Cops look to mend community ties, lower crime

By Annie Nova. Officers from the 49th Precinct at National Night Out at St. Mary's Park on Aug. 4.
By Annie Nova. Officers from the 40th Precinct at National Night Out at St. Mary’s Park on Aug. 4.

Residents see crime rates rise higher than anywhere else in NYC

Earlier this summer, three men took a taxi from Harlem to Mott Haven. When the cabdriver pulled up to his passengers’ stated destination at 149th Street and Jackson Avenue, he felt the muzzle of a gun against his forehead. The men robbed him, and then ran.

The cabdriver fumbled for his phone to dial 911, but before the call could go through, two nearby police officers had the men in handcuffs.

That same night, two other people in Mott Haven were robbed at knifepoint.

Robberies and almost all other major crimes are on the rise in the area served by the 40th Precinct. There have been 10 murders in Mott Haven and Melrose so far this year, up four from the same time last year. Only one precinct in the city logged more homicides this year, the 75th in East New York, Brooklyn, where 15 murders have been committed.

The number of felony assaults leaped from 281 to 416 so far this year. Burglaries are swelling, with 131 cases this year compared with 87 this time last year. Rapes are slightly up from 16 to 19. Grand larcenies rose to 398, up 52 cases.

Only one of the seven major crime categories saw a decrease: car theft, which went down to 48 from 64.

City officials have regularly patted themselves and NYPD on the back for sharp drops in crime around the city. Former NYPD commissioner William Bratton appeared with Mayor de Blasio at a July press conference to tout safer streets. Dermot F. Shea, the deputy commissioner in charge of the department’s CompStat crime-analysis operation, said, “Whether it is July or the first seven months of the year cumulative, we’ve never seen numbers this low.”

But while crime rates fall across the city, crime is up 30 percent from last year in the confines of the 40th Precinct, the biggest jump of any precinct.

“Although crime is up, there’s been a lot of good work by officers,” said Deputy Inspector Brian Hennessy, who was named commanding officer of the 4-0 in June. Since he took over, the numbers have dropped. There were 46 incidents in the last week in July, compared with 61 in the same week in 2015.

Hennessy said the streets will continue getting safer. He has assigned officers to “hot spots” such as one where they arrested two men who shot at each other. Stray gunfire that wounds or kills innocent bystanders has been an ongoing concern. In June, a young mother of three was killed by a stray bullet at a playground at the John Adams Houses, while protecting her kids.

Hennessy said his goal is to get to know the entire community, not just the residents who call 911. He and other officers from the precinct make a point of attending church in the neighborhood, he said, and added that three officers who just joined the precinct are receiving training in community policing.

At this year’s annual National Night Out at Saint Mary’s Park in early August, police had a chance to put their interpersonal skills into action, introducing themselves to residents.

“It’s breaking that little stress between the 40th Precinct and the community,” said Maria Vega, recording secretary of the precinct’s Community Council, which convenes once monthly to allow residents to discuss public safety and crime concerns with the cops.

“People need to see that the police are not violent,” said Denise Davila, 25, who brought her daughter and mother to the gathering. “They’re here to protect us.”

Rodney Acevedo, 32, said he hoped the event would help police “tell the good guys from the bad.”

“The way I dress, they think I’m a criminal,” he said. “I only dress this way to fit in.”

Hennessy urges residents to bear with the precinct as they tackle the rise in crime.

“We target reticent criminals, those who’re a problem for the community,” he said. “The population is large and it’s just a few people who’re actually committing the crimes.”

Even so, some residents say there’s some ways to go before police learn to show more respect for them and not hassle people based solely on appearance. Alfonzo Llanos, 64, an accountant, said officers frequently approach him for no reason.

“I’ll just be passing by on my bicycle when they stop me,” Llanos said. “But I just do as they say. It’s when people start questioning it that things go downhill.”

Christopher Joyner, 30, said he was stopped by officers in the park while playing with his daughter.

“We all fall into the same boat because we look alike,” Joyner said. “But you can’t treat everybody the same.”

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