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Police Promise Action Following Sex Attack, Muggings in Inwood Parks

By DNAinfo Staff on February 22, 2010 12:10pm  | Updated on February 22, 2010 4:46pm

Flyers in the 207th Street subway station alert people to the recent alleged sex attack in Inwood Hill Park.
Flyers in the 207th Street subway station alert people to the recent alleged sex attack in Inwood Hill Park.
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Jon Schuppe/DNAinfo

By Jon Schuppe

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN —Following a string of assaults at two Inwood parks, authorities say they are stepping up security measures and investigating the police’s handling of an attempted rape.

The promises came at a community meeting held Sunday night near Isham Park, where several people have been mugged in recent weeks. The attacks sparked an outcry among the community, particularly online, which formed a citizens safety patrol and helped build pressure on public officials to act.

Keeping with that spirit, the meeting was streamed live by a resident’s iPhone and was the subject of a running commentary on Twitter.

The speakers included Debbie Nathan, a 59-year-old woman who described getting dragged into the woods of Inwood Hill Park by a young man Wednesday night.

Recent muggings have occurred near the stairways of Isham Park, a popular route for pedestrians on their way to the subway.
Recent muggings have occurred near the stairways of Isham Park, a popular route for pedestrians on their way to the subway.
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Jon Schuppe/DNAinfo

He masturbated against her and ran away, she said. She called 911, but the police didn’t show up, so she went home and called again. After more delays, the officers arrived, interviewed her, and told her the attack would be classified as “forcible touching,” a misdemeanor.

The next day, after she and others complained, the attack was upgraded to an attempted rape.

“My main concern was that I was given the impression that it was trivial,” she said.

She demanded investigations into the police’s handling of her case, including the officers’ apparent lack of training on sex assaults.

Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat, who organized the meeting, called Nathan’s experience “totally unacceptable.”

Deputy Inspector Andrew Capul, commander of the NYPD's 34th Precinct, said there were “some breakdowns in communication” that should not have occurred. His officers will get more training, and “some people may be reprimanded,” he said.

The crowd applauded.

Capul added that police had noted “a spike” in attacks in the parks, with four robberies during the two-week period ending Feb. 7. Most victims were walking to work in the early morning. None saw their attackers’ faces, which makes it harder to catch them, Capul said.

In response, he said, he was deploying more uniformed and plainclothes police officers in the parks and calling in assistance from the NYPD’s aviation unit. He has also requested scooters, an SUV, ATVs, mounted patrols and a mobile “skywatch” unit that gives officers a bird’s eye view of high-crime areas.

Some of those deployments were visible over the weekend.

The Parks Department is also working on getting more lights installed in the parks, officials said.

Espaillat said that even though authorities need to do a better job, responsibility also fell to the people of Inwood.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “it’s also about what we can do to make the neighborhood better.”