By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
A steady decline in the number of officers at the 111th Police Precinct has left the area vulnerable to an increase in crime, civic leaders warned at a meeting last Thursday with police and local politicians.
Staffing at the 111th Precinct, which covers Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston, Oakland Gardens, Hollis Hills and part of Auburndale, has dropped from 160 officers in 1997 to just over 100, said Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece.
Inspector Salvatore DiPace of Patrol Borough Queens North said that some upcoming retirements would leave the 111th with the lowest number of officers in the borough, although it ranked near the middle in overall crime among the city's 76 police precincts.
“A chain is as strong as its weakest link,” said Mandingo Tshaka, president of the Bayside-Clear Spring Council and organizer of the meeting at MS 158 in Bayside. “This is its weakest link.”
DiPace said staffing levels at the precincts are determined by a formula that calculates population, crime levels, quality of life and 911 workload.
DiPace said overall crime in the 111th was down 7.5 percent so far this year, but Iannece and others feared reinforcements would come only after the precinct's residents had been victimized by a crime spree.
“We think we're safe, but it's not going to take much to make us feel unsafe,” said Iannece, who has written letters to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and local politicians to lobby for an increase in officers at the 111th Precinct.
City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he had met with Kelly a week earlier and was told that slow recruitment and budget cuts were partly to blame for police staffing problems citywide. Kelly also said manpower at the 111th was adequate in the Police Department's view, Avella said.
“We don't have the same level of crime as other people do,” Avella said. “However, that doesn't mean we're not entitled to a visible police presence.”
A source of new officers for the 111th could be the so-called “impact zone,” a stretch of Roosevelt Avenue in the 109th, 110th and 115th precincts that received 115 police academy graduates at the beginning of this year in a special 90-day program intended to reduce crime by flooding unsafe areas with police officers.
DiPace said the plan was so successful that crime has dropped by 43 percent in the 109th Precinct, which covers Flushing, Whitestone, College Point, Bay Terrace and part of Auburndale.
The program is about to end, and Assistant Chief James Tuller, commanding officer of Patrol Borough Queens North, has proposed to the police commissioner that 75 of the officers stay put and the other 40 be assigned to precincts.
Out of the 40, the 111th would receive between five and 10 officers, according to Tuller's proposal, DiPace said.
“It's a start,” he said.
But Iannece said the proposal was “treading water” because the precinct would not see a net gain in officers once pending retirements were accounted for.
Capt. Steven Braille, executive officer of the 111th, said the timing of the community's request was off because police resources were already stretched thin in a time of war and terrorism alerts.
City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), whose district lies mostly within the 109th Precinct but contains part of the 111th, said Washington needed to pick up more of New York City's post-Sept. 11 security tab, although it is providing $5 million a week for Operation Atlas, the city's wartime security plan.
“Clearly, the federal government has to step up to the plate,” Liu said. “We're a target here.”
Liu and others at the meeting, such as Douglaston resident and Queens Civic Congress President Sean Walsh, suggested that the borough as a whole had been shortchanged in the city's allocation formula.
In the case of the 111th, some said the formula failed to account for how spread out the patrol area is compared to a concentrated area such as downtown Flushing.
The meeting ended with plans by the gathered civic leaders to bring Kelly to the 111th for a mass meeting, in hopes that a large turnout from the community would get the message across.
Thursday's meeting drew just a handful of civic leaders and representatives from the offices of local elected officials, a fact that Avella attributed to families' staying home to watch television coverage of the war in Iraq. Iannece said lack of media coverage of the problem had contributed to the low turnout.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.