GREENWICH VILLAGE (PIX11)—In the wake of an unsolved sexual assault case in the West Village, both citizen and police patrols are encouraging the general public to be aware and take extra precautions to remain safe.
"We're seeing less cops," Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa told PIX11 News, regarding one reason why people have to be more vigilant. He pointed out that in 2002, the police force was 41,000 strong. "[Now] we're down to 35,000, and with about 1,500 being put on terrorism, and with attrition, the numbers are getting depleted by the day."
The Guardian Angels work with the local Christopher Street Patrol in the West Village as well as with the NYPD. Sliwa says the cops are doing all they can. Still, he says, he's just as impressed with the job that regular people are doing to protect themselves, and he wants to see more of it.
"The pervs come up [to women], and the women give them the beatdown," Sliwa said. "We've seen a whole host of those."
Women in the West Village who have spoken with PIX11 News say they use a variety of means to keep safe. "Walk in groups," Judith Lartigue said. Other women told PIX11 that they push the jagged edge of a key between their fingers in case they have to use it as a weapon. Another said she walks her dog in the street at night, rather than stay on the sidewalk near darkened doorways.
Despite these self-protective measures, Sliwa, 57, is concerned about a well-dressed man whose image has been captured on videotape leaving a building where he sexually assaulted a 23 year-old woman after she'd had a night out at the Standard Hotel on Wednesday of last week, according to cops, who are still searching for the suspect. Sliwa also points to an increase in sex crimes in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in Sunnyside, Queens and in the Washington Heights and Inwood neighborhoods of Manhattan.
The Guardian Angels have a West Village patrol. Its commander, Benjamin Garcia, took PIX11 on the street with them, while he talked about what potential sex crime victims can do to guard against becoming a statistic. He says it's okay to be suspicious, and to use keep a cellphone at the ready, even if you only suspect someone.
"Call 911, and tell them you're being followed," Garcia said. "Or no phone? Go in the grocery store, or any open business and tell them. Once you're in there, call the police."
Retired NYPD Commanding Detective Wally Zeins told PIX11 News that in the West Village, at least, police are doing all they can with the resources they have to try and catch the dapper attacker in the West Village, and to prevent more sex attacks.
"The Special Victims [Unit] has set up a specific patrol, [overnight] to be vigilant with these types of cases," Zeins said, noting that the most recent sex crime happened around 2:00 A.M. on Thursday of last week.
Detective Zeins, himself a former sex crimes detective, said that he's convinced that the police department is deploying all of its resources to nab the West Village suspect. Meanwhile, he said, it's always helpful to keep in mind just how much predators try to take advantage of people, especially women, when they are most vulnerable."They look for a target who's had too much to drink, might be staggering down the street, or can't find their keys," he said.