Vol. 17, No. 5  Feb. 26  - Mar. 10, 2004


Crime Initiative Shifts to University Heights


Operation Impact, the policing program that flooded North Fordham with police officers last year, has been pared down and shifted to nearby University Heights. The 30 recruits allotted to the precinct for 2004 are now concentrated in the neighboring community. 

While already a clear boon for University Heights residents concerned about crime, the shift has left residents of North Fordham with fears of abandonment. "Sometimes there are more pressing issues, which I can understand," said Yvel Calderon, a longtime North Fordham resident and former president of the 52nd Precinct Community Council. "But sometimes they have got to get on top of things before they get worse."

While the precinct has insisted that North Fordham will not be neglected, the numbers of officers patrolling its streets will clearly be diminished. Over 80 fresh  recruits were allotted to the Five-Two for the first year of Impact, which floods crime hotspots with officers 24 hours a day. Their territory was bounded by 196th Street and Kingsbridge Road from north to south, and Webster and Jerome avenues from east to west. Though Deputy Inspector Joseph Hoch, commander of the 52nd Precinct. said 29 officers are still in this former Impact Zone, there will soon only be eight. 

Impact will cover less turf in University Heights 24 square blocks and two sectors. The new Impact map runs from University and Jerome avenues, and Kingsbridge Road to 183rd Street. At any given time, 20 of the 30 Impact officers will be on duty, according to Hoch 

Roughly 40 of the former Impact officers are still in the precinct, though they are likely to be deployed elsewhere. Hoch is currently using some of them to train the new Impact officers.

As a citywide initiative, decisions on deployment for Impact are made by Police 
Department Headquarters. The program was expanded this year after it was credited for the city's continuing crime drop. Impact is now in operation in four Bronx precincts, up by one from last year. 

Impact assignments are based on crime complaints, which are tracked through the  Compstat program. "It's not a political decision," Hoch said. "If you looked at the  numbers, you'd do the same."

At a recent meeting with community residents at the precinct, Hoch stood over a map depicting Impact's migration. "Over 20 percent of crimes occur in just those two small areas," he said, pointing to University Heights. Last year, murders and robberies on those densely populated streets drove up the crime stats in those categories, Hoch said.

The new police vigilance is a welcome change for many University Heights residents. "The cops are out there," said Denise Faulkner, who lives on Grand Avenue and 184th Street. Faulkner often sees police in her area during evening hours and she's happy about it. "You have to give credit where credit is due," she said.

Etta Hill Banks, who lives on Aqueduct Avenue at 190th Street, has also seen an infusion of officers. "They're out on the street from all different directions," she said. "I'm very pleased."

Banks reports a lot of drug trafficking in her building, which is no rarity in University Heights. "They ring my bell and hide behind the door sometimes," she said. "Of course more police make me feel safer."

Impact has already driven down University Heights crime rates by 35 percent, according to Hoch. Officers are performing "verticals" (inspections of apartment buildings' common areas up to the roof), and regularly inspect particularly bad buildings. "We probably lead the whole borough, if not the city, in verticals," Hoch said. "We do thousands and thousands every month." 

When the precinct inevitably loses most of last year's Impact officers, Hoch intends to dedicate eight officers to North Fordham one or two per avenue. "It's almost like a return to beat officers," he said. The neighborhood "is not going to be abandoned."

But some North Fordham residents have already noticed a difference. "The officers are not here in the same numbers," said Msgr. John Jenik, the longtime pastor of Our Lady of Refuge (OLR) church on 196th Street. For the last few weeks, Jenik has seen some officers during the day, but not many at night. 

Hoch estimates that complaints plummeted by 40 percent in North Fordham during Impact. While Jenik doesn't dispute that number, he has long argued that the rampant drug dealing in the area is not recorded as criminal activity unless an arrest is made. 

He also says that violence is returning to the area. "In one week, we've had two shootings and a person stabbed to death," he said. "It makes people wonder."

February has proven to be an especially violent month in North Fordham. On Feb. 8, there was a shooting on Briggs Avenue. On Feb. 12, a man was shot twice in the chest on 197th Street and Bainbridge Avenue. And last week, a Norwood teen was stabbed to death while leaving a party on the Grand Concourse near 196th Street (click here for story). 

Despite this chilling cluster of incidents, crime was down by 18 percent in the precinct, according to the most recently posted statistics. "There might be a major incident here or there, but overall we are still down," Hoch said.

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