Rates of Grand Larceny, Misdemeanor Assault Increase in Midtown South as Tourist Season Begins

According to a recent report from the New York Police Department, between mid-March and early April in the Midtown South precinct, grand larceny and misdemeanor assaults have both increased by at least 8.5%. Many police officers, including Inspector Russell Greene, a commander of the precinct, attribute the spike of these crimes to the beginning of New York City’s tourist seasons.

“Midtown relies on the millions of visitors it gets every day; we recognize that, but they are also a big contributor to the crime in this precinct,” said Inspector Greene. “Either as victims of theft or participants in late-night drunken shenanigans, the plurality of crime within the precinct is related to visitors and tourists.”

Within the precinct are some of New York City’s most popular tourist attractions, including Madison Square Garden, the Empire State Building, Times Square, the theater district, and many others, which beckon tourists to visit. Considering this concentration of popular landmarks and subsequent tourists, Midtown South is more susceptible to crimes than other precincts in the city.

Midtown South claimed 154 arrests for grand larceny and 62 for misdemeanor assault, respectfully, between mid-March and early April. The neighboring 17th precinct, which includes Manhattan East, Kipps Bay, and Murray Hill only had 56 arrests for grand larceny and 20 for misdemeanor assault during the same time frame. Although tourists may result in a spike of certain crimes around the area during the spring and summer months, many business owners still rely on tourists for the livelihood, leaving them no choice but to put up with rowdy customers.

“They go inside [restricted areas], smoke crack, [and when] drunk people come in, they’re shouting, and fighting,” said Ajit Fernando, who works at Vihan’s Videos, a store that sells adult movies and toys on 8th Ave. Despite displaying a bright-yellow sign on his glass door that reads, “indulgence in sex, smoking, drugs and consumption of alcohol here is highly prohibited by law,” Fernando still regularly has to call the police on tourists visiting his store.

Tourists are not always the perpetrators of crimes. According to Compstat data, Midtown South had 509 reported grand larcenies; an 11% increase over last year making this year the highest crime rate in the city.

Unwatched and unattended bags are prime marks for crimes of opportunity. Within the Midtown South’s section of Times Square alone, there have been 33 reports of grand larceny in the first quarter of the year, according to data from the NYPD. “Thieves love to target touristy areas,” explained Officer Thomas Byrnes of the precinct’s Crime Prevention Task Force. The tourist-heavy areas of Midtown West of Fifth Avenue have the highest number of grand larceny cases in the city, with more than eight times the

city average, according to Data2Go.nyc. “Tourists are far more likely to leave bags unattended, not notice a pickpocket, or simply not guard their stuff,” continued Officer Byrnes.

As a result, reports of stolen property from tourists are a daily occurrence for the precinct. This is also a point of major frustration as tourists’ short stays in the city decrease the likelihood of retrieving their stolen items. “Unfortunately for many visitors, once an item is stolen, there is no getting it back,” said Officer Byrnes.

As part of the precinct’s efforts to combat these crimes, Officer Byrnes works with businesses to help train employees on how to spot people targeting tourists and intervene before a theft occurs. The precinct also encourages businesses, particularly restaurants, to warn customers against leaving personal belongings unattended.

While larceny troubles the precinct during the day, drunken and disorderly behavior creates problems in the evening. Visitors to the precinct frequent the thousands of bars, clubs, and restaurants in the area. According to data from the NY State Liquor Authority, there were 729 new applications in the last three years for a license to sell alcohol in Midtown, a large number of these establishments are within Midtown South.

Businesses that are open particularly late over the weekend (some until 5:00 AM) have police working long hours to keep the peace, according to Inspector Green. The shear number of people that come to Midtown in the evening and weekends means the precinct is regularly dealing with alcohol-related crimes. In 2014, the precinct wrote more than 4,000 summonses for disorderly conduct and public drinking, the most recent year for which there is data; according to statistics from NYC Open Data, this was the highest on record.

In the evenings, fights are also a frequent occurrence. Arguments and disputes quickly escalate in the evenings, particularly around closing time, when heavily intoxicated people are ejected into the street, according to Inspector Green.

The precinct has seen a 12% increase in misdemeanor assault arrests to 165 arrests over the past three months compared to the same time last year, according to the Compstat report. Most of these arrests are during the weekend, and more commonly on Saturday.

NYPD officers are frequently called by bar and club owners to break up drunken brawls, according to Inspector Green. He gave the example of a fight his officers had to break up after a group of intoxicated people attempted to enter a club as it was closing. Several police officers were sent to the hospital with injuries sustained in the scuffle and five people were arrested and charged with felony assault. The chaos of late nights leads to many assault charges being upgraded to felonies, as people take swings at police officers trying to intervene, said Inspector Green. These assaults on police officers contributed to a 42% jump in felony assaults this year from 33 felony assaults over the same time frame last year, according to Compstat report.

NOTE: none of the quotes from Byrnes or Greene have been approved by DCPI. I never got word back on a formal interview request, but they both just threw me a bone on the condition the quotes would only be used for this assignment. — Shiva

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