Neighborhood Watch Kicks Off In Astoria
By Jason Banrey
In light of a recent Astoria crime surge, Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) organized the first meeting of a new Neighborhood Watch in an effort to take back the streets.
The event was attended by a core group of community leaders, local residents and elected officials who came together to discuss strategies to deter criminal activity in an area that has recently seen an attempted rape, three shootings, multiple gropings and numerous car break-ins.
“We’re not going to stop crime, but we certainly can help the police do that,” Vallone said to the crowd of nearly 30 participants in Quontic Bank.
Vallone, who chairs the City’s Public Safety Committee, said he believes the extra eyes and ears of neighborhood residents will help deter criminal activity. Although he discouraged residents from intervening in criminal activity, he did suggest battling graffiti.
“One thing we certainly can do is fight graffiti,” said Vallone who has dedicated much of his time in office to cleansing Western Queens of illegal street art. “Although it may seem like a small offense, it is a gateway for a kid to enter into a world of crime.”
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) also pledged her support to the formation of a new Neighborhood Watch. In light of the recent gropings, which surged during the summer and carried on through the fall, Simotas suggested using a cellular phone as an instrument to fight crime.
“Let’s be mindful of the tools we have and use them,” said Simotas. “Take a picture of the person committing a crime. If you have a photograph it can help prosecute that crime.”
In September, following an incident in which a young girl was inappropriately touched by an unknown man, Vallone, Simotas, and State Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) joined together to introduce a bill that would protect children from predators.
Prior to the Neighbor Watch meeting, an anti-crime rally was held by the three elected officials who stood with local leaders to protest recent area crimes.
Currently, the 114th Civ-Op, a civilian observation patrol organization, has been vigilantly watching over Astoria. But over their three decades of existence they have seen their participation levels diminish.
“It’s an unsettling time,” said Barbara Pollack, vice president of the 114th Civ-Op. “We can use all the participants we can get. We can’t just sit back and wait for more incidents to occur we need to stand up.”
Although NYPD CompStats data reveal a drop in overall criminal activity in the 114th Precinct, police officers have been taken out of many borough neighborhoods to address the increase in Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
“With fewer police officers patrolling neighborhoods and a decreasing uniformed headcount,” Vallone said. “It’s more important than ever for our citizens to form neighborhood watch programs and work with the existing public safety groups like the 114th Civ-Op.”
Reach Reporter Jason Banrey at email@example.com or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128.