2009-02-18 / Features

Astoria-LIC Crime Declines, Vorbeck Tells Bd. 1 Cabinet

BY THOMAS COGAN

At the February meeting of the Community Board 1 cabinet, 114th Police Precinct Commander Deputy Inspector Paul Vorbeck delivered a long report on the status of law and order in Astoria and Long Island City, declaring it good while indicating how much better it could be. There were also reports from Domestic Violence Services and Phoenix House. The Department of Transportation report brought up festive street closings, which drew inquiries about the difference between them and street fairs, of which Astoria has many.

Vorbeck began by saying that within the bounds of the 114th Precinct in 2008, crime declined by about 10 percent. But even as he listed the index crimes and declared their decrease or increase, he had to describe them, even the unsolved ones that frustrate law enforcement. He said that since October 20 his detectives have been looking for the male perpetrator of a street rape. He was evidently a stranger to the victim, but Vorbeck noted that most rapes occur between acquainted parties. He warned teenagers of that fact, citing instances where girls' parents have brought rape charges against boyfriends because the girls were underage and seemingly consensual acts really were not.

He was glad to say felony assaults were down but had to bring up occurrences like barroom fights to explain what felony assault is. He said that steady monitoring of bar/restaurants in an area teeming with them has instilled precautions in owners; or if it hasn't, there can be penalties, such as the closing of the club called Liquid. Burglaries are a sore point, he admitted, being up 17 percent during the past year. Occupant awareness of the openings burglars look for is important; monthly meetings among apartment house tenants are advised, he said. But grand larceny, which he called "one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country", largely because of identity theft, actually declined in the 114th by a full 19 percent in 2008. Grand larceny auto had a slight increase, thanks in large part to a man from Dix Hills on Long Island, who would drive a tow truck into Astoria in early morning hours and haul cars away from their parking spots on the street. He stole 17 before being collared in September, the commander said.

Vorbeck was happy to make a report for the decade also. He said that in 1998 there were 4,300 index crimes reported in the 114th, while there were 2,236—not much more than half— reported in 2008. Bringing it down to the month, he said that crime was down 12 percent in the 28-day period ended February 8. Burglaries were off; so was car theft. He concluded his address by referring to the mass arrest of drug dealers and weapons violators at Queensbridge Houses in January, saying such action will cause further crime decline. But Frances McDonald, a listener inclined to be skeptical, asked if he might attribute the recent crime drop to cold weather, and he had to admit that weather "is the policeman's best friend". Some residents of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments were concerned about graffiti and not ready to agree with Vorbeck that it has been "significantly reduced". Vorbeck tried to reassure them and everyone. "I'm confident the best is yet to come," he said. He also introduced Edwin Negron, the precinct's new community affairs officer, who has been with the 114th since June.

Alexandra Patino, executive director of the Family Justice Center of Queens, continued to publicize the center and its purpose of addressing the problem of domestic violence. The center, part of the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence, is located at 126-02 82nd Ave. in Kew Gardens, and has been in operation since June. It is the second such Family Justice Center, after the charter center at 350 Jay St. in Brooklyn.

Phoenix House moved into its 34-25 Vernon Blvd. address years ago, but only in the face of fierce local opposition. Now, the drug rehabilitation center is trying to reach out to the surrounding community, according to José Rosario, its managing director since 2007. Rosario, who has been in the Phoenix House system for 22 years, said that some time in the spring, on a date to be announced, Phoenix House will have a cleanup of the 9th Street- 34th Avenue area. Also in the spring, on Saturday, May 16, the organization will have a barbecue open house at the Vernon Boulevard address. Indicating how far community relations have come, Board 1 District Manager Lucille Hartmann announced that next month's cabinet meeting would be held at Phoenix House.

Making his Department of Transportation report, Felix Okolo spoke of weekend street closings to be staged during 2009 in various city neighborhoods. Ann Bruno of the board said that though the idea of these street closings may be to bring temporary festivity to certain localities, such closings might be the last thing Astoria needs, in view of the dozen street fairs to which it is annually subjected now. Okolo did not have any notification that Astoria had been selected for a DOT street closing.

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