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109th Precinct braces for deep budget cuts

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The commanding officer of the 109th precinct said his officers may face more than the typical challenge of keeping the streets safe in 2009.

Budget cuts across the city and state will likely mean the precinct, like many across the five boroughs, will not see any new recruits in the coming year.

“It’s going to be tough, because we’re going to need to do more with less,” said Deputy Inspector Matthew Whelan.

No influx of new blood could hurt the 109th Precinct more than others in the city. The precinct is one of the largest in the city, spanning 10 ZIP codes across northern Queens. Whelan said the absence of new faces around the precinct will not change his plans, however.

“We’re going to go about things just as we do every year,” Whelan said. “We’ll spread what we have out and when we see an uptick [in crime] somewhere, we’ll adjust to target it.”

The strategy has brought the precinct success again this year. Major crime in the area is down more than 2 percent, with significant drops in murders, felony assaults and burglaries during 2008, according to NYPD criminal statistics compiled through mid−December.

The 109th Precinct, one of the largest police precincts in Queens, covers the communities of Flushing, College Point, Whitestone, Broadway Flushing, Auburndale, Malba, Beechhurst and parts of Bay Terrace.

Only four murders have occurred across the precinct in 2008, down from six during 2007. Felony assaults were down from 229 to 188 in 2008, while burglaries have fallen more than 16 percent from 517 in 2007 to 432 in 2008, statistics show.

Whelan credits the decline to his officers targeting specific problem areas where the crimes are occurring.

During the last year, he said, the precinct has been working with bar and club owners to curb violence in the establishments which accounted for 53 reported assaults in 2007. Whelan said the precinct has targeted bar and club crime outreach with the night club owners and stepping up cooperation with the State Liquor Authority to shut down establishments that have been continuous hotbeds for illegal activity.

“We look at what their actions are,” he said. “If they call 911, if they try to break up a fight when one breaks out, then we don’t hold them personally responsible because they did the right thing. They did what they were supposed to.”

He said the same is true for burglaries, which have been a significant problem across northern Queens for several years. Whelan said his officers have arrested several professional burglary teams over the last two years, but the fight against the crime is an ongoing one.

“We’ve seen an uptick in the last two months. It’s probably going to be a fight for us in 2009,” he said.

Whelan said he also hopes to place a focus on auto thefts in 2009, which are up more than 20 percent in 2008, with 359 occurring this year after the precinct posted a historic low of 295 last year.

“It’s something we’re going to target,” he said. “We have a lot of midnight patrols, we do a lot of tow truck stops. We’re looking at areas where we have clusters of activity.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

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