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Police Link Six Violent Upper Manhattan Attacks to Same Crew

By Carla Zanoni | July 3, 2012 7:59am
Deputy Inspector Barry Buzzetti speaks to concerned Inwood and Washington Heights residents at a police precinct meeting.
Deputy Inspector Barry Buzzetti speaks to concerned Inwood and Washington Heights residents at a police precinct meeting.
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DNAinfo/Carla Zanoni

UPPER MANHATTAN — A string of violent attacks and muggings in Inwood and Washington Heights may be the work of the same violent crew, police said.

There have been at least six muggings or assaults in the NYPD's 34th Precinct since the beginning of June, many of which have the same MO, police said at a recent meeting with the public.

"They all punch the victim in the head, kick him until down, and rob him," Deputy Inspector Barry Buzzetti, the commanding officer of the 34th Precinct, said on June 27.

"With upticks in crimes such as this, we of course deploy personnel accordingly and have an increased presence in those area," Buzzetti added.

No suspects have been arrested in the string of attacks, and police have not released surveillance video or photos of the suspects.

Police said the violent gang is made up of between two and five men, between the ages of 16 and 22. They are described as being Hispanic and between 5 feet 8 inches and 6 feet tall.

The violence began June 8, when Inwood resident Michael O'Reilly was beaten by two men and robbed of $40 as he walked home through Isham Park at approximately 8:30 p.m. He suffered a broken nose and facial lacerations as a result, according to his wife. 

The following evening, a man was assaulted and robbed of his iPhone after two young men suddenly beat him with what appeared to be a baseball bat or a large stick. They left him with two black eyes and lacerations and bruises over his back and body, according his wife. 

That weekend, police said another man reported being attacked by a man wielding a baseball bat as the victim came home from work on his bicycle near the Park Terrace area in Inwood.

Although the victim was hit over the head with a bat, he managed to escape and did not suffer injuries as his bicycle helmet protected him, police said.

Then, on June 18, a father was attacked while buying ice cream for his two children and their grandmother at approximately 3:30 p.m. on June 18 just outside of the Jacob Javitz Playground on West 192nd Street and Fort Washington Avenue in Hudson Heights, police said.

And, on June 22, two men wielding a kitchen knife beat a 41-year-old man outside his Inwood apartment door after he came home from walking his dog, cops said.

Police said they are investigating a sixth incident, which apparently also involved a surprise attack, but did not immediately release details of the incident.

"The good people of this community deserve to be safe and protected,” said Susan Ryan, wife of Michael O'Reilly, at a recent meeting at the NYPD's 34th Precinct.

Police said they are working with the Parks Department, which oversees the parkland that makes up about 50 percent of the 34th Precinct, and elected officials to respond to the disturbing trend.

Parks Department officials said they would install a FlashCam, a motion-detector security camera, near the site of the early June attack. Parks workers thinned out some of the tree canopy during the department's "5-by-5" operation earlier this year to help clear sight lines along paths in Isham Park. 

A similar camera was removed from the area in 2009 because its solar power-fueled batteries would not work in the area, which was previously shaded by tree cover, Parks officials said.

Community Board 12 chair Pamela Palanque-North said the neighborhood also wants more police assigned to the beat — a common refrain among many in the community.

"For almost a decade, CB12M has ranked the hiring of police officers as our expense No. 1 budget item and every year NYC informs us that, given that crime is down and the city budget is lacking, that our budget request cannot be honored," she wrote in an email. 

"We appeal to the NYPD to immediately increase the number of police officers in the 34th and 33rd Precincts before more innocent citizens are victimized and/or we have an increase in the loss of lives." 

Councilman Robert Jackson’s office has also allocated nearly $1 million for security cameras throughout his district, which spans the neighborhoods west of Broadway throughout the precinct. His office said he plans to hold meetings with community and tenant leaders to discuss placement of the cameras and work with the NYPD Strategic Planning Committee to decide where is best to locate them.

Additionally, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat has called on Commissioner Ray Kelly for "increased manpower" in the wake of the muggings, including more "impact" officers and increased staffing for beat cops and foot patrols, according to his office. 

Increased police throughout the targeted areas were visible through the month, including foot patrols and extra squad cars near Fort Tryon and Isham parks. The response has followed other violent incidents that have occurred in the neighborhood in the past.  

But residents say they want assurance that the patrols are here to stay. 

"The general sense is that criminals are operating with impunity in our community," Hudson Heights resident Chris Rizzo wrote in an open letter addressed to the 34th Precinct, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and Councilmen Ydanis Rodriguez and Jackson that he posted on his local blog, Hudson Heights Gazette

"There are clearly not enough officers patrolling our streets in the 34th Precinct," Rizzo wrote.

"Temporary infusions of 'impact' officers are not enough. We need substantially more officers assigned to the 34th Precinct on a permanent basis," he added, referring to the scores of extra police officers that have been deployed to the NYPD's "Impact Zone" to address an uptick in crime in the past, only to be reassigned when crime dropped. 

According to Buzzetti, the 34th Precinct currently has more than 70 Impact Zone officers, who are assigned after graduating from the Police Academy and cover Washington Heights east of Broadway, between West 180th and West 190th streets. The commanding officer said that area has the highest concentration of crime in the precinct. 

Buzzetti defended the number of police assigned to the precinct during the 34th Precinct Community Council meeting on June 27, which was attended by about 50 area residents who pushed for additional permanent patrols throughout Hudson Heights and Inwood. 

According to Buzzetti, the 34th Precinct has the second highest number of police personnel assigned to a precinct in Manhattan Borough North, after the 19th Precinct, which covers the Upper East Side from 59th to 86th streets, between Fifth Avenue and the East River. 
 
The 19th Precinct has approximately 150,067 residents, according to U.S. Census results for 2010, as compared to 92,834 residents in the 34th Precinct. 
 
The 34th Precinct saw 1,293 overall felony crimes reported last year compared to 1,835 in the 20th Precinct, according to CompStat records for the week of June 18 to 24. 
 
"I’m secure our piece of the pie is proportional to our work in the precinct," Buzzetti said.

Reported crime has continued to go down in the 34th Precinct, dropping 12.98 percent this year to date, according to CompStat. 

Buzzetti said he hopes to continue the downward trend.

"I am proud we've turned around some of our crime problems from last year," Buzzetti said. "But don’t think we don’t take the current crimes seriously."