Community Board 1 finally got the public meeting it has been urging the City for since early last year: a Zoom with local law enforcement to hear how NYPD is addressing increases in violent crime and quality of life concerns in Mott Haven and Melrose.
At Board 1’s March 25 meeting, the commanding officer of the 40th Precinct and heads of the local housing and transit police fielded questions and concerns that have been gnawing at residents. Before the pandemic-induced shutdown in March 2020, NYPD brass routinely attended in-person meetings at Board 1’s central office on Third Avenue, to review crime statistics for the preceding month and address the public.
The 40th Precinct’s commanding officer Deputy Inspector Robert Gallitelli summed up the challenges his command has faced over the past year.
“Like most of the city, we’re coming off a difficult 2020,” including “over 100 police officers who’ve had the COVID.”
Officers from the 4-0 were deployed to other parts of the city in response to protests after the George Floyd killing last summer, Gallitelli said, thinning out his ranks, hampering the precinct’s ability to respond to a whopping increase in gun violence in Mott Haven and Melrose. The 40th Precinct was singled out in a report by Human Rights Watch, for what it concluded was the City’s heavy-handed response to protesters in Mott Haven last June, prompting a pained apology from Mayor Bill de Blasio. The New York State Attorney General’s office has filed suit against NYPD, again underscoring the local protest, in which officers cornered, tased, beat and arrested protesters who had marched peacefully from The Hub to Port Morris.
“After a record breaking 2019 with 22 shootings, we had 55,” said Gallitelli. “When you talk about shootings you want to talk about guns taken off the streets to counter that violence.” There were 193 gun arrests in 2020, vs, just 86 in 2019, “the biggest rise from any precinct.” Crew-related violence has contributed to eight shootings so far this year, he said, with three key trouble spots: 152nd Street/Jackson Ave., 139th/Brook Ave, and 141st/Cypress.
“We started to see some crews fighting over narcotics,” on those blocks.
He added that NYPD has a “community strategies plan” for 139th/Brook/Willis…”to have a heavy community footprint on that block,” to counter a “heavy increase in narcotic, gang activity.”
“A lot of the challenges we faced last year we’re facing (again) this year.”
One bright spot: The number of robberies dropped last year from 514 to 399.
Deputy Inspector John J. Potkay, who heads Police Service Area 7, which polices public housing, called 2020 a “rough year,” with 21 shootings, compared with 17 in 2019. He added that officers have been “trying to broker a ceasefire for crew members 15-17, to get them in the right direction. Now that the schools are opening up, we’ll have increasing presence there.”
- A tenant of Melrose Court Condominiums said tenants there are “inundated with drugs. We gave keys to police but we see nobody.” In addition, cars parked around the buildings are being vandalized, she said.
- State Sen. Luis Sepulveda told the board that $30 billion would be needed to make all necessary upgrades and repairs in public housing across the city, and that legislation is underway to secure $700 million. He promised to oversee the Blueprint for Change, a public/private partnership, to ensure that “no tenants are displaced because of this program.” But a member of Board 1 sniped “that blueprint ain’t gonna do nothing. They’re selling you out like they’re selling us out.”
Quality of life
Concerns that board members and area residents raised:
- People at Melrose Condominiums “just sit there, blasting the music.”
- Riders on dirt bikes on the Bruckner expressway and local streets. Galitelli confirmed that “ATVs have really started to spike up at an alarming rate. especially now with the warm weather,” but “we’re also trying to balance public safety,” not chasing dirt bikes and risking traffic accidents. One board member suggested the city create an ATV park to get riders off public streets.
- Open hydrants. Although the fire department can respond quickly to open hydrant calls, Gallitelli said, “If someone lives on the block there’s not much the police can say.”
- Slow response time from the City’s 311 service Because “overall response was not where it should be” for 311, said Galitelli, the City created 311 Auto.
- One board member suggested that for many of the complaints board members made, community coalitions should be formed to mitigate quality of life concerns and take non-violent matters out of NYPD’s hands.
- Substance users, not wearing masks, injecting at Roberto Clemente Plaza in The Hub in broad daylight.
- Another resident said that banks in The Hub are doing a poor job cleaning their public spaces, and NYPD should get loiterers out of the lobbies in the early morning.
The situation was also fraught for the transit police, with 28 officers contracting COVID during the pandemic’s peak, said their local commanding officer, Captain Gregory Mackie.
His officers have been dealing with a huge influx of cars taking up cars parked throughout Mott Haven and Melrose, with fake New Jersey and Texas license plates. An issue that’s hot on the radar. Police told him to give only serve only certain types of tickets. “Next day you find out they’re selling those cars. Galitelli: “If we have the legal jurisdictions to take those cars, we’ll take them.”
A spokesman for Rep. Ritchie Torres said that the congressman has met with post office officials to tackle an ongoing problem of missing packages and stolen money orders.