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Queens South cops hold dialogue with community

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If food is the way to a community's heart, the officers who make up Patrol Borough Queens South are heading in the right direction.

The command, which includes the eight precincts covering southern Queens, held its first community breakfast last Thursday at the Electric Industry Center in Flushing to celebrate the cooperation between the police and the public.

"We're here today to celebrate the relationship we have with the community in Queens," said Sgt. Penny Walthall, supervisor for Community Affairs in Queens South. "We have support from you when we have good things like our Harmony Picnic, and we have support when we have bad things like Sept. 11."

Establishing a good rapport between the police and the community is not an easy task, especially in a place like Queens, where at least 175 different ethnic and religious groups make up the various neighborhoods, said Assistant Chief Thomas Lawless, commander of Patrol Borough Queens South. Part of his strategy has been to open the precinct houses to the community, he said.

"It's a tremendous challenge," he said. "We have a lot of new immigrants here who come from countries where they don't have a good relationship with the police."

The command's success can be seen in the drop in crime, about a 70 percent reduction since 1993, Lawless said. A report he found from 1993 showed a total of 49,000 felonies for the year in Patrol Borough Queens South, a vast difference from the 14,900 felonies reported last year, he said. The command covers the 100th, 101st, 102nd, 103rd, 105th, 106th, 107th and 113th precincts.

"The men and women in Queen South have done a tremendous job reducing crime," Lawless said.

But there is still a way to go, said one woman from Jamaica, who told the commander that drug dealers have set up shop on her block on Guy R. Brewer Boulevard.

"You go outside to empty the garbage and you have to duck and run back into the house," said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. "Someone's going to get killed and it's going to be one of us."

While Lawless promised to investigate the drug trafficking, he acknowledged "it's very hard to make it go away."

Imam Abdul Azeem-Khan, the leader of a Jamaica mosque, complained that traffic agents have been ticketing people going to Friday prayers who park in a no-parking zone even though they have permission from the local precinct.

"Sometimes we have problems with tickets," Azeem-Khan said. "If the tickets go through, the judge says the Police Department has no right to issue permission to park during prayer."

But Lawless disagreed, saying the police may bend the rules in a case like this.

"We kind of do whatever we want when it comes to the community," he said. "It's our responsibility to do everything we can to make sure you can worship in peace."

Lawless also warned that budget cuts will mean fewer officers on the street, but he maintains his commitment to continue bringing crime down, he said.

"We're trying to do more with less," Lawless said. "We try to work a little harder and work a little smarter, because we are going to see less cops on the street."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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