2007-02-16 / Columnists


Last September, cops swept through the three major city housing complexes in Rockaway and arrested 81 people on drug charges. Fifteen others were still being sought at that time. You would think that those arrests would have put a large dent in the drug trade in Rockaway, but just two months later a drug war led to three deaths. This is a new year, and police, perhaps responding to that drug war, have swept up 42 people in the Hammel Houses on drug-related charges. A quick check of the names in the recent arrest show that not one of those arrested in September showed up in that list as well. There are a few possibilities. Those who got arrested in September got out of the business. Or, they left town to do their business elsewhere. Or, perhaps, they just learned to hide from police scrutiny over the intervening months. Any of the three are possibilities. The point is, the recent arrests will probably not have a major impact either on drug dealing in Rockaway or in the ongoing gang wars, which have been going on for far longer than the year the daily papers declared as the beginning of the war. The inter-project wars have been going on since the 1970's and they will be tough to stop without some really aggressive policing.

What do you get when you take all of the bright middle-schoolers in Rockaway and put them in one place? You get the Region Five Scholar's Academy, which has become one of the highest-performing schools in the city - just what you would expect when you pack it with high-performing students. It's the students, stupid. The majority of sixth graders, 97.4 percent, performed above grade level in the recent ELA standardized tests. Seventh graders did even better. All of the 138 students in that grade scored above grade level. Their performance in the math standardized test was only slightly lower. More than 96 percent of sixth graders and nearly 95 percent of seventh grade students scored above grade level in math. The Scholar's Academy will move to a ninth grade organization in September of this year and will eventually be a 6-12 organization, offering 96 seats to the incoming ninth grade. To be admitted to the academy, students must score on Levels 3 or 4 in the standardized tests, have at least an 85 average in their major academic subjects and pass a review of attendance and punctuality. Applications are available from district guidance counselors.

The school transportation problem seems to be quieting down with each passing day as the Department of Education scrambles to make patches in its flawed program. It is clear to anybody who can read that the DOE and its high-paid consulting firm dropped the ball badly in this whole scary exercise. The least the agency could have done was to do what any business does before making wholesale changes in the way it does business - do things in increments and test them out before going full-scale. Bloomberg, a consummate businessman, must have forgotten that little rule, something he never would have done with one of his real businesses. Even now, he won't say he and the DOE were wrong. In fact, he excoriated his detractors last week by saying that the media was quoting politicians and others "who have no experience in doing anything, so I don't quite know how to answer [what they are saying]." Bloomberg went on to say that the no-bid contractors did a good job and that they earned every penny they received. "If those people, who haven't done anything in terms of management think that they know what to do, they should apply for the jobs and we'll be happy to do it," the mayor concluded. The mayor is beginning to sound like our President and his reactions to the Iraq debacle.

There seem to be many more fires in recent weeks than in the past, but a quick check of the last few year's Waves at this time of the year reveals that fires are the norm at this time of the winter, when winds blow and the temperature drops down to freezing and people turn to space heaters to heat their homes and apartments. We would like to warn all of out readers that the older models of the space heaters are often dangerous if they fall over or heat something that they should not to dangerous temperatures. The newer models have features to protect against those eventualities, such as a device that turns the heater off should it fall over or if it reads a high temperature event in the proximate area.

Danny Ruscillo, the new president of the 100 Precinct Community Council, Emailed to say that there is a new program in place called "Operation Gun Stop." The program pays $1,000 to anybody who makes a report that leads to a gun arrest and conviction. Any person who knows someone who possesses an illegal handgun, or who sells guns to others, can call 1-866-GUN-STOP. Those who call can remain anonymous but they won't be able to get their reward if they don't give their contact information.

Gunplay is up all over Queens, but nowhere as much as Rockaway, where a gang war late in 2006 jumped the numbers off the chart. In fact, the statistics show that shooting incidents in the 100 Precinct in Rockaway Beach went up 900 percent, from one in 2005 to ten in 2006. For that fact, you can thank the Hammels Houses, the locus for all of the shooting incidents in the precinct. Despite all the shooting, the two murders in the precinct in 2006 were the same amount as in 2005 and index crimes are down overall in the precinct by about seven percent. Crime in the 101 Precinct in Far Rockaway, where the Ocean Bay Houses serve a similar "service" as Hammels, murders were up by 16.6 percent (to seven from six) and index crimes were up by 3.7 percent. By the way, index crimes include murder, rape, robbery, felonious assault, burglary, grand larceny and grand larceny, auto. The 101 precinct's statistics were helped by the fact that grand larceny, auto crimes are down by 26 percent in that precinct.

St. John's Episcopal Hospital has a plan to help diabetics and others who must use needles to dispose of their "sharps." Needles and lancets that lurk in the regular garbage can often harm unwary bystanders, the hospital says. The hospital will collect and dispose of sharps brought to its Environmental Services Office located in the central pavilion from Monday to Friday, between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. The sharps must be in a sealed plastic container.

The number of foreclosures in New York City jumped 18 percent in the last half of 2006 -- with as many as 100 homes going on the block each week in both Brooklyn and Queens. The city numbers pale in comparison to the numbers natiowide, however, where foreclosures are up more than 45 percent from 2005. Experts examining the trend say that it is largely due to lenders luring naive borrowers into taking on unmanageable debt. We fear that the trend will extend to Rockaway because of all the new homes.

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