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How to Steal A.T.M.s: Two Guys, a Crowbar and ‘Brute Force’

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Sophisticated criminals, evolving with advances in security and technology, have found new ways to hack and clone their way into the city’s countless A.T.M.s, their handiwork so invisible they slip away without notice.

This is not a story about those people.

This is a story about a small, dedicated burglary crew, one almost stubbornly set in its ways. Its members work with the stealth and finesse of a demolition team — resembling one, in fact, with their tools of blunt force.

The police said this crew has struck at least nine times in three boroughs in the last three months, their locations all different — bodegas, laundries, a diner — but with the same prize, a feature of modern convenience so common as to be practically invisible to regular customers.

They are after automated teller machines. Not the PIN codes of legitimate customers, not cloned debit cards, but the whole machine, from keypad to cord.

Detective Ronnie Morales, with a grand larceny squad in Brooklyn, described their modus operandi: “Basically just brute force.”

The police said the two- or three-man crew has been at work since at least Sept. 6, when they broke into a Cuban pastry shop on Wilson Avenue in Bushwick and pried open the A.T.M. near the counter.

“Two guys with a crowbar,” said a building manager, who watched surveillance video later.

The following night, the group struck again, this time in Ozone Park, Queens, another bodega. The most recent burglary attributed to the group was on Oct. 14 at Sunset Bagels in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. They broke the lock on a door, but fled empty-handed.

All told, after six thefts and three failed attempts, the crew has stolen about $39,000.

“It’s a rough way to make a living,” Detective Morales said. “A few thousand dollars at a clip.”

Most of the burglaries have taken place in a pocket of adjoining neighborhoods on the border of Brooklyn and Queens, including Bushwick and Ridgewood. “I know they’re familiar with the locations,” Detective Morales said. “They go straight to the A.T.M.”

In surveillance videos, two men appear to strain with their heavy loads. Cash machines have shrunk in size over the years, perhaps making them attractive targets, but they still weigh hundreds of pounds and are usually bolted to the floor at four different points.

At one time, the most effective tools for stealing an A.T.M. were a truck and a chain. Nick Diamantis, an owner of the Goodfellas Diner in Maspeth, Queens, lost an A.T.M. that way in 2016.

The thief entered the closed diner, wrapped a chain around the machine, hooked the other end to his vehicle and sped off. “It ripped the door and frame out of the wall,” Mr. Diamantis said, and crushed a heavy-duty garbage container on its way to freedom.

When that A.T.M. was replaced, the new one was stolen in the same way, damaging the door frame once again. After that, Mr. Diamantis said no more A.T.M.s

“I was torn, because we didn’t take credit cards and we needed the A.T.M.,” Mr. Diamantis said. “After that, if someone didn’t have the cash, I didn’t charge them for their meal, frankly.” They could pay later: “It was kind of like an honor system.” (The diner was badly damaged in a fire in 2018 and has not yet reopened.)

The two men seen on video in the recent burglary spree don’t need a truck or a chain. “There’ve been instances where they use bolt cutters,” Detective Morales said. “There’ve been other cases where they’ve used monkey wrenches or a crowbar.”

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NY News

It’s Time To Count All The Birds Again!

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This Saturday, birders across the Western Hemisphere will wake up early and grab a pair of binoculars for the 120th annual Christmas Bird Count, the oldest and largest count of its kind — and one of the longest-running community science programs in history.

For birders (and those who would like to be), the way it works is simple. Established counts exist all over the Western Hemisphere, although they’re mostly concentrated in the United States. Each one takes place over the course of one day; sometime between December 14th and January 5th; groups count as many birds as they can within a prearranged 15-mile diameter circle. There are options for everyone: newcomers to the count can join a group with at least one experienced birdwatcher, and people with limited mobility can opt for a stationary count or feeder watch.

Christmas Bird Counts become a tradition for their participants, says Geoff LeBaron. He’s been running the program for the Audubon Society for the past 32 years and participating since long before that.

“They have a real sense of place in the areas they’re counting,” LeBaron said. “They’re oftentimes in areas that they love. Plus, they’re getting out to bird, and they’re also getting out to bird with friends they may only see during the Christmas Bird Count period. A lot of people actually travel pretty long distances to do their traditional Christmas Bird Counts.”

But beyond the binoculars and the bonhomie, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. The Christmas Bird Count draws tens of thousands of volunteer birders every year, and those volunteers generate hundreds of millions of data points. That wealth of information is invaluable to the scientific community.

Christmas Bird Count data informed the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s landmark report from this past fall, which found that North America has lost 3 billion birds in the past 50 years. A project from the Audubon Society, Survival by Degrees, combines the data with climate models to let users see what birds are most at risk in their area.

The scientific community wasn’t always willing to trust the Christmas Bird Count data. They worried that variations between different groups of birders would make the data unreliable, and that unpredictable weather conditions at the tail end of the fall migration could skew results as well.

LeBaron disagreed.

“It doesn’t matter if the people in Boston are doing it the same way as the people in Dallas or the people in Quito or the people in Anchorage,” he said, “because it’s the same people in Boston doing it the same way every year.”

