Ten rookie officers added to the 104th

By Dustin Brown

Ten new officers have been assigned to the 104th Precinct from the graduating class of the police academy, but the size of the local force still lags far beyond where it stood last year.

The rookies who arrived at the Ridgewood station house after their March 27 graduation in Madison Square Garden have brought the precinct rolls up to 152 officers, said Capt. Michael Merritt, the second in command. The 104th is also expected to receive an additional two officers who are transferring from other precincts within the next few days.

But manpower has dropped about 17 percent since February 2001, when 183 officers were assigned there, he said.

Although Merritt maintained an optimistic outlook, the cumulative loss in officers has been met with concern in the department and across the community.

“We try to do more with less, obviously,” Merritt said. “We just close our eyes and keep swinging. It doesn’t do any good to complain.

“We’re happy to get 10,” he continued. “I wish it could have been 40.”

The precinct has lost many of its officers to retirement and defections to other city agencies and suburban police departments, Merritt said.

Community activists and politicians are complaining that far fewer new officers were assigned to the 104th Precinct, which covers Ridgewood, Glendale, Maspeth and Middle Village, than other parts of Queens.

“We can’t believe that they’re once again stiffing our community,” said Tiffany Elliott of the Juniper Park Civic Association in Middle Village. “It’s dangerous not having enough officers. The 104 covers a really big area.”

City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) said he finds the low number of new officers “unacceptable” and plans to discuss the issue with borough police commanders.

City police officials would not disclose the breakdown of assignments for the 1,359 officers who graduated from the Police Academy last week.

“It’s not our policy to say how many new officers are going to how many precincts,” said Carmen Melendez, a spokeswoman for the NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information.

But a survey of figures released by individual precincts revealed that the 104th Precinct received fewer officers than most others in Queens. Numbers ranged from 11 new officers assigned to the neighboring 108th Precinct in Long Island City to 25 officers at the 102nd and the 109th, which are based in Richmond Hill and Flushing, respectively.

“I think it’s a total outrage that we’re only getting 10,” said Roe Daraio, the president of Communities of Maspeth Elmhurst Together.

The head of Patrol Borough Queens North, which oversees the 104th Precinct, could not be reached to evaluate the relative number of officers assigned to borough precincts.

Merritt said the precinct is predominantly focused on countering quality-of-life crimes, such as graffiti and parking problems.

“We notice that if we get involved with the quality-of-life issues, a lot of times you’re dealing with somebody that is also involved with more serious crimes,” he said. “We can kind of nip it in the bud.”

Overall crime is down 11 percent in the 104th Precinct compared with this time last year, but the area has seen a rise in burglaries and robberies.

The 7.5 square miles of the 104th Precinct are difficult to navigate because an extensive network of railroad tracks and cemeteries slice through the landscape and cut off roadways, causing emergency response times to often rank among the worst in the city.

The officers are assisted in their patrol duties by the Glendale Civilian Observation Patrol, a volunteer group that drives the streets at night and reports suspicious activity to the precinct.

But GCOP members say the precinct does not have enough manpower to respond to every call that comes in.

“They’re having a rough time, and until we get a better complement, we’re not going to have enough cops out there to handle the calls,” said Vito Maranzano, a GCOP member who also serves on Community Board 5.

Maranzano said the community was promised a total of 255 officers under the city’s Safe Streets, Safe City initiative, which provided funding to hire more police officers. But, he said, that number has never been realized since the program began over a decade ago.

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