ASTORIA – Lourdes Vintimilla was already mugged once in her neighborhood. She had been walking home from work at about 12:30 a.m., when a man grabbed her, put a knife to her throat and demanded money. She gave him whatever she had and he ran away.
That incident took place in the '90s, but the current uptick in crime in Astoria, where rapes are up 60 percent so far this year, led Vintimilla to decide that she needs to know how to better defend herself. “You have to be prepared,” said Vintimilla, 46, a secretary at a chiropractic office.
On Wednesday night she attended a self-defense seminar organized by the New York Anti-Crime Agency, an Astoria based non-profit. The seminar was recorded and portions of it will be turned into a DVD that will be distributed in the community through local organizations, churches and schools, especially among young women.
“We are doing it because of the rash of incidents,” said Antonio Meloni, director of NY Anti-Crime, who said there had been an increase in electronic crimes in which “people are stealing cellphones and laptops.”
During the seminar, residents heard many safety tips. For example, they learned that it is better to go into a public place like a store or café than their homes if they think they are being followed in order to be around more people and not disclose where they live.
Participants also were told not to enter their house if they think someone has broken in, but to call the police instead. Meloni, who has studied martial arts, also presented some self-defense moves.
Overall crime in the 114th Precinct, which covers Astoria and parts of Long Island City, is up more than 11 percent this year compared to 2011. According to the NYPD statistics, the spike has been fueled by an increase in murder, rape, and thefts.
Through Sept. 9th, there have been 7 murders this year, compared to 4 last year during the same time period. Rapes are up 60 percent — there have been 32 this year, compared to 20 in 2011.
There have also been 316 burglaries, compared to 301 over the same period last year, an increase of 5 percent, NYPD statistics showed.
Local councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who participated in the seminar, said that "crime is up in every borough for the first time in 20 years,” and blamed the lack of cops.
The size of the NYPD has decreased from 41,000 officers in 2001 to 35,000 today. And more than 10,000 cops retire over the next few years, the result of a hiring boom in the early '90s.
In Astoria, there were around 300 cops at one point and now there are half that, said Vallone, who recently resurrected a neighborhood watch initiative in the neighborhood after more than 25 years. “It’s important to help them (NYPD) and to help yourself,” he said.