Changing of the Guard
At the 20th Precinct
Perhaps it’s not the precise equivalent of the defensive coordinator on a Super Bowl team getting picked to become head coach somewhere else, but Capt. James Murtagh, the second-in-command at the 19th Precinct, was recently selected to become the commanding officer at the 20th Precinct on the Upper West Side.
“They told me the longer you’re the X.O. of the 19th,” the Captain said, referring to the position of executive officer, “the more experience to be a C.O. you get, because everything [in the 19th Precinct] is so much busier.”
He means busier than at most other precincts in the city-particularly the 20th, which stretches from the gilded co-ops of Central Park West to Riverside Drive, and from 59th to 86th streets. On a recent afternoon, that station house seemed positively somnambulant compared to the hectic pace at its sister precinct across the park.
Nonetheless, neither the demographics of the 20th, nor its crimes, look that much different from those on the Upper East Side. “Grand larcenies by far are No. 1,” Captain Murtagh said. “But the bulk of those grand larcenies are unattended property-handbags left in unattended shopping carts at supermarkets, or people setting their belongings down at Starbucks or Barnes & Noble.”
In standard NYPD fashion, the captain didn’t get much advance notice about his promotion. “I found out Friday, March 28,” he said, “and I was told to report Monday the 31st.”
Nonetheless, the upgrade didn’t come as a total surprise: He’d emerged with his ego intact from a couple of feared “Comstat” meetings (where senior officers are grilled on their crime-fighting strategies) before the department’s top brass down at 1 Police Plaza.
Off duty, Captain Murtagh may be best known for organizing the mother of all tailgate parties for his fellow cops at the 19th on opening day at Shea Stadium each year. He grew up in Jackson Heights, the eldest of three brothers.
“You definitely miss the people,” he said somewhat wistfully of his old command, though he was, no doubt, looking forward to the challenges of setting his own policies rather than carrying out the policies of others. “The cops that worked for you, the community council, the street fairs, the details, the parades.”
The 19th was well suited to a cop of Captain Murtagh’s boisterous energy level. On the Upper East Side, there seemed to be a demonstration or a parade almost every day. In the 20th Precinct, there’s only one parade a year-but it’s a good one. “The Thanksgiving parade,” Captain Murtagh said enthusiastically, as if ready to start setting up the bleachers although the event is still months away. And that’s only the half of it. “There’s also “blowing up the balloons the night before,” he added, though he meant providing the cops for the occasion rather than inflating Barney the dinosaur himself.
Shoplifters typically prefer to be invisible. But a couple of thieves tried a different approach when they visited the Herve Leger boutique at 744 Madison Avenue on May 5 at 10:45 a.m.
Rather than hide in the shadows, they tried to distract the staff through intimidation. And it seems to have worked. While one of the perps tried to discomfit a salesperson on the main floor, stating: “Do I make you feel uncomfortable?” and then, somewhat enigmatically: “Do you want me to get you a drink?”, the other bandit tried similar voodoo on an employee stationed on the store’s lower level.
Nobody saw them steal anything, but after the suspects left without making a purchase, the staff decided to take inventory and discovered that a long, black Herve Leger couture Calliope dress valued at $4,600 was missing. The thieves fled southbound on Madison Avenue.
It’s easy to be fooled into believing that bookstore clientele, if not the best of people, are at least somewhat virtuous because of the fact that they’re hanging out at a bookstore rather than, say, the pool hall down the street.
It’s just that sort of naïveté that makes customers at places like Barnes & Noble easy prey for pickpockets, who probably don’t know Charles Dickens from Dick Clark. On May 5, an East 87th Street resident told the police that as she was crouched in the coffee-table book department at the chain’s Lexington Avenue and East 86th Street store examining a photography book, she was approached by a man and a woman.
“The woman and her friend hovered near the area,” she told the cops. “Then the woman crouched next to me, in between my bag and me. At which point she took my wallet.”
The victim, 35, didn’t actually discover the theft until about 15 minutes later. When she realized that her wallet, containing $400 in cash, had disappeared, she called to cancel her credit cards and discovered that her new acquaintances had already made several purchases with them, though not for the classics; they apparently bought several hundred dollars worth of MetroCards.
If you feel like taking off for six months and can afford it, as one resident of the Carlyle Hotel did, God bless you. But don’t assume that your valuables are going to wait around until you get back.
After wintering in Florida, the victim, an 80-year-old woman, returned to her apartment at the luxurious East 76th Street hotel on May 3 to discover that her natural Russian full-length sable coat, valued at $20,000, was missing.
She told the police that she has a full-time housekeeper, though other hotel employees also had access to her apartment. People-at least those who can afford it-ordinarily put their furs in storage (apparently not just to protect them from moths, but also from maids), and this victim said that she normally does so as well, but that she didn’t have the chance this year. An NYPD evidence-collection team reported to the scene.
Ralph Gardner Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.