And then there are the lesser incidents, not contained in police statistics or reported in the tabloids. Consider the following incidents from the past few months:

• September: Teens shoot BB guns at the Lillian Wald Houses, injuring several pedestrians.

• September 14: Three teenagers steal a cell phone from a 14-year-old girl.

• Early October: A 13-year-old boy is arrested in Tompkins Square Park for committing a dozen burglaries. This follows the arrests five days earlier of 15-year-old and 13-year-old brothers, also for burglary.

• October 15: A teen is robbed of his cell phone outside 135 West 13th Street by another teen wielding a box cutter.

• Late October: NFO youths jump another kid on 5th Street and Avenue C in retaliation for a Money Boyz assault the day before on 14th Street and First Avenue.

• October 30: A teen is arrested for threatening an older man with a box cutter.

• November 5: NFO youths chase nine-year-olds from the Boys Club at 10th and A to the Campos Houses.

• November 9: The Money Boyz jump another youth.

• November 12: A teen is arrested at Legacy High for hitting a security guard.

• November 14: Four teens are hospitalized after they were beaten with beer bottles by 15 to 20 men.

• November 17: A teen is beaten outside the High School for Leadership on Trinity Place.

But don't panic. If this were really a problem, the mayor and the police department wouldn't be telling us we live in the safest big city in the world.

Right?

Compared to the high-crime years of the late '80s and early '90s, the Lower East Side has far fewer serious reported crimes, according to police statistics. Of the four precincts, only the 9th Precinct showed an overall increase in crime last year, with increases in assault, grand larceny, and rape, and a big jump in burglary. The 5th, 7th, and 13th precincts, meanwhile, all showed overall declines.

On the other hand, comparing 2008 to 2009, there were some increases here and there. Felony assaults in the 7th Precinct jumped by 40 percent last year. Grand larcenies increased, as did rapes. Assaults in the 5th Precinct were up compared to 2007. And the 13th Precinct saw a rise in burglaries.

The number of neighborhood kids 15 or younger sent to the city juvenile justice system rose from 38 in 2008 to 54 in 2009. Typically, about half of those admissions were on robbery or assault charges.

The Voice also obtained misdemeanor arrest numbers for the four precincts, which show overall increases from 2006 to 2008—largely fueled by jumps in burglary and larceny offenses, along with a significant increase in low-level marijuana busts.

For example, misdemeanor arrests in the 9th Precinct jumped by almost 25 percent between 2006 and 2008, largely as a result of burglary and theft cases. Misdemeanor arrests in the 5th Precinct rose by about 20 percent, largely on theft offenses.

Overall, the numbers present a picture of relative order compared to the bad old days. But if you ask around the neighborhood, you'll find a pretty strong perception that things have worsened over the past year, particularly as a result of these loosely organized groups of teens and young men who identify with a given public housing project or city block.

"We certainly saw an upsurge in the past couple of years of the presence of gangs," says Matthew Guldin, a lifelong educator who retired as dean of students for a Lower East Side high school last June. "You knew it was there. I think some of it has to do with the economic downturn. The crisis always comes first in the poorest neighborhoods. With fewer jobs available for teens, parents being laid off, and schools and community agencies losing funding, there are fewer positive options available to engage teenagers during the after-school hours. And I think YouTube, MySpace, texting, the communications technology, exacerbates it."

"This is just their everyday experience," says psychologist Jeffry Solomon. "It's the world they know. And it's almost feudal in its organization. In a hierarchy of despair, enmeshed in a multigenerational, familial legacy of subsistence drug dealing, the sins of the fathers and mothers get visited upon the sons and daughters. The children pay the price in blood, in prison, in childhoods lost, and, finally, in death."

Solomon has spent the past eight years counseling hundreds of Lower East Side kids. He spends, it seems, every spare minute in the streets and the local community centers, checking up on kids.

"My main goal, unfortunately, is to keep them from killing each other," he says. "You see the effect every day. The police know about it, the [prosecutors] know about it, the social services organizations know about it, the politicians know about it."

Lenore Colon, a youth counselor at the Henry Street Settlement at 6th Street and Avenue D, says, "Sometimes, I feel like we're reverting back to the '80s," the high-crime era.

Thea Goodman, director of the Hamilton-Madison House, a youth services agency in the Smith Houses, says, "There's been a new gang issue in this neighborhood for about four years now. Overall crime may be down, but if you just look at youth crime in this neighborhood, it seems like it's gone up."

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