The Christmas Bird Count is used for trend data, revealing the way populations in one area change over time. For that kind of analysis, variations across groups aren’t as important. And because the data is often analyzed in decade-long chunks, weather variations tend to factor out, too.

Over time, scientists came to agree with LeBaron and trust the data. Now, his work is less about convincing the scientific community that the Christmas Bird Count is important and more about fielding requests from researchers who want to use its findings — and about reminding his tens of thousands of volunteer birders why their work and the count is important, too.

“Birds provide a unique opportunity for people to get really hooked on caring about nature,” LeBaron said. “They do amazing things, they’re beautiful, they sing, they fly, they have these incredible migrations. And they’re there! They’re with you! With the possible exception of someone at South Pole Station, birds are probably the only life form that somebody anywhere on the surface of the Earth can see on a given day.”



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Ian Eagle sees Kyrie Irving benefiting from his Net absence

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The biggest controversy in Brooklyn right now is: Hey, maybe the Nets are better without Kyrie Irving.

It is not without legitimacy: the Nets are 9-4 without Irving as he nurses a lingering shoulder injury and 4-7 with him. The point guard’s Brooklyn arrival was preceded by a particularly turbulent end to his Celtics stint.

But it appears quite the first-world problem when you consider the New York alternative, the Knicks in disarray after firing head coach David Fizdale last week and owners of the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

“In my mind, it would be a lot better for local basketball if both teams were good at the same time,” YES Network Nets’ play-by-play Ian Eagle said. “I don’t think the Nets are taking any solace in that the Knicks are struggling. The Nets are focused in their business and trying to build a championship team. But for the sake of the rivalry and for New York basketball dialogue it’s very disappointing.”

Irving’s arrival has not been without some drama, though it has not appeared to penetrate the Nets locker room. The injury has dragged on longer than anyone thought and there have been reports of an attitude problem.

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie IrvingAnthony J. Causi

The question now is how Irving, who was averaging 28.5 points and 7.2 assists, blends back in with a team that is flourishing without him.

“The reality is he’s meshed well with his teammates, there are relationships that have formed quickly and he’s been present,” Eagle said. “I think, if anything, what’s happened is the realization that he doesn’t have to do it all himself. To me, that would be more of a positive exhale that when he comes back you pick and choose your spots.

“I do think he’s getting a different perspective watching from the sidelines and the team can benefit from that in some way. He’s a really smart player. In this league, smart players usually figure things out. He has a great basketball mind. In my experience, he wants to do what’s best for the team.”

Spencer Dinwiddie has been playing at an All-Star level, but Eagle said he believes it goes beyond Irving’s absence. The success without Irving, and what likely will be a season-long absence for Kevin Durant, speaks to what the Nets have built with general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson since taking over a franchise that was in disarray.

“There is a belief they are doing the right things and players are buying into that,” Eagle said. “There has been a carryover from last year. It was an incredibly likable group that surprised everybody and went to the playoffs. That didn’t happen in a vacuum.

“There is still this expectation level. This is not a gap year for the Nets where they are waiting for Kevin Durant to come back and Kyrie Irving to be completely healthy. They still have a good organization. It’s what you’ve come to expect, you are not surprised by success anymore.”

Eagle has been a Nets voice for the past quarter-century and has seen his share of dysfunction — the end of the run in New Jersey during which the team went 58-172 in its final three seasons, then there was the fallout in Brooklyn from the shortsighted Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce trade.

“There’s definitely more electricity in the Barclays Center now, more of a sense that it is a happening and I am seeing a lot of returning faces in the stands,” Eagle said. “I think there were years where people are sampling, now they are coming back. That is a clear indicator that they’ve laid down some roots and now something is growing.”

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Mayor Meets with Jewish Leaders after Jersey City Shooting

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A horrific shooting in Jersey City may have occurred two rivers away.

But it hit close to home in this neighborhood, where two of the victims of a shooting now being investigated as a terrorist attack, were mourned by hundreds in a funeral procession held on Wednesday night.

“This horrible act of senseless violence, this act of terrorism, anti-Semitic hate has come right home here to this neighborhood in Brooklyn and to our city,” said Mayor de Blasio.

So Mayor de Blasio and NYPD top brass met with Jewish leaders in Williamsburg on Thursday to assure this community that his administration, the NYPD could keep them safe.

“You have our commitment that the men and women of the New York City Police Department will be there to keep the Jewish community safe,” said Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.

In stark language the mayor warned that hate and anti-Semitism is on the rise. That the horrors of another century could repeat themselves.

“If it happened in isolation it would still be horrible. It is not happening in isolation. There is a larger danger and it is growing,” said de Blasio.

Much of that, the mayor says, is coming from right-wing extremists.

And to chill that, the mayor called out social media companies, companies he says are profiting off of hate.

“They are unregulated utilities. They must be regulated. They can’t keep claiming to be innocent, to be neutral. They are not. They are making a huge amount of money off of hate speech,” said de Blasio.

City officials say residents of Williamsburg should expect to see an increased police presence here in Brooklyn at least for the near future.

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