Teens behind area robbery spike

An officer from the 40th Precinct on patrol at Mott Haven Houses. Photo by Nathan Place.

Mott Haven and Patterson Houses tenants victimized

A spate of robberies committed by young people―some just 13-years-old―has shaken two Housing Authority projects in Mott Haven for the past two months and ratcheted up the area’s crime rate, police say.

The young perpetrators have been taking iPhones and jewelry―often right off people’s necks―in the area between and around the Mott Haven and Patterson housing projects, according to 40th Precinct Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack.

“For the last two months or so, we’ve had a serious, serious problem with Mott Haven youth… robbing people like it’s free,” McCormack said at the 40th Precinct Community Council in early September.

So far the police have arrested over a dozen people in connection with the robberies, almost all of them between the ages of 13 and 20 and residing at the Mott Haven and Patterson houses, McCormack said.

“It’s crazy,” said Maya Betances, 47, a hairstylist who lives in Mott Haven. “Nobody wears gold anymore.”

Before public schools closed for the summer on June 27, the 40th Precinct―comprising Mott Haven, Port Morris, and Melrose―was on the mend, with its overall crime rate 10 percent lower than it had been in 2011.

“Then the summer hit,” McCormack said.

Since schools got out, robberies in Mott Haven have risen 23 percent, and the improvement of Mott Haven’s overall crime rate since last year has shrunk from 10 percent to just 6 percent. Schools resumed on September 6, but robberies are still occurring, McCormack said.

The young perpetrators have been indiscriminate in their choice of targets, he said. Victims have been both male and female, and have ranged from children of four or five years old to adults as old as 82.

“They’re picking on everybody,” McCormack said. “Anything and everybody.”

Police in the precinct are combating the problem by sending officers out earlier, since some of the robberies took place early in the morning, and by asking questions at local bodegas and pawn shops, where they believe the perpetrators may be selling their stolen goods.

“We’ve been doing a lot better lately,” McCormack said. “We’ve definitely slowed them down.”

Betances, a mother of two teenagers, said she recently heard about two robberies, one of a phone and one of a neck chain. She said she wants to move out of Mott Haven.

“It’s not a good place to raise your kids,” she said. “It’s not safe at all.”

Jesus Bacheo, 34, said his niece was robbed of her iPhone a few weeks ago. She was visiting her aunt at 512 E. 145th St., and on the first floor a young man she estimated to be 15 or 16 years old followed her into the elevator.

When Bacheo’s niece got off at her aunt’s floor, the young man jumped on her, hit her repeatedly on the head and snatched her iPhone. He also tried to take her purse, but the young woman’s aunt came out of her apartment screaming, and the thief ran off, Bacheo said.

Joe Sabater, 73, a maintenance worker who lives on E. 143rd St., said in late August a “kid” stole a chain from the cashier of a store across the street from him, at 314 E. 143rd St., just near the Patterson Houses.

He also said that a 17- or 18-year-old boy tried to rob him recently, but that he escaped into an elevator.

Sabater said the robberies don’t make him nervous.

“In a hard place like this,” he said, “you can’t be afraid.”