Kelly Speaks At Astoria Civic Association Police Night
At the April meeting of the Astoria Civic Association, former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. began by announcing that this was the organization's annual police night. From the dais in the ballroom at Riccardo's on 24th Avenue he introduced the man at the head of the police force, whom he described as "probably the best commissioner in the history of police commissioners". That would take in a lot of history and a lot of commissioners, including Theodore Roosevelt, whose name was invoked at one time during the evening. Before the object of such praise, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, arose to speak, City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., chair of the council public safety committee, noted that he has labored for years, though vainly, to obtain more police officers for the war on crime, "and this man"- Kelly- "makes me look like an idiot" by overseeing a falling crime rate with diminished forces. At the rostrum, the commissioner returned the compliments by saying that when he was deputy commissioner under Lee Brown in 1990, when the crime rate was astronomical by today's standards, the police were able to get a significant increase in manpower mainly through the efforts of City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr.; while in the current century, Peter Vallone Jr. and the public safety committee have been constantly attentive to the work and welfare of the police.
He called Astoria a "one of a kind" neighborhood and praised the 114th Police Precinct's recent record of bringing the crime rate down 32 percent and maintaining contact and interaction with the community. Speaking generally, he said that recruitment is a continuing problem, since the starting salary for police officers is fixed at a little above $25,000 annually. He praised the quality of recruited personnel but said the department does not have them in sufficient numbers. The crime rate keeps declining, and he was glad to emphasize that. Though, of course, he deplored one murder as one murder too many, he recognized a shrinking number of homicides- 496 in 2007, down from 2,267 in 1990- as a civic improvement. Concentration of force in areas where the crime rate is holding steady or rising, areas known as impact zones, has been effective, he said, and the department has placed rookies or relatively inexperienced officers in such zones under the guidance of veterans as a means of thrusting experience on them. The commissioner said crime in schools was down 19 percent in recent months, and even more in impact schools. Subway crime has declined greatly, he noted, now averaging six crimes per day, compared to 46 per day in that year of bad news, 1990. In contrast, the presence of graffiti is not in decline, and he noted that the 114th Precinct handles more graffiti complaints than any other in the city, though it has the highest number of arrests, too. Again he praised Peter Vallone Jr., probably the most vigilant graffiti fighter in the city council. In summation, Kelly said that the Police Department is not perfect but it's good, and he's proud to be at the head of it.
He took some questions, the first of which was about Roosevelt Island, which is part of New York County, or Manhattan, but is patrolled by officers of the 114th Precinct. He was asked why this must be, and he replied that since the island is accessible to vehicles only from the 36th Street Bridge in Astoria, there is no choice. The questioner persisted that Roosevelt Island's population is steadily increasing, putting greater pressure on the precinct that serves it. Kelly said he's always aware of that problem but sees the 114th as just another precinct faced with population growth, and in that it is not alone. Pursuing the recruitment problem, Mary O'Hara of Community Board 1 asked the commissioner if the department could get something like a five-year commitment from those just joining. Kelly said he liked the concept but knows it is not enforceable. Out-of-town police departments and even agencies within the city such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority promote their benefits to NYPD officers, leading to an attrition rate of 2 percent annually. To another questioner he said he was aware of patrol car officers who use their cellphones while driving, deploring it as equally unlawful as when the practice is engaged in by civilians; and to Jim Condes's question he replied no, he wasn't going to run for mayor or any other public office.
Deputy Chief Diane Pizzuti, Patrol Borough Queens North commander, followed the commissioner to talk about youth, graffiti and related matters, in the process introducing Sergeant Felipe Gomez, a youth officer and Sergeant Tim Everoski, a community affairs officer. She began by talking about an 11-week pilot program instituted at Forest Hills H. S., dealing with graffiti and positive peer pressure exertion in regard to cleaning it up. She looked forward to extending it to other schools. Gomez, who has been on the force 15 years, said he grew up in Brooklyn and was a boxing prospect before he turned to the police force. He said too many youths have no positive outlook and he tries to convert them to one. Many would actually like to be on the police force, he said, and he must caution them that incurring a crime record would ruin that prospect. Everoski praised youth clubs, of which Astoria has a well-known one. From the floor, Anthony Meloni, another Board 1 member, spoke of the second chance program in the precinct that deals with youths who have fallen into trouble. He said that in the past 15 years it has had a 92 percent success rate.
114th Precinct Commander Deputy Inspector Paul Vorbeck, who said he is a Middle Village native, thanked Kelly for assigning him to a precinct in his home borough, where he took command earlier this year. Previously, he had been in the 94th Precinct in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.