By Alexander Dworkowitz
Police officers, school officials and civic leaders squared off Tuesday over whether students at Bowne High School pose a serious threat to the surrounding neighborhood after a 16-year-old was charged with bringing a loaded gun to the school.
Although police in the 109th Precinct contend last week’s gun episode was an isolated incident, civic leaders said students from the Queensboro Hill school have been continually causing trouble over the last year.
Civic leaders challenged both the police and the principal of Bowne HS at a meeting Tuesday presided over by Community Board 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman about ways to deal with security at the school.
The meeting quickly turned into a heated debate, with Walter Kowsh, the president of the Cedar Grove Civic Association, who has called for the closing of Bowne, deriding the attempts by the police and school officials to control disciplinary problems in and around the school.
“I think you people are not coming to grips with the reality of the situation,” said Kowsh.
Kowsh spoke of Avinish Kumar, the 16-year-old Bowne student who was arrested last week on charges of pointing a loaded gun at other students in the school.
“He could have killed a lot of people that day,” said Kowsh. No one was injured in last week’s gun incident.
June Orchanian, principal of the high school, addressed the issue. “They believe the incident to be isolated, not gang-related,” she said.
Orchanian went on to describe Kumar as a new student with a history of problems.
Kowsh said one solution to prevent such an incident from recurring was to put metal detectors in the schools. But Orchanian argued that they were often ineffective, alluding to recent incidents of violence at schools in elsewhere in the city.
“The two schools that had the shooting and the stabbing were schools that have full scanning,” she said.
Civic leaders said students at Bowne had a history of bothering area residents.
“They are intimidating,” said Bessie Gasparre, representing the Queensboro Hill Civic Association. “The senior citizens will not go out at certain times.”
Maureen Buglino, vice president of ambulatory services at NYHQ, said the hospital had to hire a police officer to patrol the area around its eye center at 60-10 Main St. The eye center is located several blocks north of the school near a group of stores that students tend to frequent.
“We have been forced to hire a rent-a-cop to protect the eye center,” said Buglino. “We have incidents of sex in our parking lot right in the daytime.”
Bitterman said the complaints reflected a rise in problems with students of the school in recent months.
“The situation was under control for awhile,” she said. “But Sept. 11 has changed a lot of things, and we have to go back to square one.”
While technically lying just within the northern border of Fresh Meadows’ 107th Precinct, police said the students tend to congregate to the north of the school within the 109th Precinct.
Officer Joseph Conelli, one of two 109th Precinct officers who is assigned to covering schools within the precinct, said he has not seen an increase in problems around the school.
“This is news to me,” he said.
Conelli said it was difficult to cover the area. Often, he has to survey both Bowne and Flushing HS in the same morning, which are located more than a mile apart.
“To tell you the truth, there is a manpower shortage,” he said.
Conelli said the 109th Precinct should have 247 officers but is operating with only 205. Officer Arnie Aprea of the Community Affairs Department of the 107th Precinct said his precinct is in an even worse situation. The 107th should have 217 officers but has only 120, he said.
Kowsh proposed mounting security cameras in the area and searching students on the street. But police at the meeting questioned the legality of security cameras and told Kowsh that searching without probable cause was completely illegal.
Orchanian defended her students, responding to a complaint that several students had knocked down a senior citizen.
“Was it intentional that those kids knocked down that senior? Probably not,” she said.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.