More cops in the 5-0, and crime drops

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The safest place to live and work in the Bronx isn’t in Riverdale and Kingsbridge, believe it or not. That honor goes to Hunts Point and Longwood.

But the 50th Precinct isn’t far behind, judging from reported crime over the first six months of the year. Yet precinct commanding officer Capt. Emilio Melendez expects those numbers to rise a bit — and that could be a good thing.

“It will mean what we’re doing is working,” said Melendez, who took over the community’s top law enforcement role last November. And what’s working? The New York Police Department’s neighborhood coordination officers.

Melendez calls the NCOs a valuable tool to return policing to one where patrol officers aren’t just an anonymous face, but instead someone the entire community knows.

“We are going back to the old 16th century way of policing,” Melendez said. “The officers now have fiefdoms, and they are the sheriff.”

There are eight such “sheriffs” patrolling both neighborhoods and public housing complexes in the precinct, all led by Sgt. Mark Giordano. Officers Richard Planamenta and Joseph Rodriguez focus on the Kingsbridge Heights area, for example, from the edge of Van Cortlandt Park to the southernmost section of the precinct.

The Broadway business corridor, on the other hand, is under the domain of officers Brandon Day and Nelida Perez. And that’s an area that could see crime rates rise, Melendez said — but only because NCOs are there in the first place.

“The store owners know the NCOs, and that’s the beauty of it,” the captain said. “These owners see the same individuals stealing from them all the time, and they constantly see the same individuals walking the street, going into stores and boosting merchandise. A lot of times they won’t even call the police, because it was $20 here or money from a tip jar there.

“My NCOs have done a phenomenal job of building relationships with store owners, so that these store owners will go directly to them most of the time and file their petty larceny reports.”

That might mean a rise in reported petty larceny crime, but it also means cracking down on repeat offenders who in the past felt they could get away with such low-level theft.

“These same individuals become part of our list of the top 10 recidivists,” Melendez said, referring to repeat offenders. “The Bronx district attorney’s office has been really good working with us in our attempt to keep them in jail.”

Keeping repeat offenders in jail might be harder now that bail reform is in the works, Melendez said, but the more crime that can be linked to an individual person, the harder it will be for them to return to the streets and keep doing what they’re doing.

“Bail is meant to deal with those who are a menace to society, or who are escapers,” Melendez said. “We know these kids aren’t escapers because they are going to come right back home. This is their sanctuary. But we know they are a menace because of how prolific they are in committing their crimes.”

Reported crime dropped 1 percent in the first six months of the year, part of a growing trend in the Bronx where crime is actually down more than 6 percent since 2018. Burglary, felony assault and murder are all down, but quality of life crimes like grand larceny and grand theft auto are up, as is one violent crime category: rape.

People in the residential areas have seen too many cars jacked up and missing tires and rims, Councilman Andrew Cohen said, which is why he pushed last year to bring more officers to the 50th Precinct.

And he was successful, saying he helped get 11 officers added to this part of the Bronx in April.

“That was a big number, and I feel good about that,” Cohen said. “It’s hard for me to be critical of the NYPD and for allocating resources where the crime is, but we have a lot of quality of life crimes here, and I represent a lot of people who care about that in The Riverdale Press readership area. I take it seriously, and I try to make sure the 50th has the resources it needs to deal with noise complaints and car break-ins, and all the things that affect people here.”

While more officers are always good, police can’t be everywhere to stop all things, Melendez said.

“An officer can’t enter someone’s home and be there 24/7 to see if there is an unscrupulous caretaker, or if there is a son or daughter stealing from the family,” Melendez said. “It’s very difficult for my police officers to fight crime where we’re talking about robocalls and people being duped over the phone.”

But education can make a difference, the precinct commander said. That means getting into the habit of locking doors, not leaving valuables in the open, and keeping an eye out for suspicious activity.

“We can do more, and of course we could do more,” Melendez said. “But it requires collaboration.”