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111th Precinct’s Explorers paint over graffiti

By Tom Momberg

The 111th Precinct is out in force with teenagers in its Law Enforcement Explorer program to clean up graffiti in northeast Queens before snow starts falling.

The precinct drove its Explorers to a green construction barrier on the Horace Harding Expressway service road near 185th Street in Fresh Meadows last Friday, where police said they recently made an arrest for graffiti.

The Explorers who were painting over the graffiti said it was not as much of a chore as most people would expect—they enjoy it.

The Explorer program, run by the various borough commands of the NYPD and available citywide, shows young men and women between the ages of 14 and 20 some of the inner workings of the nation’s largest police force and gives them some community service hours for projects like graffiti removal.

Bayside High School senior Natasha Valentine, 17, who has been in the program since she was in eighth grade, said it has been a good experience for a couple of reasons.

“This is actually kind of fun… It’s a good experience to actually help out in the community, and I have learned so much,” Valentine said.

Her little sister, Naomi Pena, 14, who is a freshman at Bayside High School, said she got involved, too, as soon as she was old enough.

“I started going and I immediately fell in love with being involved in the community,” Pena said. “I have made friends here with kids my own age. Also, these are the people in our community who protect us—and we get to learn how they really work.”

The Explorer program is a club open to anyone, and there is a lot to it.

Efforts like graffiti removal, for which even residential and commercial landowners can apply through the Graffiti-Free NYC program, keep kids out of trouble. But there is a lot more to it, Officer Kristin Ayeider said.

“(Projects like) this show them to take pride in their community,” Ayeider said. “But it also is a social club, giving them the opportunity to meet new kids in a safe environment.”

Young Explorers who do outstanding work are commended at the 111 Precinct’s annual community awards ceremony. And there is an annual competition between Explorers in each precinct, in which they are given crime scenarios and are scored based on how they solve them.

Officer Chris Dromm, the 111th Precinct graffiti removal coordinator and crime prevention coordinator, said the Explorers’ involvement in graffiti removal shows them how much of a difference a neighborhood’s appearance can make in crime prevention.

Dromm said it is hard to track graffiti in a large precinct like the 111th, but by removing it, officers can better track the scourge if it were to occur again, which often leads to an arrest.

“Painting over graffiti also helps prevent it from happening again in that area. Not only with graffiti, but when a neighborhood is clean and attractive, people are less likely to commit other crimes, too,” Dromm said.

Go online to www.nycedc.com/program/graffiti-free-nyc to learn more about the Graffiti-Free NYC program and how to apply.

The 111th Precinct is always looking to enroll new Explorers. To involve a teenager in the program, call Officer Ayeider at 718-279-5216.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb[email protected]nglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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