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Crime Still Falling, But Grand Larcenies are Up

July 3, 2008

By ROB SGOBBO

Through the first half of 2008, crime levels are down 3 percent on this time last year, according to CompStat, the NYPD’s weekly update on reported criminal incidents.

There has been a 17 percent decrease in robberies and a 19 percent decrease in felony assaults. Rates of murder, rape and grand larceny auto (GLA) are similar to 2007 levels. Meanwhile, incidents of burglary and grand larceny have risen by 11 percent and 20 percent respectively.

To give a historical perspective, all major forms of crime have either fallen or stayed the same over the last six years, with the exception of grand larceny which has increased by 6 percent. Compared to 20 years ago, crime has decreased by a staggering 77 percent, with tremendous decreases in robbery, GLA, and murder. In 1996, for example, there were 82 murders in the Four-Six; so far this year, there’s been just eight.

Still, the recent – and significant – rise in grand larcenies is a concern. Jon Bloch, the executive officer of the 46th Precinct, says the increase can be “directly attributed cell phone snatches.” Police say cell phones, in particular the popular and expensive T-Mobile “Sidekick” phone, have become targets by muggers on busy pedestrian walkways such as Fordham Road.

Bloch says it is something the precinct is trying to get under control. “We’re doing our best, we are making progress,” he said. “We have been using Sky Watch and increased patrols in [danger] areas.”

Sky Watch, a mobile surveillance tower used by the military in Iraq, has been increasingly utilized by the NYPD to patrol high-crime neighborhoods around the city. A tower is currently stationed on West Fordham Road.

See here for more statistics on crime in the Four-Six.

Among Immigrants, a Reluctance to Call 911

July 3, 2008

On June 9, livery cab driver Yaro Dramane knocked down 6-year-old M’Mah Bangoura, as she played in the street on Sherman Avenue by 166th Street, near her home. M’Mah (pronounced MaMah) had been cooling herself in the waters of an open fire hydrant.

Instead of calling 911, Dramane pulled the little girl into his cab and rushed her to Bronx Lebanon Hospital where she died.

The 46-year-old Dramane, who has since been charged with driving without a license and using a fake ID, has lived in this country illegally for 13 years, after emigrating from the Ivory Coast. While the reason he did not call 911 is unclear, those with knowledge of the tragedy have their theories.

In a New York Post interview, Dramane’s friend Souleimane Konate claimed that Dramane did not call 911 because things are done differently in the Ivory Coast. “He doesn’t know the system here,” Konate said.

Omar Niamou, a Malinese representative of the Bronx-based African Peoples Alliance (APA) who attended M’Mah’s funeral, put a different slant on Dramane’s decision.

“Anyone over here knows to call 911. After one year here, people know that,” said Niamou. “Maybe he was afraid [to call] because of his immigration status.”

Cause for Fear?

There are three millions immigrants living in New York City; an estimated half a million of whom are here illegally. In recognition of this massive population, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed Executive Order No. 41 into law in 2003. The order prohibits the NYPD from asking the victims of, and witnesses to, crimes about their immigration status in the course of an investigation.

At the 46th Precinct, police officers follow this law rigidly, says Sergeant Mark Turner of Community Affairs.

However, Order 41 seems to have done little to encourage people to call 911, according to immigrant rights advocates and community leaders.

Many immigrants, particularly newly-arrived ones, distrust government because of their experience with governmental brutality in their native lands, says Maria Bustamante, the Education Coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Immigrants Rights project.

Some immigrants are specifically fearful of emergency services. In much of the Third World, EMS is unreliable at best, deadly at worst. “Many are unfamiliar with [the high] standards of public services, be they healthcare, education or emergency services,” says Bustamante.

Many also fear the so-called “raids” on illegals. While the raids are carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Norman Eng, an attorney with the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), says it remains unclear whether the NYPD has aided ICE. Whatever the case, many immigrants are unable to see the distinction between the two.

It also remains unclear how closely police officers are adhering to Order 41, says Eng, as no monitoring system has been installed.

“A lot of immigrants try to burrow into holes when they get here, and contacting the government is one of the last things they want to do,” says Eng.

Adds Bustamante: “Fears are definitely there because there is an effort all over this country to send a message that immigrants are unwelcome.”

A Need for Change

“The underlying basis for [Order] 41 is the belief that the safety of everyone is important,” says Eng. “[Immigrants] need to feel like they can rely on the NYPD, FDNY, and the city in general.”

One can easily imagine the problems presented by an immigrant afraid to call about a fire, or to report a serious crime. “I have tons of stories of immigrants not coming forward as witnesses of crimes because they were afraid [of deportation],” Bustamante says.

Both Bustamante and Eng say that the city needs to make sure the NYPD educates its officers about the Order. They also believe the city has not done enough to publicize it. “There needs to be more public outreach to tell [immigrants] to call 911 if they need to,” says Eng.

