By Kathianne Boniello
The quiet, normally tranquil neighborhoods of northeast Queens often attract residents who hold high-ranking positions in city life.
Judges, lawyers and top educators are among just some of the powerful officials who call the communities of Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston and Whitestone their home. For example, former Board of Education President Carol Gresser lives in Douglaston and Judge Nick Garaufis, a former chief counsel for the Federal Aviation Administration, lives in Bayside.
Now some have said at least one top official who is a Douglaston resident — New York Police Department First Deputy Commissioner George Grasso — has gotten special consideration as the Bayside-based 111th Precinct tackles a sharp increase in burglaries.
Sources contend that after a Feb. 23 robbery near Grasso’s home, the currently understaffed NYPD has gone out of its way to flood the area with officers and taken unusual steps to investigate the crime.
But 111th Commanding Officer Capt. Julio Ordonez denied this week that there had been any unique treatment of Grasso’s neighborhood and said he has been doing whatever it takes to stop the burglaries. He said he had requested extra manpower from Queens Patrol Borough North, which oversees the 111th.
“It’s not special for him,” Ordonez said, referring to Grasso.
Detective Walter Burnes, a spokesman for the NYPD, said the extra manpower stemmed from the rise in burglaries and not Grasso’s presence in the community.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not the first deputy commissioner lives there,” Burnes said. “It’s the precinct commander’s call. He’s ultimately responsible.”
Burglaries so far this year have climbed to 100 from 47 in the same period last year, according to Burnes.
The 111th Precinct includes the communities of Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston, Oakland Gardens, Hollis Hills and parts of Fresh Meadows and Auburndale. Ordonez said last week that burglaries have been highest in central and eastern sections of the precinct.
Burglaries have been increasing in other northeast Queens precincts as well, including the 107th in Fresh Meadows and the 109th in Flushing, crime statistics show. Though crime stats through March 3 reveal a rise in burglaries in all three precincts, the 111th currently has the smallest number of reported burglaries.
Sources said the procedure for investigating a burglary generally includes talking to residents and neighbors, fingerprinting the violated home and calling in detectives to continue the investigation the following day.
After the burglary near Grasso’s home, sources said the NYPD called in its Crime Scene Unit — usually reserved for violent crimes — and has assigned officers from a variety of units and precincts to monitor the neighborhood.
“They had the Crime Scene Unit come and make a cast of a footprint in a backyard,” sources familiar with the situation said. “This is something that is not normal.”
Ordonez, who took command of the 111th Precinct in September, said Monday he has been attacking the spike in burglaries in as many ways as he can, including calling in the Crime Scene Unit when it is available and requesting additional officers.
“Whenever I have a cluster, I have to react to it,” Ordonez said, referring to numerous burglaries in the same neighborhood. “I had to do something.”
The captain said robberies within the past month have been concentrated in southern Bayside and areas of Douglaston and Little Neck along the Long Island Expressway, where Grasso lives. Since the Feb. 23 burglary, he said, a cluster of incidents has been reported in the same neighborhood.
“Crime Scene has also been to some of the other locations,” Ordonez said, referring to other recent burglaries. “If I want to call them, or the Evidence Collection Team, then why not?”
Both Ordonez and the sources blame part of the problem on the NYPD’s chronic understaffing. In northeast Queens civic leaders have been calling for increased manpower at the 111th Precinct for several years. With a bit more than nine square miles to cover, the 111th Precinct is one of the city’s larger precincts.
Last week City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he had sent a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly requesting extra manpower for the 111th Precinct.
Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.