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Halloween melee hot topic at precinct meeting

The 106th Police Precinct held its monthly Precinct Council meeting Wednesday, November 14 at the precinct office, located at 101st Street and Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park.
Many in attendance were forced to stand, as hoards of first-time meeting-goers packed the precinct to discuss topics of neighborhood concern - most notably, the Halloween night melee that erupted on Cross Bay Boulevard.
The precinct’s Commanding Officer, Captain Joseph Courtesis, along with Special Operations Lieutenant Michael Coyle, handled a barrage of questions from listeners regarding the skirmish. Courtesis’ first order of business, he said, was to dispel rumors that the crime was not being investigated as a hate crime.
“It smelled like a bias incident immediately, and we started investigating it as such that night,” said Courtesis. The NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force sent one sergeant and seven detectives to the scene, he explained.
The incident took place shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday, October 31 when about 40 Black and Hispanic males from Brooklyn entered Howard Beach carrying sticks and bats. Members of the mob attacked two groups of Caucasian teens, sending at least one to the hospital. Five attackers were charged.
Courtesis said he has the authority to say a crime may be racially motivated, but not to definitively declare it a hate crime. That authority is reserved for the District Attorney’s (D.A.) office and investigators from the Hate Crimes Task Force.
Courtesis praised Queens D.A. Richard A. Brown for agreeing to meet with local leaders on November 7. Brown sat down with political and civic leaders in an attempt to reassure the community that his office was doing everything in its power to bring the attackers to justice, including, possibly, pursuing a hate crime case.
Nina DeBlasio, of the Howard Beach Civic Forum, asked Courtesis what was being done in the wake of the crime to further promote safety in the neighborhood.
“I just want the kids to be safe,” DeBlasio said.
Courtesis explained that more police now patrol the area, but said demands for more police by citizens like DeBlasio are countered by other residents’ demands for less.
“I’m getting accused of setting up a ticket blitz,” said Courtesis. “That’s not why the cops are down there at all - they’re not there to punish the community - but it goes without saying that if there are more cops down there, they’ll see more violations and write more tickets.”
Courtesis said he could not speak on certain aspects of the investigation because it is ongoing.
Another topic of concern raised by citizens included a question of what is being done to minimize drug and alcohol use among minors, specifically at a weeded area near 165th Avenue where witnesses have seen minors use drugs.
Coyle responded that the land in question, which is federal property, is out of the jurisdiction of the 106th Precinct, but that the precinct is doing all its power to patrol the surrounding neighborhood, as well as ensure that local stores are not selling to underage drinkers.
“We’re not afraid to lock anybody up,” added Courtesis.

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