“The more efforts of the city… to integrate immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, the better off we’ll all be,” Bustamante says.

By CHRIS MATTHEWS

Open Hydrants Draw Fire

July 3, 2008

As the summer lingers on, thousands of fire hydrants are opened as children try to escape the heat. According to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Mount Hope and Morris Heights are particular problem areas.

Though many view playing in a hydrant’s waters as a refreshing, even iconic, pastime, it can produce great waste and danger. The spray generated can knock children to the ground and also obscure the vision of passing drivers, which may have caused the death of M’Mah Bangoura.

While the problem is clear, its solution is not. According to Bacary Camara, of the Gambian Society, children are drawn to hydrants because there are few pools in the Bronx. “In our community, we’re searching for rec centers to keep our kids off the street,” said Camara, outside M’Mah’s wake.

Fire Hydrant

The cops and DEP like to remind people that opening a hydrant is a crime. Those guilty can be slapped with a $1,000 fine or imprisonment for up to 30 days. According to the DEP, an opened hydrant wastes around 1,000 gallons of water a minute, which can affect the water pressure, causing problems in hospitals and hindering firefighting.

The agency has made some efforts to stop individuals from opening hydrants. Angel Roman, a spokesman for DEP, said in an e-mail that city-approved “spray-caps” can be obtained by anyone over 18, without charge, from local firehouses. The “spray caps,” which limit water strength, put out only 25 gallons of water per minute.

Roman also highlighted the Hydrant Education Action Team (HEAT), an outreach program run by teenagers that’s designed to educate the public about the dangers of open hydrants. He urged anyone who sees one open to call 311 and report it.

Yet despite DEP’s efforts, open hydrants continue to be a major cause of frustration. At a recent Community Board 5 meeting, residents complained that the DEP and the police allow them to run for hours – days even. One resident complained that he came home recently to find his faucets as dry as a bone.

Board members also made their voices heard. “If you go below 96th Street, there’s no such thing as a fire hydrant going off,” said Beverly Smith. “We put a man on the moon but we can’t stop people opening a fire hydrant?” chimed in an incredulous Allen Chase, another board member.

District Manager Xavier Rodriguez believes part of problem lies with DEP. “They refuse to give people other than the police department and the fire department wrenches [which can replace the caps],” said Rodriguez at the meeting. DEP was asked to respond to this comment, but didn’t do so by press time.

By CHRIS MATTHEWS

Getting the Word Out

July 3, 2008

St. Barnabas Hospital is building a 10-story health center on West Burnside Avenue at the Grand Concourse. As the Monitor reported in the spring, local residents only heard about the project at the last minute. Some were furious – not so much with the hospital, but with the local community board. They felt CB 5 should have reached out to the community beforehand, to give residents a chance to ask questions and voice concerns they might have.

If these residents had come to Community Board 5’s monthly meetings, or attended one of the board’s various committee meetings, they would have been aware of St. Barnabas’ plans months before construction started. Still, the Board could (and should) have gotten this information out through their Web site – like most other Bronx community boards do. Xavier Rodriguez, CB 5’s district manager, said the Board “ran into some hard times” with no one wanting the job of secretary, meaning meeting minutes weren’t being typed up. They are currently three months behind, Rodriguez said, but that they are catching up. He says up-to-date minutes will be online by October.

The Board can also improve communication between themselves and local residents by building a new and improved Web site. Rodriguez wants to have this in place by next summer, he says. If done well, we think it will be a huge asset to the community. Something similar to Manhattan Community Board 5’s Web site would be fantastic. Check it out at www.cb5.org. Bronx CB 5’s current site can be found at www.bronxmall.com/commboards/cd5.html.

Crime Watch, July 2008

July 3, 2008

Corrections Officer Shot

An off-duty corrections officer was shot several times and seriously injured near his Mount Hope home, in the early hours of June 13.

Jerome Batchelor, 39, was shot on Walton Avenue near 176th Street, close to the Key Food supermarket, after getting into an altercation with two men. Batchelor, who works at Bellevue Hospital prison ward, returned fire, police said. It’s not known if his attackers were hit.

Batchelor was taken to Bronx-Lebanon Hospital with wounds to the arms and buttocks. He’s expected to make a full recovery.

Investigators told the Daily News that Batchelor knew his attackers and may have had an earlier dispute with one of them. So far there have been no arrests, said a police spokesman on June 30.

By JAMES FERGUSSON

Dogfighting Ring Smashed

A “lucrative” dogfighting ring has been broken up, police and animal welfare officers say, following a raid on 108 E. 179th St. Seven people were arrested, including the alleged ringleader Alexander Estephane, who lives in the three-story house with his wife and three children.

