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Juniper civic blasts top cop for failure to show at meet

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Civic leaders and politicians blasted top brass at the NYPD last Thursday night for ignoring their complaints about low staffing in the 104th Precinct when a high-ranking police official failed to show up for a scheduled appearance.

The headliner at the combined meeting of the Juniper Park Civic Association and COP 104 was to have been New York Police Department Chief of Patrol Nicholas Estavillo, who ultimately canceled his visit to the Our Lady of Hope auditorium without offering an explanation.

Lt. Brian Burke, a spokesman for the NYPD, said Estavillo missed the meeting because the invitation “did not come through the appropriate channels and wasn’t received until a short period before the actual meeting was to occur,” by which time the chief had committed to another engagement.

“It was in no way a snub towards the community or any representatives of the community,” Burke said Monday.

But Estavillo’s absence fanned the ire of the community over its longstanding charge that the 104th Precinct, which covers Ridgewood, Glendale, Maspeth and Middle Village, has been shortchanged in the number of officers assigned to its rolls.

“What we’ve been denied is a justification from One Police Plaza,” said state Assemblyman Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills), alluding to the Manhattan headquarters where Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and other top cops are based. “I think we certainly deserve the respect to have an answer, to have a meeting, for One Police Plaza to listen to our concerns.”

Juniper Civic President Robert Holden, who has spearheaded the fight for better staffing, said the some 130 officers assigned to the precinct are too few to effectively protect the community against quality-of-life crimes.

“That number is obscene,” he said at the start of the meeting. “We need more officers.”

The commanding officer of the 104th, Capt. Peter Loehle, later said the precinct’s staffing is down to a total of 142 officers, 133 of whom are full-time, active-duty cops.

The precinct was assigned only 10 new rookie cops out of the most recent graduating class of new officers, the lowest number in the borough.

Holden and politicians were particularly incensed that two officers from the 104th Precinct had been temporarily reassigned to the 110th Precinct to assist in tackling burglaries in Corona and Elmhurst. Although crime statistics show the 104th Precinct has logged more burglaries this year than the 110th — 537 compared to 434 — the figure in the 110th Precinct represents a steep rise of 42.7 percent over last year. Burglaries have also climbed in the 104th Precinct, but by only 7.4 percent.

“We want our fair share of police protection,” said City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village). “It’s unbelievable that we’re sending two officers to the 110.”

Despite the community’s outrage at NYPD officials, Loehle received praise for having continued to bring about a reduction in crime and increase in arrests in spite of dwindling staff levels.

“He’s a godsend. He’s doing the best he can,” Holden said. “We want to give him the tools, we want to give him the necessary ammunition to fight crime.”

Loehle and Deputy Inspector James Reilly of Patrol Borough Queens North both attended the meeting to offer an account of recent crime statistics.

Although overall crime has dropped about 5 percent from last year, the precinct has seen a spike in both robbery, which rose 18.6 percent, and grand larceny, which climbed by 3.7 percent.

Loehle said the precinct is increasing its presence at cemeteries in response to an alarming trend of grand larcenies. Cars left in the driveways by people visiting graves have been broken into at least four times over the past month, Loehle said, particularly at St. John’s Cemetery.

The precinct is due for a number of improvements in infrastructure and equipment, Loehle said.

Gallagher, the district’s City Councilman, has allocated $60,000 to fund an overhaul of the precinct’s aging telephone system, which is notorious for its inability to handle multiple calls.

A land-use review process is underway to build a parking lot for local police vehicles, which currently line the streets outside the Catalpa Avenue precinct in a neighborhood where parking is already difficult.

Meanwhile, a mobile command unit that can be stationed anywhere a police presence is required should be delivered to the precinct by the end of October, Loehle said.

The captain also encouraged residents to sign up for the precinct’s block watch program to help report crimes in the neighborhood.

“It’s a way of participating and helping us out,” he said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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