A New Pattern of Crime

An attack on an Upper West Side resident spotlights robberies by groups of young teens that have become an issue throughout Manhattan

03 Dec 2019 | 10:25

Robberies have been on the rise this year on the Upper West Side, and police are now dealing with a common culprit for these crimes: groups of young teens.

Deputy Inspector Timothy Malin of the New York Police Department’s 20th precinct said it’s a recent phenomenon that’s become an issue in neighborhoods all over Manhattan.

“I don’t know specifically what is driving it,” Malin said in an interview this week. In the 20th precinct, groups of up to 10 teenagers, typically ages 13 to 16, will gang up on another teen and take their electronics. These incidents have typically occurred after school or in the early evening hours between 6 and 8 p.m.

“It’s packs of kids,” Malin said. “They'll surround other kids with their phone and then take it.”

This pattern of crime has received a lot of attention from neighborhood residents after several high-profile crimes took place on the UWS last month, including two violent robberies and a shooting at playground outside the Amsterdam houses.

"Say Sorry To My Friend"

Sam Vassallo, 51, who has lived on the Upper West Side for 30 years, was recently attacked by a group of teens on West End Ave.

Vassallo had left his building on Nov. 23 around 6:30 p.m. on Riverside Drive to get his car when he crossed paths with a group of six male teenagers, who police said were between the ages of 13 and 15. One of teens told Vassallo to “Say sorry to my friend,” which confused him. He was punched twice by two different teens.

“Out of nowhere, I got two punches,” Vassallo told the West Side Spirit. “One in my left ear, one in my right ear.”

Another teen pulled a knife with a blue handle out of his front pocket, according to Vassallo, before the group started to leave, heading south on West End Ave. Vassallo took out his phone and took pictures of the teenagers, but one of them returned and punched him again before finally retreating without taking anything from him.

“They did not ask for money. They did not take anything for me,” Vassallo said.

Vassallo called 911 and police were able to apprehend five of the six alleged attackers between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues. Vassallo was able to identify the suspects and police recovered the knife Vassallo described.

All five of the teens were released and the sixth, who had initiated the assault, has not been apprehended.

Key Issue in the Precinct

The physical pain from the incident has subsided, Vassallo said, but the psychological damage will be more lasting. He said he’s now more nervous walking around the neighborhood and is more aware of his surroundings.

“If I see any type of, you know, these teenagers walking towards me, I'm just gonna turn back, cross the street or enter a building,” he said. “I won’t trust them anymore.”

Vassallo, who came to New York from Malta in 1989, said the neighborhood feels more unsafe now than in past decades. He said these crimes seem to be accumulating and he said the city should step in to help.

For his part, Malin said he has been prioritizing juvenile robberies with his staff and that incidents have been limited since they’ve been identified as a key issue in the precinct.

“It's my number one focus right now in terms of my deployment strategy,” said Malin.

“If I see any type of, you know, these teenagers walking towards me, I'm just gonna turn back, cross the street or enter a building. I won’t trust them anymore.” Sam Vassello, victim of an attack on the UWS