NEW YORK CITY — They are known as “creepers” who stroll into office buildings and stores and roam the corridors in search of laptops and purses to snatch.
And then there are the “night crawlers” who sport wide brimmed hats in clubs and bars to hide their faces from surveillance cameras while they seek out unattended purses or handbags to steal.
Finally there are an assortment of identity thieves who steal credit card and ATM numbers, IPhone snatchers, bike riding thugs, pickpockets, street hustlers and retail employees ripping off their companies.
These miscreants are the driving force behind a jump in grand larcenies — the thorniest of crime categories to stop — that's confounding the NYPD, On the Inside has learned.
In the Big Apple, there's been a 16 percent jump in grand larcenies in the past two years, even though overall crime continues to decline to historic lows, according to NYPD statistics.
To combat the rise, top police brass, led by new Chief of Department Philip Banks, have been quietly gathering veteran commanders into small focus groups to brainstorm ideas to tackle the category most resistant to two decades of successful anti-crime initiatives, sources told “On The Inside.”
According to NYPD figures, grand larcenies, which involve property thefts valued at more than $1,000, account for 40 percent of all serious crime reported in New York City.
Through July 21 of this year, 23,476 grand larcenies were reported, compared to an overall crime total of 58,015 that includes murders, rapes, robberies, burglaries, assaults, and car thefts.
In fact, there are twice as many grand larcenies as any other crime in New York. For example there were 10,766 assaults and 10,683 robberies through July 21.
Further demonstrating grand larceny's historical resistance to NYPD crime-fighting strategies, murder in the Big Apple has declined by 83 percent since 1993 when the city decided to hire thousands of additional cops in a program dubbed “Safe Cities, Safe Streets” to address a tidal wave of crime that peaked in 1992 with more than 2,200 murders, or six every day.
Robbery is down 79 percent over the last 20 years, and car theft has fallen an incredible 93.8 percent. But of the seven categories, grand larceny has fallen the least, by only 48.7 percent.
“Chief Banks wants to target the crime category that comprises the greatest percentage of crime in the city,” one veteran police official explained.
In recent years, the NYPD has successfully targeted guns, street gangs and domestic violence offenders to attack the city’s murder toll, which continues to decline again this year by 27.6 percent, from 243 slayings last year through July 21 to just 176 this year.
“We want to bring that kind of focus to stopping grand larcenies,” the official added.
”It’s easy pickings going into grocery stores, clubs and bars and just leaning over and stealing someone’s phone or purse,” another official said.
Not surprisingly, the NYPD has asked club owners to consider a ban on wearing hats inside their establishments to help curb “night crawlers” committing purse snatchings, but the cops have met resistance, sources say.
Asking bars owners to similarly remind patrons to be mindful of their belongings may be well intentioned, but the idea is being viewed as bad for business.
“They might as well say, ‘we are also watering down the vodka,'” one top officials told “On The Inside.”
The problem for the NYPD is that investigating small thefts is not “very exciting, and time consuming” and "not like chasing a hard core group of robbers.”
But the NYPD is taking the approach that solving one crime will likely lead to cracking others and “end up a good case because we are sure there are a single group doing most of them.”