May 2, 2012 By Christian Murray
Sunnyside and Woodside residents fired a volley of complaints against the captain of the 108th police precinct on Monday night, claiming that the cops are too slow to respond to calls, that there is a lack of a police presence in the neighborhood and that the area is no longer safe.
Captain Donald Powers, the head of the 108th police precinct, told 130 residents at All Saints Church in Sunnyside that the neighborhood remains safe, despite the precinct being stretched in terms of manpower. He said that when the cops are slow to respond to 911 calls, it’s often because there are other crimes in progress where a greater danger is present.
The public meeting with the captain was organized by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer’s office. Residents were free to ask questions concerning recent crime and community safety.
Powers tried to reassure the attendees through the use of statistics. He said that the number of reported crimes in the precinct—which covers Sunnyside, Woodside, part of Maspeth and LIC—is down about 80 percent from 1993 levels. For example, he said, in 1993 there were 1,026 robberies, compared to 155 in 2011. Meanwhile, the number of crimes reported is up just 1% this year, compared to the same time period in 2011.
“We don’t have a lot of cops, but we know who the bad guys are in this neighborhood [precinct],” Powers said, referring to felons who are out on probation or are known recidivists. “It’s like small town policing.”
But many residents were not convinced that these are safe times. The police have not made an arrest following the groping incident on the morning of April 8 in Sunnyside Gardens. Furthermore, there were 3 burglaries in Sunnyside Gardens in the past 28 days and two grand larcenies. However, the problem with tire & rim thefts appears to have abated, with none reported in Sunnyside in the past month.
The man believed to be responsible for three armed robberies near 50th Ave (44th to 46th Streets) in Woodside last month has yet to be apprehended, although the police have leads. The alleged perpetrator took his victims at gunpoint to an ATM machine at a bodega and demanded cash.
One attendee, who said she was assaulted at P.S.150 (43rd Ave. and 42nd Street) last year, bemoaned the fact that it took the police 52 minutes to arrive after she reported the incident. She kept repeating: “52 minutes it took them.”
Powers said the police have a priority list that kicks into place following each 911 call. When someone’s life is a risk, that’s the first priority, he said – and then the police work down the list. “Whatever cops I have are out there [in the precinct]. It shouldn’t take 52 minutes…but it doesn’t mean they are out having lunch.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said that he has written a letter to police commissioner Raymond Kelly urging the department to send more cops to the precinct. Powers said he is already expecting 8 more cops to join the precinct shortly.
“I never see patrol cars,” another woman claimed, alleging that Sunnyside is short changed in terms of a police presence. Powers said that the entire 5.1 sq mile precinct is divided into 12 sectors and each sector is patrolled equally. However, he did add, that 911 calls will often divert patrol cars away from an area when a significant crime occurs elsewhere.
“We get a lot of 911 calls out to Woodside,” he said, which often results in cars being sent from their sectors to the incident.
One Sunnyside Gardens resident complained that when she called the community affairs office at the 108 precinct the phone rang 40 to 50 times without answer. She said that someone had been stealing hubcaps in the neighborhood and she wanted the precinct to know. Powers said a better option is to call 311 and get the complaint filed and time stamped.
One woman, who has a baby, wondered how she should walk along 50th Avenue in Woodside, where the latest armed robberies have been occurring during daylight hours, without being a target. Powers told her to stay alert and avoid being distracted by cell/smart phones.
Powers was asked whether the police fudged crime reports to generate better crime statistics. One couple, whose house was almost broken into, said that the police wrote up the crime as “criminal mischief” despite there being evidence of an attempted burglary. “Our screen doors were slashed,” the couple said.
Powers debunked the claims that the crime statistics were manipulated. “There is no conspiracy to hide crimes,” adding that “at times crimes will be upgraded or downgraded once more of the facts are known.” He said he was unable to speak of the particular incident pertaining to the attempted break in without knowing all the facts.
Meanwhile, Van Bramer said that he has allocated $200,000 of city funds to be spent on the installation of surveillance cameras. He said that he and Powers have yet to determine where they would be located.