The 41st precinct has a new commanding officer, but the challenges facing law enforcement in Hunts Point and Longwood remain familiar.
Philip Rivera, 37, took over in September from Deputy Inspector Donald McHugh, who was transferred to NYPD’s counter-terrorism unit after leading the Longwood Avenue precinct since early in 2008. Rivera says a rise in robbery rates, prostitution and recent bad press are on his radar.
“We definitely have a challenge ahead of us,” said Rivera, noting that the precinct has experienced a spike of over 3% this year in the seven major crimes the NYPD uses to gauge crime rates: robbery, burglary, homicide, rape, felony assault, grand larceny and car theft.
“What seems to be jumping off the page is youth on youth robberies,” said the precinct’s new soft-spoken commander, adding that children as young as 13 are resorting to violence against their peers.
Robberies in Hunts Point and Longwood have jumped from 162 at this time last year to 203, a 25% increase. Rivera attributes the spike to young people stealing cell phones, iPods and other gadgets.
Rivera grew up in the Marble Hill section of the Bronx, the son of an NYPD lieutenant. His first job as a police officer came in 1995 at the 46th precinct, which serves Fordham and University Heights. Later stints included a period at a Manhattan precinct, and two years as second-in-command at the 52nd precinct in the Norwood/Bedford Park section of the Bronx.
Rivera says he understands the issues in Hunts Point are unique, as reflected in his first conversation with Community Board 2′s new District Manager Rafael Salamanca in September.
“The first thing he said was ‘welcome,’ the second thing was, ‘we have to do something about the prostitution,’” Rivera recalled.
Many residents expressed their exasperation with the precinct’s ineffectiveness at rooting out prostitution at September’s Community Council meeting, where the public gets its chance to raise concerns with police officials once monthly. Officers routinely drive by locations where prostitutes and johns meet but take no action, some residents complained.
Rivera said he would see to it that the precinct’s efforts to take on prostitution would be “reinvigorated,” adding that “we will do undercover to target the johns.”
Rivera says the public perception of the precinct is important to him. He says he is aware of an article in the Village Voice in August, which revealed charges by an officer who said he had been pressured to hand out summonses to raise numbers for the precinct.
“We don’t enforce a quota, but if there are complaints, we address those concerns,” Rivera said.
“I know I have big shoes to fill,” he said of replacing the gregarious and well-liked McHugh. “I don’t want the community to think that there’s a dropoff.”