Police Commander Tries to Reassure West Siders About Crime and Homelessness; Crime is Down But People Say ‘I Feel Unsafe’

Deputy Inspector Timothy Malin, commander of the 20th Precinct.

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.”

State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal.

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. 

NEWS | 48 comments | permalink
    1. HH says:

      How does someone with 10 priors who assaults and robs an 85 year old woman get released on their own recognizance? Doesn’t that seem very strange?

      • ben says:

        Same reason that woman with a bunch of outstanding traffic violations was allowed to continue driving and running over pedestrians. The justice system is a joke.

      • HelenD says:

        There was a previous post where a mugging victim was told not to bother to ID the teens who attacked her because they’d be right back out on the street. I don’t know how many years ago that took place but it seems nothing has changed, I’d like to know why a 16 year old can be released on her own recognizance. Is age 16 considered an adult here? If so does this mean that any ‘adult’ can commit this crime (attack someone at their own doorstep), be arrested and released with a court date? I’m not trying to be snarky, I seriously want to know why a physical attack isn’t considered a more serious offense.

    2. ben says:

      Whoever asked about arresting the homeless and talked about police hands being tied needs a lesson in empathy and commonsense, and possibly a good smack on the head. Homelessness is not a crime. It’s a problem that we face collectively as a city and society.

      • MP says:

        Empathy and common sense? How about the fact that over 75% of the people who are homeless in NYC suffer from mental disorders or drug addictions? How empathetic or common sense is it to let them continue suffering and not offer any help? I agree arresting them is not the problem but neither is ignoring the problem. NYC has spent more on homeless and mental health initiatives and the problems have only become worse. How about ineffective!

      • jt uws says:

        Vagrancy is a crime

      • Rob G. says:

        It’s hard to have empathy when deranged homeless people approach you or your children when you are simply trying to walk down the street. The smack on the head should be reserved for anyone who actually excuses this behavior.

        • Erika says:

          Consequences for the behavior you’re describing will only be effective if the mental illness is addressed. I have lived on the UWS since 1993. The amount of homeless people you see waxes and wanes but it will always be an issue until there are adequate services in this city. My 13 year old son learned years ago that many homeless people are mentally ill. A homeless person has never made me or my son feel unsafe.

          • Carlos says:

            OK. So what do you suggest we do about the mentally ill homeless people. I agree that arresting them solely for being homeless is not the right answer. But letting them almost permanently reside on the streets doesn’t work either.

            Just within a few blocks of where I live in the low-mid 80s there is the man who has lived in front of Victoria’s Secret for ages. He frequently exposes himself while urinating in the street. And now it seems there are people living under the scaffolding in front of Artie’s. I have never seen them bother anyone but given that that sidewalk is already congested with the Artie’s bump out and the scaffolding, all of their possessions sitting there doesn’t help things. Many of the other empty storefronts have also been turned into homes for the homeless. This is not sustainable.

            Much as arresting them isn’t right or humane, nor is just leaving them there to rot. Creating homes and offering services for them is a great idea, but someone has to actually do it. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be on the UWS. If the services and housing can best be provided elsewhere, send them elsewhere.

            It is a worn cliche and I have been scolded for it in the past, but if you don’t think this is a problem, then invite these people to live on the doorstep of your building. Then you might feel differently…

            • Erika says:

              I live right in between the Victoria’s secret dweller and the Artie’s dweller, I know both situations well. I don’t think there’s an easy answer here besides increased services and outreach

    3. JMF says:

      I visited the 24th precinct over the summer (I taught a Forensic Psychology course and brought them on a field trip; not as a perp!). Aside from crime being way down, especially compared to the “good old days”, I was impressed at how the use of technology has become one of their greatest tools in detective work.

      I asked the Officer who gave us the tour, why he thought people are so much more worried about crime and/or perceive it being so much worse, when the data says just the opposite. I believe his answer in part pointed to changing demographics and changing expectations.

      I am wondering aloud whether we on the UWS have become so segregated, both in housing and our public schools, that these incidents lead to our collective gasps and they are bursting our isolation bubbles in which we place ourselves.

      Homelessness? Most UWS families don’t have regular interactions with families earning less than 6 figures. Theft and Crime? in our affluent neighborhood, it seems unimaginable.

