By Alex Israel
Commanding officers from the three New York City Police Department (NYPD) precincts that encompass the Upper West Side came together to discuss crime in the community with Community Board 7 (CB7). Captain William Gallagher (Central Park Precinct), Captain Neil Zuber (20th Precinct), and Deputy Inspector Naoki Yaguchi (24th Precinct) joined April’s full board meeting over Zoom.
Each CO gave a brief rundown of the various crimes that have occurred in their respective districts over the last month, as well as updates to previous cases and investigations.
CO Gallagher briefly addressed the ongoing investigation into the attacker who followed and sucker-punched an Asian-American man in Central Park at the end of March. The suspect allegedly muttered something about the victim having “an advantage” before striking him in the face and fleeing, though Gallagher said the precinct still isn’t certain what was intended by the comment. “There’s a possibility that this was motivated by bias against somebody being Asian,” he said. “An attack against somebody because of their ethnicity is really an attack against everyone. And we need to take that extremely seriously and bring that person to justice.”
Across precincts the COs reported that crimes of larceny and robbery, both involving theft of property, are generally on the rise. Without the use of force and without breaking into a structure to do so, property theft is considered larceny (of varying degrees based on the cost of the valuables); when force is invoked or threatened the crime becomes robbery, which is considered a violent crime.
In the 20th Precinct, the most concerning of those crimes was last week’s robbery at Laina Jane, according to CO Zuber. “When I was being notified about it, my skin was crawling because I thought it was going to take a very sinister turn. Thank God it did not,” he said, following up with a simple recommendation. If you have been or think you are going to be the victim of a crime, he said, “do not hesitate” in calling 911. “This is your neighborhood, you know how it looks here,” he added. “If it feels wrong, it is wrong.”
Despite the “terrifying” and “horrible” event at the boutique, many of the robberies in the precinct are merely “shoplifting gone bad,” according to Zuber. Suspects might grab a six-pack of beer or a handful of cosmetics from a local drugstore, and threaten the security guard or store associate when caught in the act, he said. While that inherently elevates the crime to a violent one, “most of them are not violent.”
Zuber identified other recent thefts as primarily teen-on-teen. “It’s a pattern of younger perpetrators probably in their late teens who are for the most part, victimizing younger teenagers—intimidating them, taking property from them.” The pattern identified by the precinct means that now the cases are grouped.
In the Central Park Precinct, unattended grand larceny is one of the most common theft crimes, according to Gallagher. This occurs when park visitors leave their belongings out, and return to find them gone—something that will only increase as the weather warms up, he predicted. Zuber said he is seeing a similar trend in the 20th Precinct, with valuables being taken on the street, inside sidewalk dining, and inside restaurants while people are not paying attention.
In the 24th Precinct, the uptick in theft is mostly virtual, in the form of scam phone calls and emails to the community’s elderly residents. CO Yaguchi’s advice? “If anybody calls you for any offers over the phone, hang up.”
When pressed by City Council District 6 Candidate Maria Danzilo on what the community can do to support local businesses being impacted by larceny and robberies, Yaguchi said that he is aware of community criticisms and added that his precinct is working to increase the local police presence in more “intimate” ways. “We definitely direct our resources towards that—we try as much as possible, try to put foot patrol out there,” he said. “If you can tell us certain areas that you would like us to focus on, we can definitely do that. And we will.”
Another community member asked what NYPD is doing to combat the “general sense of disorder that is sweeping our community,” referencing the groups of bikers and ATVs who drive up and down Broadway “at all hours” seemingly without apprehension as an example.
Zuber generally agreed with the sentiment, alluding to recent city and state policies that have led to the release of nonviolent prisoners. “Yes, there is a feeling that people are not being punished,” he conceded. “There is a factor here where people who are committing crimes are being released, then they’re committing more crimes, which means they are victimizing more people instead of being held accountable for it.”
“From our point of view, we are going to continue to investigate. We are going to continue to make the apprehensions as long as we can,” Zuber said. “We wish that the other parts of the system were working in conjunction with us.”