In House of Ill Repute
Is it still a “home-invasion robbery,” in police parlance, if the home in question is a “prostitution location” (as the cops also call it)? That’s the conundrum the police seemed to face on Jan. 25 after responding to an East 85th Street address between Second and Third avenues (come to think of it, much of that block has traditionally been a prostitution location) around 5 p.m.
Upon their arrival, the victim-a 38-year-old Asian woman-informed the cops that a Hispanic male, who she said was unknown to her, had knocked on the door of her second-floor apartment a short while earlier.
When she opened the door, the man placed a large knife to her chest, causing a small laceration, and pushed her into the bedroom. He then instructed her to lie face-down on the bed and demanded money. The victim stated that she gave him $128.
Her assailant then produced a revolver, she continued, tied her hands behind her back, and removed her pants and undergarments. Fortunately, the victim displayed impressive pluck: Believing she was about to be sexually assaulted, she told the cops, she kicked the suspect and fled into the street (presumably unbinding her hands and picking up her pants on the way out), where she placed the call to 911 that sent the police to her rescue. She also reported that she thought the perp was still in her apartment.
When the NYPD arrived, they searched the entire building as well as the immediate neighborhood. The Emergency Service Unit also responded and performed what was described as a “tactical entry” into the apartment. Unfortunately, they failed to find the perp.
The woman, who received a bruise to her throat as well as the small laceration to her chest, received medical attention at the scene. When questioned, according to the police, she told them that “the suspect was not a client, that she was not expecting anyone, and that no sexual activity took place prior to the incident.”
The police recommended a follow-up visit by both the 19th Precinct detective squad and the NYPD’s Vice Enforcement unit.
The Disappearance of Svetlana Aronov
When a reporter asked a seasoned detective at the 19th Precinct whether he had anything new on Svetlana Aronov, the 44-year-old mother of two who vanished mysteriously from the Upper East Side on March 3, the cop answered, “No, have you seen her?”
The officer was being only partly facetious. A week after the blond-haired Russian woman disappeared while walking her dog on York Avenue and 68th Street, the NYPD is apparently out of leads for the moment. “They’re covering every base, every tip that comes in,” said the detective, adding that he and his colleagues are retracing their steps to see if there are any clues they may have missed. According to the detective, the cops believe it unlikely that Ms. Aronov’s disappearance is linked to romantic intrigue. A lawyer with whom she’s been having an affair was questioned, but police believe he had no connection to her disappearance. Nor do they believe her disappearance is related to financial problems or improprieties.
What mystifies them most is that not only Ms. Aronov but also her dog Bim, a cocker spaniel, vanished. “If someone’s going to whack her, are they going to whack the dog, too?” wondered a police officer familiar with the case. “It’s weird that the dog was just not left.”
Ironically, the police believe that Bim may offer their best chance of generating new leads and finding Ms. Aronov. The case’s wanted poster includes pictures of both Ms. Aronov, an attractive brown-eyed woman, and her father’s cocker spaniel. “Everyone is inquiring about the dog,” said the detective. “If you put the dog on the front of the newspaper, you get 150,000 calls about the dog. You know how people are around here.”
If you’ve noticed more cops around the city lately, and on the Upper East Side in particular, you’re not suffering from terrorism-stress syndrome. There are, indeed, more police on the street. And it has nothing to do with fighting terrorism. It’s part of “Operation Impact,” the Bloomberg administration’s strategy for cutting crime by deploying extra cops in high-crime areas.
One might not instantly think of the area from 77th to 90th Street and from Lexington to First avenues, where 84 rookie police officers were deployed on Jan. 27, as the Wild West. But it has the highest concentration of crime in the 19th Precinct.
The cops were especially welcome because the Upper East Side has seen its force decline from a high of approximately 300 police officers several years ago to approximately 180 cops today.
“They’re designated to go where the majority of the crimes are occurring,” explained Capt. James Murtagh, the 19th Precinct’s executive officer. And they seem to be having the desired effect, according to the captain. “Index Crimes”-the seven major crime categories tracked by the FBI: murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, grand larceny, burglary and grand larceny auto-have fallen 23 percent from the same period a year ago in that area since the new cops came on board.
Capt. Murtagh believes that the cops’ presence may also help to deter another major category of urban crime, one that’s not followed by the F.B.I.: unattended-property crime. That’s when someone’s pocketbook, for example, gets stolen off the back of her chair while she’s dining at a restaurant.
Barnes & Noble and Starbucks seem to be magnets for this sort of crime, Capt. Murtagh explained. “A person will bury his head in The New York Times ; all of a sudden, they believe they’re in their living room.”
While the increased police presence may be preventing a good deal of unattended-property crime, it certainly hasn’t put an end to this age-old form of robbery, as a Feb. 20 incident in the Starbucks at 1445 First Avenue indicates. The victim, an East 81st Street resident, left his computer-a $2,000 Dell laptop-unattended when he went off to the bathroom.
When he returned, it was gone. A witness said he observed the thief take the property and depart. The perp was described as a bald, 40-year-old white male standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 180 pounds.
Ralph Gardner Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.