      I am not saying crime is acceptable, nor should we ever become complacent. But, these counterfactual statements and arguments about “how bad things have gotten” prevent an actual and practical discourse on how we can make continued positive change in our environment. Let us focus on actual areas (both literal and figurative) of decline not our “perceived” areas of decline.

      • davidaron60 says:

        Well put! Police are doing a great job, indeed. Also, there was a time when the neighborhood was a lot more pro active regarding working together on these issues. And we worked together regardless of background or income levels to make the living standard better for all. We could do it again if we really want to. That is the true spirit of the West Side.

      • sam says:

        I think there’s also a more general phenomenon that gets tied to the reporting of crime, etc. Always and forever, we hear about the crime that *does* happen. Back in the bad old days of the 80s and early 90s, there was so much crime (and quite frankly, so many fewer hours of news to fill without so much cable TV and the internet) that almost by necessity we only heard about a small fraction of the crimes that were occurring.

        Now, with crime at ever lower rates, the news still spends just as much time *telling us* about crime, but it’s most or all of the crime that’s happening, and it’s more often things like robberies than murders. So the media reports on a single incident, or a small spate of incidents, and our “OMG CRIME IS HAPPENING” radar gets pinged, because we’re only human and not really able to, in the moment, take a giant step back and look at the overall statistics.

    4. Mark Moore says:

      People feel unsafe because of ninnies who run around — including in the comment section here — saying that the sky is falling. That gets you attention in the attention economy. Saying everything is OK doesn’t get you the clicks, the views and the responses in the comment section. Spreading fear is easier.

      My barber on 96th Street said the other day he feels like the area is less safe. I told him to stop watching the news on TV. He has it on all day and it’s designed to scare you.

      • HelenD says:

        And then there are people who are in complete denial until they themselves, or a friend or family member, is a victim of a crime. 🙁

        • Mark Moore says:

          Denial of what, that crime is down? There are also people who take their anecdotal evidence and extrapolate it out as if it’s the norm for everyone.

          • HelenD says:

            I’m sorry that you read about the violent attacks that other people have experienced and shared here and your takeaway is to label it as ‘anecdotal evidence.’ I’m sure that none of the victims are interested in crime statistics. 🙁

            • Jay says:

              You can have empathy for someone’s individual experiences without letting emotion trump reason, or advocating for conclusions & response measures that don’t actually make sense or make things better.

    5. Jack says:

      The problem is that we have decriminalized a lot of behavior. You don’t get arrested for turnstile jumping, or for openly smoking marijuana on the street, or for sleeping on the street, to name just a few examples. But these behaviors erode the quality of life and lead to this “unsafe” feeling people have. It seems like Malin is just telling the community to get over it. Not a very satisfying answer.

      • Anthony says:

        Well, if it’s decriminalized Malin can’t do anything about can he? he has no authority to arrest people for engaging in decrminalized (things that aren’t crimes).

        So if you have an issue with that, take it up with lawmakers not the police.

        I for one agree it looks more unsavory but it isn’t less safe. it feels that way because we now hear about crimes instantly, have videos of it and can talk about it on sites like this. 10, 20 years ago it wasn’t like that. You would probably not even hear about an old woman pushed to the floor and mugged.

      • Kaz says:

        Arresting people for turnstile jumping or being homeless (i.e., criminalizing the poor) may make you feel safer, but in reality there is no evidence that broken windows policing to address these “quality of life” crimes actually works to make you safer.

        See: https://web.archive.org/web/20170809102240/http://home.uchicago.edu/~ludwigj/papers/Broken_windows_2006.pdf

      • Dresden says:

        Agreed! I am sick from the smell of Pot everywhere.
        And something should’ve been done about nicotine years ago.
        The rest of us share the air.
        Go smoke in your own home (well insulated with windows closed).

    6. Cecily says:

      I have lived in the neighborhood for 32 years, and for the record I do NOT feel unsafe. It is far safer than in ‘87, when I felt unsafe walking down side streets at night, and when car breakins were common.

      It is far safer now. As always, in any large city, there will be issues. But I am really surprised at people’s reactions .

    7. Sherman says:

      I feel sorry for Deputy Inspector Malin. It must be tough being a policeman with DeBlasio in office.

      The politicians and police can come up with all the statistics they want but I believe quality of life has gone down recently on the UWS. I see a lot more homeless, people jumping turnstiles, illegal street vendors….

