By Daniel Katzive
Crime rates have risen in the precincts on the Upper West Side as is the case in most areas in the city. While the after effects of the pandemic are part of the story, the commanding officers (COs) of the two precincts covering the Upper West Side and of the Central Park precinct also emphasized recent changes in criminal justice legislation and shortages of manpower as factors impacting their ability to keep the neighborhood safe.
Captain Neil Zuber of the 20th Precinct, Deputy Inspector Naoki Yaguchi of the 24th Precinct, and Deputy Inspector William Gallagher of the Central Park Precinct addressed an online forum sponsored by the UWS Coalition of Block Associations and Community Groups via YouTube on Thursday evening.
Captain Zuber emphasized in his opening remarks that the Upper West Side remains a safe neighborhood relative to other parts of New York City, but that crime has risen from the very low levels enjoyed a few years ago, and that the police face challenges in confronting the rise.
“We are facing shortages within our ranks, and we are facing shortages of will to actually do what is necessary to combat crime,” said Captain Zuber, noting that while arrests have risen even with fewer officers in the precinct, “more and more often the prosecution to keep these people off the street is not there”.
Inspector Yaguchi concurred, noting that “we keep seeing the same names over and over,” and that it takes a number of arrests before individuals face jail time.
Inspector Gallagher spoke in favor of changes to bail laws which would allow judges to evaluate a suspect’s danger to the community and flight risk in making bail determinations. He indicated his view was that laws needed to change to ensure more accountability.
The availability and flow of guns into the city was another concern raised in the meeting. Inspector Yaguchi emphasized that the vast majority of robberies on the West Side do not involve a firearm, and that gun arrests often involved a relatively small group of repeat offenders with access to guns.
Captain Zuber noted that in the seven years prior to 2020 there was not one summary [without a warrant] arrest of a person for gun possession in the 20th precinct, but that in 2021 officers had made 14 such arrests in the precinct, and last month had made three. He emphasized that New York has strict gun laws and that police are enforcing those laws, but that prosecutions often did not follow.
In response to questions about groups of illegal ATVs and dirt bikes riding in packs, the COs emphasized that while officers will rarely chase or directly confront these groups, there are efforts underway behind the scenes to identify riders of illegal vehicles and confiscate them whenever possible. Participants also expressed concerns about bicycles being ridden on sidewalks and in the wrong direction in bike lanes.
Overall, the message from the Coalition members was of appreciation for the police and even complaints about parking in front of the 20th Precinct were delivered lightly.
Representatives wanted to know what they could do to help police keep the neighborhood safe. The COs emphasized the need to keep lines of communication open, noting that they have learned a lot from community forums. They said community members should not hesitate to call 911 if they see a crime occurring. And they suggested members of the community concerned about crime should also stay informed on political matters and hold politicians accountable for legislation.
You can watch the forum here. (Starts around minute 8:10)