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Break-Ins at 'Ghetto' Liquor Store Spark Police Criticism

By Jeff Mays | March 30, 2012 7:11am
Freeland Liquor & Wine owner Berihu Mesfin's store was burglarized twice earlier this month after he removed the riot gates and bulletproof glass
Freeland Liquor & Wine owner Berihu Mesfin's store was burglarized twice earlier this month after he removed the riot gates and bulletproof glass
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — The owner of a Harlem liquor store broken into twice in a week says police took too long to respond, and failed to look at surveillance footage which showed the thieves until after they'd struck a second time.

Berihu Mesfin, owner of Freeland Liquor & Wine at Lenox Avenue and 119th Street, said video footage shows police didn't arrive at the store until 28 minutes after the second burglary on March 22. In addition, they did not come to pick up surveillance tapes from the first burglary on March 17 until March 24, two days after the second burglary.

"What I see is carelessness from the police," said Mesfin, who added that cops told him they were going to examine the footage the day before the second burglary.

Burglars broke into Mesfin's store in the Mount Morris Park Historic District by cutting see-through gates and drilling a hole in the lock at 1 a.m. on March 17. Video footage shows hooded men hopping the counter and stuffing their pockets with $4,000 in cash.

The burglars also made off with 180 bottles of expensive liquor, including Ciroc, Hennessy, Patron and Remy Martin.

The thieves returned on March 22, once again cutting through the gates and stealing $300 in cash, eight bottles of top shelf liquor and two cases of expensive wine.

"The police are supposed to come get the video. They did not come and I got robbed again," said Mesfin.

Eddie Pabon of EP Security Systems, the firm responsible for installing the store's alarm, said he was also puzzled by the police response time.

"For the life of me I don't know why they weren't there in 10 minutes," Pabon said.

After the second burglary, NYPD sent out a media alert.

The Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association sent an e-mail to Capt. Kevin Williams of the 28th Precinct on March 23 complaining that police had not been by to retrieve video.

"My concern more than anything is the follow-up from the police department," said Syderia Chresfield, president of the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association.

She said two calls and an e-mail to the 28th Precinct  were not returned.

"We are reaching out to the police to see what they are doing and what we can do as a community," said Chresfield.

Neither the 28th Precinct or officials from the NYPD's public information office responded to requests for comment.

The burglaries occurred after Mesfin removed a neon-sign, bullet-proof glass and riot gates that residents of the Mount Morris Park Historic District criticized as being too "ghetto" for the neighborhood.

The Department of Buildings and Landmark Preservation Commission also cited the building owner at 183 Lenox Ave. for making changes to the landmarked building without permission.

Mesfin said he has changed the gates but has no plans to reinstall the bullet-proof glass.

Burglaries in the 28th Precinct were down 12 percent from this time last year, according to police statistics from March 12 to 18, the most recent data available.

Mesfin said other cameras in the area gathered footage of the burglars, but his neighbors say police have not collected that data. He also says neighbors called 911 after hearing the second burglary and reported what they felt was a longer than normal response time.
"I feel like the police can do more," said Mesfin.