‘Impact’ Returns After Rise in Shootings
By ALEX KRATZ
After a year’s hiatus, highlighted by a sharp rise in gun violence, the 52nd Precinct is once again becoming an Operation Impact precinct – gaining 70 fresh recruits to police three designated hot zones over the next six to eight months.
Though crime remains down two percentage points overall, the increase in shootings, including a recent bloody incident on Creston Avenue that left one person dead and three hospitalized, prompted the call for reinforcements.
Already, there have been 21 shootings in 2006, compared to 14 during the same period last year when the Five-Two was still an Impact precinct.
Operation Impact has a history of success in the area, but critics say the temporary program’s absence leaves the neighborhood vulnerable to a resurgence of violence. In other words, Impact works until it moves on to other areas.
“It’s like putting your finger in a dam that’s leaking,” said resident John Garcia, who has lived in the crime-addled North Fordham neighborhood since 1979 and now runs Fordham Bedford Children’s Services.
“It works for the two or three months and then [the cops] leave after crime goes down,” Garcia said. “We need more of a presence in terms of beat cops and it has to be consistent, not a fly-by-night type of thing.”
Two decades of intermittent policing initiatives in the area gave way to Operation Impact in 2003, which put more officers on the street and focused on the south end of the Five-Two. This will be the first time Impact officers will patrol above 198th Street.
A month ago at a community meeting, Deputy Inspector Joseph Hoch, the precinct’s commanding officer, explained to a concerned group of residents that the rise in shootings was due, in large part, to a lack of police manpower. He added that he had put in a request for 100 new recruits to police five new Impact areas – or trouble spots.
Instead, Hoch is getting 70 new officers for three Impact areas (see map). “It’s going to be more spread out than we wanted,” Hoch said in an interview at precinct headquarters on Webster Avenue. “But it’s going to have an effect on all other areas of crime [like robbery and assault].”
Though the spike in shootings over the past year coincided with the absence of Operation Impact, Hoch said it’s not that simple. Sometimes, even when shootings go up, crime goes down. “Besides shootings, the statistics haven’t borne that out,” Hoch said to critics who say there is a general rise in crime once Impact leaves.
For example, Hoch said, pointing to recent statistics, there were 44 shooting incidents in 2003. The Five-Two became an Impact command in the middle of that year when Hoch took control of the precinct. They didn’t see the results of the program until 2004, when shootings in the area fell to 23 for the entire year -- the biggest drop in New York City. Overall, however, crime dropped only 2 percent.
In the first half of 2005, when the Five-Two was still an Impact command, there were only nine shootings. But crime overall stayed the same as the year before. Then, after the departure of Impact, shootings doubled in the second half of the year, but overall crime dropped 9 percent.
Shootings and overall crime statistics are both indicators of a precinct’s effectiveness, Hoch said, but they put him in a priorities bind. “Do you worry about shootings or do you worry about crime overall?” Hoch asked, holding his hands up.
Just a month ago, the Five-Two was down to 210 cops. Now, with the influx of rookies and 10 backfill patrol officers, Hoch said he now has 295 total officers — the most he’s ever had. Historically, precincts retain all their Impact officers after the program ends, but those officers are assigned to other duties.
Hoch has already been at the helm of the Five-Two for almost three years, an eternity for city police commanders, who are usually transferred after about two years. But he said he will stick around to see through the coming Impact program.
Former 52nd Community Precinct Council president and now vice president, Steve Bussell, praised the “creative” work being done by Hoch’s crew and said the extra manpower is badly needed.
“It’s getting a little too close for comfort,” Bussell said about the recent rise in violent crime.
Bussell said six months is enough time to get crime under control.
“Six to eight months isn’t a short amount of time,” Bussell said. “So that will take us through the summer and, as they say, the policeman’s best friend is the cold and the snow.”
As always, Hoch said, most area shootings are narcotics-related — with much of the gun play the result of marijuana turf battles.
The presence of Impact officers, who walk the streets in tandem and enforce loitering and public nuisance laws, pushes the drug dealers indoors, which leads to less conflict between rivals, Garcia and Hoch said.
“The reason Impact works is because there are more officers on the street,” Hoch said. “They have more of a presence. It has a trickle-down effect.”
Since the Impact officers left the neighborhood in 2005, Garcia said he’s noticed a troubling change in residents’ attitudes. Without the police presence, Garcia said, there is a trickle-down effect in the opposite direction. Ultimately, it leads to an environment where drug dealers flourish and conflict reigns.
“Violence is definitely up, truancy is up, we see it all the time,” he said. “There’s more of a disregard for your neighbor. People don’t care. … Regular officers are not enforcing [loitering laws]. That’s what the dealers want, so they can operate carte blanche,” Garcia said.
That’s not the case when Impact floods the streets with officers. “They’re like an occupying force,” Garcia said. “They roll deep.”
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