First Meeting With the 20th Precinct‘s New Commander is Fiery; People Alarmed About Homelessness and Youth Crimes

Captain Neil Zuber.

By Carol Tannenhauser

Homelessness and youth crimes dominated the discussion Monday night at an intense 20th Precinct community council meeting, held at the precinct house on 82nd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. Emotions ran so high that Captain Neil Zuber, the precinct’s new commander, jumped into the discussion before he had been formally introduced.

Keri Goldwyn, the director of homeless outreach at Goddard Riverside, was the guest speaker, and she was, to put it plainly, taking a lot of flak from community members — who packed the room — about the problem of homeless people living on the streets, including whether or not outreach efforts work.

“I’m fearful and I have to zigzag my way home,” said a woman who lives on 72nd near Broadway, sounding distraught. “We all know the problems at McDonald’s and the Ansonia, well, they have now spread out, and it’s really affecting my quality of life. I’m a native New Yorker. I’m not afraid of homeless people, but it’s not a good situation, and it hasn’t gone away!”

“If I could answer that,” Captain Zuber interjected. “I see that this is one of the vital issues in this community, and I want you to know that we take it very seriously, and as it evolves we’re going to do our best to evolve with it and stay a step ahead of it. We’re not just trying to kick it down the street, literally. We’re trying to find solutions. I think everybody here realizes how difficult that is, because not everybody wants the help that we have to offer.”

Goldwyn added that there “might be” plans for weekly “clean ups” of known places where homeless people congregate. She said if you want to report a situation involving a homeless person, call 311. Several people said they have done so to no avail. Goldwyn also offered an interesting observation, based on her three years on the job: “A lot of homeless folks on the Upper West Side are very tied to this community — just like all of you are. They feel safe here. They feel a part of it. A lot of folks who have been around for a long time and seem like fixtures would be far more inclined to accept housing if it were on the Upper West Side.”

The crowd murmured.

The place was packed, the crowd vocal.

The second half of the meeting was devoted to youth crimes.

The good news is that the NYPD is launching an initiative on April 1 to tackle youth crimes in a proactive way. An NYPD spokesperson at the meeting said, “Commissioner (Dermot) Shea is always talking about youth. He thinks youth are the key to reducing crime in the city and that all youth are important.” The new program “entails the introduction of more than 300 new youth coordination officers in each of the department’s 77 precincts. The new officers will be tasked with following individual cases of juvenile delinquency,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Commissioner Shea said, “What we have to do is organize and focus all of these resources so that a troubled kid doesn’t go from 12 years old to 18 years old without us ever intervening in a life going wrong.”

Meanwhile, reports of youth crimes in the neighborhood were alarming. A woman from 76th and West End Avenue said, “Just in the past few months, I’ve heard of several kids getting mugged, including my own son, who was mugged at noon, on a Saturday, right around the corner from our apartment. He was ambushed by a bunch of kids, and he handed over his property. A lot of kids are afraid. They don’t know what to do.”

“The reason why I’m here,” another woman interrupted, “is because my son, who’s 13, was mugged by a group of 10 to 12 kids on bicycles. They tried to steal his shoes. Kids have to know how not to be targets. They’re picking off our 13-year-old kids around the city. My son, every time he see a group of teenagers, he tries to be a cool city kid, but he’s afraid.”

“The new youth coordination officers are going to be the ones directly dealing with this,” the police spokesperson said. “I will tell you, if it’s a choice between your money and your safety, your phone and your safety, any property or your safety, you give up the property.”

“We have to teach kids how not to be victims,” the woman protested. “Muggers go shopping on 72nd Street! They see my kid, and they know they’re going to take his new sneakers.”

Time ran out on the questions. It was suggested that there be a follow-up meeting to further address the issue.

Graduating to the 20th in April.

The night had a lighter moment. “Who would like more police in the neighborhood?” Captain Zuber asked the crowd, which applauded. “That’s great, because I would like to introduce the nine newest members of the 20th Precinct,” he said. “They’re still wearing their gray shirts from the police academy. When they graduate on April 1st, the next day they will be assigned here.”

NEWS | 20 comments | permalink
    1. Julia Guggenheimer says:

      It is important that we are not focused on punishment. As a community We should be working to learn about where these kids are from. What can we do to provide them with other options? Do they need access to coordinated sports programs or tutoring or artistic extra curricular activities? These are kids. Let’s find a way to help them find other things to do.

      • UWS40 says:


      • Bonnie L Raphael says:

        Thank-you Julia!

