The commanding officer of the 49th Precinct and the dedicated officers who patrol the streets are taking a two-pronged approach to fighting youth crime in Van Nest.
After a spike in the category, including burglary by juveniles between the ages of 11 and 17, officers from the precinct are out in force aggressively policing the area. This has lead to a 27% increase when compared to 2010 in crimes in and around the “presidential streets” of Van Nest.
However, Captain Kevin Nicholson is also taking the time to meet with parents and address issues like young children being out past 11 p.m. at night. His most recent effort was to bring Youth, Crime Prevention, Community Affairs and Conditions officers to a “meet and greet” with parents and adolescents on the evening of Friday, January 21 at St. Dominic School. The Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance in particular, as well as the Van Nest Community Association, helped organize the meeting.
“There has been a rise in youth-related crimes down in the Van Nest area, and it something that is concerning and alarming me,” Nicholson told the crowd of about 30 people. “So, I was hoping that I could try to address parents about what I see during my time in the Van Nest area.”
Nicholson patrols the community three to four hours a week and feels that both parents and young people need to take more responsibility for their actions. However, he also believes that the police should be engaging with youth using precinct’s resources, including its Explorers and kids and cops basketball program. They might also draw on community resources like the Morris Park Boxing Gym and possibly the Bronx River Arts Center, to engage youth and keep them occupied.
“If we could reach just one young person in this room, and turn them away from crime, I would be happy,” Nicholson said. “I would like to reach hundreds.”
The commanding officer has also released a “top ten” list of reasons not to commit a crime, designed for juveniles. The items on the list include things like serving time in jail, that a criminal conviction goes on your record for life, and disappointing family members. It also includes the fact that a criminal conviction could prevent a young person from graduating high school, getting a job, being accepted into college, joining the military, and voting.
Attendees at the meeting said that they were impressed with the aggressive stance the precinct has taken towards fighting crime in Van Nest.
“My main objective is to stabilize the neighborhood,” said VNNA member John Messenger. “If it is peaceful, everything else falls into place. If there is crime, there can be no peace.”
The increased responsiveness to the needs of the Van Nest community is something new,” Messenger said. “The young people need something to burn up all their excess energy. In Van Nest there are no youth centers, Police Athletic League, YMCA, Catholic Youth Organization, Y.M.C.A. or Boys Club, to the best of my knowledge.”
The precinct helped address quality-of-life concerns in the summer of 2010 related to youth crime that had been festering on her block for years, said VNNA member and attendee Joann Terralounge, and she thought the meeting was another step forward.