Queens officials speak out about police dept. policies

By Dustin Brown

With the threat of police layoffs now in abeyance, Queens leaders are still sounding the alarm over a dwindling police force and the equity of coverage from one precinct to another.

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) is criticizing the Police Department’s decision to initiate Operation Impact, a plan to deploy an expanded police presence in precincts with rising crime rates by enlisting officers from other precincts on overtime shifts.

“The idea for Operation Impact is a good one — to saturate high-crime areas with more police officers,” said Vallone, the chairman of the Council’s public safety committee. “However, to implement this program you need actual police officers, which you don’t have right now.”

In the Queens precincts where the overtime officers are being assigned — the 102nd, 103rd, 109th, 110th and 115th — politicians have praised the program for bringing an expanded police presence to the streets.

“It’s a fact that criminals feel emboldened by a lack of officers,” said City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona), a former police officer himself. “The additional officers on the streets in Corona, Queens have given residents and families the peace of mind to live their lives.”

But Monserrate also warned that cuts to the Police Department’s budget could erode the gains of Operation Impact. “There’s a real fear that a sense of lawlessness could return to the community,” he said.

Meanwhile, community leaders in other precincts are crying foul, insisting that the limited police resources should be shared.

Robert Holden, the president of the Juniper Park Civic Association in the 104th Precinct, said he wants to see the NYPD focus its attention on community policing by assigning cops to street beats.

“There’s pockets within each precinct that need attention, and to address some and not others — that’s really not a level playing field,” Holden said. “You can hire a lot more cops rather than pay officers overtime.”

Vallone already has grave concerns about the size of the police force. Although Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised not to let go of police officers after Police Commissioner Ray Kelly recently brought up the possibility of layoffs in the face of the city’s budget crisis, Vallone pointed out that the size of the force is still falling to dangerously low levels.

“Nobody should be fooled by the mayor’s announcement that he won’t be cutting the police. That’s a smokescreen,” Vallone said. “He’s admitted he’s going to accomplish the same savings through attrition. What that means is less police officers on the streets, with or without layoffs.”

Vallone said he scheduled a hearing Feb. 11 to examine the police cuts and the dismantling of the Safe Streets, Safe City program, which has been credited with encouraging the city’s drop in crime over the past decade.

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