2016-09-07 / Front Page

Peralta Calls For Stiffer Cabaret License Penalties

By Liz Goff
As part of his ongoing effort to clean up the Roosevelt Avenue corridor in Jackson Heights, State Sen. Jose Peralta wants to turn down the volume at new nightclubs along the strip, and increase penalties for both new and existing establishments that operate in violation of the New York City Cabaret Licensing law.

Peralta recently introduced legislation that would require the city Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) to increase penalties from $1,000 to $10,000 for establishments that violate cabaret licensing laws – especially for the increasing number of “$2 A Dance” bars that have been popping up along the troubled strip.

“We need to enforce current cabaret laws,” Peralta said. “We need to hit these people where it counts – in their pockets.”

Peralta included a provision in his proposed legislation that would mandate a temporary, 2-day suspension of a liquor license for bars that operate outside the law. The proposed legislation would also encourage DCA officials to refuse cabaret licenses in cases where local community boards have determined the establishments would have a negative impact on the community.

The western Queens lawmaker said he and his staff recently confirmed that at least 50 per cent of bars operating on Roosevelt Avenue do not have cabaret licenses – yet they offer live music and dancing in clear violation of the law.

Peralta has been calling on NYPD officials for years, to bring the department’s “Zero Tolerance” crime strategies back to the Roosevelt Avenue corridor by re-establishing a Roosevelt Avenue Task Force to police the commercial strip.

Peralta and City Councilmember Julissa Ferreras made the plea most recently in a January 2014 letter to outgoing Police Commissioner William Bratton, asking Bratton to commit additional resources to “rescue the economic heart of the community” from the pimps, prostitutes, counterfeiters and others who have stymied efforts to revive the struggling strip.”

Peralta and Ferreras made mention in the letter of the highly effective Roosevelt Avenue Task Force, established in November 1993 by Bratton and then-NYPD Queens Borough Commander Asst. Chief Robert Burke.

“To overcome the extent, depth and magnitude of the violence and criminal activity plaguing Roosevelt Avenue today, we would like to suggest that you consider working to launch a similarly comprehensive, targeted emergency operation,” Peralta and Ferreras said in their letter.

Peralta said he realizes that cleaning up Roosevelt Avenue is no easy task, but it can be accomplished with the same enforcement and effort that went into the city’s irca-1980s rehabilitation of the Times Square area. Peralta often describes Roosevelt Avenue as “the new Times Square.”

Commanding officers at the 110th and 115th Precincts were made responsible for initial organization and day-to-day operation of the original Roosevelt Avenue Task Force. Both commanders supervised specialized details of officers from the two precincts, along with officers from the Queens Vice Squad, the NYPD Fireworks Interdiction Team, the Traffic Enforcement Unit, Auto Theft Unit and other specialized teams. The commanders forwarded daily crime reports to police officials, who analyzed crime statistics and developed strategies based on the information.

The Task Force itself was comprised of a permanent roster of 24 officers and two supervisors who worked around the clock sharing enforcement responsibilities. The team initially worked out of an NYPD Temporary Headquarters Vehicle, a trailer that moved along the corridor based on criminal activity. The Task Fore became a permanent fixture on Roosevelt Avenue with the establishment of a mobile NYPD Substation located at 86th Street and Roosevelt Avenue. The substation was equipped with a system that made it possible for police to perform on-site arrest processing of individuals nabbed in the crackdown.

Statistics released in 1995 by the NYPD showed a 30 percent drop in homicides, a 25 per cent drop in auto crimes, 23 per cent drop in robberies, 18 per cent drop in burglaries and an 13 per cent drop in grand larcenies along the corridor in the two years after the Task Force was first established. Quality of Life crimes also dropped drastically along the strip, delighting merchants and area residents who felt safer and more secure while shopping there.

The enforcement was described in a July 1995 New York Times article as “one of the most visible and effective assaults on criminal activity in Queens – and in the city.”

The late City Councilmember Walter McCaffrey joined in the effort to clean up Roosevelt Avenue by establishing a crackdown with NYPD officials on prostitution and related offenses, and by ramping up enforcement by other city agencies including Sanitation, Buildings, Traffic, Transportation, Environmental, the Taxi & Limousine Commission and other agencies that deal directly with quality of life conditions.

Peralta said he would continue to push for his plan to establish a Business Improvement District (BID) on Roosevelt Avenue to help increase safety on the strip. The controversial plan has been on hold since neighbors and the business community voiced concern that the proposed BID would further gentrify the strip.

It is not his intention to gentrify the area by creating the BID, Peralta said. “I just want to make sure people feel safe walking and shopping along Roosevelt Avenue,”

Peralta said illegal dance clubs linked to increased crime, including human trafficking, are the number one concern voiced by his constituents. Increased penalties for establishments that operate without proper licensing is a step in the right direction, Peralta said.

It’s time to clean up Roosevelt Avenue, to reduce criminal activity on the strip and turn the corridor into the safe shopping and dining experience it once was, Peralta said. “It’s time to eliminate all the bad actors.”

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