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44th Precinct Avoids Shootings for Nearly 8 Weeks, Longest in Recent Memory

By Patrick Wall | April 12, 2013 11:16am
 The 44th Precinct stationhouse sits at 2 E. 169th Street. The precinct has gone from mid-February almost to mid-April 2013 with no shootings.
The 44th Precinct stationhouse sits at 2 E. 169th Street. The precinct has gone from mid-February almost to mid-April 2013 with no shootings.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

CONCOURSE — Yankee Stadium, the Bronx County Building, the Bronx Hall of Justice, the Grand Concourse, Concourse Plaza Mall, Concourse Village and some 146,000 residents all squeeze into the 2-square miles of the 44th Precinct.

Yet, for the past 53 days, the precinct’s most notable feature may be what it is missing: a single shooting.

The 44th Precinct, which covers the Concourse, Highbridge and Mount Eden neighborhoods and has long been known for its violent street gangs, has gone without a recorded shooting since February 17.

This nearly eight-week streak marks the precinct’s longest non-shooting spree in recent memory, said the precinct's commanding officer, who attributed the lull largely to an intelligence-driven crackdown on street crews.

 Inspector Kevin Catalina speaks with residents after a 44th Precinct community council meeting on April 10, 2013.
Inspector Kevin Catalina speaks with residents after a 44th Precinct community council meeting on April 10, 2013.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

“They know we’re watching them,” said Inspector Kevin Catalina, citing a major gang takedown in December and a recent bust that may have prevented retaliatory bloodletting.

“When I see them on the street, they ask me, 'Who’s going to be next?'” Catalina added. “So they know it’s coming. And it really does keep them in line.”

The precinct is down 8 percent overall in crime this year, compared to the same period last year. The number of rapes, however, have increased: 12 so far this year, compared to 9 during this period last year.

The recent string of shooting-free days follows another record the precinct set last year — 8 homicides, its lowest documented total ever, Catalina said. So far this year, one person has been killed in the precinct, matching the number during this period in 2012.

At a precinct community council meeting Wednesday, Catalina described a recent episode when officers’ gang-behavior expertise helped them prevent a possible shooting.

About two weeks ago, several armed and masked men invaded the home of a known drug dealer on University Avenue and robbed him, Catalina said. The dealer later admitted to police that he runs drug crews in The Bronx and Manhattan, but said he still deserves to feel safe in his home, he added.

“Which is ironic, but we’ll take what we can get,” the inspector said, to laughs.

Because one of the robbers had removed his mask, the dealer was able to point police to the man, who turned out to belong to a rival gang. After cops picked up the robber, they soon realized that the stage was set for a round of retaliation, as the robber’s gang was likely to consider the rival dealer a snitch, Catalina explained.

So the precinct deployed a special unit to monitor the dealer’s crew, sensing they would be in full battle-mode preparing for an attack.

The cops were right.

On Saturday, officers nabbed one of the dealer’s associates with a loaded .38-caliber gun and another with a gravity knife, Catalina said.

“That’s just a little glimpse into intelligence-led policing,” Catalina told the crowd, “and how it can work.”

A past target of 44th Precinct intelligence operations was the Mount Eden gang, WTG, whose members sold crack and PCP, used minors to transport the group’s communal guns and engaged in shootouts with rival gangs, including Dub City, Eden Boyz and 280, according to police.

Investigators homed in on the gang’s leaders partly by analyzing thousands of Facebook messages, a technique that Catalina said has become essential for monitoring young crews, where they cracked words like “swammy,” “grizz” and “yams” — code for guns and drugs.

In December, in conjunction with the city’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor, police arrested 10 top-ranking WTG members.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Catalina described the significance of such a takedown by explaining that a small number of individuals in any precinct — maybe 15 or so — commit a majority of the shootings.

“So if you can get those 15 people and prosecute them successfully,” he said, “your shooting violence really goes down tremendously.”

Another strategy the precinct employs, which Catalina did not address Wednesday, is an aggressive use of stop-and-frisk.

Officers in the 44th Precinct stopped 17,000 people in 2011 — the ninth highest total among all precincts. They used force — which can range from officers placing their hands on a person to drawing their guns — in about half those stops, which was more often than in any other precinct, according to an analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

While many have criticized officers' use of that tactic, residents at the community meeting focused more on what the precinct has achieved.

“The streets are safer to walk and there’s not as many of those drug-dealing people on the corner mingling around,” resident Rene Adams told the commander. “You really cleaned it up good. Thank you very much.”

Betty Crawford, the council president, also praised the precinct for the recent “quiet” among the street crews. But she added a note of caution.

“Now that it’s getting warm, there’s no telling what might happen,” she said. “I’m waiting to see.”