Capt. Filastine Srour took command of the 50th Precinct in January — a historic event in northwest Bronx. And for Srour, a homecoming of sorts.
She grew up on White Plains Road, where her parents settled after immigrating to the Bronx from the West Bank.
“I always wanted to be a cop since I was a kid,” Srour said, accomplishing just that, and spending the first 10 years of her career in the New York Police Department policing the 52nd Precinct right next door.
Now Srour is the first female commander of the 50th Precinct — a job she holds while also raising two children.
One of her daughters is 5. But back when she was an infant, Srour was running late-night special operations in Harlem — a job she threw herself into.
“It was tough,” she said. But the NYPD didn’t ignore her issues, or that of other women who were becoming a larger part of the force.
“They’ve made a lot of changes where they take care of breastfeeding women and women who are pregnant,” Srour said. “So, a lot of improvements have been made with that regard.”
Srour was put in charge of the 115th Precinct detective squad in Jackson Heights, Queens in 2020, where on her first day, a bullet flew through the glass of a third-story window and fatally struck a 43-year-old woman.
When faced with a senseless violent crime, Srour feels a “tremendous responsibility” to solve it. And that’s exactly what the 115th squad did — in three days. They used a combination of video surveillance and tips, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz following the arrest.
Bystander deaths from gun violence took a tragic toll in New York City as many American cities found themselves in the grips of a disquieting rise in such violence during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. In New York City, index crime data shows the wave in violence may now be subsiding.
Murders citywide fell last year for the first time after rising more than 50 percent between 2019 and 2021.
In the 50th Precinct, an uptick occurred in violent crimes tracked by the NYPD during the same period. But here, too, the unwelcome trend seems to have been short-lived.
As Srour takes command, property crimes like burglary and grand larceny auto are now the focus of police work in the precinct. Her background in special operations is clearly adding some gusto to her approach.
Illegal parking complaints skyrocketed in the 5-0 last year, and now comprise more than half of the complaints the NYPD responds to in the precinct. That’s compared to just 6 percent in 2010, when the first 311 data became available.
The precinct’s boundaries primarily overlap the area served by Bronx Community Board 8, which has also taken note of the melee brought on by double-parked and illegally standing vehicles. During a February visit to CB8’s public safety committee, Srour said she was bringing 311 response times down “exceptionally.”
“I’m doing that by holding my supervisors accountable to deploy the officers to respond quickly,” she said.
She’s also been moving officers around within the command, so more are on-hand to respond to 311 complaints. Each tour now has a designated vehicle for 311 calls.
Officers have also lately been on the lookout for fraudulent license plates at new checkpoints, which Srour has established near the Broadway Bridge and other strategic areas.
She’s simultaneously overseeing new special operations that scout out stolen vehicles. They recent found four in one day.
A little less than a month into her command, the 50th Precinct posted a social media photo of four catalytic converters officers took from a man on West Kingsbridge Road and University Avenue. They apparently caught him in the act of stealing them.
There were more than 1,200 “cats” stolen last year from hapless car owners in the Bronx, according to the NYPD’s public information office. It’s a three-fold jump from the year before.
It takes less than a minute to sever the bottle-shaped devices with a small, motorized saw. And they go for about $150 in scrap yards where willing collaborators move in to extract the precious metals within.
The NYPD’s crime prevention section has been campaigning to educate people about how they can protect their apparently irresistible catalytic converters. They recently launched a free etching program for anyone who wants to pre-emptively stamp a vulnerable car part with a unique number, which can then be tracked in a database.
Nationwide, criminologists are still scratching their heads over the converter crime trend, but Srour said she interprets it as a solution to a human problem.
“People try to be resourceful,” she said. “One day somebody figured out that there are metals in this catalytic converter that happen to be precious, and maybe he had friends. Over time, it spread. And it’s become something that people do to make money.
“You know, it’s learned. It’s shared. And it spreads.”
Other major crime categories, including robberies and burglaries, dropped off slightly in New York City in the first few months of 2023. But grand larceny auto is up about 5 percent compared to this time last year.
In the 50th Precinct, the rise in car theft is even more pronounced. More than 60 vehicles have been stolen so far in 2023, compared to 44 the same time last year according to CompStat, the NYPD’s database of crime statistics.
Srour is determined to do her part to change that. She pulled out her “big book” from a desk drawer and pointed to where she had highlighted the precinct’s latest major crime numbers in yellow. Every page of the binder contained another week’s report from CompStat.
“What’s highlighted is the rise,” she said. “This comes out every week.”
Robberies in the 5-0 are down this year almost 30 percent, according to the numbers, which quickly grew dizzying.
Srour pointed to the bottom row and grimaced. There have been 25 grand larceny auto complaints over the past 28 days, it said, compared to 15 during the same period last year. What are we to make of such a fluctuation?
“Obviously GLA is the glaring rise,” Srour said. “It’s up 67 percent.”
Then, turning to burglaries, she lit up, talking about a man officers arrested for a string of burglaries at the Timber Equities construction site next to Brust Park.
“That guy that did those burglaries that we just collared last week, he’s responsible for this 36 percent rise,” she said.
“And we got him last week. Do you understand?”