UPPER WEST SIDE — Car break-ins have dropped 55 percent this year in the western section of the Upper West Side following the installation of new light towers and an increase in police patrols, officials said.
Thefts have plummeted along Riverside Drive, West End Avenue and the western side of Broadway between West 86th and 110th streets in the period between Jan. 1 and Aug. 17, 2014, as compared to the same time last year, police said.
The areas were known for low visibility and low foot traffic, providing an opportunity for thieves to check for unlocked doors or quickly smash a window, police said.
The "dramatic" drop stems from the precinct's focus on the area and aggressive policing, said Lt. Robert Gallitelli of the 24th Precinct.
The lights, combined with increased enforcement along Riverside Drive — including plainclothes officers patrolling on foot, bike and car, and regular nightly squad car patrols — appears to have worked, Gallitelli said.
"It’s a very affluent area and there’s not a lot of crime here, but I think that lulls people into a false sense of security," he said, adding that people should not leave anything visible in their parked car, even if they think it's of no value.
Break-ins in which property less than $1,000 was stolen were down 66 percent — with 16 thefts this year as compared to 47 last year, while break-ins in which property valued at more than $1,000, including credit cards, was stolen were down 50 percent — with 5 thefts this year as compared to 10 last year, police said.
Break-ins in which nothing was stolen, but a window was smashed or entry was forced, were down 66 percent — with 24 this year compared to 44 last year.
For all the thefts combined, break-ins dropped by 55 percent overall, with 45 incidents this year as compared to 101 last year.
In June, large sets of lights attached to towers were added to two problem spots along Riverside Drive, at West 92nd and 98th streets, to try to illuminate the often desolate stretch, as originally reported by the West Side Rag.
Each week the lights have to be recharged once, but are returned and removed within the day, said Capt. Marlon Larin, the precinct's commanding officer.
The increased surveillance and new lights tactic "has mitigated some of the problem," said Aaron Biller, president of the local advocacy group Neighborhood in the Nineties.
But he advocated for even more undercover work and surveillance.
"We are seeing less smash-and-grabs at night, but there are still some smash-and-grabs during the day on Riverside and the side streets," Biller said.