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Robberies reported in Morrisania

By Shlomo Sprung

Two months ago, 41-year-old Morrisania resident Rosanna Ortega walked down Prospect Ave. to the Pay-O-Matic financial services store to cash a check. Almost immediately after she walked outside into the Bronx night, she said, two men walked beside her and one came behind her and asked her for some change.  The muggers likely thought she was reaching for change.

“I went into my pocket and pulled out my box cutter and my pepper spray,” Ortega said. “At night around here, you can’t come outside without people wanting to take your money.”
Ortega is not exaggerating. In the 42nd NYPD Precinct, 10 robberies occurred in just a one-week period between Jan. 10 and Jan. 17, according to police CompStat figures. While some local residents and store owners say they now feel safer than they did even a few years ago, others like Ortega are fearful to walk the streets without some sort of protection.

Rosanna Ortega, 41, wants police to make Morrisania streets safer.

Some Morrisania residents are too afraid to even shop for basic needs. Ortega said her 69-year-old father, for example, is too scared to shop at local stores anymore, fearing what he believes, according to Ortega, as aggressive and sometimes violent youngsters who appear to be under the influence of drugs.

“Crack-heads and drug fiends like to harass old people and ask for their money,” Ortega said.

The robberies in Morrisania don’t seem to be confined to the streets, stores and delis, however. Ortega was with her 13-year-old niece Tamyra Chappel when she had her iPod stolen just two weeks ago while waiting on the elevated subway platform for the No. 2 train on Prospect and Westchester Avenues in the middle of the day.

Chappel said she was caught by surprise. “You know, how you’re listening to loud music and you’re in your own little world,” she said. Suddenly these two girls came up to her, she said, and asked for her iPod. One of the girls had a hand in her jacket pocket like she was armed. “Then they just snatched it and ran,” Chappel said.

“There definitely has to be more police around here,” her aunt added. “I want this neighborhood to be better than it is now.”

Shop keepers are on guard too. One store manager, 38-year-old Mohammed Ali of Super 3 King Deli on 3rd Ave. and 162nd St, has not had any robberies at his 24-hour store, but he is worried one will happen because of the lack of police presence on his block.

“We need police around outside all the time to watch out for people,” Ali said. “I don’t think there are enough police in this precinct.”

Calls to the 42nd precinct for comment and requests via email and phone to police headquarters for more information about the investigation went unanswered at press time.

Not everyone in the neighborhood is worried, however. Sacher Lalharbi, 23, manages the 3rd Gourmet Deli on 3rd Avenue and 163rd Street, which closes every night at 11. As a result, he is not concerned about robberies at his own store, but the deli-owner did acknowledge. that groups of people walking the streets of Morrisania late at night stirred fears among residents.

“The crowd that comes in late at night makes the difference,” he said. “You always get a feeling that people in packs act more aggressive late at night. You could tell by their demeanor.”

Yet, Lalharbi said he believes the police presence is a lot greater than it used to be and he feels safe in the neighborhood. Another plus for Lalharbi: his deli is only a few blocks away from the 42nd police precinct. The 42nd Precinct is on a three-sided corner that connects 3rd and Washington Avenues at 159th Sreet.

But many businesses in the neighborhood, like the Dunkin’ Donuts down the block from Lalharbi’s deli, are not taking any chances. Two years ago, the Dunkin’ Donuts was robbed, according to Manager Tahmina Aktar. Since, the actual storefront closes at 10 each night and opts to sell donuts and coffees after that from a late night window facing 163rd Street. The window looks like a booth where movie tickets are sold. Orders are only taken from that window after 10 p. m. to prevent robberies from occurring again. So far it has worked.

Despite the latest string of robberies in early January, things may actually be improving on the streets of Morrisania. A week later, from Jan 17 to the 23rd, only two robberies took place and there was even one less robbery so far in 2011 than there was at this time last year.

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