Sanders Hosts Peninsula Crime Summit
How bad is the crime problem in Rockaway? On February 21, fueled by a sense of urgency, officials, residents and civics from all over the peninsula and beyond gathered at the Church of the Nazarene for a crime summit hosted by Councilman James Sanders Jr.
Joining the councilman were Queens South commander Chief James Secreto, 101 Precinct commander Deputy Inspector Michael Lipetri and 100 Precinct commander Captain Scott Olexa, all of whom gave peninsula residents a status report on crime in the area. Among the concerned attendees were residents from the Bayswater Civic Association, the Beach 41st Street Houses and the 100 and 101 Precinct Community Councils.
“Weather has hurt us,” said Secreto. “Last year at this time we had [a lot of snow] on the ground.”
Grand larcenies are driving the numbers up in Queens South. In the 107 Precinct people in cars are grabbing cell phones from people on the street and driving away. Two arrests have been made, but they are still looking for another perpetrator. Identity theft is another crime as well as grand larceny at the new casino located at Aqueduct. Queens South is also up nine shootings this year.
To help the 100 Precinct, where crime stats were up considerably last year, Commissioner Raymond Kelly has dispatched 55 extra police officers to the area. These officers have stayed longer than their original two month assignment and the chief hopes more officers will be assigned there soon.
Eight of the 76 Precincts in the city are down in crime; among them is the 101 Precinct. Yet, shooting incidents due mainly to gang violence – mostly within the housing developments – are up since last year.
“Last April, when a known gang member was released from prison was when the violence started,” said Lipetri. “From then until now, within one development, officers have recovered 16 guns …. Almost all of those individuals are still in jail on very high bail.”
Last year house break-ins were a problem throughout the 100 Precinct.
Olexa explained what he calls target hardening. Homes, he said, need to be secured better and neighbors need to report any suspicious activity by calling 911. “We have to make it harder for someone to come do a crime in your house,” said Olexa.
Secreto, Olexa and Lipetri all pointed out the importance of community involvement.
“When the community is so involved, it makes our job easier,” said Lipetri.
“We need the community’s help,” said Secreto. He added, “People have to look out for one another.”
As an example, Secreto talked about the arrest in the 100 Precinct of a burglary suspect who had victimized the community for some time. He was seen coming out of a person’s window and Secreto said, “It was the neighbors who saw this guy and chased him and held him while they called 911 …. If it weren’t for the neighbors catching him, then he keeps victimizing us.”
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s office also works hand-in-hand with the precincts – whether on the issue of gang violence or home breakins. Supervising Assistant District Attorney Frederica Jeffries threw the DA’s support behind a second gun buy-back program that Sanders and Secreto are pushing.
“We welcome the gun buy-back,” said Jefferies, adding, “It made a big difference.”
In the first ever Queens gun buy-back in January 2009, police collected 919 guns – 168 came from the two precincts in the Rockaways. Secreto said the department is working on the financing to make a second happen in Queens.
“How can you argue with a program that brings in hundreds of guns,” said Secreto. “It’s a win-win.”
Residents also learned that elected representatives and members of the NYPD do indeed understand their concerns about crime.
Two days before the crime summit the father-in-law of Sanders’ chief of staff, Donovan Richards, was mugged on the streets of Rockaway.
“Most people think that political people or officers are immune to this stuff,” said Richards. “You’re not immune. The physical scar heals. It’s the emotional scars we have to tend to.”
Secreto told the packed room that his granddaughter was robbed of her i- Phone in Brooklyn on Valentine’s Day by a guy who said he had a gun. While the perpetrator has been caught, Secreto said, “It’s a Valentine’s Day she’ll never forget.”
Secreto and Jefferies both promised to continue to use the resources of their offices to help the precincts not only solve but prevent crimes in the Rockaway community.