    8. Doug Paul says:

      Just another bullet point to emphasize urban decay in the big cities under the Democrats. Thank you Democrats!

    9. Will says:

      Arrest the homeless? People who have real complaints about crime do themselves more harm than good when they expose their xenophobia in the same sentence as addressing violent crime. No one wants to listen to someone complain about quality of life issues if those same people feel its appropriate suggest arresting homeless people. People should realize how it sounds coming from someone with a home, safety net, and a social support system that others aren’t privileged enough to have. “Quality of life” is usually a coded term and I find it hard to take those who worry about it seriously.

    10. Glen says:

      The police should be no more responsible for providing mental health services than the MTA should be responsible for providing shelter. BTW, what happened to the $850m in ThriveNYC tax money that was entrusted to one, Ms. Chirlane McCray, (a/k/a Mrs. DeBlasio)?

      Since we all know that money is gone forever, I think a crackdown on quality of life infractions might go a long way in this neighborhood. Deliverymen on electric bikes on the sidewalk would be my first choice; bicyclists breezing through red lights would be close behind.

    11. Bob Lamm says:

      How sickening to read that everyone who is homeless should be arrested. Thanks to those who have denounced this ugly view.

    12. Gimme Shelter! says:

      Homelessness is not a crime, and homeless people shouldn’t be arrested. Are we living in the age of Charles Dickens? The solution is housing, not prisons. Maybe those greedy landlords should repurpose the endless vacant retail space into housing.

    13. Deputy Inspector Malin says:

      I’d like to thank everyone who came out and attended this meeting. When it comes to addressing neighborhood crime and quality of life issues- the more civic engagement, the better. Our next meeting is Monday, November 25th at 7:PM here in the precinct.

      I mentioned the theory of “Koper Patrols” (aka directed patrols) and how they can be an efficient way to deter crime. This seemed to have piqued some interest, and if you would like to learn more, check this out:
      https://www.policefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/PF_FiveThings_HotSpotsPolicing_Handout_Rev6.23.15.pdf

      • Concerned UWSider says:

        I attended the meeting for the first time and will be back. Appreciate the Deputy Inspector’s time and effort to communicate with us. The fact that this was the best attended meeting in recent history is good and bad. Good because it shows engagement of the community but bad because many were there driven by fear.
        Aside from the discussion of Koper Patrols v. stationed agents, it seemed almost unanimous that we all would like to see and feel more police presence on the UWS streets – especially by foot. It’s only by circulating around the neighborhood that cops will experience it as we do, for example being constantly acosted by some aggressive homeless people (one of them well known by the precinct itself with 26 prior arrests, mind you, yet still out and about). Perps like the 16yo girl arrested and now back to the streets will think twice before acting again ONLY if they see/feel the police presence that we have been asking for. Innumerous quality of life issues require cops to be there at the moment an offense happens otherwise nothing can be done about them – all more the reason for the precinct to have its cops walking around the hood all day, everyday. Thanks

    14. jimbo says:

      A little history lesson.In the 1970’s there was over 100,000 thousand robberies one year.Much sadder than that there were close to 80 NYC cops killed in the line of duty during that period.
      The bottom line here is that many things have changed here in the city.There is much less crime.The big differance is that the police were able to do there job without fear of being second guessed every moment.

    15. Jennifer says:

      My daughter was attacked by a mental ill / drug addicted man in the subway at 96th & B’Way a few months ago. He came out of nowhere, punched her in the stomach and knocked her almost unconscious. The detective told her if they found the man he’d be out immediately cuz his lawyer would plead he was off meds or needed drug treatment or whatever. She is traumatized and rarely takes the train anymore. It takes her three times as long but she takes the bus to work most days or we have to drive her. A couple of weeks ago at the same station she saw the same man and reported him to the cops in the station…as the detective told her to…they laughed at her and did nothing. This crazy man is out there and is a menace. He could kill someone. The homelessness problem is three fold: we have a housing crisis, a mental health crisis & a drug crisis in NYC.

    16. Jennifer says:

      I would like to add that we also have a crisis in city government and policing. We cannot allow these assaults to continue. Also want to add that my daughter was attacked during the evening rush at about 7 pm and her attacker had just jumped the turnstile so in this case (and many more I think) broken windows would have made a difference. People need to be placed in care who are ill or addicted and not just left to roam the streets. That’s not humane. These kids who are mugging people need to be rehabilitated if possible not just released to the streets after 10 attacks?! That’s only the ten you caught them for!

