Long-time Bushwickites all have stories about the bad old days.
Kurt Barnes, who has lived on Cooper Street for 35 years, remembers the heroin-dealing business that operated out of a house across the street from his own, where customers came and went with about as much secrecy as would patrons of a corner store. When cops finally came to raid it, they pounded on the steel-reinforced, heavily bolted front door for hours with a battering ram. By the time they forced their way in, Barnes recalls, the drugs were long gone down the toilet drain.
Stephen Ficala, born in the neighborhood, recalls that his father used to press him not to go out too late—meaning after 3 p.m. in the wintertime, when the light began to fade. “Bushwick was horrible,” he says. “There was a roadblock on Troutman for two years,” as cops tried to stamp out a drug market. “You couldn’t get past it without ID. It was a crazy scene.”
The scene could not be more different today.
In the 83rd precinct that covers Bushwick, there were 77 murders in 1990, 44 in 1993 and 20 as recently as 2004.
Last year, there were eight. This year the 83rd is on pace for six homicides.
And it’s not just the seven “index” felony crimes that are down. Comparing 2018 with the year 2000, other felonies were 61 percent lower, misdemeanors were down 54 percent and violations had decreased 42 percent in Bushwick. And each of those drops was significantly larger than the corresponding citywide trend. (See detailed data on Bushwick’s crime statistics from 200o through 2018 here.)
Fewer arrests, fewer summonses
Statistics indicate that enforcement has ebbed as well.
In 2006, there were just shy of 7,000 arrests in Bushwick; last year, there were a little over 3,000. Over roughly the same period, the number of criminal summonses in the 83rd fell 95 percent. Data on civil summonses doesn’t go back as far, but in the 83rd precinct there were 60 in the first half of 2019, versus 611 in all of 2018.
In 2009, when City Limits reported on policing in Bushwick, complaints about NYPD tactics were beginning to bubble to the surface:
The tactics the NYPD has used have stirred resentment among some in Bushwick—especially its policy of stopping and questioning increasing numbers of people on the street. … “The way police are operating in our community is not productive,” Eddy Polanco, a local teenager, told the audience at a recent forum on policing sponsored by the community organization Make the Road New York. Another teen, Bernard Green, who claimed that he was arrested on false charges and assaulted last year, said, “These days, cops don’t go for quality arrests. They go for quantity. People are killing people, these drug dealers, but you go after people who are sitting in front of a building.”
The police stops don’t occur only on the streets. There are also the vertical patrols … in which officers sweep through buildings, often making arrests for the charge of criminal trespass. … “The NYPD is engaged in harassment of the black and Latino communities. That’s not even debatable,” says Noel Leader, a retired detective and co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. “The impetus behind the vertical patrols was to attack the criminal element, which is wonderful, but what it’s become is a numbers generator for the NYPD.” … In the first half of 2009, 95 percent of those stopped in the 83rd Precinct were black or Latino.
There were 8,400 “stop, question and frisk” encounters in the 83rd precinct in 2009, a year when the NYPD logged 575,000 stops citywide.
In 2018, when cops recorded just 11,008 stops across the boroughs, 146 were in Bushwick’s 83rd precinct. About a third of those stops led to arrests and a handful to summonses, according to NYPD data.
|Calendar year||83rd precinct||Citywide|
Concerns about policing persist
Worth noting is the fact that 91 percent of those stopped in 2018 in Bushwick were Black or Latino, while only 7.5 percent were White. (Bushwick is about 71 percent Black or Latino and 22 percent White these days, according to data from the Furman Center.)
Robert Camacho, the chairman of Community Board 4, says he worried in the past that cops in Bushwick tended to look at people of color as threats. But today, he says, “We know the officers on a daily basis. It’s changing now.”
The neighborhood is seeing not only an influx of White residents but a change in the Latino population from Puerto Ricans to Mexicans and, increasingly, people from Ecuador, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. “There are different customs coming togethers. NCO was created to help bridge that gap,” Camacho says, referring to the de Blasio administration’s Neighborhood Coordination Officer program.
Complaints about officers from the 83rd precinct to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) declined from 87 in 2013 to 58 in 2017, in line with decreases across the city. Over that five-year period, 23 complaints against cops in Bushwick were substantiated by the CCRB, tied for seventh-highest among the 23 precincts in Brooklyn.
Some local residents believe that while there is less enforcement activity in 2019, it is targeted as unfairly as ever—or perhaps even more unjustly today, since there are now more Whites in Bushwick that cops could stop, summons or arrest.
Mark Garcia, a 20-year resident of Bushwick who is Latino, says he was stopped by police last winter at 4 am on a one-degree morning for turning his bike onto a sidewalk. He’s also been stopped for biking through stop signs. His White counterparts, he says, seem to bike far more recklessly but don’t get hassled. “It’s disheartening,” he says. “Why does that have to happen to me?”
With Bushwick attracting intense attention from developers and a major rezoning looming, advocacy groups like Make the Road New York have raised concerns that deeper gentrification in the neighborhood could lead to more aggressive policing—in particular, quality-of-life enforcement.
A Community Service Society of New York analysis of 311 data published earlier this year found that rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods like Bushwick had seen steep increases in calls to 311. Over the first seven months of 2019, there were 28,000 calls to 311 from Bushwick—nearly twice as many as in the same period in 2011. While 311 call volume has increased citywide, it’s risen much faster in Bushwick.
But the higher call volume doesn’t appear to have generated a visible rise in arrests or summonses.
Sometimes the NYPD’s less aggressive approach is plain to see.
Last week, at one Bushwick park, a group of young men hauled in an amplifier and began blasting music and drinking beer at 11 on a weekday morning. A couple of teenagers rolled and smoked joints at benches on the other side of the green space. Shortly before noon, a man rode into the park—a no-motorized-vehicles, no-smoking zone like every park—on a motorized scooter with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. A cop looking for broken windows would have been tripping over the shards of glass.
Still, the music wasn’t oppressively loud, and the guys who were downing Coronas kept to themselves. They didn’t seem to bother other park users: Joggers jogged, a young woman did pushups and sit-ups against a bench, boys and girls raced around the playground.
A mother hanging out in the park with her young daughter was upset when she wandered over toward the guys who were drinking. Sometimes that level of partying in a park where kids are playing bothers her, she said, but she wouldn’t want to see a heavy police presence. She says Parks Enforcement Officers come through sometimes to keep order, and one officer comes on a little strong. “These are men. It’s their park. You’ve got to talk to them like men,” she said. “It’s not what [the officer] says that’s wrong. He’s just got to learn how to say it.”
|Calendar Year||83rd Precinct||Citywide|
Lock your doors. Still.
Garcia acknowledges that the changes in Bushwick are interwoven. The decrease in crime is a large reason why there’s a rising population of young Whites, some of whom are good neighbors. “Certain things are good. The drug dealing is pretty much gone. The big groups hanging out in front of houses, that doesn’t happen anymore,” he says.
Crime has not vanished from Bushwick. So far this year, grand larceny is up 10 percent and auto thefts have jumped 51 percent over the same period in 2018. The number of petit larcenies has increased in each of the past four years; last year, the neighborhood saw its highest number in this century.
Barnes, who sits on the 83rd precinct Council, says some of those thefts reflect cultural change in the neighborhood: He and others believe that newcomers to the city have brought with them a suburban habit of not locking their doors. Community Board 4 district manager Celestine Leon says some of the victims put their keys under the doormat, Mayberry style.
“It’s still New York City,” Barnes laughs. “Lock your doors!”
|Calendar Year||311 calls from Brooklyn Community Board 4 (Bushwick)|