Thursday, October 29, 2009

Precinct Continues Battle Against Burglaries

Traffic Woes, Homeless Camp Among Issues Discussed

By Conor Greene

An effort to combat a rash of burglaries, on- going traffic issues, problems with a homeless encampment in Maspeth and unruly tow truck operations along Flushing Avenue were hot topics at this month’s COP 104 meeting.

Overall, major crime is down seven percent so far this year and down six percent over the past month, Captain Ray DeWitt told residents at the October 21 meeting in Maspeth Town Hall. Among the seven index crimes, robbery is down 13 percent, assault down 11 percent and grand larceny auto 17 percent, he reported.

However, burglaries continue at a steady pace within the precinct’s confines, up eight percent so far this year. There were “some nice arrests” recently, as the precinct has been assisted by the borough’s command’s anti-burglary unit in hotspots. The 104 has “created a mini task force” to address burglaries, which the captain said are taking place “all over the precinct.”

The task force consists of plainclothes officers working with the neighboring 83rd Precinct, investigating leads through pawn shops and checking into whether known prior offenders are responsible for any active patterns. Captain Ray DeWitt reported that two individuals were arrested and linked to a dozen apartment break-ins. Some progress has been made against burglaries, which are down over 34 percent over the past 28 days, a total of 14 less break-ins. “We feel we’re headed in the right direction with burglaries and are focusing on that,” said DeWitt.

Coinciding with the recent progress against burglaries, all felony arrests are up 14 percent this year, and 54 percent over the past month. “A lot of that has to do with the burglary arrests,” said DeWitt. “Our arrest activity has been very high.” He noted that arresting officers are often plainclothes and hard to spot.

The precinct also scored a major graffiti arrest against a vandal with a known tag seen in precincts throughout the borough. The man was hit with 18 counts for incidents “all over the command,” said DeWitt, who noted that graffiti arrests in the precinct are up substantially this year and are near the top among precincts.

The captain was questioned about the precinct’s efforts to reign in reckless motorists and protect pedestrians by residents including civic leaders Robert Holden of the JuniperPark Civic Association and Roe Daraio of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together. DeWitt said traffic accidents are down 15 percent, with officers specifically targeting seat belt and cell phone violations. “We feel our summons activity, which is significant, has led to the decrease in accidents,” he said.

Still, Daraio complained about conditions along Grand Avenue, which she called a “circus” with cars turning into pedestrians trying to cross with the light. Holden said that speeding continues to be a “sore point” with “not enough [speeding tickets] issued... in this precinct.” After some pressing, DeWitt said the 104 has three officers trained to use the radar gun. “We’ve seen numbers [of speeding tickets issued] that are very low - like two,” said Holden. “That’s unacceptable and we need to start addressing that.”

Another resident requested enforcement along Juniper Boulevard North, especially during rush hour with residents cutting to Woodhaven Boulevard. “I’m not talking 40 [miles per hour] in a 30 - I’m talking about 50, 60,” he said, adding the area has a lot of pedestrians due to the park. DeWitt said he will look into devising a plan to cut back on speeding in that area of Middle Village.

Maspeth residents reported ongoing issues with homeless men setting up camp in Cowbird Triangle, a small greenspace alongside the Long Island Expressway at Hamilton Place. The public recently informed the precinct of the problem at prior meetings, and a beat officer made one arrest and issued a number of summonses since, according to Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell.

“We know they’re over there, but they have to be doing something” illegal to be removed from the area, he explained. “Everyone has civic liberties so if they’re not breaking the law our hands are tied.” He added that the men often refuse city services they are rou- tinely offered and can’t be forced off the streets until the weather turns dangerously cold. While a resident complained that the officers just issue tickets, Bell said that is helpful in the long run because they can be arrested on warrants if they don’t pay the fine.

Daraio said people are making the situation worse by giving the men money along Grand Avenue. “They’re better off convincing them to go to a shelter instead of giving them money so they can go get drunk in the park. That’s not solving anything,” she said.

There are also problems along Grand Avenue, including homeless men hanging out at the Hamilton Avenue bus stop, which is used by local children. Daraio informed the officers of a situation involving men sleeping in a boat in the backyard of a nearby home and suggested that the city Department of Buildings investigate. “The boat issue is something we have to look into and research a little more... to see who we need to work with” to deal with the problem, said DeWitt.

The JPCA recently highlighted a problem with tow truck businesses along Flushing Avenue leaving sidewalks impassable because of cars parked everywhere. The problem was the topic of an NY1 television report last month, but has continued, said residents. Holden said that in addition to cars parked on sidewalks, tow trucks are doubled parked without license plates.

“This guy saw himself on NY1 and doesn’t care,” said Holden, adding that efforts to turn to Mayor Bloomberg for assistance have been unsuccessful. “These guys are using city streets, which is illegal. This area needs to be cleaned up - it’s not fair to the residents and it shouldn’t go on for another month.”

Another resident said similar problems are taking place along parts of Grand Avenue. Officer Bell said the precinct has conducted operations in the past to target tow operations and auto body shops that are operating illegally. “We spoke to everyone along Grand Avenue and they all say it is not their car,” he said.

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