Although the 50th Precinct saw a spike in crime at the beginning of the year — like many other precincts covered by the New York Police Department — those numbers are starting to come down. The credit, according to precinct commander Emilio Melendez, belongs to the coronavirus.
"As of March 8, the 50th Precinct had an increase of 35.3 percent in crime, but that was the last week before this pandemic," Melendez told Community Board 8 members during its monthly video conference call meeting on Wednesday. "As of today, as of last week, April 19, we brought that down by half. We are only up 18.5 percent in crime in the 50th Precinct.
"Obviously, it is due to the social distancing. A lot of our businesses are closed, hence there are less victims."
Crime is even down a bit since April 12, according to the most recent data posted by the NYPD. At that point, crime was up 20 percent in Riverdale and Kingsbridge, with growth in felony assaults, burglaries and grand larceny, as well as a 52 percent spike in grand larceny auto.
Violent crime, however, is down, or just flat. There has been just one murder in the precinct this year, matching the total year-to-date in 2019, and rape is down more than 71 percent.
Arrests, on the other hand, are up, Melendez said, with officers collaring 280 people so far this year, compared to 259 by mid-April of 2019.
"My officers are out there," Melendez said. "They see the crime, they get to the crime, and they are affecting the arrest."
Police always keep a close eye on domestic violence, Melendez said, but even more so now that many families are cooped up together because of the state's stay-at-home order. That was a little harder for the 50th because the coronavirus not only knocked out two patrol officers from the domestic violence unit, but a sergeant as well.
Still, the department ensured it was answering every call for help, even with the city shut down.
"We go there and we follow up on those calls, those 911 calls, where we deem there is a propensity, proclivity for violence," Melendez said. "Unfortunately, what's happening now, there are a lot of people unemployed, not going to work. These individuals are first-time offenders. So that's how they have been coming to our radar. The husband's at home, who is normally at work, and the family has had issues? That's what we're seeing."
Overall, the NYPD has had as much as 20 percent of its work force on sick leave during the pandemic, many of those cases related to the coronavirus. Right now, department-wide, the number of NYPD employees sick has dropped to 13 percent, according to police commissioner Dermot Shea. More than 4,500 officers and civilian employees have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, and of them, more than 2,600 already have returned to work.
Nearly 1,500 uniformed officers as well as more than 380 civilians are still on leave, and 31 members of the NYPD have died from complications related to COVID-19.
At the 50th Precinct, the number of officers out on sick leave hit its peak around April 6 with 47 officers out, Melendez said. Now it's just 26. But that doesn't mean there are fewer officers patrolling the streets, the captain added. As the outbreak continued to grow in New York City, Shea dropped some of the precinct barriers and quickly reassigned officers where needed to areas where there may have been shortages.
The 50th, for example, inherited a sergeant and eight officers from the NYPD traffic department to help with patrols within the precinct.
In fact, if there are any challenges the officers are facing right now, it might be when the gyms finally re-open. It seems some officers — including Melendez himself — might need them, the captain joked.
"Thank you to the community," Melendez said. "You guys have been feeding us so much, we are going to have to get an exercise machine when this is all over."
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