Photo by Joshua Kristal
A mini crime wave fueled by robberies is hitting the South Brooklyn 76th Precinct, spanning Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Red Hook and parts of Boerum Hill and Gowanus, according to police. Robberies are up 40 percent from a year ago in the relatively low-crime area.
“We’re up in crime rather significantly,” said Capt. John Lewis, commander of the South Brooklyn Precinct. Lewis sat down with me recently to discuss the recent crime surge.
“It’s a problem and we’re going to try to fix it. We’re making a lot of arrests. We’re going after it aggressively,” Lewis said.
Robberies occur when property is stolen from a person with some use of force, usually a punch, push or slap. Other crimes have also risen: Auto theft is up 24 percent for the year, and felony assault is up 10 percent. Burglary of homes and businesses is down two percent.
As of Oct. 17, 83 robberies were reported in South Brooklyn, compared to 59 this time last year. This past month, 16 robberies were reported, compared to four this time last year. Robberies are up 20 percent over the last two years.
Even with the recent spike, South Brooklyn is the lowest crime district in Brooklyn, and one of the lowest in the city. The 76th Precinct reported 478 major crimes this year, down 84 percent from 1990. The next lowest crime district in Brooklyn, the 68th Precinct, encompassing Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton, reported 699 major crimes this year. The 84th Precinct, encompassing Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights and downtown Brooklyn, reported 764 major crimes this year. Major crimes include larceny, burglary, robbery, murder and felony assault.
Capt. Lewis said his officers have arrested 10 people suspected in the 16 robberies that took place since Sept. 20. Often, there are multiple perpetrators in a single robbery, he said. “The detectives are working very hard on this, and they are doing an excellent job,” Lewis said. “We know where [the robberies] are likely to occur, and we’re out there watching.”
Lewis said that young people are behind a majority of the crimes; sixty percent of suspects arrested for robberies in the past month were under the age of 20.
“The people we are arresting are not armed. They use simple force. They have little or no criminal history,” Lewis said.
The act of walking while texting is attracting crimes, and makes you a “sitting duck,” the cops say. Many of the crimes are ones of opportunity. At the Ikea and Fairway Markets in Red Hook, and at the Trader Joe’s on Court Street, the police have recorded 20 incidents of purses and other items stolen when shoppers leave their possessions unwatched. It’s a problem that likely goes underreported.
“Keep aware. Don’t leave things unattended,” the top cop said.
South Brooklyn has enjoyed one of the lowest crime rates in the city for decades, thanks to aggressive efforts by the local police, and likely due in part to the upper-middle-class population.
Long term, robberies in South Brooklyn are down 73 percent from 1993.
Still, the recent crime wave is troubling.
Lewis broke down the stats for the 10 arrests in connection to robberies from Sept. 20 to Oct. 17:
None of the suspects had been arrested before. Half live in South Brooklyn. Two of the suspects are under the age of 15; four are between 16 and 19, two are between 20 and 30; and two between 30 and 40. The ages correspond to the average for robbery suspects, Lewis said.
Some 70 percent of the robberies happened between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m., Lewis said. In two of the robberies, guns were flashed, though one is now known to have been a fake. In three of the robberies, victims were injured, though none of the injuries was serious.
Detectives at the 76 track every arrest to look for trends and closely monitor criminal activity. Robbery arrests are up 85 percent from last year, Lewis said.
Many of the felony assaults occurring in South Brooklyn are directed at police as they arrest a suspect.
“As we are arresting more and more, they are assaulting more officers,” said former 76th Precinct Commander Kenneth Corey, back in June. “The officers get punched, bitten. I lose a good amount of officers when they are bitten. They go on a strict medicine cocktail for six weeks. It makes them very sick, but protects against HIV and hepatitis.”
In addressing crime prevention, Lewis said his police pay close attention to “low-level stuff” like beer drinking and disorderly conduct. It sometimes pays off.
At a recent precinct community meeting, a resident complained of men riding bikes down sidewalks. Shortly afterward, an officer on patrol stopped a man riding his bike down the sidewalk. The man had a bulge on his waist, which turned out to be an imitation gun. The man matched an ID in an armed robbery of the CVS at 395 Court St., between 1st and 2nd Place, which occurred at 5:15 p.m. Oct. 10. The man was taken in and also matched an ID for a man who attempted to rob the Clinton Apothecary on Oct. 9. In both incidents, the would-be robber flashed a gun on his waist and demanded Oxycodone, but was denied. The man was locked up on Oct. 13, Lewis said.
Lewis said the police don’t have any theories to explain the spike in robberies. The 84th Precinct, which encompasses Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights and downtown Brooklyn, has seen an 18.5 percent increase in robberies over last year.
Citywide, robberies are up, but only by 4.7 percent. On the Upper West Side of Manhattan, robberies are down 9 percent; and in the East Village, they are down 3 percent.
“It’s an anomaly,” Lewis said. “It’s specific to us.”
Shootings and grand larcenies in the 76 are up as well, but a major bust in early October of men suspected of operating a violent drug ring from the Gowanus and Red Hook housing projects successfully reduced shootings, and there has not been one in two months, Lewis said. Lewis’ predecessor, Deputy Inspector Kenneth Corey, assigned patrols of the Gowanus Houses until 4 a.m. every night after three shootings took place within a week at the end of May, including the murder of 16-year-old Al-Taya Conyers, by a man she knew, on Warren between Bond and Nevins streets, at 11:50 p.m. on May 26. Within 40 hours, the police had the shooter in custody, an 18-year-old.
Lewis is the third commander of the 76th Precinct in the last four years. The post is often held by rising stars in the department, who go on to higher positions at the NYPD. A 23-year veteran of the NYPD, Lewis spent years as a beat cop in East Flatbush and Crown Heights and in the city detective bureau department.
“I view myself as a crime fighter,” said Lewis as he introduced himself during his first community meeting at the precinct house in September.
“There are some challenges here, and I look forward to addressing them.”
To read more, check out Crime Hits Unsuspecting Residents.