By Joy Bergmann
Thieves on the Upper West Side are currently targeting unguarded packages and motorcycles, Deputy Inspector Naoki Yaguchi told about 40 residents gathered Wednesday evening for the 24th Precinct Community Council meeting held at Happy Warrior Playground on 97th and Amsterdam. It was the first full community council meeting since the pandemic shut down gatherings.
“In the past four weeks we’ve had 13 vehicle thefts, and 11 of those were motorcycles or mopeds,” he said. “If you have one, find a way to secure it.” In 2019, the same period clocked only two stolen vehicles.
Burglaries have almost doubled over last year’s numbers with 20 versus 11 in 2019, comparing the same 28-day period. [Burglaries are residential or commercial break-ins ending in theft; robberies are muggings and other confrontational thefts.] Yaguchi noted the increasing popularity of online shopping during Covid-19 tracks with the trend. “More packages are being left in buildings without a secure place for them. Be mindful about letting unknown people into your buildings,” he advised.
Phone scams continue to be popular as well. Perpetrators will often target older people using a ruse about grandchildren being held in jail. They implore the victim to wire funds or purchase gift cards from CVS to secure the grandchild’s release. The con artists are fond of impersonating authority figures. “We even had someone pretending to be me,” Yaguchi said. “If you get any calls from anyone seeking money like this, hang up.”
Yaguchi had no new arrests to report in connection with the eight shooting incidents that have occurred in the 24th this summer. Investigations continue, he said. “I can’t get into the details, but I can tell you we have a good idea about what’s involved and the groups involved. The D.A.’s office has a big-picture view on who is doing this. We have a couple of individuals who have been involved in multiple shooting incidents. And we’re increasing police presence where the violence is occurring — in and around Douglass Houses.”
During Q&A, several residents complained about dirt bikes roaring along the avenues at all hours. Yaguchi said he’s well aware of the situation, but “Dirt bikes enforcement is very risky. They aren’t people who are going to stop for us. Once we start chasing them, anything can happen. Innocent bystanders could get hit.” He continued, “That said, we’re not ignoring it. We recently took two dirt bikes off the streets. And if citizens know where these guys are storing their bikes, that would be helpful information.”
A woman added that if locals see people riding recklessly on Revel rental scooters, they should call Revel directly. She said the company can see where all of their scooters are and whether drivers are, for example, going the wrong way down a one-way street and take immediate action.
One man asked NYPD officers to apply the law just as rigorously to “unregistered, uninsured, reckless” small tractors that he says a local landlord uses to haul garbage while blocking bike lanes and creating other hazards.
Multiple residents and store owners asked about aggressive panhandling, drug use and homeless encampments, especially around the 96th Street subway station. Yaguchi says he’s increasing foot patrols on Broadway and taking a multifaceted approach to improving quality-of-life issues. “We’re working with Goddard Riverside to approach certain individuals we all know about. They’ve refused services so far.”
City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal arrived during the Q&A and fielded a number of concerns around the homeless hotel situation, including a rumor that residents of the Lucerne Hotel would be moved from 79th Street to facilities in the 90s. “No, that’s not happening,” said Rosenthal.
She noted that conditions around the Lucerne, Belleclaire and Belnord Hotels have been improving as the headcount has been shrinking through attrition and removal of rule-breakers. “Forty-three men are gone. Because they were aggressive, they don’t get the privilege of living here. They’re gone,” said Rosenthal. At the Lucerne, the tenancy is now down to about 240 residents and shelter providers agree that an ideal population would be around 200 residents each at the Lucerne and Belleclaire with 100 at the Belnord, she said.