By Carol Tannenhauser
The crowd was larger than usual at Monday night’s 20th Precinct Community Council meeting, held at the precinct house at 120 West 82nd Street, near Columbus Avenue.
Deputy Inspector Timothy Malin, commander of the precinct, gave what he called “the most thorough crime briefing I’ve ever given standing at this podium,” in the wake of three high-profile crimes that have taken place in the neighborhood in the past three weeks — two violent robberies of women, and a shooting outside a popular playground.
“I’ve been told by a lot of people recently, ‘I feel unsafe,'” Malin explained.
State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, the featured speaker at the meeting, said that many of her constituents have expressed the same sentiment, prompting her to write a letter to the NYC police commissioner last week, requesting that 25 officers, lost to the 20th precinct through attrition this year, be restored immediately. On Monday night, she reiterated her position.
“One thing everyone asked me for was more police presence,” she said. “Sometimes, when things happen, we need more resources.”
Deputy Inspector Malin contended that he is adequately staffed.
“I agree that there needs to be more presence in the wake of an event like this to address people’s feelings,” he said, referring to the shooting. “We may disagree slightly over the method, but that’s something we fundamentally agree on, and we’re providing it.”
He explained that “directed patrols” involve random, sporadic visits to trouble spots, as opposed to “constant on-the-beat cops.”
“We did 42 directed patrols to the site in just six days,” he said, referring to the Bennerson Playground, on 64th Street and West End Avenue, outside of which the shooting took place, on October 21st.
Malin tried to reassure people at the meeting that the neighborhood remains safe. Despite recent events, he said, “crime is not exploding in the neighborhood.” In fact, the overall number of crimes in the precinct is down 8.1% this year from last. “That places us 19th out of 77 precincts in the city in terms of crime reduction,” he added.
And, although robberies are up this year — there were 62 so far compared to 53 at the same time in 2018 — “the 71% closure (arrest) rate is superb,” Malin said. Four out of the six suspects in the two recent robberies were quickly arrested. However, one of them was quickly back out on the streets. A 16-year-old girl with 10 “priors,” who was picked up for pushing an 85-year-old woman to the ground and robbing her was released on her own recognizance — with a court date, but no bail, Malin said. She never showed up for court, and there is a new warrant out for her arrest.
The last part of the meeting was thrown open to community comments and questions. A woman whose two young children were “10 feet from the shooting” spoke poignantly about the trauma they experienced. Malin assured her that the shooter, who is currently in custody, “will be going away for a long time.” From there, the conversation turned to homelessness.
“Why is the homeless problem worse?” a man asked. “Why is the quality of life dramatically worse? You say crime is down 8% and I think your guys’ hands are tied about making arrests, so I think that number is completely false.”
“Our hands aren’t tied when it comes to making arrests,” Malin responded. “If you’re talking about arresting the homeless — when I came on in 2000, the department was arresting the homeless, looking for reasons to arrest them. That was the solution, to arrest our way out of it. Today, you cannot arrest the homeless.”
”That is the definition of your hands are tied,” the man retorted.
“That’s not how you do outreach for the homeless,” another man called out. He said he was from the Goddard Riverside social service agency. “You don’t arrest them.”
The room buzzed with opinions and observations.
If you’ve never attended a 20th Precinct Community Council meeting, they are held every month and well worth the hour or so they last. Check the precinct’s website for dates and times.
This article originally stated that the man who said the police’s “hands are tied” left the meeting. We have since learned he did not.