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Police Step Up Foot Patrols After String of Armed Robberies in Ditmas Park

By  Leslie Albrecht and Sybile Penhirin | November 18, 2014 1:26pm 

 Business owners and community members are concerned about a recent rash of armed robberies.
Armed Robberies Rattle Ditmas Park Businesses
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DITMAS PARK — Police will patrol major shopping areas on foot and businesses have stepped up security in response to a wave of armed robberies that have rocked Ditmas Park.

"We have police officers seven nights a week walking in the shopping areas of Newkirk Plaza, Cortelyou Road and Church Avenue," Deputy Inspector Richard DiBlasio, the commanding officer of the 70th Precinct, told a packed Community Board 14 meeting on Monday night.

DiBlasio was scheduled to give a "state of the precinct" talk, but he spent the entire session fielding questions about recent robberies at Mimi's Hummus, Ox Cart Tavern and Lark Cafe, during which gunmen burst into the businesses and demanded that customers hand over valuables.

The brazen crimes at popular establishments, as well as a recent deli robbery and a home invasion that left one man dead, have sent a wave of fear through the neighborhood.

But DiBlasio pointed out Monday night that crime in the 70th Precinct — which covers from Prospect Park to Kings Highway, roughly between Coney Island Avenue and Nostrand Avenue — has fallen 9.2 percent in 2014, a steep drop from last year.

He added that the 70th Precinct is one of the city's busiest, with a high volume of 911 calls — DiBlasio couldn't say how many — and police are deployed strategically in high crime areas known as impact zones.

The blocks where the robberies happened aren't an impact zone, and won't become one, DiBlasio told DNAinfo New York.

"This is very low [crime] compared to what's going on [elsewhere in the precinct]," DiBlasio said. "But it's a concern to the people who live here because it's a crime that's very unusual."

The extra foot patrols in commercial areas will probably continue through the holiday season, DiBlasio said.

Meanwhile, businesses are stepping up security measures.

At Sycamore Bar & Flower Shop, bouncers now work seven nights a week instead of just weekends, owner Justin Israelson said.

The manager of Am Thai Bistro, where police arrested a burglar last week, said she used to leave the front door open while staff cleaned up before closing, but now she locks it. 

Lark Cafe, where an armed robber stole three laptops and an iPad from a writers' group on Nov. 13, now has two employees instead of one close up for the night, and employees lock the door to the side room where the robbery happened at 5 p.m. instead of at 7 p.m, barista Monika Lutz said.

"There is a real concern about getting ahead of this before going into the holiday season when patrons and merchants are going to have more money and merchandise on them,” said Anthony Finkel, economic development coordinator for the Flatbush Development Corporation.

The FDC is working with Community Board 14 and City Councilman Mathieu Eugene to improve safety with better lighting and security cameras on the streets, Finkel said.

In the meantime, residents say they're brushing aside their fears and supporting local businesses.

"I don't think people should run away and be afraid…I'm not too scared," resident Kathleen Kish said outside Am Thai Bistro on Monday. "They're not violent crimes; just people asking for money. I just don't bring my wallet when I'm dining out. I adapt to the situation."

Lark Cafe was "unusually crowded" the day after it was robbed, Lutz said.

"So many people, regular costumers but also people from the community, came to ask us if we were OK," Lutz said. "They were here talking about it and comforting each other. It made me realize that we have such a great community."

Supporters have set up an online fundraising campaign to help replace the computers that were stolen during the Lark robbery.

"The merchants are mobilized and the community is mobilized probably more than ever because there's one concern that has everyone’s attention," Finkel said. "There's this kind of feeling like it could be anyplace. It could be the restaurant you were in Friday night. There's an unknowing feeling that leads to a little bit of discomfort."