A meeting involving the 7th Precinct and Lower East Side business owners to discuss security concerns on Orchard Street just wrapped up at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center. The event was organized by the LES Business Improvement District in the aftermath of last week’s violent robbery at Pilgrim, the vintage clothing store at 70 Orchard.
After that disturbing incident, a number of other retailers came forward to say robberies and other crimes had become a major problem along the neighborhood’s main commercial corridor in recent months. Today’s question and answer session in a sweltering second floor theater space was standing room only.
Deputy Inspector Nancy Barry did not have a lot new to say about the crime. As has been widely reported, three suspects are in custody and a fourth has been id’d but not yet arrested. She and other 7th Precinct officers urged merchants to “play it safe,” guarding their own personal safety, rather than trying to protect merchandise that could be stolen.
A few participants this afternoon were looking for specific advice about how to handle incidents. The owner of a jewelry store, for example, wanted guidance on when to hit the “panic button,” a direct link to 9-1-1 many stores have installed. In the event of a robbery, she said, her insurance company advised waiting until after the robbers leave, on the theory that they could react violently when the police showed up. Barry did not reply directly to the woman’s inquiry, but did more generally urge merchants “not to be heroes.”
Some store owners said there appears to be a pattern in the robberies — anywhere from three to five people appear to be involved in many cases; they typically observe the comings and goings on the block for some time before striking. But Barry said her detectives have not depicted any standard patterns of behavior regarding Orchard Street crimes.
Timothy Wong of M & M Environmental said he has noticed both major crimes and smaller incidents. Becoming increasingly frustrated by the tagging of the pest control company’s vehicles (parked in a BID operated lot on Broome Street), he went to the precinct to report the problems. But Wong told Barry the officer staffing the front desk told him it was not a police issue — and he’d be better off talking with the community board. Community Affairs officer Dennis Schmidt responded that the NYPD takes graffiti very seriously. When anyone sees it happening, they should call 9-1-1, he said. For incidents that occurred some hours earlier, Schmidt said he can be contacted directly at 212-477-7301.
Another business owner said her partner tried to get help from a traffic cop following last week’s incident but was told “there was nothing he could do.” She called that response “rather shocking.” Barry agreed it should “not have happened.” She said residents have the option of filing a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Barry does not directly supervise officers assigned to traffic detail.
A couple of merchants suggested there needs to be a more visible police presence on the street. Barry said the precinct does the best it can with limited resources. Officers are on Orchard more than people might realize, she said, in undercover operations.
BID Executive Director Bob Zuckerman encouraged businesses to take advantage of a grant program that helps offset the costs of purchasing security cameras. Barry said video surveillance is critical in capturing images that can be used in “Wanted” posters and in identifying known suspects. Precinct Community Council President Don West said he would be speaking with the BID about establishing “block watch” programs.
The officers urged residents to attend monthly community meetings, where these kinds of issues are regularly discussed. There’s one tomorrow night, at 7:30. The precinct is located at the corner of Pitt and Delancey streets.
Today’s meeting was attended by representatives from Community Board 3, the DA’s office, as well as the offices of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin and State Senator Daniel Squadron.