By Tobias Salinger
From City Limits, Reporting from CityLimits.org
As he washed his minivan before a Saturday shift as a delivery driver at a Bushwick pizza joint, Jermaine Bishop said crime remains a problem in his neighborhood.
“You can just be going about your normal life and get involved in something you didn’t even know about,” said Bishop, 26. The lifelong Linden Street resident pointed to the corner of Bushwick Avenue and said there had been a shooting during the daytime there recently.
Bishop’s block is one of 34 the local precinct is encouraging to fight crime by forming block associations. Residents, advocates and local officials say neighborhood organizations clean up the community and increase collaboration.
“We like to have as many as possible,” said Natalie Robinson, public affairs officer for Bushwick’s 83rd Precinct. “They have the block associations and we work hand in hand.”
Robinson spoke after a community council meeting on Tuesday in which Deputy Inspector Anthony Tasso, the head of the precinct, reported that crime in the neighborhood is down 14 percent this year. Such figures are points of pride to locals who have seen crimes reported in NYPD’s Compstat fall by 69 percent in the last two decades.
“As a resident, I have noticed the change,” said Martha Brown, the vice chair of Community Board 4. “Back in the day, we had the drug spots. I knew where they were. Most of them are gone now.”
Her remarks drew applause at the meeting where a couple dozen community members huddled in the crowded break room of the precinct and munched on free tamales from a local restaurant. Inspector Tasso asked attendees to stay in contact with the precinct to help catch lawbreakers.
“The more eyes and ears we have in the community, and the more information we get, the more we can go after them,” he said.
A map of 36 current block associations in Bushwick listed by the community board and the 34 additional ones the precinct is hoping for demonstrate that the neighborhood associations often known for planting gardens and organizing parties proliferate in the section of the neighborhood east of Myrtle Avenue and close to the Bed-Stuy border.
Community Board 4 District Manager Nadine Whitted had attributed the push for more block associations to “quality of life complaints, shootings, homicides and stabbings” on the blocks lacking them at the March 20 meeting. But officials at the precinct would not confirm the blocks were high-crime areas.
The office of the deputy commissioner for public information at NYPD did not respond to requests for comment.
Residents on several of the blocks listed also differ with one another about whether their neighborhoods have too much crime. Louise Trapp, a housekeeper who has lived on Linden Street between Knickerbocker and Irving Avenues for more than 40 years, is often surprised when people consider her street a rough area.
“To be frank, Linden Street they say has a high drug problem,” said Trapp. “For me, I don’t see it.”
Over on Piling Street, Blanche Romey talked about problems like the sound of motorcycles revving and not enough streetlights around an old-age home. The resident of 30 years is active at nearby St. Thomas Episcopal Church and she keeps the precinct apprised of any suspicious activity.
“I speak with the commanding officers every other day,” said Romey, 73, in a garden residents planted in a vacant lot not far from her house.
Advocates seek out people like Romey to help stamp out problems in the neighborhood. Saleen Shah of the Citizens Committee for New York City, a nonprofit which funds local programing in low-income communities, says block associations are a great place to look for people with “concentric circles” of influence.
“We’re trying to find neighborhood leaders to be these organizers,” said Shah in a phone interview. “They’ve been organizers but they don’t know that they have been.”
Shah noted that his organization awards grants of between $500 and $3,000 to organizations like block associations for activities like neighborhood beautification, tenant rights and crime prevention.
“It’s residents knowing what’s best for their community and then putting together programs to address it,” he said.
Romey supports a neighbor’s plan to start a block association for their street, one of those the precinct is encouraging to form one. She said community efforts make her proud of where she lives.
“I love my block,” said Romey. “I love the people on it. We work together.”