"Laurelton is our community and we concerned citizens are striving to make it better," Price Olivier, the chairman of the civic group's quality-of-life committee, told police representatives. "We need your help. We need all you can give us. We need you to ask for more manpower."
At the gathering, committee leaders and invited guests offered a broadly optimistic assessment of the community's direction, talking about a new EMS station at 222nd Street and Merrick Boulevard, renovations at the local Long Island Rail Road station and a rezoning plan aimed at limiting development.
But concerns over a perceived lack of police presence and a scarcity of youth programming were issues that surfaced repeatedly during the third annual State of Southeastern Queens Town Hall Meeting at PS 156 at 229-02 137th Ave.
"To illustrate the lack of police presence in Laurelton we only need look at the number of graffitis in our storefronts," Olivier said.
He said it can take police as many as two hours to respond to a graffiti call.
Deputy Inspector Thomas Manzolillo said, however, that response times in the 105th Precinct, the largest in the borough, are better than the citywide average.
No call to police goes ignored, he said, but responses must be prioritized, meaning cases involving immediate danger are likely to get handled first.
Although in recent years the Police Department's responsibilities have expanded from fighting crime and working community engagement to include combating terrorism, Manzolillo said his precinct is up to the task.
"We're doing the best we can with what we've got," Manzolillo said. "Like the whole city, we're working smarter not harder."
The task may become a bit more difficult during the Republican Convention this summer, when police are pulled from the outer boroughs to assist with security at the Madison Square Garden event, said Tom Dale, of Queens Patrol Borough South.
"Things are going to get a little tough around then, but I'm gonna fight to get as many officers as I can in Queens," he said.
Dale also said that 750 new officers will hit the streets in July after graduating from the police academy. And he pointed to a new special crime scene investigation unit that has been established at North Conduit Avenue and Francis Lewis Boulevard, which he said would draw as many as 150 commuting officers through the neighborhood every day.
For its part, the Concerned Citizens civic group reminded attendees that it is working to form its own citizen patrol unit under the auspices of the 105th Police Precinct.
Audience members also asked Manzolillo and Dale about plans to address youth loitering along Merrick Boulevard in the 220s.
"A lot of the youth there are not doing anything illegal and we can't do anything if they're not committing a crime," said Nicole Dean, community affairs officer for the 105th Precinct.
She and other panel members stressed the importance of creating viable youth programs to keep area teens and children productively occupied. Dean said the Police Athletic League is meeting with local principals to create sports programs for youth. Other law enforcement initiatives include the Explorers and Cadet programs that give youth firsthand experience with police and rescue work.
State Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) said the mayor's proposed budget calls for cuts in funding to summer employment programs.
Last year about 50,000 youth found jobs through various programs, Scarborough said. This year, however, he expected that number to drop to 35,000.
The state Assembly was working to create a permanent summer jobs program. The initiative passes every year in the Democrat-controlled Assembly but more support was needed in the Senate, he said.
In other matters, John McFarland, the Fire Department/EMS fort commander for Queens, said bids were opened last week for the construction of an EMS station at 222nd Street and Merrick Boulevard.
Groundbreaking is slated for July. McFarland said the station will allow for better deployment of ambulances, which must currently travel from Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica.
In other news, Felix Thompson, chairman of the civic group's Long Island Rail Road Committee, said work will begin in July to repave the parking lot outside the Laurelton station, which underwent a major renovation in February.
Concerned Citizens President Kimberly Francis said the group was also working with the LIRR to return a teller to the station, which would provide the oversight needed to allow the waiting area to be left open at night. After conducting a study, the group determined that ridership numbers at Laurelton were similar to those of Rosedale, where there is a teller, she said.
The group also announced it has completed collecting current development data, the first step in a major rezoning initiative aimed at preserving the character of the mostly single-family homes from the 1930s and 1940s.
"Because of the high rate of development," Francis said, "we feel that Laurelton needs to be downzoned to preserve existing houses and keep the beauty."
Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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