Police cluster in front of the 40th Precinct station house.

A spike in crime and lack of enough police presence weighed heavily on the minds of South Bronx residents at Community Board 1’s April meeting. The board held its monthly meeting online with members of the public and elected officials on Apr. 28, as it has since the outbreak of the pandemic in mid-2020.

Burglaries more than doubled during a 30-day period in Mott Haven, Port Morris and Melrose April this year, compared with a 30-day span in April 2021, from 14 last year to 29 this year. Robberies jumped 76 percent, from 21 this time last year to 37 this year.

The board submitted almost two-dozen questions to the 40th Precinct about law enforcement and the NYPD’s role in the neighborhood. Sergeant Jose Polanco, a Neighborhood Coordination Officer, answered residents’ and board members’ questions, filling in for the precinct’s newly appointed commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Joseph Tompkins, who was on vacation. 

Tompkins, 39, is a 17 year veteran of the NYPD. He took over leadership of the precinct on Apr. 18. His salary in 2021 was listed at $202,398.

A board member asked why there appeared to be no patrolling of the commercial area between 149th & 157th Street along Third Ave.

“There’s constant patrol,” Polanco said, adding that the precinct has a “Hub Unit” that is “constantly making arrests” at the plaza on Bergen Ave. and 149th Avenue because of frequent drug deals there.

In addition, squad cars are stationed at the Marshall’s and Burlington in the Hub during business hours. Also, reinforcements have been called in “due to the recent spike, because of all the shootings that’s been happening around Mott Haven,” with about 20 additional cruisers on the streets.

Rampant drug use is an ongoing problem, he said, including at hot spots around a new homeless shelter and a check cashing store at 149th St. and Bergen.

Responding to a question about the precinct’s response times, Polanco said that as “one of the busiest precincts in the whole city, we tend to take a long time” to respond to disputes and car accidents because officers have their hands full responding to violent crimes.

Residents continue to complain about officers parking their personal vehicles on Alexander Avenue, making the streets difficult for children and handicapped individuals to cross. When Polanco responded that officers have limited parking on the street, a board member suggested police use public transportation.

Board 1 resolved to submit a letter to elected officials and the mayor’s office, to request more policing to cope with the spike in crime. Polanco said that the precinct has about 250 officers, having lost some to retirement and others who refused to comply with COVID vaccine mandates.

In other matters that came before the board:

The sanitation department’s assistant supervisor Juan Saldana answered questions from board members about trash on the streets and at St. Mary’s Park. Others wanted answers from the city about a rat problem stemming from restaurants on the Port Morris end of Alexander Avenue leaving their garbage out. Saldana said that streets will be cleaner when mechanical sweeping restarts in July, as the city brings back alternate side parking after two years without it due to COVID.

Homeowners said they are getting summonses from the sanitation department when wind blows garbage onto their properties. Saldana suggested they keep careful documentation with dates and times so that they can contest any unfair summonses. The phone number for the sanitation department’s customer service department  is 212-291-1220.

SoBRO has submitted a request for proposal for $429,000, for a study of The Hub to help address issues that have hurt businesses in the city’s second busiest commercial corridor. The problems include excessive double parking that slows down traffic, extensive drug use, illegal vendors and rising crime. The study is expected to take between four and nine months. Board Chair Arline Parks said that the influx of methadone clinics and transitional housing over the years has caused business growth to stagnate. “We can plan all we want but if we do not have moratoriums (on some kinds of supportive housing and services) in vital areas of the district, the end result is what you see in St. Mary’s Park and in” The Hub, she said. 

A fire on 149th Street at Third Ave. damaged a commercial building. The Third Ave. Business Improvement District has asked Board 1 for help supporting the tenants. 

A new bus route in the Hub, the M125, surprised board members, who said they weren’t aware of it. Chair Parks said that the mayor’s office and other city agencies have not done their part informing the board of issues in the neighborhood. “It seems there are so many things happening in the district, and the community board is not getting notification,” she said. “There’s a complete breakdown here. We need a pipeline.”

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