Aside from the occasional shooting, some ongoing drug activity, and a seemingly unending saga of car break-ins, at least some people who reside within the jurisdiction of the 50th Precinct probably count themselves fortunate they live in what’s generally considered one of the safer parts of the borough.
But one local elected official believes it could be even safer — with a few more cops.
Councilman Andrew Cohen urged New York Police Department commissioner James P. O’Neill to boost staffing in the 50th in a letter last October, claiming more officers are needed to crack down on what Cohen described as increasingly crime-ridden parts of his district.
Staffing at the 5-0 is at its lowest since Cohen started his first term as councilman five years ago, he said, while noting car thefts have spiked by nearly a third since October 2017, as well as a surge in reported rape complaints, robberies and assaults.
“Extra officers would not only assist with the increased criminal activity,” Cohen wrote, “but their presence could also serve to deter future crime.”
O’Neill, however, pointed to the fact the 50th Precinct implemented its neighborhood policing initiative last April, which hinges on communication between police officers and residents working together to curb crime. That appeared to be working, O’Neill wrote in his response to Cohen, citing a 5 percent drop in major crimes as of Oct. 21.
But O’Neill also pointed out that some units in the department — including narcotics and vice enforcement — often employ plainclothes officers and investigators, who may not appear to be police officers and therefore probably go unnoticed by residents. But they’re still paramount in weeding out crime.
The NYPD, meanwhile, relies on complex quantitative data assessments to figure out how many cops are needed to keep a precinct safe, the commissioner said, adding he’d review the 50th’s staffing level and consider assigning more officers when the next fleet of the department’s recruits graduated.
Still, when nearly 500 new NYPD officers graduated last December, none were added to the 50th Precinct, Cohen said, which he believes was a mistake given what he claims is increased criminal activity that could potentially get worse.
“The 50th has the least amount of officers of any precinct in the Bronx,” Cohen told The Riverdale Press. “We certainly don’t need the most, but I think levels have dropped to a point where the 5-0 does not have the manpower to deal with very important quality-of-life issues that face our community. You can’t tell me that in the last five years that the need for officers has dropped significantly.”
While the 50th Precinct isn’t taking the prize for the borough’s most violent, it also didn’t crack the top 10 for best crime rates last year, with close to 1,000 major crimes committed, clocking in at 24 out of the city’s 77 precincts, according to an analysis of NYPD statistics. Coming in at No. 1 on that list was Central Park with just 47 major crimes.
But over time, crime has decreased markedly in the 50th Precinct, dating back to 1990 when it saw more than 5,000 reported incidents. By 2001, that number plummeted below 1,500. Overall, it’s continued to decrease, to just 939 last year.
Granted, some of the crimes Cohen is concerned about did go up, including car theft by nearly 23 percent between 2017 and last year. Murders more than doubled, from three to seven, while reported rapes also rose significantly, from eight to 15. Robberies were up just slightly, as were assaults. Burglaries and grand larcenies were down, however.
While neither Cohen, Capt. Emilio Melendez — commanding officer of the 50th Precinct — nor the NYPD itself would say just how many police officers actually are assigned to the precinct, Melendez wouldn’t deny that he, or any commanding officer, could use a little extra help from time to time.
“Every precinct commander in the city would want more officers,” Melendez said. Yet, despite Cohen’s complaint about rising crimes over the last year or so, Melendez pointed out major crimes were actually down nearly 5 percent in the precinct.
“Were certain categories up?” Melendez asked. “Absolutely. But we’re talking about historically low numbers, compared to what it used to look like.”
Like in 1990, when the 50th saw more than 2,400 car thefts, compared less than 100 last year. Even so, Melendez acknowledged, Cohen is “absolutely right” about pushing to improve overall conditions.
“If I had more officers, then more attention would be given to quality of life,” Melendez said. “But we are still fighting quality of life every day,” including by issuing tickets for illegal parking, and keeping an ear out for late-night rowdiness at nightlife spots near Manhattan College.
Furthermore, a whole range of factors can affect the actual number of police officers in the 5-0, like when officers get sick, hurt, or pregnant, or when they’re assigned to provide security at events, Melendez said. “Those manning issues are the things that I need to juggle every day.”
But on top of those, the neighborhood coordination officer program has taken 10 patrol officers from everyday patrol functions, the captain added. “But these officers, in fact, are doing a lot more work in their capacity that goes unseen. They’re not responding to 911 calls, (but) they’re actually tackling the problems within the command.”
Meanwhile, in spite of admittedly low staffing levels in the 50th, George Tsikis — manager of the Dale Diner on West 231st Street, just east of Broadway — says things actually aren’t all that bad when it comes to crime.
“Over here, we don’t really have a lot of problems,” Tsikis said. “It’s a very commercial street. It’s pretty lit-up for the most part. We don’t really have too many issues.”
Nor does he consider police presence insufficient, per se. “If you call, they come pretty quickly, for the most part.”
But even if Tsikis and some of his neighbors feel perfectly safe most of the time, that’s not stopping Cohen from calling on NYPD’s higher-ups to help snuff out “the little things” that continue to plague residents.
“Thefts, car vandalism — particularly auto-theft, I think — are very demoralizing, and have a detrimental effect on the community as a whole.” Cohen said. “Different communities face different challenges in law enforcement.
“We have quality of life issues. NYPD has to devote sufficient resources to deal with the crime situation in the 50th.”