      • Evan Bando says:

        “We should be working to learn about where these kids are from…Do they need access to coordinated sports programs or tutoring or artistic extra curricular activities?” I know people feel good about themselves when they say these types of things when the subject is lawless youth. But believe it or not, the youth who are ganging up on people in broad daylight and stripping them of their shoes and phones and wallets are not in need of (or looking for) a class on watercolors or a pickle ball court. They are lawless. They have no respect for society. If you do not believe in holding them accountable for their lawless behavior, then, I think you should volunteer your time to teach their parents child-rearing skills. In most cases, that is the source of the problem. And when the behavior is not met with consequences, it gets worse. When a young person is caught breaking the law (and that should include jumping the subway turnstile), they should be required to perform public service work. You want to clean up the homeless sites every week. Let them do it. It is not child labor. It is the answer to anti-social behavior – doing something good for society.

      • Peter says:

        Gotta the love the impersonal “we”, “let’s do [this or that]”. What are *you* going to do? Stop a group of rowdy 13-olds in the street while they’re intimidating someone and start asking them if they’d like to go coloring? Walk into the police station, ask for any arrested kids’ personal information and visit their homes to ask that question?

        And please spare me on the “lack of options” for the kids. Central Park is right there. UWS has countless playgrounds and sports fields, with open access. The libraries remain viable and provide plenty of learning opportunities. Hundreds of volunteers offer their time and advice in various forms. Countless artistic venues have free or affordable performances, etc. Millions of kids around the world have nothing like these resources or choices, and they don’t turn to crime or asocial behavior. There are no excuses.

        The “community” is made of individuals. Living in a community comes with rights…and with obligations. These kids have parents and guardians. They’re responsible for their behavior (and crimes) until they turn 18. We employ social workers and countless others to perform a variety of relevant functions, so that “we” don’t have to. That’s why we pay taxes. If either of these groups of individuals fails to perform their duties, punishment is the only option.

        • Nicole says:

          Also, NYC public middle schools offer a ton of afterschool programs all of which are free.

        • stay positive says:

          The Bloomingdale Library on 100th Street has been closed for the past year for renovations. Hopefully the community can rally so that it reopens quickly to offer youth another safe place.

          Homelessness isn’t something the police can just “fix.” There are a number of community groups trying to help. One example is a group of faith-based organizations that are hosting a homelessness summit on Sat. March 28. Anyone can register to attend:

          Every February, for the past decade, the Rescue Alliance tries to reach every street in Manhattan on each Saturday of the month to offer food and shelter to those on the street.

    2. Scott says:

      How nice that the UWS homeless would be willing to accept shelter if it were on the UWS. Upstate? Nah, how about a pre-war building with open sky views? Reminds me of the time I offered food to a beggar. He waved me off.

    3. robert says:

      Last Wed night the 24 had its monthly community meeting.
      A number of the attendees, some regularizes, but a larger group of new attendees spoke forcibly about the growing crime and unease they felt. This was meet by editorial commentary from our self appointed community leaders about crime and that we should do something about it in Nov.
      I laughed when their commentary was along the lines of oh its not that bad, or oh its only localized
      Well low and behold the precinct just south has the same problems and boy are the residents noticing a sharp change in their area as well. Though personally, I would say its not a case of “our area” or “their area”
      that seeing crime spikes, its all of our city and all of us should be concerned.

      The city, state etc tried this decriminalization and look the other way on criminal actions and it made large parts of the city look a war zone. Then came the snap back to normalcy, but that was only after countless lives and millions in property was destroyed. It took years to get ride not only of the physical damage to the city and its
      people but also the reputation of the city as a place you would want to move your company to, or send your kid to college
      in or raise a family in. That will take much longer to get back when Cuomo and de Blasio have done their damage,and moved on.

      It would be nice if our local electeds also showed and stayed for the entire meeting. Yes we are all busy but you do know your district doesn’t stop at 86th street. They should come all the time, not just the meeting before election day. There are a lot of voters up here and they are hopping mad at what has come from one party control in the city and state. When people that have been died in the wool hardcore Dems since the 60’s are publicly saying on the UWS the are voting REP this year that says something about what Albany and city hall have done

      • Tired of Dribble Without Facts says:

        Would you like a few FACTS to go with your rant? The FBI says NYC has 5th BEST property crime rate of the 100 largest cities. Our murder rate is among the lower end in 79th place or 21st BEST. This is far better than most “republican” cities. What NYC is doing seems to be working better than the alternatives.

        • robert says:

          Those FBI facts you quote are several years old check the footnotes. It takes great deal of time to get the numbers from across the country and then crunch them.
          Want real up to date numbers from NYC and Manhattan, take a look at the comstat numbers for the entire city Manhattan North ( which is everything north of 59th street) and the 20 & 24 numbers. They are scary City wide crime is up 17.4% Manhattan North up 22.52, 24 up 24.30 and the whopper the 20 up 55.81 over last year. Look at the actual categories individual crime type increases. If these numbers don’t scare you they should.