Sixteen pit bulls were rescued, according to Richard Gentles, a spokesperson for the city’s Animal Care and Control Center. Some of the dogs “had bite marks on their legs, face and neck,” Gentles said. One later died from its injuries.

Dogfighting paraphernalia – included weigh-in scales and syringes – was also seized in the June 14 bust, along with $1,847 in cash.

Dogfighting

One local resident, who didn’t want her name printed, said it was common knowledge that Estephane (known locally as Fred) was into dogfighting. “Everyone knows that,” she said, adding that the fights had been going on at the house for at least eight years.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, dogfighting attracts heavy gambling, with dog owners and spectators routinely betting thousands of dollars on fights.

“It was lucrative, it was big money,” said Sergeant Turner of the 46th Precinct Community Affairs, speaking after the raid. “We hope it will send a message to others who inhumanely treat animals for profit” that they won’t get away with it.

Police say Estephane kept the dogs in the backyard, but staged the fights in the basement, in a specially built 9 foot by 9 foot pit.

Acting on a tip-off, police raided the house and rounded up the men while a fight was in progress.

A local man, Robinson Fernandez, told the Daily News that people were too scared of the dogs and their owners to call the police. But the resident this reporter interviewed said people’s silence was due to ambivalence, not fear.

“People don’t really care about pit bulls,” she said. “And everyone kind of minds their own business around here.” She said Estephane, the ringleader, was a “nice guy” who takes good care of his kids.

Those arrested are being charged with dogfighting – a felony – and gambling offenses. They face up to a year in jail. Estephane, 44, faces additional charges, police said.

Gentles said that some of the rescued pit bulls may be suitable for adoption, but that others “may have to be euthanized, because they’re bred for fighting and may be too aggressive to adopt out.”

By JAMES FERGUSSON

Community Center Will Open This Summer

July 3, 2008

The thuds of hammers, the squeaks of drills, and the general bustle of construction workers are now characteristic of the corner of Townsend Avenue and 175th Street. Once an empty lot, this busy street corner will only become busier when Mount Hope Housing Company’s community center opens to the public later this summer.

Originally slated to open this past spring, construction and contracting delays have pushed back the opening of this $15.5 million building to an unannounced date sometime this summer. “There are so many things going on… a very complicated but do-able project.” said Mike Varrone, of Signature Construction, one of the contractors.

Community Center

Indeed it is complicated. Mount Hope’s community center will be one of only two LEED-certified buildings in the Bronx. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, rates buildings on how environmentally-friendly they are to their neighborhood. The new community center will run mostly on solar power, re-use its own water and has been constructed with natural resources.

The center, with its red brick, grey, and glass exterior, is both visual pleasing and functional. It will house all of Mount Hope’s various programs aimed at youngsters and families.

Pamela Babb, vice-president for development and communications for Mount Hope, said that when the idea for a center came up at a community meeting ten years ago, residents stressed the importance of having all these programs under one roof. “We are keeping our promise to the community.” Babb said.

The fulfillment of this promise will take place in two phases. The first, currently being constructed, is the “Educational Center”, allowing pre-existing youth programs like Project READY, the After-School Center and Play Street to be centralized in one location. The second phase, a gymnasium, will be built along the Education Center later this year.

The gymnasium, according to Babb, will be the major draw, providing recreational activities and a safe space for kids after-school and during the summer. While the gymnasium will certainly be the jewel of the new community center, Mount Hope still needs to raise additional funds, meaning an exact construction schedule hasn’t been finalized.

In speaking with various community members, there have been mixed responses to the new center. “I think if it’s going to help kids and seniors, it’s a good thing,” said Agnes Smith, a Walton Avenue resident. “I just hope it gets me a job,” said another resident who was sitting in a nearby community garden. “That’s what we really need right now.”

Others were less generous. “They won’t tell us what’s going on. The construction has been too much noise.” said one Walton Avenue woman. Added John Brown, another local resident: “They (Mount Hope) came in with some plans they showed us, then we never heard from them after that.”

In terms of community outreach, Babb cited the center’s groundbreaking ceremony held in February 2005. Yet she accepts that the organization hasn’t been too forthcoming with information about the project. “We’re really focusing on the upcoming ribbon-cutting ceremony,” she said. “But we’ve held back on announcing it to the public because we’re not sure when the building will be finished. But this [the ceremony] is when everyone will know about the community center.”

Babb hopes media attention at the ceremony will draw not only community support, but financial backing from private donors. “We still need the money to maintain our programs and personnel,” she said. We’re hoping the opening will attract individuals who want to invest in our center.”

While some residents are in the dark with regards to details about the center, when told about its eco-friendly design, Brown said, “It’s a good thing it’s environmentally friendly. The Bronx has a lot of pollution, I’m happy they’re doing something about it.”

By ROB SGOBBO

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