By Cynthia Koons
The precinct's car thefts have fallen 85 percent since 11 years ago, when it was known for having the most car thefts of any precinct in the city.The 109th has been trying to shake off its image of being the auto theft capital of the city in a number of ways through programs that etch VINs into car windows and allow certain cars to be pulled over late at night. But nothing has yielded the same results as tracking EZ-Passes on stolen cars and the city's crackdown on organized crime.”The reason we have so many GLAs (grand larceny auto thefts) is it's so accessible to the bridges,” Executive Officer James Donnelly said.The 109th Precinct is laced with highways such as the Whitestone Expressway, Cross Island Parkway and Long Island Expressway. Also running through the precinct are the Whitestone and Throgs Neck bridges, both quick escape routes out of the borough. The precinct covers downtown Flushing, East Flushing, Queensboro Hill, College Point, Malba, Whitestone, Beechhurst and Bay Terrace – an area with a population of nearly 250,000.In order to curb the crime, the 109th established a GLA team, comprising three officers and a sergeant, which investigates all auto thefts within the precinct. One of the anti-theft programs run by the precinct is the CAT program in which drivers put stickers on their cars allowing cops to stop their vehicle if it is on the roads late at night. Of the 625 cars stolen in the 109th in 2004, only six had CAT stickers , 109th Community Affairs Officer Joseph Conelli said.He also reminded drivers not to leave their cars running unattended in the morning since that has already been the cause of a few auto thefts this winter.After cars are stolen, the GLA team tracks the EZ-Pass information and then follows the cars to their destinations after they leave the borough. Donnelly said almost all stolen cars travel over a bridge immediately after being reported missing.Donnelly's officers also investigate the “chop-shops,” or auto parts stores, where stolen car parts can be found.Patrol Borough Queens North Commanding Officer James Tuller said these searches tend to yield much more than a single arrest for an individual car theft.In Willets Point, the iron triangle of junkyards just east of Shea Stadium, the Queens auto crimes division set up an undercover sting in the auto parts stores there that led to the arrest of Carmine Agnello, the son-in-law of Mafia boss John Gotti, Tuller said.The borough's effort to break up organized crime, Tuller said, has actually been a major factor in eliminating much of the area's car theft. Statistics for the entire Patrol Borough Queens North show an 85 percent decrease in GLAs since 1993, the year the department began compiling Compstat numbers.At the Patrol Borough Queens North level, Tuller said there is an auto crimes division that focuses on ways to curb car thefts by analyzing data and forming the auto theft teams in each precinct.”They've made some inroads in organized auto theft,” he said.Two weeks ago, eight Queens men were arrested in an undercover sting after investigators raided Flushing and Whitestone garages and confiscated more than $160,000 in cash, 90 motorcycle engines and nine bikes, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.The 92-count indictment alleges that a firefighter and three other ringleaders from College Point and Flushing told the 16-member crew which bikes to steal. They focused on custom and imported motorcycles, including a $25,000 Harley Davidson “Fat boy” taken outside a Flushing lawyer's home, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said at the time.It is with these types of arrests, Tuller maintains, that the Patrol Borough Queens North precincts are able to make such significant inroads in curbing auto theft.”I'm very happy with these statistics,” he said at the patrol's dinner Jan. 19, where they celebrated having largest drop in crime of any patrol borough in the city. “I should change that – I'm satisfied,” he said, correcting himself.Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at email@example.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.