By Jill Colvin, Mary Johnson, Carla Zanoni and Julie Shapiro
MANHATTAN — The Occupy Wall Street protest is draining police resources at precincts across Manhattan, raising concerns about the department’s ability to fight low-level crime within their neighborhoods, according to high-ranking sources from across the city.
At the Midtown North Precinct, which oversees the Theater District, Rockefeller Plaza and northern Hell’s Kitchen, supervisors complained this week that they and their officers are being diverted to monitor the situation at Zuccotti Park, where protesters have been camped out since Sept. 17.
While staffing needs at the site depend on the day and what protesters have planned, one lieutenant in the precinct said he’d spent 14 hours at Zuccotti Park last Friday alone.
“It’s quite a drain,” he said, warning residents to expect a drop in the number of summonses issued in the precinct this month because police just don't have the manpower to enforce as many quality of life crimes.
In response to a request for additional comment, Midtown North's Commanding Officer, Deputy Inspector Timothy Beaudette, said that, while having every available officer is always nice, given the size of the precinct, he doesn't believe the diversion "is affecting us negatively yet."
But the lieutenant's comments echoed those of officers and precinct community council leaders both uptown and downtown, some of whom would not comment on the record because the issue relates to staffing and budget concerns.
At a Community Board 12 meeting this week during which residents said their top concern was a lack of cops on the street, George Espinal — the president of the 34th Police Precinct Community Council, which serves Inwood and Washington Heights — said the already-strained precinct has been losing "a full platoon" every night at midnight for the past month because of Occupy Wall Street.
But Deputy Inspector Barry Buzzetti of the 34th Precinct said that the impact on the precinct has been minimal, with only a handful of officers going downtown to work overtime shifts.
Crime in Inwood and Washington Heights has seen an uptick this year, especially in the 34th Precinct.
At a community council meeting for the 13th Precinct, which covers Gramercy, Chelsea and Flatiron, Deputy Inspector Ted Berntsen said his officers were not able to concentrate on policing rule-breaking cyclists, a concern among residents, because the precinct was strapped from the protests.
In fact, Berntsen said he had come straight to the meeting from Zuccotti Park, and had worried he wouldn't be able to make it.
Inspector Dennis DeQuatro, commanding officer of the Midtown South Precinct, which covers Times Square and Herald Square, said that whenever there are large-scale events, cops from across the city, including supervisors and officers, step in to aid.
"We all go into a pot and they pull out as needed, and that definitely puts a strain on our resources," he told the precinct's Community Council Thursday night.
Still, he said that while police have their hands full, he doesn't believe crime enforcement has suffered because of Zuccotti.
"It hasn't gotten to that point," he said.
The diversion is even raising issues downtown, where some worry officers are being kept from their regular duties.
"We're concerned about it,” said Anthony Notaro, president of the 1st Precinct Community Council. He said the precinct's commanding officer as well as its community affairs officers have been focusing their attention on Zuccotti Park, where concerns about both safety and quality of life issues abound.
But any fears about police staffing do not appear to be having a major impact on crime yet.
According to NYPD statistics, major crime was down 19 percent in Midtown North in the 28-day period ending Oct. 9, 2011, compared to the same period in 2010, although felony assaults have spiked 150 percent, from four in 2010 to 10 during that period.
In the 1st Precinct, major crime also declined about 12 percent during that time, compared to the same period last year. In Midtown South there has been no significant change.
Police spokesman Paul Browne did not respond to a request for comment about the concerns and whether the department has implemented any procedures to minimize the impact of the drain.
Some $2 million was spent on police overtime during the first three weeks of the protest alone.
The police department is already stretched because of budget cuts and is en route to shrink to 34,413 uniformed officers by June 2012 — down from a high of about 40,000 — its smallest size since 1992, according to the Independent Budget Office.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that, while the resources being dedicated to the protests could be spent on other things “at the end of the year [the cost] is a small amount," given the price of pensions, court settlements and salaries.