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109th Precinct takes aim at prostitution

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As part of the city’s initiative to take on quality-of-life crimes, the 109th Precinct is targeting prostitution in downtown Flushing.

“We’re going to go back after the quality-of-life issues,” said Deputy Inspector James Waters of the 109th Precinct at the monthly community council meeting Jan. 9.

Waters listed the seven areas that Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly hopes to zero in on as part of the city’s initiative Operation Clean Sweep. The areas are squeegee men, panhandlers, prostitution, public urination, alcohol and marijuana, illegal peddling, and homelessness.

“If you take care of the small things, the bigger problems take care of themselves,” said Waters.

Waters said the 109th Precinct was planning to target all seven issues, but he emphasized that the immediate focus was on prostitution.

Waters singled out the industrial area around 32nd Avenue as the center of prostitution in downtown Flushing, in particular Collins, Downing, Farrington and Miller streets.

Thirty-second Avenue and the immediate area between Farrington Street and College Point Boulevard are dominated by warehouses and car repair shops. There are several pool halls, a few houses, one strip club and one small hotel in the area. Many of the streets are poorly lit.

According to police, it was in this very area, at 33rd Avenue and Miller Street, that an assistant district attorney was arrested for allegedly seeking sex from a prostitute.

Michael Connolly, 48, was arrested Jan. 4 and charged with patronizing a prostitute, said police.

Connolly, who had prosecuted prostitution cases at the Queens district attorney’s office, then quit his job on Jan. 9, said Meris Campbell, a spokeswoman at the office.

A salesman at Swan Tile and Cabinet, on College Point Boulevard right off 32nd Avenue, said he had noticed prostitutes in the area.

“We close at 6 p.m., and they usually come a little later,” said Ian Tan.

He said he often sees about five prostitutes on 32nd Avenue as he leaves work but has never had any problems with them.

A man who identified himself as Frank, who did not wish the name of his business revealed, said prostitution has been a steady presence in the area. While he said his business had not experienced any problems, he said he was glad to hear police were targeting the area.

“It’s not a good thing to have them in your backyard,” he said.

“Right now they’ve made quite a few arrests,” said Officer Frank Devereaux of the Crime Prevention Bureau of the 109th Precinct, speaking of the concentration on prostitution.

Devereaux said that in 2001, 95 people were arrested for prostitution and 81 people were arrested soliciting prostitutes in the 109th Precinct. In recent weeks, the 109th Precinct has picked up as many as 12 prostitutes in one night, said Devereaux.

Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of Community Board 7, said prostitution in the area of 32nd Avenue has been a problem for a several years.

While Bitterman said that street prostitution was holding steady, she was concerned that more brothels were coming to Flushing.

In particular, she pointed to the increase in bars in downtown Flushing which are approved by the State Liquor Authority.

“I’m concerned with the proliferation of liquor licenses,” said Bitterman.

Bitterman said she thought some of the bars might actually be fronts for brothels.

“Are they really bars? I don’t know,” she said.

But Devereaux said reports of brothels were not on the rise.

At the 109th Community Council meeting, Waters also emphasized the need to confront homelessness and panhandling.

He referred to one panhandler he had arrested shortly before Christmas, saying he had taken some criticism for the arrest.

“Then we found out ... on a real good day he made $850,” said Waters. “Then I wasn’t such a hard guy.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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