Avery Kotler and Flavio Pompetti help form the Degraw Crime Watch after three muggings and a beating between Court and Hoyt
Photos by Joshua Kristal
After a rash of disturbing robberies hit Degraw Street in bucolic Carroll Gardens over Labor Day weekend, with a pack of teen boys luring victims with innocent questions and then pouncing to grab iPhones and iPods, neighbors formed a block watch. One guy had gotten beaten up and had to go to the hospital. A young female jogger, a native, fought off her attackers with the help of a witness up the street, who screamed her head off.
Neighbors put up flyers, letting the assailants know they were being watched, described, and reported. The group ordered whistles, for neighbors to use to sound the alarm in the case of another attack.
“We hope to be a deterrent,” said Avery Kotler, president of the Degraw block association. “If people see the flyers on the trees and in the windows maybe they’ll think twice.”
It’s good for residents to be aware, said Kotler, a Brooklyn native.
“As Norman Rockwell-ish as it feels here, it’s still a city,” Kotler said.
Flavio Pompetti, an Italian journalist, has lived on Degraw between Smith and Hoyt since 1994.
“We are a tight community,” Pompetti said. “We are not vigilantes and we won’t engage in violence but we are going to be vigilant. “
So far, the effort seems to have been successful. Since the block watch was formed, Degraw has been robbery free.
In our low-crime area, a “crime spree” doesn’t account for much—on Degraw, there were three muggings in 32 hours, Labor Day weekend.
In the first case, on the Sunday before Labor Day, on Degraw near Court, the teen perpetrators saw a guy on his iPhone and asked him sports questions. They then demanded the phone. The victim got angry and said, “No,” Pompetti said.
“They jumped on him and beat him up pretty bad,” Pompetti said.
The guy had two black eyes “but no broken bones,” Kotler said.
The next day, around 6 p.m., two teen boys, who asked the time, approached a female jogger. They tried to steal her iPod. She resisted.
The same night, around 10:30 p.m., a young man was coming home on Degraw between Smith and Hoyt. The group approached and asked for his iPhone.
“He handed it over and they left him to walk home,” Pompetti said.
Kotler said another incident might have been averted, when a native Carroll Gardian was with her daughter at American Apparel and was approached possibly by the same group of teens. She felt she would be robbed, and she ran off with her daughter.
A woman who witnessed one of the muggings later saw the group walking down the block, looking in windows and taking pictures, Kotler said.
“It seemed like this little area was getting targeted for whatever reason,” Kotler said.
Since hanging the flyers, “I hope and imagine there has been no more attacks,” Pompetti said.
The whistles will help folks take action while keeping their distance.
“We don’t want to get too close. Making noise is figuratively and literally a good idea,” Pompetti said.
The Degraw group showed up at the recent community meeting at the 76th Precinct on Union Street to gather information from the police.
Residents were feeling unsafe.
“People aren’t sleeping,” Kotler told the police.
A man sitting in the back of the room at the meeting asked, “In regards to the man who got two black eyes, my question is, if you are approached on the street, what should you do? Do you run? Do you fight?”
Precinct Council President Jerry Armer listens to Capt. Jack Lewis of the 76th
Local NYPD Capt. Jack Lewis told the group, among other things, to report crimes immediately to 911, to make lots of noise if witnessing a crime, and not to resist if someone is trying to take your property.
“We advise people to hand over their property,” Lewis said.
Kotler has been sending out informational updates on a Degraw Crime Watch Gmail group. Some 50 people have joined. Kotler says he hopes to turn the group into a chat room, where people can leave tips and comments.
There’s a similar crime watch in Boerum Hill, and neighbors there have emailed in tips, Kotler said.
“I vet the comments,” Kotler said. “If it’s actionable, I’ll put something out. A guy wrote that someone was walking on the roofs looking for open windows. I said, ‘Go up and check your locks.’”
Another wrote in to report a guy looking in people’s garbage. “There nothing I can do about that,” Kotler said.
Kotler said he encourages people to call the police.
“People have reluctance to call. But at least here in this precinct the police want to know, and they can catch people quickly,” he said.
If the muggings come back, Kotler said he’d ask residents to take turns watching the block, like “the old-timers did in the 70s and 80s,” he said.
But with the recent, seeming success, the Degraw group feels strong.
“I’m not Bat Man,” Kotler said. “We didn’t catch the people. But it stopped. Like a bully does, maybe they were looking for a weak spot,” Kotler said.
“We’re a community here.“
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