School Safety Pressed To Stop Problems
Stopping after-school mischief near area schools was a hot topic at the 102nd Precinct Community Council’s Mar. 20 meeting in Richmond Hill, as two School Safety Division supervisors addressed their efforts to keep children and the community safe.
Supervisor Suzanne Catoggio and Associate Supervisor Debbie Ecklund heard complaints lodged by residents and civic leaders regarding groups of rowdy youngsters who travel through local streets and create problems following dismissal hours each afternoon.
Ecklund explained that agents with the School Safety Division, while a part of the NYPD, does not operate “under the same parameters” as the police. The agents are assigned to patrol the school, its immediate perimeter and “safe corridors” (designated streets where students travel to and from school).
Simcha Waisman of the Richmond Hill Block Association told the agents that the dismissal of large numbers of students from Richmond Hill High School have become the community’s “biggest problem.”
“It’s like a zoo,” he said regarding the behavior of large groups and gangs of students in the area of Myrtle Avenue and 111th Street as well as near the J line on Jamaica Avenue.
“Half of the community moved out because they couldn’t take it any- more,” he said. “The kids are all over. … You don’t see anyone else on the street because they’re afraid” of the large groups of kids.
Waisman also complained that some truant Richmond Hill students have been observed loitering in nearby Forest Park; he suspected that some have caused graffiti vandalism and have used narcotics.
“People are afraid to got to the park sometimes because of it,” he added. “Somebody has to help us. This is ridiculous. Something’s got to give or we’ll lose the community.”
Catoggio stated that School Safety is aware of various issues at Richmond Hill and is offering a variety of services at the high school to keep students away from criminal elements. However, she reiterated her colleague’s earlier point that the division is limited in its ability to respond to problems outside of the school’s vicinity.
“We do not have bulletproof vests, yet we respond to shots fired on the perimeter,” she said. “This is our lifeline,” she added, holding up a walkietalkie. “This is all we have to protect us.”
Ecklund advised residents that the best thing for residents to do if they see a problem away from a school campus is to report it immediately to 911, as police have the necessary resources to respond to the situation appropriately and swiftly.
Precinct Council President Maria Thomson added that residents on 92nd Street between Atlantic and Jamaica avenues in Woodhaven have experienced problems allegedly created by students from M.S. 210 in Ozone Park.
Neighbors have reported seeing youths trampling on gardens, breaking lawn ornaments or even walking on parked vehicles.
Some who tried to verbally reprimand the youths were even cursed at by the individuals, she added.
“It’s like everybody on that block, at that time, have to go on their porches to protect their property,” she said, adding that residents have claimed that they have not seen police in the area.
P.O. Joseph Martins of the 102nd Precinct Community Affairs Unit responded that the precinct has had an officer assigned to patrol the area for the last two months to guard against further disturbances.
Ecklund stated that she would speak with the platoon commander about bringing School Safety’s Mobile Task Force to the area to help increase a law enforcement presence and prevent further problems.
“You have our attention, and we will be looking into it,” she said.
Capt. Martin Briffa-the 102nd Precinct’s executive officer who spoke on behalf of Deputy Inspector Armando DeLeon, the commanding officer-fielded concerns and complaints from residents regarding quality of-life problems in the area and also outlined the command’s plan to tackle noise disturbances during the spring and summer months.
Asked by Thomson about reducing noise problems in the area, Briffa explained that the command has a dedicated patrol car dispatched on the midnight tour to respond to noise complaints issued via 311 and 911. The patrol will be equipped with soundmeters to measure if the noise meets or exceeds legal levels in order for officers to issue summonses, if warranted.
The precinct has also issued written and verbal warnings to locations around the command where noise complaints were frequently lodged last year. If excessive noise is observed at those same locations this year, the executive officer stated, the responding officers will issue fines and take additional action if necessary.
A resident living near Atlantic Avenue and 108th Street informed the officer that a local deejay studio has been regularly blasting music from stereo equipment set up on the sidewalk during daytime hours.
The captain noted that the precinct has visited the location in recent weeks in response to loitering outside the studio. Police Officers Joseph Martins and Jose Severino of the 102nd Precinct’s Community Affairs Unit added that the precinct would monitor the location and issue summonses if music is found to be blaring.
Another resident complained that he has seen numerous teenagers smoking outside of a public school in Ozone Park during after-school hours and asked about efforts to stop them. Martins stated that the precinct recently conducted an undercover sting operation of a delicatessen located at 114th Street and Atlantic Avenue where youths have been known to purchase cigarettes.
After the proprietors were caught selling smokes to a minor, he noted, the command issued six summonses to the shop.
“Those summonses cost a lot of money,” Briffa said. “We hit them in their pocket.”
Thomson publicly thanked the officers of the 102nd Precinct for their work noting that the command is first in the entire city in crime reduction is 22nd out of all 75 precincts in safety. She observed that residents are “very fortunate to live in this precinct with these dedicated officers” on patrol.
Cops of the Month
Two members of the 102nd Precinct’s Anti-Crime Unit, Police Officers Kenneth Vencak and Christopher Valand, were honored as Cops of the Month for collaring four individuals who allegedly stole a vehicle last month.
Vencak and Valand were on patrol in the confines of the precinct in an unmarked cruiser on the night of Feb. 22 when they observed Toyota Camry spinning its tires while stopped at a location. It was later determined during a check that the car was reported stolen.
The officers sounded their alarms and went to pull the vehicle over, but according to Briffa, the sedan instead sped away. Following a brief pursuit, the officers boxed the vehicle in and took the four occupants into custody.
According to the executive officer, the four individuals each had a history of prior arrests.
For their efforts, Vencak and Valand were presented by Briffa and Thomson with plaques donated by the Times Newsweekly.
Kate Mooney, a representative of City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, offered kudos to the 102nd Precinct for providing patrols during a protest outside Richmond Hill High School last Tuesday. The action was held in opposition to the Department of Education’s plan to close Richmond Hill and seven other high schools in Queens in June and open brand new high schools in their place this September.
Mohamed Hack, speaking on behalf of City Council Member Ruben Wills, added that the lawmaker is supporting a City Council bill aimed at prohibiting stores from selling synthetic marijuana. An investigation conducted by Wills’ office, Hack stated, found that 20 bodegas in the area were selling the drug, which was disguised in fancy packaging and sold under various names.
“It’s packed very nice and looks like spice,” he said, but noted that the use of synthetic marijuana is “causing a major problem in hospitals,” as more users are rushing to emergency rooms for treatment of heart palpitations and other serious side effects.
The next 102nd Precinct Community Council meeting is scheduled to take place on Tuesday night, Apr. 17, at 8 p.m. at Moose Hall, located on 118th Street south of Jamaica Avenue in Richmond Hill. For more information, call the 102nd Precinct Community Affairs Unit at 1-718-805-3215.