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Gowanus Rallies for Better Neighborhood Safety After Gunpoint Robbery

By Leslie Albrecht | December 19, 2012 9:39am

GOWANUS — Gowanus' growing business community is taking action on crime prevention and launching a more active relationship with cops in the wake of a recent gunpoint robbery.

Police are still investigating the crime, which happened at 4:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving, as Emily Elsen, co-owner of pie shop Four & Twenty Blackbirds on Eighth Street and Third Avenue, was locking up for the day.

When she got into her car, a young man with a gun appeared at her driver side window, opened the door and robbed her of her cell phone and laptop, Elsen told DNAinfo. He was with two accomplices, she said.

The brazen daytime robbery sent shockwaves through the neighborhood, where violent crime is relatively rare. Last week local merchants, residents and officials sat down with cops to get an update on the incident and learn about what they can do to address crime.

Concerned merchants quizzed Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri, commanding officer of the 78th Precinct, on how to protect themselves.

"As people were sitting down to their Thanksgiving dinners, outside on the street somebody was pulling a gun on one of our neighbors," said resident Julius Lang of the Eighth Street Block Association, who helped organize the meeting.

No arrests have been made in the robbery and police are still investigating, Ameri said. He reassured the group that major crime overall is down this year in the 78th Precinct, which covers Park Slope, Prospect Park, the Barclays Center and Gowanus. Robberies have dropped by 9.6 percent in 2012; 160 have been reported this year, compared with 177 in 2011, according to the NYPD.

"The good news is, we haven't had an incident similar to it," Ameri said. "It's not a chronic problem."

He advised businesses to get a free security evaluation from the precinct's Community Affairs officers, who will look at windows, doors and locks and suggest improvements.

Ameri also suggested that locals call 311 to report non-emergency problems that need police attention. He said he reviews 311 data each week to spot trends in the neighborhood, then assigns patrols based on that information.

"It really is beneficial to me in terms of allocating my resources," Ameri said.

Paul Basile, founder of the neighborhood group the Gowanus Alliance, said he'd like to see more officers on the street to address ongoing problems like prostitution on Third Avenue. Elsen said she'd like more police presence too, but also noted that an officer from the 78th Precinct had checked in on her shop just hours before the Thanksgiving robbery.

The meeting between cops and Gowanus locals included about a dozen business owners, some of whom were newer arrivals to the neighborhood such as Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue and Brooklyn Homebrew. It was held at Halyards, a bar that opened in 2011.

The session could be the beginning of more formal attempts to organize Gowanus' growing community of small business owners, which doesn't have a BID or official group to represent its interests.

Ameri apologized that it was his first official visit to Gowanus since taking the reins at the 78th Precinct a year ago, but he pointed out that no neighborhood group had invited him to visit. He said he has a direct line of communication with other parts of his precinct through groups like the Fifth Avenue BID, and Park Slope Parents, which has some 4,700 members.

Representatives from those groups often attend the precinct's monthly Community Council meetings, Ameri said, and he invited Gowanus locals to the meetings as well.

Basile, who formed the Gowanus Alliance in 2011 to tackle quality of life issues in the neighborhood, said he could serve as representative to funnel citizen concerns to the police.

"Gowanus is great, it's vibrant," Basile said. "We have all these new businesses, and we want the businesses to know they're going to be safe if they come here."