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West Side Rag » NYPD Top Brass Addresses West Siders’ Crime Concerns at Forum –

Posted on April 17, 2021 at 12:54 pm by West Sider

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea addressing the group via Zoom

By Joy Bergmann

Top NYPD officials — including Commissioner Dermot Shea — fielded UWS residents’ questions Thursday evening at a Zoom public forum hosted by Upper West Side Together (formerly Upper West Siders for Safer Streets). UWST, a private — and controversial — Facebook group with 15,000 members, formed last July “in response to rising crime and safety concerns” following the conversion of four local hotels into emergency homeless shelters.

An UWST administrator, Cristie Diamond, opened the event with this framing question: “How can we make our wonderful neighborhood safer for all?”  

Two answers repeatedly emerged throughout the 90-minute discussion: More camera surveillance and better mental health services.

Clear video footage is a crime-fighting “force multiplier,” said Capt. Neil Zuber, commanding officer of the 20th Precinct, noting how surveillance imagery from multiple sites recently helped arrest a suspect in a spree of bank robberies. Zuber hinted at forthcoming arrests in two other high-profile cases, aided by video evidence. 

Regarding the March 27th ambushing of a teenage clerk at the Laina Jane boutique, Zuber said, “The detective squad has done some phenomenal work to the point where we’ve established, what we feel is probable cause…to make the arrest.” 

Shea apologized to Laina Hon, the store’s owner and mother of the teenager, for not keeping her apprised of the investigation’s progress. “In a case like this, what I would like to see is more constant contact between the assigned investigator to the case and you, the customer, the complainant in this case. Just the status check of where we are.”

Shea added that he’s launched a system for community feedback. “When you walk into a police precinct now you should see signs with a barcode that you can scan with your phone. And it’s basically: take a survey. How are we doing? How long did you wait for service? Was the officer or the civilian at the precinct polite? Did they help you with everything that you need? Are there other things that we can do better?”

Zuber also had an update on last week’s slashing of a man on 84th Street. “That investigation is progressing very well…through the use of private cameras…were able to actually track the person to where he goes.”

NYPD urged residents and business owners to connect with their precinct’s designated Crime Prevention Officers who are available to advise on optimal camera equipment, operation and coordination with police. Contact details for various specialist officers are posted on the 24th and 20th’s web sites.

Over 150 people tuned in

The city’s mental health crisis figured into questions concerning homeless people who refuse social services, street encampments, anti-Semitic harassment and recent hate crimes that turned violent, as well as subway attacks involving emotionally disturbed individuals. 

Chief Theresa [Terri] Tobin, head of NYPD’s new Bureau of Interagency Operations, outlined an ecosystem of seven interagency programs aimed at better serving people with mental illness and addiction issues — promoting public safety while treading the fine line of protecting the civil rights and liberties of all parties. 

Among the latest initiatives is B-HEARD, an acronym for Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division. “Mental health teams will be the default first responders to…911 mental health calls where there is no weapon or imminent risk of harm…Teams consist of two FDNY EMTs and one licensed social worker from the New York City Health and Hospitals. They’re going to use their health expertise and their experience to crisis response, deescalate emergency situations and provide immediate care,” said Tobin who holds a PhD in Criminal Justice and a Masters in Social Work. B-HEARD teams will be available, “7 days a week, 16 hours day,” she said.

Tobin was a key architect of the NYPD’s Co-Response Team initiative that now operates 24/7. It pairs two officers with a clinician from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, trained to intervene in mental health emergencies, especially when there may be some degree of violence. “Clients get connected to services that they may need,” she said. 

Additionally, Tobin said, nearly 14,000 uniformed officers have received crisis intervention training in partnership with the Center for Community Urban Services with more to come after COVID restrictions lift. The program aims to “effectively address the needs of persons with mental illness, divert people with mental illness from the criminal justice system when it’s appropriate, save human lives and financial costs of criminalizing people with mental illness and lastly link people to community-based services, to promote their recovery,” she said. 

So, asked one resident, “What can we do to get the mentally ill off the street, especially the ones who are violent and refuse social services?”

“When you encounter someone like that…please call New York City Well [1-888-NYC WELL],” said Tobin. “They refer those individuals to our Co-Response unit.” 

Throughout the meeting, officials also emphasized the need for community members to report problematic behavior through 311. “Even if an arrest can’t be made, everything these commanders do on a daily basis revolves around data and knowing about something,” said Shea. Data drives “where they deploy their officers, building little patterns together.”

20th Precinct Commanding Officer Capt. Neil Zuber.

Among other answers and information provided: 

NYPD now offers a dashboard for the public to review personnel data including use-of-force incidents, and to access tools focused on hate crimes, graffiti and other matters. 

NYPD advises against carrying pepper spray. “You can get a summons” for having some substances, said Shea. “Leave the policing to the police. Let’s work together.” 

NYPD does not typically engage in active pursuits of roaring dirt bikes and ATVs because such chases endanger the broader public. They prefer to identify riders and confiscate illegal vehicles where they are stored. 

Deputy Inspector Naoki Yaguchi, commanding officer of the 24th Precinct, said he’d investigate reports of nightly drag racing along the West Side Highway. 

Yaguchi also agreed to better coordinate with Housing police unit PSA 6 to ensure that jurisdictional issues are not impeding responses to fights or other incidents occurring at NYCHA developments. 

NYPD urged school safety teams to connect with precinct Youth Coordination Officers to better prevent teen-on-teen crime. 

Zuber reported seven narcotics arrests near 79th and Broadway last weekend. The dealers, he said, are from outside the area and most of the arrests “did not have anything to do with the Lucerne Hotel.” He added that “almost all” of the NYPD’s appearances at the hotel are in response to medical emergencies, not criminal complaints. 

Officials said community vigilance is important and appreciated, but also cautioned against possible misperceptions driven by social media. 

NYPD now posts a lot of crime scene photos and “scary” footage, said Shea, calling such information “a double-edged sword.” 

“I almost hate it to a degree because it traumatizes people, seeing it. But it is such a valuable tool to apprehend people as quickly as possible,” said Shea. “So I just don’t want people to think, ‘Oh my God, it’s happening everywhere around me.’ In many cases, these things were happening for years. You just didn’t know about it.” 

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