Soon, more ‘eyes’ will watch over Marble Hill

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More cameras are coming to Marble Hill, and the leader of the 50th Precinct says they couldn’t have come at a better time.

The installations — known as Argus cameras — actually are made by the security and surveillance technologies company Pelco by Schneider Electric, according to Raymond Palatta, the company’s business development manager for New York and New Jersey. 

They already have helped reduce crime in both the 44th and 46th precincts, said Terence O’Toole, the 50th Precinct’s deputy inspector. Combined with concentrated police enforcement, he believes the cameras will bolster the New York Police Department’s efforts to lower narcotics sales in Marble Hill, and provide a safer environment for business owners and patrons alike.

The name “Argus” comes from Greek mythology, referring to a monster with 100 eyes. More cameras would mean more NYPD eyes on the street — albeit in the form of technology, and not actual human eyes — at a time when police departments from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, as well as smaller cities, have struggled to recruit new officers.

At a Marble Hill town hall last November some residents told state Sen. Marisol Alcántara they’d feel safer with cameras installed near Promenade Apartments at 150 W. 225th St., leading down to the elevated 1 train station at Broadway.

Alcántara, who represents Marble Hill and other parts of Manhattan, said when she was elected in 2016, she learned crime is a significant point of concern for Marble Hill business owners, “especially open-air drug dealing that is difficult for the police to prevent.” In last year’s budget, she managed to allocate $140,000 for security cameras in Marble Hill, “enabling NYPD to identify culprits and bring them to justice,” she said in an email.

The funding would pay for four new cameras — two boxes with the prominently displayed NYPD insignia — that would cover not just the stretch of West 225th from the Promenade Apartments down to the nearby train station on Broadway, but also the commercial strip on Broadway from West 225th to West 228th streets, O’Toole said.

Implementing them will take time, he added, but the 50th Precinct is working with Alcántara’s office to have them in place as soon as possible. And it’s certainly far better than when O’Toole first took over the 50th in 2015. Back then, there was but a single Argus camera in the entire precinct. Now, there are 14.

Argus cameras capture the view, in real time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, O’Toole said. They record digitally, transmitting the footage to an offsite location for rapid retrieval. The NYPD also hopes to expand a system known as ShotSpotter — a technology that detects the sound of gunfire and alerts police of the shooting’s location — to cover more parts of the city. 

The footage captured from these cameras is not monitored live, O’Toole said, but could be when the system is fully operational. In a couple years, the desk officer in the 50th could monitor West 225th and Broadway, for example. As it stands, if a crime were committed in view of an Argus camera, police could use the footage to investigate. 

In fact, O’Toole added, there already have been “several instances” where police used footage to track down perpetrators.

Drugs are a major problem in Marble Hill, but they aren’t the only issue, said Orlando Kross, leader of the Marble Hill Merchants Association. Several local businesses suffer from what Kross called “quality-of-life” issues like rambunctious teenagers hanging out in front of stores, fighting, blocking sidewalks, smoking marijuana, and leaving garbage on the street — which some business owners have been fined for. 

And all of this activity drives away customers.

“It’s unfortunate we pay taxes, and rents are so high,” said Kross, who owns Flowers by Zenda at 5217 Broadway. “We’re just trying to make a living and survive.”

But another problem, Kross added, is a lack of police presence.

“After sundown, all hell breaks loose,” he said. “Everybody wants to close early. All we ask is the police department at least show up, just one single officer. The only time you see police presence is when you call 911. You see them for five minutes and they’re gone.”

He’d also like to see better street lighting, and he’s confident new NYPD security cameras will help.

“We have to deal with quality-of-life issues every single day, seven days a week,” he said. “Marble Hill is like a small neighborhood, but you have thousands of families that live in this small corridor, so there’s a lot happening. This is a major transportation hub with the trains and buses and Metro-North, and families and kids going home, and nobody feels safe.”

But crime in Marble Hill is down 21 percent from the same time last year, according to the NYPD, and the 50th regularly deploys officers there, O’Toole said. It’s “traditionally not a violent-crime area,” he added, with most issues typically involving property rather than people.

“We try to save lives and we end up going to places where there’s more violence,” O’Toole said. “Right now our violence is over on Sedgwick Avenue, Reservoir Avenue, and down at the Kingsbridge Heights area more than the Marble Hill area.”

As for the rowdy kids, he said they’re all over this part of the Bronx — not just in Marble Hill.

“All the other businesses are complaining about the same thing — 235th Street, Riverdale Avenue — everyone complains about children from these schools,” he said. “They run roughshod over some of the businesses, and we go from location to location to address their problems. But they’re allowed to be in the street. They’re not truant, so there’s not too many things we can do.”

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Jennifer Scarlott

50th Precinct Commanding Officer Terence O'Toole took the following line about 16-year-old Alfred Burns, after Burns was pinned and punched in the head 13 times by an officer after allegedly stealing a bicycle in Marble Hill on October 6, 2017: "... the next cop he encounters may have to shoot him because he is going to fail to comply. Because that is going to be his lifestyle forever."

16-year-old Alfred Burns, decreed O'Toole, is a "scourge on the Bronx," apparently deserving of the target O'Toole placed on his back. Are residents of the 50th Precinct comfortable with police leadership of this kind? Will O'Toole place a similar target on the backs of "rowdy" kids "running roughshod" over businesses in the 50th? If Mr. O'Toole's officers arrest some of these "rowdy" kids and send them to Rikers, where Alfred Burns was sent after his alleged bike theft, are local residents aware of the impact that notorious, barbaric jail will have on their lives? How often do white teens find themselves on Rikers? Folks are encouraged to explore some of these questions at a community film screening and panel discussion of the Bill Moyers documentary Rikers: An American Jail, this Monday, Jan 15 (Martin Luther King Day), from 2-5 pm at St. Stephen's United Methodist Church, 146 W. 228th St. The event is co-hosted by St. Stephen's and the North Bronx Racial Justice coalition.

Thursday, January 11