Midtown Manhattan crime surge leaves locals, landlords feeling uneasy: ‘The fear is real’

NEW YORK — The busy Midtown South precinct, home to Times Square and packed with hordes of tourists, shoppers and commuters on any given day in New York City, has seen substantial jumps in grand larceny, burglaries and robberies in the first 10 months of 2022.

The spike has alarmed locals, who fear a return to a scary world of rising crime and diminishing quality of life.

“We’re repeating the ‘80s,” said Eddie Hassan, a local deli worker who lives just south of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. “We could talk about it for days, but it’s the homeless and the drug dealers. ... After the pandemic, it definitely got worse. People are wilding out here.”

The numbers came as no surprise to Garment District building owner Steve Kaufman, whose family business dates back to the 1920s. He believes a reduction in police staffing helped embolden local miscreants while offering a less-than-welcoming landscape for out-of-towners.

“I live on the Upper West Side, and I see more cops on the street there,” said Kaufman. “(Tourists) see disorder in the streets. ... We need a police presence, and we don’t have it. Open drug use, a homeless encampment on W. 39th Street — it creates the feeling of an unsafe quality of life.”

The stretch of Midtown Manhattan is an exceptionally busy and high-profile one, with the precinct covering an assortment of commercial offices and hotels, Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station, Madison Square Garden, the Koreatown neighborhood and the Manhattan Mall Plaza.

Lifelong New Yorker George Rodriguez, 62, recounted some recent “face-offs in the street” with the drug addicts and homeless denizens of Hell’s Kitchen — but cited the mentally ill as the most daunting issue in 2022.

“The difference now from crime in the ‘70s and ‘80s is the randomness of it all,” said the management analyst. “Now you could be attacked walking down the street in broad daylight or pushed on the tracks on your way home from work. The fear is real.”

Local businesses routinely keep toothpaste, toiletries and deodorant under lock and key to keep the dispossessed from shoplifting, he said.

Kevin Ward, vice president for security with the 34th Street Partnership after more than three decades with the New York Police Department, agreed the crux of the problem remains the lack of police. According to the partnership, police staffing levels in Midtown South stood at 382 officers in 1994.

The current number stands at 256, according to data obtained by the Daily News — a decrease of more than 30%. And the most recent NYPD crime stats indicated a 66% hike in grand larcenies, a 55% rise in burglaries and a 49% jump in robberies.

“All I see getting off the A train is people shooting up dope,” said Rainy Whitley, 60, about the intersection of Eighth Avenue and W. 36th Street. “And it’s like the crack epidemic never stopped. ... They’re begging for your money, or they want to beat you up and take it.

“Of course crime is up.”

Ward echoed the local residents, noting the area’s major problems remain drugs and the mentally ill.

“We get a lot of calls and complaints from people,” he said. “Drug stores, with shoplifting running rampant. Open drug use and sales, unprovoked attacks. The perception is that it’s not safe, and the crime numbers support that.

”We need people looking into store windows, not looking over their shoulders.”

And Ward agreed the lack of rhyme or reason to many incidents was another factor in creating the unsafe atmosphere.

“The randomness is really unnerving,” he said. “And it really affects the psyche of the citizens.”

Both Ward and Kaufman, the landlord, cited some improvements under new Mayor Eric Adams and his Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, with each encouraging an increase in staffing as the key to turning things around.

Longtime neighborhood resident Joseph Marioni, 80, moved into his W. 37th Street loft 50 years ago. He watched as the area rebounded across the decades and bemoans the many local businesses lost during the pandemic.

“Crime is way up here,” said the renowned painter, who lives on a stretch of the West Side blocks between the sprawling bus terminal and Penn Station. These days, he said, the area is a “transient neighborhood” where the homeless gather and the tourists steer clear.

He now watches as people pick up drugs from a local methadone clinic and openly peddle them on the streets, noting the area is home to a large number of similar facilities.

“Dumping ground is the perfect word,” said Marioni. “They’ve condemned this neighborhood. It’s a homeless ghetto.”