By Daniel Katzive
Grand larceny auto (GLA) remains a stubborn outlier in otherwise improving crime metrics on the Upper West Side. Thieves continue to target Hondas, Kias, Acuras, and Hyundais, according to commanding officers in the 20th and 24th precincts. Thefts have persisted despite concerted efforts to combat the surge.
The two precincts have reported a total of 92 auto thefts so far this year. That is nearly double the 55 thefts recorded in the first six months of 2022.
Captain Noreen Lazarus, Commanding Officer of the 24th Precinct, told the precinct’s community council meeting this week that the problem is concentrated along Riverside Drive and extends beyond the Upper West Side to the north. She said thieves equipped with the means to override the vehicles’ electronic security systems can take a car in 60 seconds or less, making it very difficult to catch perpetrators in the act, even as the precinct has stepped up patrols.
Deputy Inspector Neil Zuber had a similar message at the 20th Precinct council meeting to the south. Thieves are using electronic devices to mimic the key fobs of Hondas and Acuras, which makes it almost impossible to tell when a car is being stolen rather than driven away by its legitimate owner. Cars are typically scrubbed for resale or shipped overseas by organized gangs.
The viral TikTok Kia challenge continues to be another driver of GLA in the neighborhood, according to Zuber. Thieves in these cases are typically taking the vehicles for joy rides and later abandoning them, sometimes on the Upper West Side, but more often in the Bronx. Zuber said the precinct had some success recently in apprehending a group of would-be thieves thanks to a 911 call from an observant resident, but the youthful offender status of the suspects meant they were not held.
Both precinct commanders urged residents to call 911 if they observe suspicious behavior around parked vehicles.
Aside from GLA, crime statistics on the West Side continue to improve overall, particularly in the 20th precinct where total index crimes reported were down by about one-third in the latest 28-day period from the same period in 2022. Notwithstanding the better statistics, area residents (at least those residents who attend precinct community council meetings) do not appear to feel safer. Many spoke up about increasing concerns relating to unhoused and seemingly mentally ill people on the streets acting in a threatening manner. Both precinct commanders encouraged residents to call 911 if they feel threatened or unsafe.
Concerns about bicycles, ebikes, and illegal mopeds and motorcycles also ranked high among resident complaints. Sargeant Jared Petrassi, the traffic officer for Patrol Borough Manhattan North, which oversees all the precincts north of 59th Street, told the 24th Precinct Community Council meeting that his officers have significantly stepped up their efforts to confiscate illegal motorcycles and mopeds, organizing check points and even occasionally briefly closing bridges into Manhattan to safely take the vehicles.
Community Council meetings at both precincts are on hiatus until September. When they resume, meetings in the 20th Precinct will shift to the fourth Monday of the month, instead of Thursday, while in the 2-4 meetings will continue to be held on the third Wednesday of the month.