By Charles Hack
Violent crime has been rising in the 63rd Precinct, but new rules approved by Albany might change that, at least for sexual offenses. On the 10th anniversary of Megan’s law, requirements to register sex offenders have been extended. Meanwhile, crime prevention officer Phil Benoit of the 63rd Precinct gave some safety tips to help people reduce the risk of becoming a victim of the bad guys, to the Nieuw Amersfort Community Association. Hardening the target is key to crime prevention, he told those gathered at St. Paul’s Church, at East 40th Street and Avenue J on January 24. Anything an individual can do to make it harder for the crook to carry out an assault or robbery, the less likely it will be that the prey will become a victim. Criminals love people who don’t pay attention. With the more snowy weather around the corner, many people will be looking at their feet to make they don’t slip or bury their shoes in a pile of snow. But Benoit says that pedestrians should be careful to keep their head up and look around. “Once a criminal sees that you see them, that deters nine out of ten of them,” said Benoit. “By getting you off guard, that’s their tool.” Having keys out before arriving at a front door is a good idea. And attackers and thieves strike at night for a reason. They don’t want to be seen. Benoit therefore recommends having lights around the exterior of the house, connected to a light sensor or motion detector. “The criminals are cowards and they want to be in the dark,” said Benoit. “Once they see the lights they will move on.” Keeping the lights on in the house indicates that somebody is home, making it less likely that a crook will try to break in. Anyone who sees something suspicious should call 311 or 911. People who see something suspicious should trust their instincts, Benoit says. “If you have a feeling something is not right, you are 99 percent correct,” said Benoit. Emergency dispatchers need a description of the suspect, including their height, weight, hair color, and color of clothing. CompStat statistics show a mixed picture in the 63rd Precinct, with the overall number of reported crimes down by 1.7 percent from 1,573 to 1,546 between 2004 and 2005. But violent crime has risen over the last year. As of Dec. 18, murders had risen by 100 percent from two to four between 2004 and 2005; reported rapes have risen 45 percent from 11 to 16; robberies were up 2.3 percent from 256 to 266; and felony assaults were up from 110 incidents to 135. However, other incidents were down with the number of reported burglaries dropping by 11.5 percent from 234 to 207; grand larceny falling from 651 to 638 by 4.1 percent; and grand larceny auto dropping from 302 to 291 by 3.6 percent. A law aimed at protecting the public from sex offenders, reached its 10th anniversary on Jan. 21, but the landmark has raised concerns. Meagan’s Law requires authorities to place all sexual offenders on a publicly available sexual offenders registry. Previously, lesser sex offenders could come off the list after 10 years, leaving no way for authorities or the public to monitor them. Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein, who served on eight-member bi-partisan committee on the registration of sexual offenders in Albany, sponsored a recent extender bill requiring even low-risk offenders to stay on the list for a larger chunk of time, according to her chief-of-staff, Frieda Menos. The bill was passed by the State Assembly and Senate on Jan. 18. The Sex Offender Registration Act, New York’s version of Megan’s Law, became effective on January 21, 1996. A court classifies sex offenders into three categories depending on how likely they are to re-offend. Level 1 is the lowest risk, while level 3 is the highest risk. The public can call (800) 262-3257 to find out if an individual is on the registry, but the caller needs personal details including their driver’s license number or a Social Security number. Level 3 sex offenders are listed on a Web sitecriminaljustice.state.ny.us/nsor/, allowing the public to search a database by zip code to find if any sexual offenders live in the area. The registry, complete with mug shot, name address, map and description of the offender, includes the crime for which they were convicted. But anyone who uses this information to injure or harass an individual, or commit a crime, will be liable to prosecution. Albany also recently approved a new law, the Sexual Abuse Prevention Act, to improve the investigation and conviction of accused predators. The act also requires Internet providers to notify subscribers of filtering devices to protect children from harmful material; requires police officers to attend 12 hours of training for investigating sexual assault cases; creates a training curriculum for child protective service workers investigating sexual abuse; and establishes a toll-free hotline so victims of sexual assault can find a rape crisis center in their area. Currently precincts refer victims to local non-profits and government agencies for counseling and assistance individually, Menos said. Menos also said that people on low income and fixed income may qualify for $200 dollars for Keyspan heating home bills through Weinstein’s office as a designated Neighborhood Heating Fund site. This is the eighth year her office has operated the program. In that time it has helped 38,000 applicants, with 3,000 already this year. For more information contact Weinstein’s office at (718) 648-4700.