Amid the holiday season and upcoming celebrations for the Lunar New Year, downtown Flushing business owners, community leaders and elected officials are expressing concerns over public safety, as crimes have surged in the area within the past year.
It’s a pressing issue in the primarily Asian neighborhood that suffered from fear, stigma and discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by a wave of anti-Asian hate crime attacks and now an alarming uptick in robberies and burglaries occurring within the 109th Precinct.
The 109th Precinct serves the communities of downtown Flushing, East Flushing, Queensboro Hill, College Point, Malba, Whitestone, Beechhurst and Bay Terrace.
The NYPD Office of the Deputy Commissioner & Public Information (DCPI) said that while major crime is up year-to-date within the 109th Precinct, grand larcenies are down significantly both week-to-date by 68% (22 vs. 69) and 73% (107 vs. 400) for the 28-day period. Additionally, arrests for major crimes are up year-to-date by 61% (808 vs. 501).
DCPI also reported that robbery arrests are up year-to-date by 67% (237 vs. 142); felony assault arrests are up 73% (271 vs. 157); and burglary arrests are up 43% (97 vs. 68). All arrests are up by 38% year-to-date (3,354 vs. 2,431). Hate crimes are also up year-to-date by 80% (9 vs. 5).
“Theft is a regular occurrence”
In downtown Flushing along Main Street, a busy commercial transportation hub with small businesses and heavy foot traffic, a couple of flyers are posted on poles seeking individuals wanted for a crime.
At Daboo Eyewear, located at 41-01 Kissena Blvd., photos of two suspects who allegedly stole two expensive Cartier frames are taped on the glass display case. According to a sales associate, the incident happened three months ago. It’s not the first time people have entered the store and attempted to steal glasses, she said.
She says that the problem has become worse and although management reported the incident to police, the suspects have not yet been caught.
A few blocks down from Daboo Eyewear, management at GNC, a retail chain selling health- and sports-related vitamins, supplements and herbs, said that items have been stolen from their store as well, one too many times.
Over at the Nike Clearance store, located inside the Shops at Skyview Mall at 40-24 College Point Blvd., theft is a regular occurrence, according to Fred, a security guard.
“Some we know about and some we don’t,” Fred said. “We’re not allowed to go after them, but if we spot them and say something, they’ll give it up. Some come in and don’t even mind us, and walk right back out. We can stop them with words, but touching them, we can’t do that.”
According to Fred, who has been working as a security guard at the store for about eight months, customers walk into the store and take off their sneakers and put on sneakers that are not tagged with a sensor.
“The sneakers are out in the open and you can just take what you want,” he said. “We usually find about three to four piles of sneakers. They switch up and walk out. That’s a regular occurrence.”
Dian Yu, executive director of the Flushing Business Improvement District (BID), said the organization is “very worried about the rising statistical number of crimes in the area,” especially now that downtown Flushing has one of the highest crime rates in NYC.
“We are concerned on how this crime rate will impact our retail market and Main Street business, as finance is a major sector in downtown Flushing,” Yu said.
According to Yu, the Flushing BID has compiled a list of activities that local businesses can use to determine when to call 311 and 911, which has been distributed to merchants throughout the district.
The BID is also planning to roll out a security camera program to deter criminals and criminal activities in the area. In regards to the shortage of police officers at the 109th Precinct, Yu said it’s very alarming.
“We have been hearing from local food establishments, especially bakeries, that there is too much petty theft and not enough officers patrolling the streets,” Yu said. “As we go into the peak of the holiday season, security is one of the most important aspects we are concerned about for the business district.”
Along Main Street most stores have posted 24-hour surveillance signs.
“Public safety must be our No. 1 priority”
In response to the issue, Councilwoman Sandra Ung and her colleagues recently sent a letter to Mayor Eric Adams calling on his administration to direct the NYPD to assign more police officers to the precinct. The letter was co-signed by Congresswoman Grace Meng, Borough President Donovan Richards, state Senators John Liu and Toby Stavisky, and Assembly members Nily Rozic, Ed Braunstein and Ron Kim — all representatives of the community.
“Our community is still reeling from the surge in anti-Asian hate crimes,” the letter reads. “Throughout the pandemic, friends and neighbors were afraid to let their parents walk outside. Now they open the papers on a daily basis to see a surge in violent crimes concentrated in Flushing. In order to ensure our city remains on the path toward recovery, and especially with the holiday season around the corner, we must tackle this crime wave head on.”
During a meeting with Ung and Richards, Deputy Inspector Louron Hall shared that the precinct is down by 21 police officers.
“If you also take into consideration restricted-duty and temporary transfers, the precinct has 42 less officers on patrol,” Ung said.
At 13.5 square miles, the 109th Precinct is one of the largest in the city. Complicating matters is that the precinct comprises a number of different neighborhoods that all present their own unique policing challenges, according to the letter.
Ung said that the type of policing required in the bustling district is different from policing required in largely residential neighborhoods like Whitestone, making the allocation of the precinct’s diminished resources even more complicated. The councilwoman added that while her constituents are thankful and appreciative of the eight probationary officers that are part of a field training unit recently assigned to foot patrol the area, more needs to be done.
“Recently, the Department of Justice announced nearly $140 million in additional funding for law enforcement hirings to help advance community policing. Out of this total fund, New York City’s Police Department received over $8 million,” Ung said in the letter.
The lawmakers are requesting NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell to “give serious consideration” to assigning some of the new police officers to the precinct and begin refilling its depleted ranks. They’re also requesting a special task force to support the precinct at least through the end of Lunar New Year, as there is likely to be an increase in thefts during that time period.
In her first State of the District Address to the community on Dec. 14 at the Flushing Glow Community Center, Ung reiterated that public safety must be their No. 1 priority.
“I will be working closely with the mayor’s office to ensure we get the resources we need to keep our families safe,” Ung said.
“We’ll always be there for all of our communities”
On Dec. 15, new NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey, along with NYPD officials and NYC Department of Small Business Services Kevin Kim, met with community members in Flushing to discuss the increase in robberies and other crimes in the area.
According to Maddrey, the NYPD is working closely together to make sure they increase safety, adding that “people’s quality of life increases, and that people are able to shop this holiday season and every day of the year, feeling safe and secure in their neighborhoods.”
Maddrey had also promised to send extra police officers to aid the Flushing community.
“We love this community,” Maddrey said. “When they call and say we need a little help, we’ll be here. We’ll always be there for all our communities.”
In a statement to QNS, a spokesperson from DCPI said the NYPD continues to focus on its mission of public safety for all New Yorkers.
“With its Neighborhood Safety Teams, its intelligence-driven approach to long-term investigations, and its Neighborhood Policing philosophy, the NYPD is building strong relationships in communities across the city,” the spokesperson said.