Perceived crime spike in Clinton Hill leaves business owners shaken

June 11, 2019 Ariama Long
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Fulton Street merchants in Clinton Hill are reeling from a spate of burglaries and robberies in the past few weeks, and they say cops need to do more to protect them from what they perceive is a spike in crime.

Fed-up business owners raised concerns about break-ins and rowdy teens at the 88th Precinct’s Neighborhood Coordination Officers Build-the-Block meeting on June 5. The quarterly meetings are held throughout the year to give the community a chance to voice any police matters with which they are concerned.

Burglaries in the 88th Precinct — which covers all of Fort Greene and the Navy Yards, as well as the Clinton Hill stretch of Fulton — are up 29 percent this year, with 48 occurring between Jan. 1 and June 2, according to data from the NYPD. Nine of those were on Fulton Street. Robberies in the precinct are up even more significantly — 48 percent for the year — with 46 incidents so far in 2019. Six such incidents happened on Fulton Street.

Overall, major crimes are up more than 14 percent in the precinct, according to the data.

Restaurant owner Samantha Safer says cops need to ramp up patrols. Safer runs Otway, a chic American bistro that was burglarized multiple times, despite her security measures.

“This is the fourth time in three years, and there was an attempt on Monday so that would’ve been the fifth,” said Safer. “We do everything that they tell us to do and it doesn’t make a difference. They find another way in.”

Business owners also say they’re under siege from swarms of disorderly teens causing havoc on the shopping strip.

“Five or six kids come in and order food,” Subi Widdi, 40, who manages the local Key Food grocery store, told the Brooklyn Eagle. He held his hand below his shoulder to emphasize how young they were. “Two went towards the sodas and took two or three Snapples while the others got on line and made like they were going to pay. And then just walked out.”

Widdi and his family are originally from Palestine and have lived in Brooklyn for generations. His store gained local fame as the former workplace of a very young Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace — once a grocery bagger.

One teen ran, Widdi said, but the others fell a step behind. He went to speak with them. “I said, ‘Listen, if you’re hungry I’ll give it. I won’t go broke over a sandwich, but don’t try to disrespect me.”

Some store owners are reluctant to make official reports because of the teens’ ages, while others have repeatedly pleaded with the police to step up their current measures.

Widdi admitted he didn’t want to report the “bubble gum posse” that disrupted his store or to turn the video evidence over to police — even if cops describe them as an “unaffiliated gang” that could return.

At a new restaurant that opened up near the intersection of Clinton Avenue and Fulton Street three weeks ago, three teens taunted staff that asked them to leave. They then threw a traffic cone at a customer through an open window. The owner, who asked that his store not be identified, said that no one was hurt and it didn’t seem serious enough to report the adolescents.

Officers Teanesha Jackson and Kraig Klouda and Sgt. Christopher Miron of the 88th Precinct said during the meeting that in their specific sector — Classon Avenue to Clinton Avenue and Atlantic Avenue to Lafayette Avenue — there is no real increase in violent crime, but overall there are recurring and long-standing issues that need to be dealt with across the precinct.

There have been no murders in the last year and a half, but four shooting incidents over a four-month period are causing concern.

Another shooting took place nearby early Saturday morning, just outside the 88th Precinct. A 79-year-old woman was shot three times answering the door of her home on Putnam Avenue and Claver Place, which is adjacent to a corner where police have been having trouble, about a block off Fulton Street.

That location, Putnam and Classon avenues, sees recurring issues with prostitution and drugs — as well as complaints about excessive loitering on stoops, corners and under scaffolding.

Eagle photo by Ariama Long
Eagle photo by Ariama Long

The officers and the residents attributed much of the problem to the scaffolding and a large dumpster out in front of the building.

According to the officers, the combination of these two things creates cover to hide many of these activities from patrolling police.

Jackson and Klouda said they have put in requests for an official NYPD camera at Putnam and Classon avenues, but couldn’t say when it would be installed.

“As for the scaffolding,” said Miron, “we will follow up with the workers to get a better idea of how long it may be there. Until then, we will do our best to be vigilant of the issues there, as well as confer with the units assigned to patrol.”

The spike in violence has long-time merchant Widdi, of the Key Food, wondering about the direction of the neighborhood.

“Back in the day, I’d leave here with quarters to go play video games at the numbers spot around Classon Avenue,” Widdi said. “Everyone knew each other. It’s not the same now, with everyone in and out of the community. It’s got a new face but some of that, it’s still here.”

Ariama Long is a freelance multi-media journalist born and raised in Brooklyn.

Update (June 13 at 11:38 a.m.): The headline was updated to describe the crime spike as “perceived,” as it’s based on merchant’s complaints, including anecdotes for which they say they are not reporting incidents and so would not be reflected in NYPD data. We’ve also added information about the precinct’s overall crime statistics.

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