Stationed at the intersection at W. 44th Street and 7th Avenue in Times Square, Natalie Rose, 23, said she witnesses crimes everyday.
“I see people go inside Sephora and try to bust stuff,” she said, holding a Subway sandwich shop sign designed to attract tourists.
Rose is not alone in her observation. Several New Yorkers working in the southern section of Times Square said they believe criminals take advantage of the area’s crowds and large tourist presence.
Though Melisa Bassett, 26, works as a promoter in many parts of the city, she said she is in Times Square a lot and believes theft is probably the most common crime in the area. “I see a lot of people take advantage of tourists,” she said. “They will sell CDs and say they’re going to give change to tourists but then they don’t,” Bassett explained.
In addition to direct theft as witnessed by Rose, the CD cons Bassett described may be considered acts of larceny, by withholding the agreed-upon change as a form of property. In New York State, petit larceny is the theft of any property where grand larceny is a more severe case of property theft. A person is guilty of the minimum grand larceny in the fourth degree when the property stolen is above $1,000 or consists of a debit or credit card. The designation also applies to theft of certain sensitive items, regardless of value, such as chemicals or religious articles. While grand larceny can vary from a class E felony with a maximum sentence of 1.5 years to a class B felony with a maximum sentence of nine years, petit larceny is a class A misdemeanor.
Though crime in Times Square has decreased in the last two decades, the area still sees a high number of complaints of larceny compared to neighboring districts. The south section of Times Square where Rose and Bassett work, between 8th and 6th Avenues and from W. 43rd to W. 45th Streets, is part of the New York City Police Department’s Midtown Precinct South, or 14th Precinct, which largely encompasses commercial and entertainment buildings.
From 1990 to 2010, the number of reported complaints of grand larceny in the precinct decreased by 82.5 percent, from 13,326 to 2,327. As of April 3, there have only been 527 reported complaints of grand larceny, down by 43 since the same time last year, and 1,185 reported complaints of petit larceny, down by 47 since last year. While larceny in the 14th Precinct has been decreasing, other areas still see fewer complaints. Though the 18th Precinct includes the northern section of Times Square above W. 45th Street, there were only 1,806 reported cases of grand larceny in 2010, and a total of both 861 cases of petit and grand larceny as of April 3. Club promoter J.R. Perez, 26, said he believed the 14th Precinct might see more complaints of larceny because of what he called “tourist crime” resulting from the high number of tourists in the area.
Even on a rainy afternoon in the middle of the week, hundreds of pedestrians—many of which are tourists—swarm the streets beneath the area’s bright, flashing lights. On a Wednesday last winter, a count by Philip Habib & Associates recorded 619,768 pedestrians in certain areas of Times Square within the 14th Precinct from 8:30-1 a.m.
“There’s a lot of people getting ripped off,” Perez said. Though he said there’s a lot of property theft, Perez added that he sees fewer crimes of a more serious nature.
Since 1990, the number of complaints of felony assault and rape in the precinct decreased by 83.7 percent and 58.5 percent, respectively. This reporter made several inquiries to police in the area to explain the overall decrease in crime and high prevalence of larceny complaints, but officers said they are barred from speaking to press in uniform.
However, Perez said he believes the decrease is probably due to New York’s finest.
The high number of officers between W. 44th and 43rd Streets on 7th Avenue demonstrated his theory. In addition to 12 officers, there were seven police cars and one police van on one block in Times Square.
“There’s a cop like every five seconds,” Perez said, laughing. “That usually turns people off.”