Crown Heights Gets a Modern-Day Watch Tower

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The New York Sun

In the aftermath of a series of violent assaults on members of the Jewish community in Crown Heights, the police department has deployed a piece of modern technology that is based on an age-old defense tactic: the watch tower.

The “sky tower,” as police call it, stands about 25 feet high on the corner of Carroll Street and Troy Avenue. A police officer sits behind tinted windows on a swivel chair inside the compartment, where he can monitor video feed from four cameras, and even the wind speed from a meter on the roof. This is the first time the police have used the tower for crime prevention. It was acquired earlier this summer and has been used at the West Indian Day parade and for security during President Bush’s visit to ground zero.

“It literally gives us the high ground from which to deter crime or to respond to crimes in progress,” the police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, said.

Police have also set up command center vans at two other spots in Crown Heights.

Not half a block from the tower, a group of young men assaulted a teenage boy on the night of Yom Kippur last Sunday. The boy, who neighbors identified as Mendel Chesney, 16, was walking on Carroll Street when he was hit in the head from behind by a fist or a rock. He blacked out for a few moments and woke to a group of between five and eight young men pummeling him, witnesses said. Two neighbors down the block ran to his aid, and chased three of the attackers into the arms of the police. Mr. Chesney had a laceration to his head that required three staples, a broken nose, and cuts and bruises, police and community members said. A witness heard one of the attackers call Mr. Chesney a “Jew.”

Police identified two of the boys arrested as Lensley Thomas, 16, and Jelani Thomas, 16. The boys live in two different houses on Sterling Place, about six blocks from where the attack took place. A 15-year-old boy was also arrested, but police withheld his name because of crime disclosure laws.

For many community members interviewed yesterday, the attack was indicative of a rise in crimes in the 71st precinct. Comparing the same period this year with last year, crime is down in every category except grand larcenies. Murders have increased from eight in 2001 to 14 in 2006.

“This was just one of many recent assaults in the neighborhood,” the City Council member for the area, Letitia James, said. “If you look at the numbers, it’s not a major spike, but it is an increase.”

Ms. James said she has been lobbying Commissioner Kelly for additional police officers in her district, including designating part of Crown Heights an “impact zone,” which would bring more foot patrols.

Several hundred members of the community rallied in front of Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters on Friday, calling on police to charge the three boys with hate crimes. For many in the chasidic Jewish community, which has lived for decades mixed with the West Indian community in the neighborhood, the recent attacks appear to have been disproportionately against chasidic Jews. In the last year an elderly woman was robbed, several teenagers were violently mugged, and home invasions have been more common, community members said.

A resident of Carroll Street, Yosi Henich, 41, said the tower made people in the neighborhood feel safer, but many were worried about what would happen when the Jewish High Holy Day season was over and the technological solutions were withdrawn.

“The last few days have been great,” he said, referring to the tower. “But, it’s just a show. They’re trying to calm us down.”

The New York Sun

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