Taking a stroll on some of Van Cortlandt Park’s many trails in the middle of the day is a respite from the stress of the day for many living in and around Riverdale. It allows them to relax and be at peace. And it’s even great exercise.
That’s one reason the park is one of Riverdale’s landmarks. The beauty of the trees makes walkers and joggers enjoy what nature gives us while providing a great venue to exercise.
But a recent spate of muggings in the park has made that walk an anxious one especially if that person is alone. The December muggings led the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance to issue a safety warning for anyone using the trails along the bike path from Dickinson Avenue to the Golf House, Putnam Greenway and the Old Croton Aqueduct.
In mid-December 2023 a 67-year-old woman reported she was walking at the park when four unknown individuals drove past her on two mopeds. One of the individuals got off and demanded her phone. That individual then pushed her to the ground, forcibly taking her phone. The four individuals then fled the scene, the victim told police.
Another victim on that day — a 51-year-old man — told police he was jogging in the park when three unknown individuals approached him with two mopeds. One of the individuals took his phone and keys, then fled with the others, the victim told police.
Six days later another 67-year-old woman was the victim of a mugging, this time at knifepoint. The woman reported to police that around 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 19 an unknown person approached her on a bike displaying a knife. They then took the woman’s cell phone and fled the scene.
In between the holidays and into the beginning of the new year, there have been another five muggings at Van Cortlandt Park, all occurring in the middle of the day after school by people riding a dark-colored moped.
While there were no injuries in these muggings, the nature of the crimes has scared many people who frequent the trails since they happened in broad daylight. There were even reports similar muggings have taken place in nearby Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers more recently.
The VCPA shared some tips for park-goers to increase their safety in the park:
• Walk or run in a group–especially in the early or late hours of the day
• Be aware of your surroundings at all times
• Do not wear headphones
• Keep your phone out of sight
• Leave valuables at home
“Van Cortlandt Park is still the best place in the Bronx to enjoy nature, play sports, and get some fresh air,” the alliance wrote. “We just ask you to be cautious during these times.”
But is that really enough for residents who love all that Van Cortlandt Park offers? They deserve more than warnings about being careful. Enough has already happened to warrant that his is more than just several unrelated muggings. The use of the mopeds and the targeting of victims’ cell phones shows this is most likely an organized effort by perpetrators looking to make money off the sale of those phones.
This crime of convenience came out of the pandemic when the sale of mopeds and ebikes skyrocketed as younger unemployed people signed up for food delivery jobs as many customer would not get out of their homes to purchase meals.
While the solution to this rash of crime may not be easy for the victims, it is something the police department can do something about with the cooperation of the city parks department.
For starters, maybe there needs to be some kind of police presence on or around the trails in question.
That shouldn’t be too difficult to do.