    17. Joey says:

      We’re slipping back to the ’80s. Too many cops in the station house. Put the community officers on patrol, bring back stop, question and frisk and enforce the “small laws”. Take care of the broken windows and the house will be in good shape.
      Inspector Malin’s shirt sleeves are too long.

    18. dc says:

      The pendulum is swinging in the direction of providing more leniency for perps. Someone with 10 priors and no bail? What kind of incentive is the justice system giving for someone to actually show up for a court date when they know committing a crime and getting away with it is becoming easier and easier.

    19. tom burnett says:

      those of us who live in the 24 Precinct had the good fortune to benefit from DI Malin when he was the Executive Officer in the Precinct. He is a man of his word and he reached out to help us in so many ways during his tenure in the 24. Our Community Council meetings are held on the third Wednesday, at the Precinct. The next one is November 20, 2019 at 7 pm. Tom Burnett, President of the 24 Precinct Community Council

    20. ellenuws says:

      How about this:

      1. Fill empty stores and patronize them to keep them in business and promote increased foot traffic during the day and night
      2. Make noise about the never ending scaffolding
      3.Put pressure on stores like Duane Reade on 79th and Amsterdam to post a guard there and apprehend the slew of robberies
      4. Line up strong candidates for the next mayoral election

      Anyone with the Citizen App knows that there are certain blocks that crawl with violence and various criminal activity like Bwy and 70th. Post a police officer there. Personally, I avoid the block and any stores that are there as a result of all the vagrancy and petty crimes that occur daily.

      Homelessness isn’t a crime. However, anyone who commits a crime, regardless where they live, should be subject to the law not excused because of empathy. When the homeless guy on West 79th street divider robs Duane Read, it’s a crime. When he steals a case of beer and sits outside drinking it, its a crime. When you tell police officers they should have the ability to do something about it. He may refuse outreach and that is his choice, but stealing regardless if it is connected to mental illness or access to meds is not OK.

    21. LK says:

      One of the main reasons people don’t feel safe is because criminals get released back on the street. How could one justify releasing a violent robber with 10 prior arrests? This is where our outrage should be directed. If the cops hadn’t gotten the perps in the robbery of an 85-y.o. lady – we would have been upset at them for being ineffective. But they did get the robber! ( with 10 prior arrests ) and she was let go! Inexcusable – contact your politicians, pull the judges. Do something. This case not enough? You can read the news about 16 year old arrested for violent robbery in march ( breaking victim arm in 2 places ), then in July for armed robbery. Released in both cases. He now shot an innocent school girl. ( that’s in Queens ). On the Upper East side, an off-duty firefighter was assaulted in May by a teen with 3 priors ( robbery, attempted robbery…) in 2019. This is going to get worse unless we stand up!

    22. Tom says:

      Watch the 1981 film, Escape from New York. That is what is coming here in a few short years. Note how California is being targeted, NY is next. Thanks to the liberals.

    23. Yael says:

      Jack, I just saw someone ticketed for using an incorrect transit pass at 72nd/Bway. Depends on the subway station, I suppose. But I haven’t seen many turnstile jumpers in years. Have you?

      • Ed says:

        Seriously? There are more people going over and under turnstiles (in addition to walking thru emergency gates) than any time I can ever recall, and I’ve been riding the subways for well over 50 years. These violations build upon themselves; removing “token” sellers from half the entrances has emboldened many; encouraging use of the emergency gates to exit has essentially created an “open door” policy; and the lack of sufficient enforcement hasn’t helped. Go back to arresting people for entering the system without paying a fare, using plainclothes police.

    24. Bill says:

      Hi I was also at the meeting at the precinct. The gunshots near the playground were fired between two men over a woman. The mother of the two children said that her nanny was at the playground with her two young children and they heard the shots. And they ran she did not say they saw the shooting that’s a dramatically different experience. It still is horrible.
      The man in the back who said that he thought the police had their hands tied never left the meeting he was there the whole time and talking to everyone at the end. We are glad that you’re there but you really need to get some of these things straight.

      • Carol Tannenhauser says:

        Thank you. Edited. Did you speak to the man afterward? Also, the mother said her children were “10 feet from the shooting.” The nanny “heard” additional shots as she ran.