Residents of a city-run senior citizen’s housing complex in Crown Heights are fed up with inadequate security after two home invasion robberies this year and three similar incidents in the summer.
Tenants living in the William Reid Apartments, a single large apartment building at 728 East New York Ave., are calling for the New York City Housing Authority and the 71st Precinct to provide additional protection.
“We are very, very vulnerable,” says Hyacinth Forrester, 79, president of the tenant’s council for the past 20 years. “I don’t feel safe, not with what’s happening right now.”
Forrester estimates that about 75 percent of the tenants are in declining health and require part-time home attendants, who regularly assist elderly residents with their personal needs.
Not all NYCHA residents want a heavier police presence near their homes. The requests for more police coverage at housing developments like William Reid come at the same time that NYCHA and the NYPD face a federal lawsuit over the police practice of stopping and arresting people on NYCHA property.
The building has NYCHA security guards on duty from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., but none during the day. Forrester says she repeatedly has asked NYCHA for additional coverage hours, and for a security camera in the building lobby.
“Who haven’t we spoken to?” she says in exasperation. “We’ve been begging, we’ve been talking to whoever we can. What’s going on with the money?”
A representative for NYCHA says that in order to provide adequate video surveillance coverage, up to 15 cameras would be needed at a cost of $200,000.
“[Closed-Circuit Television] is funded by elected officials and if the residents reach out to their local politician requesting funding, elected officials can then allocate the funding during their budget period,” a NYCHA spokesperson, Sheila Stainback, wrote in an email.
“I don’t think the senior houses have been prioritized, and I think they (NYCHA) needs to make it a priority now,” says Reginald Bowman, president of the citywide council for the NYCHA tenants association. “I think that we need to make contact with the (Police Department) higher-ups because there seems to be a change in the attitude of the local police department and their responsibility to provide security for the senior residents of Reid houses.”
Police officer Paul McCarthy, who patrols the Reid Apartments and two other housing developments for the 71st Precinct, says drug addicts are a problem in the neighborhood. There’s also a numbers hall—a gathering place for illegal gambling, he says. The elderly become an easy target.
“People will pick out which seniors are competent mentally and which aren’t, and prey on them,” McCarthy says. “There’s always someone who is going to try to take advantage of seniors.”
That’s what happened to Nettie Brewster, 87, a great-great-grandmother who still likes to play the numbers, despite the protests of her family and friends. Her daughter says sometimes mild dementia clouds her better judgement.
Brewster says that after she ventured out to the numbers hall on the evening of Feb. 19, she returned home and was attacked from behind as she opened the door to her 14th floor apartment. She was knocked unconscious as the perpetrator made off with credit cards and cash.
“I worry about her safety all the time,” says Carol Harrison, one of Brewster’s five children. “I ask her all the time why doesn’t she move, or come live with us,” added Harrison, who lives upstate.
Police are searching for a 32-year-old neighborhood woman with a history of drug offenses in the attack on Brewster, a friendly woman with a poster of Derek Jeter on her wall and a Mother’s Day plaque hanging above her bed.
It wasn’t the first time Brewster was victimized so close to home. In January, her part-time home attendant, opened the door to find a strange man in the apartment chatting with Brewster. The man mumbled an excuse before grabbing some of Brewster’s valuables and fleeing.
“Who knows what could have happened. They both could have been dead. What’s a life worth to [criminals]?” says Forrester, who speaks passionately about providing a safe environment for fellow tenants she refers to as “my seniors.” She regularly travels to see state officials and buttonhole anyone she thinks can help her neighbors.
She praised Officer McCarthy’s efforts—when he’s present. “For some reason the precinct is taking him from here to go somewhere else, when he’s [supposed to be ] here for housing. We need that to stop,” she says.
McCarthy’s supervisor, Sgt. Robert Troise, confirms that McCarthy is the only officer assigned to patrol three housing develempoments in the 71st Precinct. And although Troise admits that the officer gets pulled from the developments, he insists it is only on rare occasions. He says McCarthy was required to spend only 70 percent of his time at the housing developments, and is often taking care of other patrol duties. Troise disputes tenants’ claims that their safety needs were being neglected.
“They’ve never had the police coverage they’ve had in the last three years,” Troise says, referring to the period of time McCarthy has been patrolling the buildings. He says robberies in the precinct are down 21 percent this year over last.
McCarthy says neighborhood thugs know when to strike, so it becomes a game in which he and the thugs are trying to outwit one another.
“The criminals study my pattern,” he says. “They know when I’m not here.”