Why Would Court St. Need More Police?

photo by A. MartinelliLast week a video circulated on a local parent’s Facebook group showing a shocking melee on the corner of Amity St. and Court St. The video started a greater discussion between Bococa parents and business owners about police response time to this incident and other crime in area. People began to question whether there was a lack of police presence in the neighborhood, particularly on Court St. where some of the recent robberies have taken place in addition to this particular after-school free-for-all. Court St. is widely accepted as safe with lots of foot traffic and shops. Is it possible the street is taken for granted by police as a result? This is the first time in a decade or more that I am hearing anyone question safety on Court St. or the neighborhood surrounding. It’s surprising to hear people ask for increased police presence in such a busy location. I was reluctant to take the call for more policing seriously, until I saw the video and spoke with some of the businesses who witnessed the fight and experienced the long response time. I also spoke with some of the businesses who are requesting more policing of Court St. in response to the string of robberies. Then I reached out to Councilmember Brad Lander and the 76th precinct to understand measures already taken and possible steps moving forward.

On Wednesday May 4th at 2:45pm a group of about 50 or more high school kids dismissed from any of 3 local high schools converged in front of Rag and Bone. In the video, students are standing on cars. A singular group morphs into several smaller groups and then the crowd moves across the street in front of Halstead Realty trapping employees inside. Witnesses say bodies were thrown against the glass. The realty office’s glass is cracked as result. One witness saw a girl pummeling another girl on the ground. The video shows pedestrians trying to cross away from the mess. A counselor is shown in the video trying to lead his elementary age after-school group across Court St. through the mob. Cars are unable to pass as so many students are in the street. Witnesses claim a passerby who tried to video tape the crowd was pushed to the ground and robbed. Multiple calls to 911 were made from surrounding businesses. A voice on the video asks, “Where are the police when you need them?” Depending on who you ask police response time was 15 minutes or a half an hour. Different witnesses called 911 at different times, but they all agree police response was too slow, particularly considering the high police presence one block away on Smith St.

It makes sense to have regular police presence along the subway route. To walk south on Smith St. at 2:40 pm when many of the 1,300 students who attend 3 different high schools are making their way to the subway station has always been a feat similar in nature to a salmon swimming up stream. Police on Smith St. successfully shuffle kids along and bad behavior tends not to escalate. That police presence doesn’t extend to Court St. however. Witnesses described the fight as a “media gathering.” They speculate from the size of the group that students must have planned and broadcast the location to each other, perhaps noting the lack of policing on Court St. In this digital age teens can quickly coordinate to fill an unsupervised corner with mischief.

However today’s high schoolers are no different than teenagers at any other time or place. Fights have always been pre-organized for the football field or playground. I once saw hundreds of drunk, bloody teenagers fighting, publicly urinating and shattering store windows in the streets of Reykjavik just to celebrate graduation. Teenagers are loud. They have time on their hands to linger clogging the corners. In my experience on Smith St., small skirmishes occasionally happen in passing but nothing on the scale shown in last week’s video (and I remember the days when I ordered my Chinese food through a glass partition). Teens create their own public drama that if left unchecked quickly spirals dangerously. Last week it went unchecked for too long.

As more people viewed the video, business owners on the parent group began to chime in about other unrelated incidents—robberies. They are concerned for their young female staff, as it is clear these robberies are targeting young women holding down the store alone. It was only one day earlier, on May 3rd, that Tiny Brooklyn was robbed at 12:25 pm. A young female employee was lead into the bathroom at knife point. Two men took her credit cards, cellphone, and $245. She was otherwise unharmed. In April, women employees at both Pink Olive on 5th Avenue and Area Play on Smith Street were robbed at knife point in a similar manner as Tiny. The three robberies are thought to be connected. Back on Court St., Sprout, another baby boutique, had a brazen repeat shoplifter described as a well-dressed man, walk out with merchandise on two separate occasions. Staff pressed their panic button and the police did quickly respond. This robbery was unlike the robberies at Tiny, Pink Olive, and Area Play.

Local parents responded to business owners by cautioning them not to conflate the teen melee with recent robberies. In the online exchange, business owners acknowledged the events were unrelated. Nevertheless the culmination of robberies and slow response time to the melee bolsters their argument that Court St.  might be under-policed. Business owners are left asking the same question posed in the video. “Where are the police when you need them?”

One such business leading the demand for more policing is Runnin’ Wild Toys on Court St. owned by Stacey and Anthony Fauci. While the store’s security cameras provide the owners some piece of mind, it is located in the vicinity of the robberies and staffed with young female employees. Stacey questions why she never sees police patrols on Court St. The couple has reached out to police for more patrols and encourage other business to do the same.

If you ask other shop owners whether Court St. in particular needs more police presence you will get a resounding “Yes.” Chris DiChiaro of Woods Grove felt the area needed, “more police and less meter readers.” Good luck with that one. Lindsey Engler of Picnic, whose shop sits on the corner where the fighting broke out, states, “Yes. We absolutely need more policing in Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, both during the day and nighttime hours. We amped up our security system a few years ago after break-ins at night but hearing about these horrific robberies during the daytime makes the problem even more serious.” Adding, “As for the fighting I think that leads back to the policing issue as well.”

Regarding the teen melee, Naidre Miller, Director of Operations at The Brooklyn Strategist sees a bigger problem, “I think that we all agree that too many kids are dismissed from several schools in a very tight population zone, all at the same time. There needs to be a better plan—staggered dismissal times, better after school enrichment options and more attention by the NYPD.” Several business owners who didn’t want to be quoted echoed the idea that start and release times for the various schools should be staggered.

I presented the community’s policing concerns to Councilmember Brad Lander at this week’s Cobble Hill Association meeting. I informed him of the growing sentiment that Court St. lacks police presence. He recommends that those who wish to discuss policing concerns in light of the melee and armed robberies, attend the 76th Precinct Community Council meeting Tuesday June 7th. Lander volunteered, “If the community would like me to attend the Council meeting contact Susie Charlop in my office and I’ll be there.”

Lastly, I did contact the 76th precinct. While I could not get an explanation for the slow response time to last Wednesday’s brawl, I was pleased to hear that police have met with the schools to get to the root of the problem. Additional police coverage has been placed in that area. It seems to have cooled things down on the teen front for the time being. Witnesses the next day observed the students walking home sullen and orderly. One witness commented, “That must have been some assembly.”

As of writing this, the knife-wielding robbery suspects are still at large though. The pair recently used one of the victim’s credit cards in a cab and police now have surveillance images of them.

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