A criminal responsible for 15 recent burglaries targeted the Guyanese community — because he knew members often have 18-karat gold jewelry. He was able to identify their homes because they had the country’s flag prominently displayed, according to the 105th Precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Joseph Courtesis.
“I know the flags symbolize something, Courtesis said, “but it also attracts thieves as well.”
That was just one interesting piece of news Courtesis shared at a Community Board 13 meeting on Monday, where he also talked about other prevalent crimes and how they could be prevented.
Grand larceny continues to be a problem and the precinct divides these thefts of $1,000 or more into four categories — car theft, possessions taken from a person, fraud and unattended — meaning items stolen while the owner is not around, such as a coat from a restaurant or a wallet from a gym locker.
Of these, the latter two are the most difficult to tackle, according to Courtesis. The precinct is up 86 percent this year in grand larceny by fraud, which cannot be addressed merely by deploying more officers, Courtesis said, so he tries to combat it by educating the community.
As for fraud, many people are complaining that they have been finding charges on their credit cards for purchases that they did not make. Criminals are using “skimmer scanners” — a device with a camera placed near the insert slot of an ATM that can clone debit card information including PIN numbers, Courtesis said.
Last December officers discovered skimmers at a Capital One bank on 243rd Street in Rosedale and one at a Dime bank on the northern end of Union Turnpike, which are 13 miles apart from each other.
Courtesis sent his crime prevention officer to the two banks and requested a list of all the people who might have used the ATMs during that time period, called them, and let them know that their information may have been compromised. He recommended that they change their PIN number, but does not know who heeded his advice.
“We’re forced to change our security codes [at the precinct] once a month — forced. I have to change it,” Courtesis explained. “And it’s a good policy that you might want to get involved in because you never know if you have been at a machine that has had a skimmer device on it. It’s just an easy way to protect yourself.”
In order to combat unattended felonies Courtesis said he sometimes goes to gyms and hands out locks to get the patrons to secure their belongings while they are exercising. He said there are criminals who specifically seek to steal unattended items, and they know where there are easy targets.
“Ladies, the department store — the shoe section — where are you leaving your pocketbook when you’re trying on those shoes?” Courtesis asked. “You’re putting it down. You’re bending over. You’re trying on the shoes. You’re looking in the mirror, seeing how good you look and somebody is sifting through your pocketbook, while you’re doing that.”
The precinct has also experienced an increase in gun violence this year with a total of eight people being shot in six different unrelated incidents.
“It’s not like retaliation and we got some crazy war going on. They all seem to have their own little motive that is exclusive to themselves and we have some good leads on them. We have already got one of them closed out with an arrest.”
Another problem lately at the 105, 107, and 111 precincts has been car break-ins around daycare centers in the early morning hours. Mothers are dropping off their children and leaving their purses on the seat of the car and they are being stolen. There have been several of these incidents near the Cambria Center for the Gifted on Linden Boulevard and 234th Street and at a daycare center on Hillside Avenue and 208th street.
“This is a trend that’s developing,” Courtesis said. “We are aware of it. We have done a few ‘lucky bag operations’ where we leave pocketbooks in a car and we try to bait the car and bait somebody and get them to bite.”
Also, many residents have had their tires and rims stolen. They are waking up in the morning to find their cars resting on four cinder blocks. The vehicles that are being targeted, according to Courtesis, are the Honda Accord, Infinity, Acura and Maxima models made no earlier than 2009.
“There is a market for it,” Courtesis said. “We have identified some of the players in this ring. We put a lot of pressure on them. We did a lot of covert work and it kind of went away a little bit. I don’t know if it really went away or if it just became someone else’s problem. Now all of a sudden — last week — we took five [complaints] in a week.”