Rift Between Police and Residents as Killings Persist in South Bronx


After the bullet shells get counted, the blood dries and the votive candles burn out, people peer down from housing-project windows and see crime scenes gone cold: a band of yellow police tape blowing in the breeze.

The South Bronx, just across the Harlem River from Manhattan and once shorthand for urban dysfunction, still suffers violence at levels long ago slashed in many other parts of New York City. And yet the city’s efforts to fight it remain splintered, underfunded and burdened by scandal.

In the 40th Precinct, at the southern tip of the Bronx, as in other poor, minority neighborhoods across the country, people long hounded for small-time infractions are crying out for more protection against grievous injury or death. By September, four of every five shootings in the precinct this year were unsolved.

Out of the city’s 77 precincts, the 40th has the highest murder rate but the fewest detectives per violent crime, reflecting disparities in staffing that hit hardest in some neighborhoods outside Manhattan, according to a New York Times analysis of Police Department data. Investigators in the precinct are saddled with twice the number of cases the department recommends, even as their bosses are called to Police Headquarters to answer for the sharpest crime rise in the city this year.

And across the Bronx, investigative resources are squeezed. It has the highest violent-crime rate of the city’s five boroughs but the thinnest detective staffing. Nine of the 14 lowest-staffed precinct detective squads for violent crime in the city are there. The borough’s robbery squad is smaller than Manhattan’s, even though the Bronx has had 1,300 more cases this year. And its homicide squad has one detective for every four murders, compared with one detective for roughly every two murders in Upper Manhattan and more than one detective per murder in Lower Manhattan.

In housing-project lobbies and three-generation family apartments, outside methadone clinics and art studios, people take note of the inequity. They hear police commanders explain that they lack the resources to place a floodlight on a dangerous block or to post officers at a bullet-ridden corner. They watch witnesses cower behind triple-locked doors, more fearful of a gunman’s crew than confident in the Police Department’s ability to protect them. So though people see a lot, they rarely testify.

And in the South Bronx, as in so many predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods like it in the United States, the contract between the police and the community is in tatters. Some people have stories of crime reports that were ignored, or 911 calls that went unanswered for hours. Others tell of a 911 call for help ending in the caller’s arrest, or of a minor charge leading to 12 hours in a fetid holding cell.

This is the paradox of policing in the 40th Precinct. Its neighborhoods have historically been prime targets for aggressive tactics, like stop-and-frisk, that are designed to ward off disorder. But precinct detectives there have less time than anywhere else in the city to answer for the blood spilled in violent crimes.

Gola White, who was beside her daughter when she was shot and killed in a playground this summer, four years after her son was gunned down in the same housing project, ticked off the public safety resources that she said were scant in Bronx neighborhoods like hers: security cameras, lights, locks, investigating police officers.

“Here, we have nothing,” she said. When it comes to “low-poverty families,” she said, the authorities “don’t really care as much. That’s how I feel.”

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Source: The New York Times | BENJAMIN MUELLER and AL BAKER