Car break-ins in the 50th Precinct are an old problem, but they’re not limited to just this part of the Bronx. It’s a citywide issue, and a challenge for police departments across the country.
But how bad are car break-ins in our neighborhoods compared to the rest of New York City? A parking smartphone app called SpotAngels say they have the answer — and, according to them, one of the worst areas is right in our own backyard.
Cars sitting on the streets around Van Cortlandt Park are the most susceptible to car burglaries in the Bronx, according to the study, with a ratio of 12.6 break-ins to every 100 spots. That’s well ahead of the Concourse neighborhood where Bronx Borough Hall and Yankee Stadium are located, which reported 7.4 burglaries per 100 spots.
Meanwhile, the 4000 block of Jerome Avenue ranked fourth on the list of the city’s 10 worst areas for car break-ins behind Amsterdam Avenue and West 190th Street. More than a third of the total reported car burglaries occurred around Van Cortlandt, according to the app, and exactly half as many as the city’s worst block for break-ins, East New York’s 500-600 Gateway Drive, in Brooklyn.
The highest-risk time? Tuesday evenings between 6 and 8.
SpotAngels, an app that compares parking prices for users in their immediate area, used statistics from the New York Police Department against its own database of street parking spots. But studies like this need a closer look since some of its variables could be flawed, said Terence O’Toole, the 50th Precinct’s commanding officer.
The NYPD looks at crime within boundaries as determined by a given precinct when developing statistics. The SpotAngels study, however, used neighborhood boundaries as defined by OpenStreetMap, a British nonprofit that provides free geospatial data, according to app co-founder Aboud Jardaneh.
There were 505 auto-related larcenies in the 50th last year, up 55 from the year before, O’Toole said. That number includes theft of property from cars as well as accessories like mirrors, rims and tires. There was even a door theft.
While the SpotAngels study claimed 48 break-ins around Van Cortlandt, the 50th actually has the number at 32, O’Toole said, in an area the precinct defines as the park itself and the streets along its perimeter.
But even with these discrepancies, what’s clear is car burglaries are a crime of opportunity and can happen anywhere — and they do.
“As you go through the rest of the city, it’s comparable all over,” O’Toole said. “Car break-ins occur mainly where people live, where people park their car at night.”
That’s true not just for Van Cortlandt Park.
“I get bulletins from Yonkers, Eastchester, Mount Vernon,” O’Toole said. “Car break-ins, car break-ins, car break-ins.”
The problem isn’t even unique to the city, or the state.
“There’s car break-ins everywhere, if you review any police department in the country,” he said.
When it comes to cracking down, the NYPD goes by the numbers — its own.
“As we know, car problems are a big problem here in this precinct, and it’s a problem that we have multiple arrests for,” O’Toole said. “We keep arresting the same people, again and again.”
One repeat offender who was just recently arrested is a familiar face to the 5-0, and he likely won’t change his ways any time soon.
“He’s out already, and he’s done this probably 40 times, so he’s going to break in again,” O’Toole said.
But not every perpetrator is a “habitual thief,” O’Toole said. Many times, car burglaries are from kids walking around at night.
“They’ll break into the car and take change,” he said.
Last year, the 50th reported more than 30 arrests related to car break-ins, O’Toole said. Yet, nabbing these criminals is no easy task, unless they use a credit card or something else that can be traced back to them from their bounty.
“They have to apprehend them right in the act,” O’Toole said, “because most of the property is unidentifiable, and they get rid of the property pretty quick. They’ll take change out of the car, a flashlight, sunglasses. They just sell it, whatever they can get for it — a dollar, two dollars, 10 dollars.”
Lack of prosecution is another issue, complicated by how much is stolen versus the cost to send perps through the court system.
“If someone steals $20 change out of your car, or $10, how much time are you going to spend getting that person prosecuted?” O’Toole said. “Your time is more valuable than the $10. Something unidentifiable like that, people will say, ‘OK, I have to go get my window fixed,’ and that’s that.”
In the end, prevention can be far more effective, he said. That means locking cars and not leaving keys or personal belongings like wallets, cell phones and computers inside and visible.
Another issue is the changing habits of people who live in this part of the city. The Amalgamated co-op on Van Cortlandt Park South was originally designed for working class people who didn’t own cars and depended on mass transit. But many residents there now have a car, or even two.
“When I was a kid, I lived here in the Bronx,” O’Toole said. “My family had one car. Now, I live not far from here, and my family has four cars — and we’re a smaller family. And you’ll find the same thing in most of Riverdale. People have two or three cars — some people don’t have any — but there’s a lot of households with multiple cars.”
As of Valentine’s Day, there have been 11 auto-related crimes, not including outright car theft, O’Toole said, compared to 23 last year.
As for the SpotAngels study, it could help drivers realize they can take steps to keep their cars safe.
“What we’re trying to do is just remind people … don’t leave anything in your car, don’t take that risk,” Jardaneh said. “We’re just giving a heads-up.”
And even if the problem is widespread, the study offers a way of looking at and comparing different neighborhoods, Jardaneh said.
“Does it give an idea of the differences between areas? I think yes, because … if you have so many more (break-ins) reported in one area than another, it probably means something,” Jardaneh said. “I think that’s where the data is interesting. Not maybe in the total count, more in the weight of one area versus another.”
In the end, it comes down to a simple philosophy, O’Toole said. “Lock your doors, secure your property.”