Leslie Lewis, longtime president of the 84th Precinct Community Council, remembers a time when Brooklyn Heights and nearby communities were not that safe.
He calls these the "crack times" of the ’80s and early ’90s, when thieves would not think twice about breaking windows and busting down doors to burglarize your home.
Back then, burglaries in Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill and DUMBO numbered in the thousands each years. Last year there were just 141 burglaries in those same neighborhoods.
However, the fact that the neighborhood has gone through a drastic change has brought a rise to a different kind of burglary – ones in which crooks don’t even need to break into houses or apartments because the door or window was left open.
“There were times where you couldn't even leave a raincoat on the seat of your car because somebody would break your window to go through the pockets,” Lewis said. “Today it has become a more affluent area, but it has led to people getting careless.”
Of the 141 burglaries in the neighborhoods policed by the 84th Precinct in 2012, 34 percent of them didn’t involve forced entry. That’s up from 26 percent in 2011. This does not involve only cases of new residents from Ohio moving here and thinking it’s a safe neighborhood, either. Thieves are tricky and have a number of ways they can burglarize your home.
“People go out to get the garbage, they stop to talk to a neighbor and while they’re out, they left their door unlocked, somebody walks into their house and grabs a laptop,” Lewis explained.
“People also forget to lock things like latches to the basement or to the roof, and maybe somebody is working up on the roof.”
Many times it can be somebody you wouldn't suspect. Often certain people become “second nature” in the neighborhood – so much so that people don’t even consider that they might be getting close enough to try to see whether a door is unlocked or a window was left open.
Many delivery people and contractors enter buildings to do a job. The great majority are honest, but it’s always possible that after one has finished dropping off your pizza, he might be checking to see whether your neighbor’s door was left unlocked.
“It’s human nature to think well of people,” said Judy Stanton, the executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association. “The idea is that you are in a safe building, you know your fellow residents, and the doorman isn’t going to steal from you. But someone coming in, we don’t know their purpose, if they are a contractor, a delivery person, they’re a stranger, they could be a thief.”
People also fall into the trap of thinking that since they have a doorman they are secure, but this isn’t necessarily the case. It might not seem like a bad idea to leave the door open for two minutes for a quick run to the store. But doormen take breaks, they run errands, they go home for the night, or they might be taking care of something in the basement.
People buzzing in visitors whom they don’t know is also another action that often leads to burglaries.
“I don’t know what the spirit is behind that,” Stanton wondered. “Maybe they think they’re helping a neighbor. But the person they let in might try a doorknob or might go up to the roof to gain access to the next building over.
"Brooklyn Heights [and the rest of the neighborhood policed by the 84th Precinct] is getting a reputation," Stanton warned. "People in the neighborhood feel so safe that they don't lock their doors behind them. It might be a safe neighborhood, but it is still New York City, whether your building is staffed or not, people need to be safe."