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Property Crime Drives Down Safety in East Village and LES

By Patrick Hedlund | September 7, 2011 8:46pm

LOWER EAST SIDE — It’s no secret the East Village and Lower East Side have seen a major shift over the past two decades, as the housing projects dotting the East River and century-old tenements now stand in stark contrast to new hotels and high-rises.

Despite years of gentrification bringing new boutiques, bars and restaurants to the East Village and Alphabet City, the area currently ranks as one of the least safe overall in the city — finishing 58th out of 69 neighborhoods citywide, DNAinfo.com’s new "Crime & Safety Report" revealed.

The Lower East Side and Chinatown fared better, ranking 48th overall but even worse for its rate of property crime — defined as grand larceny, auto theft and burglary.

As part of a comprehensive analysis of per capita crime and safety in the area — using unprecedented methodology that combines NYPD crime figures and 2010 U.S. census data — the report showed both predictable and unexpected findings for the neighborhoods.

For instance, the East Village’s poor showing was driven by high rates of grand larceny and burglary, giving it one of the worst rankings citywide — 61 out of 69 — for property crime.

The area's overall current crime rate of 182 incidents per 10,000 residents also places it as only the 12th safest out of 17 neighborhoods in Manhattan — putting it behind places like Harlem and Washington Heights.

While grand larceny remains a problem in the East Village, its rate fell 6 percent in 2010, to 760 incidents, DNAinfo.com’s figures show.

The overall situation has also improved there in the last year, with the total crime rate falling 9 percent from Dec. 2009 to Dec. 2010.

Other notable findings in the report — which also breaks down the neighborhoods from a historical perspective, starting when the NYPD implemented real-time crime tracking via CompStat — include a 600 percent increase in DWI arrests from 2001 to 2010 in the East Village’s 9th Precinct, as well as a 56 percent increase in reported rapes since 2008.

The Lower East Side and Chinatown, which are covered by the 7th and 5th Precincts, ranked 55th out of 69 neighborhoods citywide for property crime — a number also driven by its high rate of grand larcenies (thefts of more than $1,000).

The neighborhood ranked 59th overall in this category based on the most recent data. Grand larcenies rose 22 percent on the Lower East Side alone in the nine years since 2001, when the neighborhood began its transition into a late-night playground teeming with bars and clubs. In Chinatown, the rate of grand larcenies was up 10 percent in 2010.

While the Lower East Side and Chinatown currently rank in the top half — 33rd overall — citywide for burglaries, the rate of incidents increased 35 percent last year on the Lower East Side, to 101. Chinatown, however, saw a 10-percent decrease in burglaries last year.

Citywide, the Lower East Side/Chinatown and East Village/Alphabet City ranked 38th and 36th, respectively, for the rate of violent crime based on current statistics.

However, the Lower East Side fared much better per capita when it came to murders, ranking 17th out of 69 neighborhoods, while the East Village fell to 39th overall.

The LES also had a lower overall rate of shootings, finishing 22nd citywide compared to the East Village’s 31 ranking.

Additionally, both areas ranked high when it came to auto thefts, with the Lower East Side/Chinatown the 9th safest neighborhood citywide and the East Village/Alphabet City the 12th safest.

The high rate of property crime in both areas — specifically grand larceny — came as no surprise to Community Board 3 district manager Susan Stetzer, who’s lived in the East Village since 1970.

She said the report’s findings were disproportionately skewed, because of criminals targeting non-residents who come to the neighborhood for its myriad bars and restaurants.

“We have always known that grand larceny is high in our area because of the destination nightlife, and that it does not mean that it’s not a safe neighborhood,” said Stetzer, who frequently works with the police precincts in the East Village and Lower East Side.

“What the police are trying to do to combat that is educate the business owners so that they can help educate their customers.”

She cited situations like bar patrons leaving their valuables unattended — a well-known problem in the community — as part of the reason for the inflated numbers.

“People that live here don’t put their wallet on a table and go to the restroom, they don’t hang their bags on the back of their chairs and then ignore them,” Stetzer said. “They’re targeting an easy crime.”

Lyn Pentecost, who founded the Lower Eastside Girls Club in 1996 to provide programs she found lacking for at-risk female youth in the neighborhood, agreed that ever-growing nightlife and its accompanying clientele have helped lead to the high rate of property crime.

“The bar scene adds to a climate where you’ve got people who aren’t fully aware of their surroundings, especially when it’s late at night,” said Pentecost, who’s lived in the East Village for more than 40 years.

“That’s why we see the correlation between nightlife and property crimes trending up.”