    4. LifetimeUWSer says:

      Walking home, this Monday night (2/24), I saw a young man jump in front of an older man and tried to intimidate him. He said something that I couldn’t hear and then walked away. The older man and I looked at each other and then looked at the teen. He was laughing and holding up his pants. Ahead of us were two more young men who were watching and laughing. By the time they came to the older man, he walked into a store, either to buy his groceries or avoid them. There was no crime committed. Just a casual intimidation but I felt uneasy for the man. What do we do when we see something like this? I couldn’t call 911. It wasn’t a crime. I did however see a cop in his car, parked a few blocks away. He was on the phone. I patiently stood outside of his car, hoping to speak with him to ask him to patrol the area and make sure nothing more was happening. The cop saw me standing there. I stood and stood and stood there. He did nothing. He was on the phone, he was taking notes, etc. But he didn’t even bother to acknowledge my exsistance with a nod or symbol that he would be with me at some point. Eventually I left. None of what happened is horrible. From the kids to the cop, no one did anything terrible. However, the constant feeling of trepidation that exisits today, along with the fears that we’re out here alone, is palpable. It feels like the 70’s and 80’s again on the UWS. People are afraid and the cops are over it. How do we work together as a community to help each other? How do we protect the vulnerable- which includes the kids that are doing the intimidating? I don’t know if there’s an answer but I wanted to share my (very long-I apologize) experience with my community.

      • Janice says:

        I’m a life-time NYer (and have lived on the UWS since I was a teen) and I no longer walk out of the house with a purse. I keep my phone in the inside pocket of my parka and cash in the pockets–including, like old-school times–some “mugging money.” It’s pretty lousy–and scary–to have to, once again, live like this.

        I don’t know what the solution to the problem is, but if there are more cops on the street, they need to PAY ATTENTION.

        Which precinct do you live in? I’m in the 24th.

        • Brian Mangione says:

          there’s definitely a huge differemnce in this neighborhood from when i moved in 10 years ago.
          i do not go out out after dark alone. ever. a few years back i never would have thought twice about running out on an errand, and now i make sure i am in by nightfall. even with my super macho bf, i am on constant alert.

    5. JSV says:

      I know for a fact that very often, higher-ups in the NYPD apply pressure on officers to downgrade the severity of crimes when writing them up, so as to “juice” the stats and make it appear as though the crime-rate might be dropping. For example, a felony might be downgraded to a misdemeanor. Some officers also just don’t give a damn as to the accuracy of their report. And let it be known that plenty of officers care very, very much. All that being said, we’re hearing and seeing that crime rates are rising. So this is actually a double-whammy situation — the problem is possibly worse than we’re even being told.

      I see some constructive but also unconstructive comments in response to this article. Yes, sometimes the problem starts with bad parenting skills. It’s a vicious cycle as well — if a bad kid grows up to be a bad adult who then has kids, how do you think those kids will turn out? To some extent, social workers can work with parents who mean well, and teach them those parenting skills. These social workers and programs need to be paid for though, and that will likely come out of taxes.

      But the problem is also exacerbated (and in some instances, begins) when these kids have no positive outlet for energy, no accountability, no positive role-models, no place to hang out and pass time in a constructive way, or a sense of a future. This is precisely why programs like Big Brothers/Sisters exist, sports leagues for kids/teenagers, along with countless other programs, some public (paid for by taxes), some run by religious organizations, some run by private. These aren’t theoretical solutions either. They unquestionably work. But the real question is, are we prepared as a society to support them (again, usually via taxes).

      It’s very natural to want to seek punitive approaches to kids who commit crimes, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t serve some type of punishment, but make sure there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for the kids who can be saved. I bet that number of kids is quite high. Otherwise we’re just manufacturing adult criminals.

      • Evan Bando says:

        Placing lawless youth into public service work as the consequence of their anti-social behavior is that light at the end of the tunnel you speak of. It is the light of self-responsibility and the knowledge that society cares enough about them and their futures to help guide them onto a better path.

    6. Thomas says:

      How about some police walking the beat for a change? Honestly, when was the last time you saw two cops just walking the streets? The only time I see officers they’re in the cars, windows closed, on their phones. It’d be a nice deterrent to crime if police actually walked the same sidewalks as the citizens they are protecting. It might even improve their health a bit.

      • Deb says:

        Agree with OP Thomas – we need cops on the beat. They are always in their cars speeding along. Inaccessible. I plan on going to the next meeting of the 24th to get answers, I was unable to make the last one. I’ve never gone before, but frankly as a resident above 96th St. since 1987 I am alarmed at the uptick in incidents in our neighborhood.

    7. Joey says:

      What is needed is return to basic policing. Hold commanders responsible for reducing crime. Successful policing is not rocket science simply hold officers responsible for conditions in their sectors, encourage them to take proactive activities (summonses and arrests) and give them the backing they need to accomplish the mission. More coordination officers working Monday to Friday sipping coffee in the station house are not needed.