‘We had no choice’: Ozone Park civilian watch group halts patrols amid coronavirus crisis

QNS file photo by Dean Moses


The Cityline Ozone Park Civilian Patrol (COPCP) has stopped its routine patrols due to the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) after talks with Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and the group’s lawyer. 

The civilian watch group, which is not considered “essential personnel” under the guidelines released by Gov. Andrew Coumo’s Office, conducted its last routine patrol Sunday, March 22. 

“We had no choice, ’cause they’re not considered essential personnel,” said Sam Espostio, first vice president of COPCP.

But this does not mean that there are not people on patrol.

The NYPD has begun a new “series of patrols in connection with monitoring locations and educating members of the public on safe social distancing,” according to Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. 

During the patrols, officers stop at public areas to remind individuals to be aware of their distance from others. 

After visiting 1,647 supermarkets, officers gave three verbal warnings. They also visited 5,559 bars, restaurants and clubs and saw 4,111 were closed, according to Shea. There was one summons in the Bronx for failure to comply and two arrests in Queens for unlicensed bottle clubs.

Since the city has been under new guidelines for daily life, the Ozone Park community — which had seen an uptick in crime — has been “quiet” in terms of crime, according to Espostio. But while there has been a decrease in crime, children have been seen congregating at local parks.

New York state and the city have not yet issued shelter-in-place orders that have been seen in California and other countries including Italy, but have enacted PAUSE measures which started Sunday, March 22, at 8 p.m. 

While PAUSE compliance is not the same as a lockdown or a shelter-in-place order, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, it does highly restrict which businesses can be open and what people can do while out of their homes. Only essential personnel are allowed with other jobs being required to work from home or shut down if it’s not possible to work from home. 

COPCP has been in discussion with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office to receive clearance to be on the streets, but as of Monday, the mayor’s office has told the group to abide by the PAUSE measures and that if the office needed help, they would reach out. 

The civilian watch group received “a couple” of calls last weekend that resulted in the patrol being dispatched to help and has said that residents in need of food and supplies can still call for aid.

“If we get calls obviously we’re going to send somebody out,” said Esposito.  “We’re not going to keep people without food.”

Meanwhile, NYPD Auxiliary units are also grounded, according to DCPI. 

“At the heart and soul of every volunteer is the desire to help,” the NYPD’s Auxiliary program said in a tweet. “Please remain safe & healthy in the event that we require your help in the near future.”

Ozone Park Resident Block Association meetings are not currently being held in person, but Esposito said that the group will decide in April if they will hold virtual meetings. 

He added that a list of restaurants that are still open for business would be posted on the OZPKRBA Facebook page Monday afternoon.

“These are trying times, things are changing minute by minute, and we are all trying to get through this the best we can,” said Esposito. “We ask that you do not panic, do not overthink this and just follow the guidelines that our elected officials and the NYPD are setting forth.”

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