-Fi as a way of scattering the after-school crowds, DNAinfo New York has learned.
“We asked them to kill the Wi-Fi there from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. so it doesn’t become a hangout," Capt. Eddie Lott, commanding officer of the 77th Precinct, said of the McDonald's at Utica Avenue and Eastern Parkway. "That McDonald's is a big hangout for young people."
Lott said he had reached an agreement with the managers of the McDonald's to cut the Wi-Fi in the afternoons, but it was still going strong this week — and McDonald's corporate office said the company had not agreed to anything yet.
"As good corporate citizens, we are working with the police to ensure the safety of our customers," the company said in a statement, adding that that McDonald's has hired additional security.
"The police have presented many solutions, one of which includes turning off the Wi-Fi."
The 77th Precinct has seen a 19 percent jump in robberies so far this year compared to the previous year, coupled with a 10 percent increase in felony assaults, NYPD statistics show. Grand larcenies, which police said include many phone thefts, have spiked by nearly 30 percent.
The precinct did not release separate crime statistics for Utica Avenue and Eastern Parkway.
While the intersection is far from the only problem spot in the neighborhood, police in both the 77th and the 71st precincts have repeatedly called it one of the most troubling. Earlier this fall, Lott put an NYPD SkyWatch tower at the intersection, videotaping 360 degrees 24 hours a day as both a deterrent and a way of catching suspects after crimes occur.
"That’s why we have the SkyWatch there — we want to prevent those things from happening," Lott told residents in September when asked about the large group fights that routinely break out on the corner, particularly on Fridays.
"Hopefully we can abate that and it won’t become the problem that it was the end of last school year."
Teens, too, say the fights and thefts there have become routine.
"It's very violent — people get chased, jumped, beat up," said Melissa, 16, a student at nearby Clara Barton High School.
"It'll be three girls, five boys, and then their friends jump in. A lot of people get their phones stolen here. People from other schools, if they see someone with a phone, they'll take it."
But while it may curb crime, regular customers like Devonte, 16, said they would be unhappy about losing wireless access in the McDonald's.
"The library's closed a lot, so I can't go there," Devonte said. "The Wi-Fi brings me here mostly.... It'd be kind of upsetting if they turned it off."