As crime declined citywide in 2016, it rose in Mott Haven

A stretch of Courtlandt Ave. in Melrose where police aim to build community ties through its “Safe Street” program. Photo: Annie Nova

Violent crime increased more here than anywhere else in NYC

While Mayor de Blasio proudly touts record-low violent crime statistics across the city, many Mott Haven residents say they’re seeing a darker picture.

“This is an amazing moment for New York City,” de Blasio said in a press release earlier this month, boasting that “Overall, we had the fewest major crimes in modern history.”

In contrast, it is as if the 40th Precinct, which patrols Mott Haven, Melrose and Port Morris, were somewhere else.

“2016 was a tough year for the 4-0. We had the biggest crime increase in the city,” said the precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Brian Hennessy.

Homicides in the 4-0 jumped from nine in 2015 to 14 last year. Some of the victims were killed in gang violence, others in domestic and drug-related disputes, and a few were innocent bystanders. In contrast, murders in the city dropped from 360 in 2015 to 352 last year, according to the NYPD.

Felony assaults swelled from 578 in 2015 to 746 last year. 2015 and 2016 both ended with 38 rapes.

Non-violent crimes were also up. Grand larceny increased from 652 to 746. Burglaries rose from 239 to 266.

Robberies went up from 515 to 531. Gabriel De Jesus, president of the 40th Precinct Community Council, which convenes monthly public meetings between residents and police officials at Lincoln Hospital, said that gangs have targeted elderly residents from the neighborhood’s public housing complexes for initiations of gang members.

“I tell the seniors if you have to go out at night, go with someone,” De Jesus said.

Car theft was the only major crime category to follow the city’s downward crime trend, dropping to 91 last year from 99 in 2015.

Despite the rising violence, arrests were down, shrinking from 5,858 in 2015 to just 3,322 last year. Hennessy attributed that drop to the fact that officers are now less likely to arrest suspects for minor crimes than they used to be, Hennessy said.

Some area residents are concerned with rising crime, but say it’s nothing like it once was.

Herbert Bennett, 60, was greeted at his Courtlandt Ave. apartment one evening last summer by red and blue lights, yellow police tape and neighbors nervously asking questions after a shooting on their block that left a man dead.

A month later, Bennett came home to a similar scene. Another shooting, another man dead.

“You learn to expect the unexpected and just be glad you weren’t there when it happened,” Bennett said. “Once a bullet slides out of a gun, it has no name.”

But even living on what police have informally coined “The Courtlandt Avenue Strip,” Bennett, who has lived in the area since 1967, said he feels safer today than ever.

“I found the numbers were pretty good,” he said. “I’ve seen it when it was horrendous. You look at me hard and I shoot you. That’s how bad it was.”

There were four murders and 10 shootings on Courtlandt Ave. last year.

Others agreed the rising crime statistics don’t come close to the dark reality of more violent times.

“I see hardly no crime,” Kelly Kenneth, 51, said while walking home on the Grand Concourse on a January evening. He remembers when he used to duck his head as he walked through the streets, to avoid the bottles being thrown in past decades.

“I don’t even see gangs anymore,” Kenneth said. “I walk the streets at night. No one bothers me.”

In 1990, NYPD reported 72 murders.

A recent New York Times analysis found that the 4-0 has the fewest detectives per violent crime of the city’s 77 precincts.

“A lot of individuals in the area have been asking for more police,” De Jesus said.

But Hennessy said, “I don’t feel we’re understaffed. We have an ample amount of officers.” Still, he added, “Don’t get me wrong, if we had more officers, we’d take them.”

Mott Haven resident Daniel Brown, 44, said that bringing more officers to patrol the area isn’t the main issue.

“It’s going to be very hard in this community to get people to trust them,” Brown said. “They’re afraid of the police. Snitches get stitches.”

When citizens who have witnessed a violent crime speak out, it often leads to retaliation, he said.

Half of the 14 murders committed last year remain unsolved. The rise in shootings has prompted the precinct to establish a “shooter suppression team” to patrol areas where shots are frequently heard. To try to help mend community ties, police say they will hold block parties and have officers go door-to-door to introduce themselves to residents.

Recently, officers from the 4-0 closed off Courtlandt Ave. between 151st and 152nd Streets for a game of football with the locals.

“Not all cops are bad,” said Tasha Lane, 35, as she sent her daughter onto Courtlandt Ave. to play. “When I see them at night, it makes me feel a lot safer.”

Elijah McCall, 12, watched the game from the sidelines. McCall said he was scared to go home to the Melrose Houses because the presence of gangs and regularity of shootings is so worrying. He hasn’t heard many positive things about the police either, he said.

“They say the police are not safe,” he said. “I’m in the middle of believing it and not believing it.”

  • AnoNYC

    Anomalies happen. The community has experienced an overall reduction in crime over the years, and this is not enough to indicate that the situation is changing.