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Neighborhood Watch Ready to Help Cops in Astoria

Council Member Peter Vallone Jr. during a meeting with neighborhood watch volunteers
Council Member Peter Vallone Jr. during a meeting with neighborhood watch volunteers
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Council Member Peter Vallone's office

ASTORIA — Crooks and thugs beware.

Astoria is armed with dozens of newly trained block-watch experts ready to rein in the neighborhood's 5 percent uptick in major crime.

"I really care about this neighborhood and I'm trying to do my part to improve the situation," said Bronwyn Burke, one of about 30 residents coached last week by NYPD officers on how to spot and effectively report crimes.

The neighborhood watch — the first of its kind in Astoria in more than 25 years — is set to become "extra eyes and ears for police officers," officials said.

It's the brainchild of Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who posted the idea on Facebook and other sites in November and organized the first training session last week.

Burke, 49, has lived in Astoria for more than 20 years. But last year, after witnessing a beating outside a bar on the block where she lives, combined with her increased concerns about noise, she decided to take action. Burke, who works in legal services, spotted Vallone's Facebook post and jumped on board.

"I thought it was a great idea," she said.

Last week, volunteers were given block-watcher IDs, trained how to detect suspicious behavior and activity — and instructed how to give useful specifics when they call 311 or 911. Local officials said they hope the program will soon expand beyond 30 volunteers.

Vallone, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, said he decided to work with the 114th Precinct to create the watch after numerous troubling criminal incidents in Astoria last fall, including an attempted rape, three shootings in one weekend, gropings and car break-ins.

Major crime in the 114th Precinct is up about 5 percent this year through May 20, according to NYPD statistics.

"Our police officers are doing a tremendous job of keeping our streets safe by preventing and fighting crime. But each day, less and less cops are patrolling our neighborhoods," said Vallone. "Precincts are operating at half strength and require assistance. That’s where the neighborhood watch comes in."

Officials with the 114th Precinct did not immediately return calls for comment.

The neighborhood watch will work hand-in-hand with the 114th Civ-Op, a civilian observation organization that patrols Astoria, officials said.

Antonio Meloni, chairman of the public safety committee for Community Board 1, said it’s great that residents are working in coordination with police, "getting involved, and are trying to make the neighborhood safer."