40th Precinct launches program to fight crime, patch relations

The dotted lines indicate the four sectors of Mott Haven and Melrose

The dotted lines indicate the four sectors police officers will patrol in Mott Haven and Melrose, as part of a new NYPD initiative.

Mott Haven saw double digit increase in crime in 2015

A new NYPD program that kicked off in mid-January is taking aim both at rising crime rates and at strained relations between the 40th Precinct and Mott Haven residents.

In January, Deputy Inspector Carlos Valdez told residents at the monthly 40th Precinct Community Council meeting that Mott Haven is one of a handful of communities around the city where police have launched the Neighborhood Coordination Officer program. Though crime across the city fell to record lows, the picture was quite different in Mott Haven.

“2015 marks the safest year in the modern history in New York City,” said Police Commissioner William Bratton at a January NYPD press conference.

However in Mott Haven, six of the seven major crime categories increased by at least 21 percent from 2014. Burglaries saw the largest overall increase, skyrocketing by 53.6 percent, from 153 in 2014 to 235 last year. Robberies were up by almost 25 percent, from 413 to 514. Grand larceny rose from 523 to 644, or 23.1 percent. Felony assaults were up nearly 22 percent.

There were nine murders reported in the 40th Precinct, compared with seven in 2014, and the number of rapes reported rose from 29 to 37. Only car theft declined from among the seven categories.

On a positive note, Valdez said that arrests of robbery suspects were up 14 percent and burglary suspects by 41 percent. The precinct also recovered 127 guns during the year, a 30.9 percent increase over 2014. The number of shootings fell by 18 percent.

Under the Neighborhood Community Officer program, Mott Haven and Melrose will be divided into four sectors that will each be covered by two officers, to deter criminals while improving community relations.

“We want the officers to have a direct line of communication with community members, business owners, churches and schools to address things that maybe we’re not hearing about,” Valdez said at the community council meeting at Lincoln Hospital.

Officers in the program are required to complete training in mediation, conflict resolution, public speaking and crime analysis. Residents will be encouraged to reach out to the newly assigned officers with concerns about community safety issues, but are still urged to call 911 in an emergency.

The new initiative marks a welcome return to the way policing used to be, said Gabriel De Jesus, 41, president of the 40th Precinct Community Council.

“This is going back to regular policing where back in the days you knew who the beat cop was by name,” said De Jesus. “They’re trying to bring that back and I think it’s a great program.”

Valdez expects that it may take time for residents to embrace the initiative.

“A big obstacle will be the community buying into it and then reaching out to us and giving us the information that we need to help them,” he said.

There will be hurdles to rebuilding trust between police and residents of Mott Haven. Valdez was named commanding officer of the precinct last summer in the wake of a scandal that angered many in the neighborhood. His predecessor, Deputy Inspector Lorenzo Johnson, was removed from his command after an internal audit conducted by the NYPD found that 19 officers from the precinct had underreported 55 criminal complaints brought by victims over a span of four months in 2014, and misreported felony cases as misdemeanors to lower crime statistics.

That marked the third time in just over four years that a commanding officer had been transferred out of the precinct immediately following a scandal.

Residents are hopeful that the visibility of cops walking a beat as part of the new neighborhood patrol program will help stop the upward trend in crime rates. José Rubio, 38, who works at a 24-hour bodega on St. Ann’s Ave., said the streets don’t feel safe at night.

“You hear a lot of people say, ‘I got robbed’,” Rubio said, adding that more police presence would help curb that.