With two recent arrests, the police are starting to make a dent in the Upper East Side’s latest crime pattern: the theft of wallets and purses from baby strollers, taken while the moms are otherwise distracted by their high-maintenance tots, shopping or even, on occasion, by doting passers-by-who are in fact accomplices to the thieving crooks.
On March 21, a mother was robbed after she parked her stroller outside a store on East 87th Street and Third Avenue. A 38-year-old female stole the mom’s pocketbook from a catch-all underneath her child’s carriage. The victim, who spotted the crime in progress, struggled with her assailant, grabbing her purse back and injuring her wrist and hand in the process. The perp tried to regain possession of the property before fleeing, with a crowd of Good Samaritans in hot pursuit.
The commotion attracted the attention of Police Officer Christopher Paul, a rookie cop with an impressive five arrests (including this one) to his credit in just the last few months. Officer Paul joined the chase and, with the help of the outraged citizenry, stopped and arrested the thief.
In another incident on March 25, a mom’s wallet was stolen while she and her tot were shopping at a Victoria’s Secret store downtown. The thief, identified as female, then sauntered over to Bloomingdale’s, where she attempted to use the mom’s credit cards, according to the police. “They knew her from past arrests,” said James Rogers, the commanding officer of the 19th Precinct, referring to Bloomingdale’s’ security. “She had a rap sheet and a half.
“She goes into the hole,” Inspector Rogers continued, using police parlance for the subway, “and there’s the credit cards.” The perp had unsuccessfully tried to get rid of the incriminating plastic by discarding them, but after the police recovered the cards, they were traced back to the stroller incident.
“There’s more strollers out there than cabs,” Inspector Rogers explained. “More people are targeting them. They’re a haven for unattended property.”
The crime pattern includes 18 incidents this year alone, most of them in the 19th Precinct. Among the stores where stroller crimes have occurred: a Gristede’s supermarket; the Little Eric children’s clothing store at 1118 Madison Avenue; Barnes and Noble at 86th Street and Third Avenue; the Children’s Place store at 173 East 86th Street; and-appropriately if somewhat irreverently-a shop on Third Avenue between 81st and 82nd streets called Motherhood.
According to Police Officer Maria Ayala, the 19th Precinct’s crime-prevention officer, most of the thieves are women. “Women are relaxed around other women,” she said, adding that at the stores that have been targeted, men would immediately arouse suspicion, whereas women don’t. Officer Ayala said that while many of the crimes occur after the mothers leave the strollers unattended, sometimes the crooks work in pairs, creating the sort of distraction that baby-boomer and Gen-X moms have trouble resisting.
“The perp is with other persons,” explained Officer Ayala. “They start talking to the victim, telling them how cute their baby is,” while their accomplice is stealing their purse. “It creates a diversion.”
To avoid becoming a victim of stroller crime, the 19th Precinct suggests that you should never leave your wallet in your stroller’s diaper bag; minimize the number of credit cards you carry when you’re out with your kid; and alert store personnel to suspicious-looking people. And despite the temptation to be polite, officers advise you to be skeptical of strangers who coo over your baby.
The 19th Precinct has actually made use of a decoy stroller along with a decoy baby doll that Inspector Rogers claims looks surprisingly lifelike. The problem is that the stroller isn’t up to the East Side’s tony, $900 Maclaren standards. “We need a stroller that fits in,” said the inspector. “A Bugaboo or something.” He added, “We’re in the process of trying to upgrade.”
That graffiti artists have little respect for public property is hardly news. But a recent work emblazoned on the façade of the Epiphany Church, 1393 York Avenue, between 5 and 5:55 p.m. on March 31 proved to be an even greater challenge to the loosening boundaries of acceptable public discourse.
This wasn’t some lowlife graffiti artist’s signature “tag” or a political statement (though some cynics would argue it was)-rather, it was a depiction of what the Epiphany Church’s minister described to the police as “the male genitalia.” The 65-year-old cleric had tried his best to remove the offending illustration, which had been spray-painted on the façade of the house of worship. It was only when soap and elbow grease failed that he summoned the NYPD.
A police captain arrived on the scene and, while undoubtedly commiserating with the minister’s housekeeping plight, deemed the incident “non-bias-related.” A canvass of the area for the graffiti artist had negative results. The investigation is continuing.