By Howard Koplowitz
In response to the murders of two teenagers in Far Rockaway within three days of each other, elected officials representing the Rockaways met behind closed doors last week with Queens District Attorney Richard Brown to come up with a plan to stop the violence.
The outcome of the May 22 meeting at the Redfern Community Center was a strategy dubbed Operation COMP, according to state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans).
“We understand that there has to be some drastic action taken,” said Smith, who met with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Brown, state Assemblywomen Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach) and Michelle Titus (D-Far Rockaway) and City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton).
The “c” in Operation COMP stands for “cameras” to be installed at the Redfern Houses, where 15-year-old Brandon Bethea was killed by a stray bullet May 17 as she was walking in the courtyard of the housing project.
The “o” is for “officer deployment,” “m” for “moving out the bad apples” who live at Redfern and “p” for “patrols,” Smith said.
“Guns are prevalent on the streets of Rockaway,” he said.
While crime in the 101st Precinct, which covers the Redfern Houses, is down 7 percent from last year, Kelly said, murders and shootings are on the rise.
There was one murder in the precinct at this time in 2007, compared to five this year, he said.
Kelly touted an NYPD program, called Operation Gunstop, to get weapons off the streets.
He said any resident who knows someone with a gun can call the 1-866-GUNSTOP hotline to report the weapon anonymously. The caller would then be assigned a special code to receive $1,000 when he or she gives the code to their bank.
“We're awash with guns,” Kelly said. “We need an all-hands effort to get guns off the street.”
Three days after Brandon's murder, 15-year-old Tyreese Johnson was shot and killed a stone's throw away from Redfern. The meeting occurred hours after Brandon's family, who moved out of Redfern because of the worsening violence, held an emotional funeral service for the girl in St. Albans.
Kelly said 50 additional officers have been dispatched to the Rockaways each day since the murders.
Although the DA's office conducted two undercover drug stings that netted the leader of the Far Rockaway faction of the Bloods, crime persists in the neighborhood.
“It's clear that more needs to be done,” Brown said. “It's very troublesome to all of us.”
Sanders pointed to a lack of economic opportunity for Rockaway residents in explaining the violence, criticizing the major developers with construction projects on the peninsula for not hiring from within the neighborhood.
“We're here because there's mass killings in our community,” he said. “We need hope in this community. I'm not signing nothing that does not include these people from this day forth.”
One Redfern resident who was standing near the community center before the closed-door meeting began was skeptical of the attention the project was getting by elected officials.
“They should've been out here when kids were getting killed three years ago,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. “Too many people are scared in these houses. They take care of Manhattan, they take care of the Bronx. We're in Queens, but they don't care about Far Rockaway.”
Sanders, a Far Rockaway native, validated the woman's perception.
“These folks have been abandoned — it's so clear,” he said.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.