HARLEM — For the first time in several years, East Harlem residents say crime reduction is their top priority in a survey of 1,000 people by Union Settlement Association and Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work.
The bi-annual survey asks residents what their top concerns and priorities for the neighborhood are. This year, 77 percent of respondents said crime reduction was "extremely important."
David Nocenti, Executive Director of Union Settlement, a group which works to improve lives in Harlem, said that's a big change from years past when healthcare and affordable housing dominated the list of concerns.
"When you talk to our seniors they are more afraid to go out," said Nocenti.
"Gang violence is a big issue in our youth program. If you are a young person in one housing development you don't walk through another one."
Looking at crime statistics for the 23rd and 25th Precincts in East Harlem shows why residents are concerned, said Nocenti. Though NYPD figures show murders are down 50 percent in the 23rd Precinct, robbery is up almost 30 percent and grand larceny has risen by almost 20 percent.
In the 25th Precinct, rapes and burglaries are up 18 percent compared to this time last year, and grand larcenies are up by almost 30 percent.
The numbers still reflect huge drops in crime compared to 20 years ago, but Nocenti said historical crime drops are not painting a realistic picture of what's happening now.
"The general perception in New York City among residents south of 96th Street is that crime is going down and continues to go down," he said.
"Saying it's better than it was in 1993 doesn't work. This is a warning sign that crime numbers have turned around and we need to move more aggressively to stop them."
Richard Reeves, director of young adult programs at Union Settlement, said many young people he works with have recently been shot or shot at because of territorial gang violence.
"Part of what makes the elderly and non-involved young people so afraid is that this is violence without purpose," he said.
"A lot of it is violence just for the sake of violence. It's being criminal for the sake of being criminal.
"Many of our young people are committing themselves to this lifestyle, a commitment to being violent and anti-community with an I don't care attitude."
East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito said the survey verifies what she's been hearing from her constituents.
"It is a topic of conversation on a consistent basis so having this validation is important," said Mark-Viverito.
Crime statistics don't always reflect the level of crime that people are feeling, Mark-Viverito added.
"It goes counter to what the mayor wants to put out there about crime, but if shootings are happening and no one is injured or hurt then that's not always a part of the crime report," she said.
"The reality on the ground in East Harlem is that people don't feel safe."
The poll also found that 73 percent thought affordable healthcare and improving schools were urgent needs. Affordable housing was a concern for 72 percent and creating job opportunities for 71 percent.