When Bruce Stark saw two teenagers break out into a fight, he knew he had to do something about it.
Stark—the owner of Beacon Paint and Hardware on Amsterdam Avenue between 77th and 78th Streets—had police on the site within minutes. “These people could be my customers, besides the fact that they are my neighbors,” he said.
Stark is part of the Westside Crime Prevention Program, a non-profit organization that works to keep the Upper West Side safe, notably through the Tamar Lynn Safe Haven Program, which designates volunteer stores as havens for neighborhood children to turn to if they ever feel threatened on the street.
Though it has primarily operated on the Upper West Side, this month, Safe Haven began efforts to expand its reach north of 110th Street. According to Marjorie Cohen, executive director of WCPP, they currently have 300 participating businesses from 59th to 110th. By the end of the school year, Safe Haven hopes to have 200 more businesses participating above 110th, and so far 25 have already signed on, she said.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said in a December press release, “Expanding the Westside Crime Prevention Program beyond the boundaries of the Upper West Side to include West and Central Harlem, Manhattanville, Morningside Heights and Hamilton Heights means more safe havens in more neighborhoods for our kids.” He added, “This program proves that when communities work together with local law enforcement officials, we can prevent crime and increase safety for our most vulnerable New Yorkers.”
Cohen said that she recognized a changing dynamic in the Harlem retail scene. With new stores entering the neighborhood, she saw an opportunity she didn’t want to miss.
“You have lots of new families moving in—a very vibrant type of feel,” Cohen said, adding that there are so many new merchants entering the neighborhood, and because many are mom-and-pop independents, it made sense to make the services available north of 110th.
Police support has also played an important role in bringing the services to upper Manhattan, she said, adding, “The precincts are very interested in doing anything that prevents crime.”
James Harper, community affairs officer for the 26th Precinct on 126th Street, said that there already have been reductions in crime in recent years, and a localized effort such as Safe Haven can only contribute to this trend. “Crime has gone down across the board. This fact is beneficial to both kids and adults. It’s a collaborative effort, and I think anything helps,” he said.
Cohen said that this kind of teamwork is what first got the program on its feet in the 1980s at P.S. 75 on 97th Street. She said, “The parents were worried about muggings. It was kind of a fact of life here. They were worried about their kids going to and from school.”
Part of the growing success, she said, is that the process to join is simple—with stores signing on and posting a yellow sticker that lets students know they are available. She said, “It’s very simple …
They sign up and say they are willing to help kids who are frightened or have trouble on the streets.”
And though it’s relatively easy to join, Harper said that this safety net does make a difference to neighborhood children. “Kids should feel like they are able to walk into a store and feel safe,” he said.