104 Pct. crowded, cops slow: Civics

By Jyoti Thottam

Residents of the 104th Precinct say they are fed up with understaffing, and one Middle Village activist wants the precinct's boundaries redrawn.

Civic groups in the precinct, which includes Ridgewood, Glendale, Maspeth and Middle Village, have been clamoring for more police coverage for years. But a recent report on response times, ranking the 104th at the bottom in the borough, has recharged the push for more cops.

“We want out of the 104,” said Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. “Why have such a ridiculously large precinct with such limited access routes?”

Holden said COP104, a coalition of community groups in the precinct, has formed a task force with City Council members who represent the area – Tom Ognibene (R-Middle Village), Councilman Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside) and Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) – to discuss the precinct's boundaries with Police Commissioner Howard Safir.

Marilyn Mode, a spokeswoman for Safir, did not respond to requests for comment.

If talks with Safir yield no progress on redrawing the precinct or at least getting more police, Holden said he plans to run newspaper ads exhorting residents “to take up karate, to buy a shotgun, to hire a bodyguard … the city can't protect you.”

Police in the 104th Precinct took on average 11.4 minutes to respond to 911 calls for a crime in progress during 1998, according to figures released by the Police Department and compiled by the City Council. The 104th Precinct had the longest response times in Queens. Citywide, some precincts in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island had response times as long as 12 or 13 minutes.

Holden contended that response times are particularly long in Middle Village, a relatively low-crime area, because officers in the 104th tend to be concentrated in the other end of the precinct, which sees more crime. He advocates either creating a new precinct or absorbing parts of the 104 into neighboring precincts.

“We were left high and dry,” Holden said. “We'll meet with Safir, and then we'll see what happens after that.”

But not everyone in the 104th believes splitting up the precinct is the solution.

“That's not going to solve anybody's problem,” said Paul Kerzner, president of the Ridgewood Property Owners Association. “The problem is the number of cops.”

Until the police presence in the area is increased, Kerzner said leadership in the precinct will not be able to make a significant impact on crime in the area.

The previous captain of the 104th, 19-year NYPD veteran Joseph Byrne, was transferred earlier this month to the Queens North Gang Unit. The Police Department would not reveal why he was transferred, but according to published reports, the demotion stemmed from a 2 percent jump in serious crime in the precinct during 1999.

Kerzner said none of the precinct's neighborhoods are adequately covered because its 161 officers are simply not enough to serve such a large territory. Under the Safe Streets/Safe City initiative spearheaded by Safir's predecessor, William Bratton, the 104th Precinct was slated for about 225 officers.

Despite agreeing to pay a real estate surcharge to fund the Safe Streets/Safe City, residents in the 104th Precinct have been given only a handful of additional police officers over the last five years.

“It's not fair to us as a community not to get what we were promised,” Kerzner said.

Rather than dividing up the precinct or creating a new one, which would add another level of bureaucracy, Kerzner advocates continued pressure by civic groups and community boards citywide for more police officers.

“I see this as a problem we have to solve collectively,” he said.