Crime Blotter

Big Comeback For

Grand Theft Auto

There are certain dos and don’ts that one should observe when encountering an NYPD safety checkpoint-those security posts set up on streets across the city to nab ne’er-do-wells, from drunk drivers to potential terrorists. Perhaps first and foremost, you should take care not to back up at a high rate of speed when you discover yourself approaching the gauntlet, as one female did around 3 a.m. on April 1 at Madison Avenue and 64th Street. This maneuver is sure to give you away as someone who wants to avoid (probably with good reason) a conversation with a cop.

Sure enough, the police gave chase, pulled the 26-year-old woman over and discovered that the van she was driving had been stolen from Staten Island on March 20. She was arrested by Police Officer Donnell Warren and charged with criminal possession of stolen property, criminal possession of a controlled substance (she allegedly had drugs of some sort either on her person or in the car) and grand larceny.

In a similar incident at another checkpoint at 70th Street and First Avenue on March 30, Police Officer Michael Mazzili pulled over the driver of a livery cab who, he deduced, was intoxicated, judging by the motorist’s sorry driving skills. In the course of running the vehicle’s information through the NYPD’s computers, Officer Mazzili discovered that there was a story behind the car: It had been stolen approximately one hour earlier in Harlem, when the vehicle’s legitimate driver went into a store to get change for a $50 bill. “He left the car running, and the guy jumped in the front seat,” explained Inspector James Rogers, the 19th Precinct’s commanding officer. The perp was charged with D.W.I., grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property.

The arrests marked something of a moral victory for the 19th Precinct, which has recently experienced a spike in stolen-vehicle reports after months of relative somnolence on the part of car thieves. The Upper East Side reported five G.L.A.’s (grand larceny auto) last week, and seven the week before that.

“We’re finding a lot of the vehicles recovered in New Jersey,” said Inspector Rogers. The 19th Precinct’s commanding officer wasn’t sure what the thieves’ motivations are. “We’re finding them pretty much intact,” he observed. “In the beginning, the Audis were being stolen and their headlights removed. It’s a pretty big-ticket item.”

In an attempt to nip the trend in the bud, the police have printed flyers that begin: “Important Notice From the NYPD For All [fill in the blank] Owners.” The cops then comb the streets and, when they spot a vehicle popular with car thieves, attach the appropriate flyer. “We post it on top of the car,” explained Maria Ayala, the 19th Precinct’s crime-prevention officer. Cars that seem to have disappeared at an alarming pace during the month of March-not just in the 19th Precinct but citywide-include Hondas, Audi S4’s, Acura Integras and Toyota Camrys.

Among the NYPD’s suggestions for preventing car theft include parking in a well-lighted area, putting packages and valuables out of sight, not leaving your license, registration, insurance car or title in the car and, if you can afford to park in a garage, depositing the key with the attendant rather than, say, putting it in the ashtray or under the seat.

Art at the Carlyle

Speaking of precautions, if you plan to be away from your apartment for a long period of time-say, two years or so-it probably pays to place your valuables under lock and key, even if your address is as swank and ostensibly secure as the Carlyle hotel, at 35 East 76th Street.

This was undoubtedly the conclusion that one of the hotel’s residents reached on March 30, when she returned to her apartment at the Carlyle after a long absence and discovered that a painting (which she didn’t describe, but that she valued at half a million dollars) was missing from her bedroom closet.

When the cops responded to the scene, the victim, an Argentinean woman, told them that she’d left the country on business in November 2002-which certainly provided the thief with ample time to liberate the artwork at his or her leisure. The hotel’s housekeeping, mail-room and maintenance staff had access to the apartment, as well as an architect and a contractor.

As valuable as the property was, a police officer who responded to the scene said that the victim didn’t seem especially distraught, citing her surpassing wealth as a hedge against heartbreak. “Nothing upsets these people,” the cop observed, “unless their dog gets run over.”

Ralph Gardner Jr. can be reached at Crime Blotter