The Civic Scene: Auto crime rates dropped drastically since ’90: DA

By Bob Harris

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s Spring 2002 Community Newsletter says that since 1990, when hebecame the county’s lead crime fighter, auto theft and auto insurance fraud have dramatically decreased.

When Brown became the Queens district attorney, there were approximately 52,000 auto thefts reported in Queens County. In 2001, the number of reported stolen vehicles declined to just over 10,000 — a reduction of almost 80 percent since 1990. In 2001 alone, auto theft decreased by nearly 16 percent.

The district attorney’s said his office has achieved this remarkable success with a multipronged program. It targeted career car thieves for tough sentences; established a specialized auto crime unit with a dedicated prosecution and investigative staff; set up long-term investigations and sting operations; made strong partnerships with police and the insurance industry; and developed an auto crime and insurance fraud intelligence database.

Brown said in the last seven years his office has had more than 2,200 felony auto crime convictions and more than 2,300 prison sentences for car thieves and people committing auto fraud. Several years ago residents would call me to complain that they had a car stolen.

Sometimes a person would say that two cars had been stolen. Fresh Meadows is near several highways, so criminals can steal a car, hop on a highway and move to a location where they can easily drop off the stolen vehicle to be dismantled at a nearby chop-shop or ship it to a foreign country with fake papers. I have not received such calls lately.

Many times I and fellow citizens had complained to the 107th Precinct or to Brown when he spoke at various meetings. About 10 years ago the precinct got a new captain who brought the strategy of setting up checkpoints during the day and at night. I remember getting stopped on 75th Avenue, Francis Lewis Boulevard, Midland Parkway and Highland Boulevard over the years.

Members of my civic association often talked about car thefts with the 107th Precinct officers who came to our meetings. These officers told us that the judges were not putting the auto thieves in jail. They also said that officers with binoculars were stationed on rooftops around the Fresh Meadows parking lot to watch for car thieves.

In April 1999, the Queens district attorney’s office and the New York Police Department set up an undercover scrap metal yard in Willets Point. This led to the conviction of criminals and the forfeiture of close to $10 million to the government. In November 2000 a Queens-Brooklyn car theft ring was broken up. In December 2001 a large no-fault insurance fraud ring was closed down.

We spoke up and complained, and the district attorney and the NYPD listened; now there is a reduction of auto crime. We will know how much of a reduction there has been if we don’t get many complaints from people after they read this column.

One more suggestion for Brown would be to have his statisticians calculate if there have been decreases or increases in auto insurance costs; this way we can know if the reduction in auto crimes has been of economic benefit or if insurance premiums have been kept artificially high.

We pay a lot for insurance. If you know of an auto crime, call your local precinct or the Queens district attorney at 718-286-6556.

Good and Bad News of the Week

There has been much talk of the failure of city schools and the response by school officials and politicians to restructure the education system. It is sad that not enough stories are written about the positive things going on in our schools and that negative stories are often given big headlines.

I just read a book review by Kam Williams in the Queens/Long Island Edition of the Caribbean Life. He reviewed a book by Berkeley professor Jon Ogbu called “Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement.” The community written about was in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Williams said Ogbu’s findings revealed a combination of factors share the blame, such as parents not being involved enough in their children’s curricula or homework; teachers with low expectations who are willing to let blacks go down the drain; an administration which, at best, unwittingly conspires to track blacks low, whites high; and African-American kids who succumb to the mounting peer pressure not to study, not to perform well on tests and not to speak correct English, as these are all equated with acting white.

Sounds like some of the things I have been saying — and more.

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