New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed that the city has deployed additional New York Police Department officers to Morningside Heights in a press conference held Thursday morning in response to the homicide of a Barnard student that occurred Wednesday night. Patrolling officers will remain in the community on an ongoing basis, according to the mayor’s press office.
Last night, Barnard first-year Tessa Majors was fatally stabbed during what police officers reported to be an attempted robbery by a group of one to three individuals. A Columbia security guard found Majors and called the police, but she was later pronounced dead at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s hospital. Majors was 18 at the time of her death.
The New York Police Department has recovered a knife but is still investigating if it is connected to the incident. At this time, no connections have been made between this incident and prior robberies in the neighborhood, said NYPD Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison. The investigation is still ongoing.
The Mayor’s office and NYPD officials spoke with Barnard President Sian Beilock and a security official at Columbia last night and he has deployed additional patrol officers to Morningside Heights, de Blasio said. According to announcements from administrators, Barnard and Columbia have both been in direct communication with the NYPD to keep community members updated on developments in the investigation.
The city has also sent mental health professionals to Columbia’s campus to assist students and faculty. Columbia remained unaware of the specifics regarding what mental health resources the city intended to provide at the time of the press conference. The University also did not have knowledge of details concerning NYPD and city decisions immediately following de Blasio’s announcement. Barnard could not be reached for comment.
“It's unbelievable that could happen here next to one of our great college campuses—it’s an unacceptable reality,” de Blasio said in the press conference.
Harrison said the NYPD is aware of the issues surrounding Morningside Park and the department will update its strategies to ensure safety in the area by expanding on the already existing patrols done by off-the-clock sector cars and neighborhood coronation officers.
“Going forward, we are going to capitalize and make sure all of our resources are plugged into Morningside Heights, including our strategic response groups. We’re going to use different types of logistics like light towers, and we’re going to continue working with the community,” Harrison said.
According to New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, 2,000 additional patrol officers have been added across New York City over the last several years. Despite the increased presence, the major crime rate in Morningside Park has increased by about 50 percent in the first nine months of 2019 relative to 2018 statistics, according to the NYPD website. Between January and September, Morningside Park has seen 11 robberies as well as several incidents of felony assault, burglary, and grand larceny.
Shea said he is confident the perpetrators will be prosecuted.
Separately, Columbia Public Safety announced Thursday afternoon that the office has also enhanced public safety presence along Morningside Drive with additional foot and vehicle patrols. In its statement, the office encouraged students to utilize its various resources such as walking safety escorts, which have been expanded with additional officers, shuttle services, and Safe Haven partnerships with local businesses.
Olivia Lapeyrolerie, De Blasio’s deputy press secretary, said increased patrols in the neighborhood were deployed last night immediately after the incident was reported. The Mayor’s Press Office declined to answer questions regarding the number or type of deployed officers to the neighborhood.
“Students and people in the neighborhood will see more patrolling officers in the neighborhood, and this will be done in conjunction with Columbia public security who are already stationed in the area,” Lapeyrolerie said.
In light of increasing surveillance, however, tensions between NYPD surveillance and the surrounding West Harlem area have heightened over the years, particularly since 2014, when hundreds of police officers raided the Grant and Manhattanville projects as part of the largest gang case in the city’s history, resulting in the arrest of more than 40 individuals. At the time, Vice President for Public Safety James McShane announced Columbia’s support for increased NYPD and Public Safety patrols along 125th Street and Broadway.
Although many community members were split on the necessity of the raid, many anti-violence organizers began to initiate the creation of neutral areas to defuse tension and direct more funding to community organizations.
However, according to Iesha Sekou, anti-violence advocate and CEO of Street Corner Resources, a local nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of life in New York neighborhoods and low-income areas, while plenty of community organizations are willing to work with youth, it has been difficult to secure adequate funding.
In light of Majors’ death, Street Corner Resources organized an event to highlight community responses to the incident and demand the end of violence in the area.
Barry Weinberg, chair of Community Board 9, the advisory group representing Morningside Heights and the surrounding area, acknowledged the need for greater measures to ensure safety in Morningside Park, where a lack of “sight lines” make surveillance difficult for officers. He said that CB9 has previously had conversations on the topic with the NYPD and the Parks Enforcement Patrol.
“Our hearts go out to [Major’s] parents, her family, and her classmates at this difficult time. We mourn the loss being experienced by those in her life and also the loss of her potential and those whose lives she may have touched in the future,” CB9 said in its statement.
The statement also detailed that the board will work in collaboration with the Manhattan district attorney and the 26th Precinct to ensure that “the individual or individuals responsible for this attack are identified and face justice in a fair and competent judicial proceeding where due process is respected and truth, not the desire for retribution, is paramount.”
Acknowledging the historical relationship between residents and the NYPD, Weinberg said that CB9 has been partnering with community organizations, elected officials, and nonprofits focusing on youth to ensure that “the youth in our community are not improperly treated or harassed in the aftermath of this tragedy” while the NYPD addresses the incident.
“We are mindful of the need to not inflame or create tensions between the community and law enforcement, particularly in areas where there has been a long history of tensions in that relationship,” he said.
Karen Xia and Valeria Escobar contributed reporting.