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Astoria Lost Half of Its Cops Since 2001, City Councilman Says

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | August 2, 2012 7:14am
Astoria Councilma Peter F. Vallone, Jr. says the reason the crime is up in the neighborhood is that there are not enough cops on the streets.
Astoria Councilma Peter F. Vallone, Jr. says the reason the crime is up in the neighborhood is that there are not enough cops on the streets.
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

QUEENS — Astoria, which is experiencing a spike in crime this year, has seen its police force cut by almost half in the past decade, said City Councilman Peter Vallone, who is calling for an increase in the number of cops.

Overall crime in the 114th Precinct, which covers the neighborhood and parts of Long Island City, is up more than 10 percent this year compared to 2011, fueled by an increase in murder, rape, break-ins and thefts, according to the NYPD.

In fact, there has been an increase in all of the seven major crime categories that the department tracks, NYPD data shows.

Through July 22, there have been 260 burglaries in the precinct, including a rash of break-ins targeting antique shops, restaurants, bars, even laundromats, compared to 229 over the same period last year, an increase of 13.5 percent, NYPD statistics showed.

There have also been 6 murders this year, compared to 4 last year during the same time period. And rapes are up nearly 40 percent — 25 this year compared to 18 in 2011.

Auto theft, which has been nearly eradicated across the city over the past two decades, is up nearly 18 percent since the beginning of the year.

Vallone, the chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, says the reason for the increase is that there are not enough cops on the streets of the neighborhood.

He said staffing in the precinct has been cut nearly in half since 2001, when there were around 300 cops. Now, there are only about 160, he added.

The size of the NYPD has decreased from 41,000 officers in 2001 to 35,000 today, primarily due to the bad economy, Vallone said. As a result, crime is increasing in every borough for the first time in 20 years.

“It’s not only Astoria,” he noted Tuesday during a meeting with residents, where they discussed a neighborhood watch initiative recently resurrected in Astoria after more than 25 years.

“I don’t want people to think that we have a problem that isn’t happening everywhere,” he said. “Every other outer borough precinct is in the exact same situation."

The only precincts that have more cops are those in Manhattan, he said, and those that are part of the Operation Impact initiative, which floods high-crime areas with rookie cops.

In response to a recent suggestion by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the murder rate is down and the city doesn't need more cops, Vallone said public safety goes beyond the number of people who fall victim to homicide.

"It's not all about the murder rate," he said. "There is a lot of other crimes going on.”

Astoria residents who attended the meeting said they were worried about safety in the area.

Jeannie Ortiz, 41, who lives on 9th Street and 27th Avenue, said two people had been stabbed and robbed in her building in recent months.

“It’s been getting worse in the last two years,” she said.

Barbara Pollock, vice president of the 114th Civilian Observation Patrol, a civilian organization that patrols the area without getting physically involved, said police needs extra eyes and ears in the neighborhood, and encouraged residents to join the group or a neighborhood watch, whose members are trained to report crime but do not patrol the streets.

“For many years we’ve been enjoying less crime and people have forgotten,” Pollock said.

The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.