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Bayside residents air summer concerns at police meet

To that end, members of the East Bayside Hills Association met with...

By Sophia Chang

As the summer kicks into gear, some community members are concerned that with the warmer temperatures comes an attendant dose of increased crime, traffic disorder and general misconduct.

To that end, members of the East Bayside Hills Association met with 111th Precinct Capt. Thomas Pilkington last Thursday to discuss the police strategy for the July 4 holiday as well as to address quality-of-life issues, including the community’s continued request for more area police.

In addition, the recent arrest of Community Affairs Officer Elardo Santo in Suffolk County on charges of grand larceny and forgery raised questions about who would replace him.

At the meeting held in the community room at the 111th Precinct, EBHA President Frank Skala hauled out a box of fireworks the size of a microwave. He said he found the box at a Bayside house known for setting off commercial fireworks, and asked for greater vigilance on fireworks sales.

“This could set a roof on fire or blow off hands,” he said, citing a few cases of area young people being hurt while celebrating Independence Day in the past.

Unless you are a professional, the sale and purchase of fireworks is illegal in New York City, according to the Fire Department Web site. It warns that “all consumer fireworks are illegal. This includes sparklers that are mistakenly thought to be safe. They actually burn at extremely high temperatures which can rapidly burn through clothing and skin.”

Pilkington said 70 crates of fireworks had recently been confiscated by the vice squad from a distributor based in Nassau County and asked the community members to continue watching for people selling fireworks inside the city limits. People can report violators by calling the tipline 1-800-FIRE-TIPS.

In response to concerns of alcohol consumption, Pilkington said that before every high-profile holiday he stops by major establishments with liquor licenses and asks them to be careful about overserving their customers, a tactic he said has been successful. “Even the Crazy Moose is a 100 percent compliant,” he said, referring to the popular Bell Boulevard bar.

Skala also brought up the longstanding community request for more police officers in the precinct, in particular a community-based officer on the heavily trafficked Bell Boulevard who would maintain a constant presence.

“We used to have a Bell officer who rode up and down the boulevard on a bike,” he said, pointing out that the officer and the community became very familiar with each other. “Having someone recognizable by everyone and (who) talks to them all is very good," Skala said.

Although Pilkington noted that “periodically you will see officers on Bell,” he candidly said, “I wish I could do more,” citing the overall drop in the city police force, which is currently 5,000 officers short. “A lot of it is based on resources I'm going to be left with,” he said.

Traffic enforcement was one area that has been underpoliced, Pilkington acknowledged, particularly in Bayside where parking is precious and violations are constant. He said two issues that will continue to be enforced are seat belt and cell phone infractions, saying that while accidents in the precinct have decreased, injuries have increased.

“The majority are rear-ends, which tells us drivers are inattentive to what’s going on,” he said.

Community members were vocal about what they see as area restaurants abusing street parking rules. Andrew Rothman, executive board member of the EBHA, complained that the valet parking service at Tequila Sunrise at 34th Avenue and Bell Boulevard parked cars on sidewalks and two or three cars deep on the street, and asked for stronger enforcement.

“Zap ‘em,” Skala said. “They park where they should not park.”

Another complaint concerned the trucks parked on the side of the northbound Clearview Expressway coming from the westbound Long Island Expressway. Pilkington responded that his officers do ticket the truck drivers, and Sgt. William Burns of the Community Policing Unit noted that he filed a complaint with the state Department of Transportation four weeks ago to erect “No Standing” signs along the road.

But Pilkington said that while he understood the complaint, he asked the group to consider the alternative.

“Those trucks are going to stay there,” Pilkington said, noting that oftentimes truckers pull over to sleep and that he preferred the truckers napping on the roadside than driving while tired. “Do we want them driving, and killing Bayside residents?”

When Skala asked who would replace Santo, Pilkington said while he has been suspended for up to 30 days, he is entitled to resume his position if everything is cleared up by then.

“It may be a complete total misunderstanding,” Pilkington said, adding that he did not know the details of the case. For the time being, Community Affairs will be handled completely by Officer Gary Poggiali.

“These are our quality-of-life issues. It’s not crime, but it’s annoying to the neighbors,” Skala said. He acknowledged the 111th’s recent drop in crime, telling Pilkington, “either you’re doing your jobs well or the bad guys are moving away, or maybe it’s both.”

Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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