104th Precinct gets new leader

By Dustin Brown

A Queens native took the helm of the 104th Precinct this week, promising to continue his predecessor’s record of crime reduction while addressing neighborhood quality-of-life concerns and improving communication lines with community leaders.

Capt. Peter Loehle was transferred Monday into the 104th Precinct as the commanding officer, said police spokesman Lt. Elias Nikas. His predecessor, Capt. Thomas Cusanelli, had been absent from the precinct on family leave and will be reassigned to other duties in the department.

Loehle, a nearly 16-year veteran who joined the force in January 1986, previously served as the commanding officer of the Queens North Street Crime unit. A native of South Ozone Park and graduate of Christ the King High School in Middle Village, the captain has worked in the borough his entire career, save for a brief stint in Manhattan North.

“I’m going to address the needs of the community to take care of the issues that affect the lives of people in their everyday lives,” Loehle said in a telephone interview.

Loehle cited crime reduction and quality-of-life issues as his top two priorities as he takes over control of the precinct.

“You have to take care of the little things before they become big problems,” Loehle said.

In his first two days on the job, Loehle already had begun meeting with community leaders in an effort to improve the lines of communication between the police and the people they serve.

“We are a service organization, and how we serve the public is how I’m going to be judged,” Loehle said. “I’m going to make that one of my priorities, to make sure that the lines of communication are good and that the community has access to the Police Department.”

The 7.5-square-mile precinct is divided by an extensive collection of cemeteries and a railroad track that make it difficult for police and emergency response vehicles to arrive efficiently at the sites of crimes and accidents, giving it one of the worst emergency response times in the city. It covers the communities of Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood and Glendale, and the section of Elmhurst south of the Long Island Expressway

Loehle is the third new commanding officer assigned to the precinct in 18 months. Cusanelli’s predecessor, 16-year veteran Capt. Joseph Culbert, was removed amid controversy last year after only months on the job when he was accused of making racially insensitive comments about a supervisor. Although he was eventually exonerated of any wrongdoing, he was never reassigned to his post at the 104th Precinct, where community leaders praised his first months of performance for bringing about an immediate drop in crime.

Since then the precinct has continued to contend with having one of the city’s slowest police response times and widespread quality-of-life crimes, problems community leaders say the precinct has been too understaffed to effectively address.

“We weren’t happy with the precinct’s performance, but that was mostly due to manpower,” said Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. “It wasn’t due to the officers that were there.”

Although civic leaders contend that severe understaffing prevents the precinct from being able to effectively address quality-of-life concerns, Loehle described the size of his force as “adequate.”

“My job as a manager is to take the resources that I have and to deploy them the best way that I can to address the problems,” Loehle said. “So whether I have a small army or a large army, it doesn’t matter. My job is to manage what I have and not to worry about the number.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.