August 10, 2004

"He wanted the owner's full attention"

This is the strangest thing. I'm aware that crime is down, including in New York City. But apparently, crime is really down in NYC! Way way down! To the point where the cops are getting bored. Read this story, it will knock you out. (Or maybe everybody already knows this stuff except me.) Much of the credit apparently goes a computerized anti-crime system called Compstat, that forces police to take personal responsibility for crimes in their precinct, and do something about them:

...Sometimes, he [Capt. William Matusiak, commander of the Fifth Precinct, which includes Chinatown and Little Italy.] has to put a man somewhere, like one night in April, when he sent Nicky Lau to the Café Habana on Prince Street. The bartender handed a Corona to Mr. Lau, who set it on the bar without taking a sip and stepped outside. Mr. Lau, a police cadet in a precinct in Queens, is 18.

An unmarked sedan pulled up, and Lieutenant Fanale called the bartender outside to issue a summons.

Under-age-drinking operations are not unusual in a precinct stacked with bars, nightclubs and dives. But in this instance, Captain Matusiak was not particularly worried about teenagers drinking at Habana. He wanted the owner's full attention.

Here is the problem: The cafe gets crowded. Women hang purses on the backs of their chairs. In the cramped space, the purses are stolen. The women file police reports. The thefts are automatic grand larcenies whenever credit cards are taken. The grand larcenies are recorded in the week's Compstat tally, and if that list is too long, the precinct commander is called to 1 Police Plaza for a grilling and a scolding. Too many scoldings, and a precinct commander finds himself assigned someplace else.

A few days after Mr. Lau ordered his beer, the cafe's owner showed up at the station house and sat across the desk from Captain Matusiak. The owner was worried; the captain consoled him.

"Last night was, I'm sure, a one-shot deal," Captain Matusiak said before getting to the point: "You've got to help us out with the unattended property. We're getting killed at your place."

There has not been a purse reported stolen since...

Thanks to Gary Farber

* Update: Take a look at Lyle's comment: I have lived in NYC for thirty years. Everything you read is true. Before Giuliani, New Yorkers lived defensively. We took for granted a persistent undertone of menace...
... It still surprises me to see families and young women on trains late at night. My first thought is, "Don't they know..?" But of course they don't. That was another time and a different place...

Posted by John Weidner at August 10, 2004 5:35 PM
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