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Public Housing Building Needs More Security, Residents Say

By Mary Johnson | October 20, 2011 7:55am
Residents at 344 E. 28th Street are asking police and elected officials to help them fight the crime plaguing their building.
Residents at 344 E. 28th Street are asking police and elected officials to help them fight the crime plaguing their building.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

KIPS BAY — A group of outraged residents from 344 E. 28th Street, a New York City Housing Authority building, demanded action to stop their home from being a haven for drug dealers and criminals.

The group came to a meeting of the 13th Precinct Community Council on Tuesday night, asking for action to improve safety at the 26-story building, which has about 225 apartments and 470 residents and is part of the Straus Houses, a complex that includes another two towers at 228 E. 28th Street.

“We don’t feel safe at all,” said Maria Trinidad, 62, vice president of the tenants association at 344 E. 28th Street. “I lived here all my life. All of a sudden, I don’t know who lives here. It’s getting to be so bad.”

The residents said that drug deals are rampant in and around the building and that homeless people from the nearby men's shelter at Bellevue frequently loiter in the area.

Several tenants said they are repeatedly threatened to keep them from reporting illegal activities, and Trinidad said her 89-year-old mother was recently assaulted by someone in front of the building.

“[The police] are trying to help,” Trinidad said. “The problem is, we don’t have enough security.”

At the meeting, Deputy Inspector Ted Bernsten said he was very familiar with the problems at Straus Houses. Last year, 13 search warrants were executed there, Bernsten said, although he did not specify how many took place in each building in the complex.

Bernsten also acknowledged that his precinct is looking deeper into the situation at the Straus Houses, but he declined to discuss the extent of any possible operations publicly.

The residents pleaded with Bernsten for more police presence in the area. They said the officers who currently roam the area stop at 2 a.m., just when the illegal activity is ramping up for the night.

They also said cops don't patrol the area on Sundays and Mondays.

“So Sunday and Monday, we’re vulnerable. [Criminals] know that,” Trinidad said. “Everybody knows, go to 344 E. 28th street. That’s where the good stuff is. Nobody bothers you.”

To help the residents, Bernsten said he was planning to meet with Councilwoman Rosie Mendez on Friday to discuss the possibility of upgrading the camera system inside the Straus Houses.

“The camera in the lobby is useless to me,” Bernsten said at the meeting.

But more cameras in different parts of the building, possibly monitored by police through the VIPER program, could help deal with enforcement problems.

“We have to see [the illegal activity] as a police department,” Bernsten said, adding that hearing about the activity from tenants wasn't enough to start arresting people.

Councilwoman Mendez, who helped the building get the funding to install its current camera system back in 2006, said she would have to weigh a request for an upgraded system against others for buildings that currently have no security cameras at all.

But she is aware of the ongoing issues at the building, she said.

“When I was at the last tenant meeting, there were concerns about safety,” Mendez said. “I noticed individuals who were coming in the building, loitering, who certainly did not live there.”

While at that meeting, Mendez said she witnessed an older, shirtless man causing a stir in the building before residents helped get him out.

“I’m confident we can come up with some solutions to abate the situation for the residents there, between the precinct and the housing authority and however I can help,” Mendez said.

After the 13th Precinct Community Council meeting ended, the tenants from 344 E. 28th Street gathered around several wanted posters in the precinct house, pointing to people they believed they had seen hanging around their building.

“It’s hard on us,” said Trinidad. “We have to get involved with these elected officials because they're the one’s that need to help us with something.”