Thursday, June 4, 2009

Crime Update at COMET Civic Meeting

“Sharp Decline” in Maspeth Over Last Month

By Conor Greene

This month’s meeting of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together - the civic group’s final session before the summer hiatus - included an update on crime within the three police precincts that patrol the neighborhoods.

Cop of the Month

Honored at the meeting inside Bethzatha Church of God in Elmhurst was Police Officer Wayne Lowery, the 108th Precinct’s summonses officer. He won COMET’s acclaim through his efforts to cut down on illegal commuter vans operating in the area. “They’re very hard to catch and it’s a very time consuming job,” said the group’s chairwoman, Roe Daraio, who added that the vans often block intersections and cause traffic problems, aside from other safety concerns.

Officer Lowery said that he checks to see if the driver is meeting requirements such as keeping an accurate travel log and has the necessary safety equipment including fire extinguishers. “I try to enforce as many [laws] as I can,” he said, adding that he grew up in the area and is “more than willing to help” with traffic issues.

“So often people go unrecognized as they make the community better,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who also honored Officer Lowery.

One resident expressed frustration that even a ticket blitz doesn’t seem to deter the vans from operation or parking in the neighborhood. “What really bothers me is that your ticket really doesn’t mean anything to these people because they come back,” he said.

104th Precinct Update

Within the 104th Precinct’s portion of Maspeth, there were six major crimes in the past 28 days, according to Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell, who called that a “sharp decline from last month.” Overall, major crime is down across the 104th Precinct by about nine percent over the past month, he said.

The lone assault was a domestic assault on 69th Street near 54th Avenue. There were two grand larcenies: a boyfriend-girlfriend dispute on 65th Place and a wallet stolen from an unattended vehicle parked near 53-30 72nd Place. “I don’t know why people continue to leave valuables in their vehicles,” said Officer Bell. The three auto thefts occurred on 63rd Street at 53rd Drive, 62nd Street at 53rd Avenue and on 77th Place.

A resident asked about cracking down on prostitution along Flushing Avenue. Officer Bell said operations were recently conducted along Starr Street to combat a problem there. However, the resident said there is also a problem further east towards Grand Avenue near the Moonlight Bar and Grill at 60-58 Flushing Avenue. He said a house across the street being used for prostitution, which Officer Bell said the precinct would investigate.

Fatal Maspeth Wreck

Three men died last Thursday night when their car slammed into a concrete barrier on Laurel Hill Boulevard after skidding across the road. Police say the driver lost control of his 1992 Volvo while trying to pass another car at a high rate of speed.

A bottle of vodka and small amount of cocaine were later found inside the obliterated car, according to Deputy Inspector Thomas Kavanagh, commanding officer of the 108th Precinct. There was a witness to the crash, which happened at about 10:30 p.m. near 58th Street, where the boulevard runs beneath the expressway and through the cemetery.

The driver, 26-year-old Pedro Sanchez of Brooklyn, and his two passengers, Thomas Owens and Eric Sanguenette, both 27 of Woodside, were pronounced dead at Elmhurst Hospital.

Officer Lowery said he routinely catches people speeding when he patrols that stretch of road. He said the DOT changed the timing of the traffic light at the cemetery entrance to always turn red every few minutes, instead of only when cars exit the cemetery. While this wasn’t a case of drag racing, he said arrests have been made there in the past during crackdowns.

Maspeth resident Tony Nunziato noted that speeding and drag racing has historically been a problem there. “They’ve been racing there since I was a kid... It’s a shame that the DOT can’t come up with something.” However, Deputy Inspector Kavanagh said that traffic-calming measures such as speed bumps are highly unlikely. “They’re not going to do anything there. There is too much traffic,” he said.

110th Precinct

Over the 28 days ending May 31, there were 14 major crimes within the two sectors of the 110th Precinct covering parts of Maspeth and Elmhurst. Among these incidents were three felony assaults, four grand larcenies, three burglaries and one robbery, according to Sergeant Thomas Passolo.

The grand larcenies included another case of a purse stolen from an unattended car at a local gas station, this time the Hess at Albion Avenue and Queens Boulevard. The officers noted that this is part of an ongoing pattern that seems to be targeting Asian drivers. The precinct’s Technical Assistance Response Unit has set up surveillance cameras in the area which might have captured an image of the suspect and getaway vehicle.

Another grand larceny occurred at Bally’s Total Fitness on Queens Boulevard near Jacobus Place. The victim left $300 inside their locker and discovered it was missing after working out. In a similar incident, a resident left his wallet containing credit cards inside his unlocked car overnight. The sergeant called these “crimes of opportunity” and stressed the need to lock up all valuables. The fourth grand larceny was a case of identity theft and involved the victim’s checking account.

The three assaults all took place in the early morning hours after clubs along Queens Boulevard close. They involved “Hispanic men... fighting with bottles and belts” between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. “As the clubs empty out... fights do tend to break out,” said Sgt. Passolo, adding there were arrests in all three incidents.

The lone robbery reported within the Maspeth and Elmhurst portions of the 110th Precinct happened in the Grand Avenue subway station after school. A teenager stole another student’s cell phone but was arrested by transit police soon after. “There are problems with kids coming along Queens Boulevard to the subway station,” he said. It was also noted that there are problems along Grand Avenue after IS 73 students are dismissed.

While there were three burglaries reported, the sergeant doesn’t think there is a pattern in the area. One incident involved a suspect entering a home near 83rd Street and 54th Avenue through an unlocked basement window before fleeing with cash and electronics. The second was a front-door break-in near 84th Street and 57th Road with cash and a television taken. Finally, a perpetrator entered a Queens Boulevard pizza restaurant through the roof. Both residential burglaries occurred on weekday afternoons and the commercial break-in happened after closing last Friday night.

Crowley Discusses Budget

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who has now represented the 30th District for five months, dropped in to provide an update on the city budget negotiations and to introduce herself to the COMET members.

Crowley noted that proposed FDNY funding cuts would result in the closure of several ladder and engine companies – including Co. 271, which serves Ridgewood. “Right now it looks very positive” she said of the effort to avoid any major cuts that would jeopardize public safety. While about $1 billion still needs to be cut from the approximately $59 billion spending plan, Crowley said negotiations haven’t been “as stressful as I thought they would be.”

So far, the City Council has strongly opposed the mayor’s proposal for a five-cent fee on plastic bags and a sales tax on all clothing purchases. Instead, the mayor and City Council have agreed to increase the city’s sales tax by half a percentage point, to 8.875 percent, and begin charging tax on clothing above $110. Still, Crowley said the situation could be worse. “We’re not in the same type of position that the state is in.”

One resident asked about the state legislation’s decision in 1999 to eliminate the commuter tax – and noted that Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) was among those who voted to end it. “They live cheaply [in surrounding states] and then come here and use our jobs,” the resident said. Crowley said she “agrees one hundred percent” but said there isn’t enough support throughout the state to reinstate it. “It never should have been taken away,” she said, adding that eliminating it has cost the city about $4 billion.

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