Vandals hit more cars

The weekly Police Beat column at The Riverdale Press kept a running tab on neighborhood crimes, but it also held the police accountable for the reporting of crimes. This February 2008 article told the story of how auto break-in statistics were under-reported by the police. 

Feb. 21, 2008

The Riverdale Press

Vandals hit more cars

Cops say auto break-in stats were understated

By Tommy Hallissey

It didn’t add up. The Riverdale Press’ Police Beat column kept reporting car break-ins throughout the year in 2007, often citing several incidents in the same week. Letters to the editor complaining about car break-ins came in steadily and the newspaper wrote frontpage stories on repeat offenders. A group of residents even began using the Internet to educate one another about the vandalism.

But when the precinct offered year-end car break-in numbers in January, they unexpectedly showed more than a 50-percent drop in incidents over the previous year, from 482 in 2006 to 233 in 20

At a Feb. 14 community meeting, Deputy Inspector Dermot Shea admitted that the numbers The Press had been given were wrong. He explained that they may have been partial reports. There are several different categories of car break-ins, he said - misdemeanor, felony, no property taken - and he wasn’t sure which one was given to the newspaper.

He acknowledged that the total numbers were actually up for the year, and he had promised to provide accurate statistics on Monday, Feb. 18 - but he was transferred on Feb. 15.

"Statistics are the product of an organization," said Jim Lynch, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a crime statistics expert. "Some of the errors are in good faith, all sorts of things can happen."

A police source suggested reduced manpower at the precinct led to an error. Mr. Lynch agreed manpower issues could lead to mistakes. “Probably they are not fudging unless they are getting a lot of pressure,” said Mr. Lynch.

The day before D.I. Shea’s transfer, Kingsbridge resident Betsy Fogerty came to the 50th Precinct Community Council meeting to voice her concerns over recent repeated break-ins she had endured. Ms. Fogerty has lost two side mirrors recently from her Chevy Cavalier parked near her home. In fact, one of her neighbors on Corlear Avenue has been hit seven times by thieves looking for a quick score. “Right now, I’m parking five or six blocks from where I live just to avoid the vandalism,” Ms. Fogerty said.

Hot spots

D.I. Shea identified Corlear Avenue between West 230th and West 234th streets, where Ms. Fogerty parked, as the second biggest car break-in spot in the precinct. The first, he said, is Goulden and Sedgwick avenues near the Jerome Park Reservoir, because it is so dimly lit.

The Five-0 has been attacking the outbreak of car thievery in a few different ways. First they have identified 13 men, who are recidivist car break-in offenders in the community - men like petty criminals Tider Torres, Michael Lewis and Eddie Feliciano. Their pictures can be seen on bulletin boards in the precinct station house on Kingsbridge Avenue and even on a television loop of wanted offenders.

D.I. Shea said that when these men are arrested special care is taken with their cases. “The reality is we’re at the point where we flag it for the DA so nothing falls through the cracks,” D.I. Shea said. Though petty criminals are often released on their own recognizance before trial, the police have tried to get bail set to slow their return to the streets.

Mr. Torres is currently a free man, but two of his counterparts, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Feliciano are still in jail because bail was set in their cases.

In one extreme case, a serial offender, who lives in the neighborhood, was being bailed out of jail by his mother. D.I. Shea sent a sergeant to his mother’s house to explain that her bail money wasn’t helping her son because he was committing the same crimes over and over.

Recently, the Five-0 has been trying to hit the serial thieves where it could hurt them the most by cracking down on the merchants who resell parts stolen from area cars. “Most of the car break-ins we have are substance abusers who will sell whatever they can to feed their habits,” said D.I. Shea. “We are trying to attack them every which way.”

Buy and bust

He said the Five-0 recently executed four search warrants after they sent undercover officers to sell allegedly stolen parts. The precinct wouldn’t reveal the location of the busts.

The precinct has tried to stay ahead of the vandals by working to stymie criminals before they strike. In his last community meeting at the Five-0, D.I. Shea, focused on the details, even alerting his deputy Detective Luis Rodriguez to check on a broken light Ms. Fogerty mentioned on her block.

That wasn’t enough for Ms. Fogerty. After the meeting she was still upset with what she said was lack of police attention to the rash of car break-ins. “You don’t really know who to blame,” she said.

The day before his transfer the deputy inspector tried to empathize with Ms. Fogerty as her patience faded. “I know the pain that you feel. There is nothing worse than coming out and finding your car broken into,” he said. “Car break ins are very, very difficult for me and you. In this community it is our biggest complaint.”