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Vallone worried about crime despite drop in western Queens

Crime in western Queens is on the decline as the number of felony and misdemeanor incidents dropped in borough neighborhoods last year — but Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D−Astoria) said recently released police statistics still were troubling.

Vallone, who is the chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, said the number of felony and misdemeanor complaints in the 114th Precinct, which covers Astoria, Long Island City and parts of Woodside, dropped from 7,689 incidents in 2007 to 7,333 incidents in 2008. But the 115th Precinct, which covers Jackson Heights, Corona and East Elmhurst, saw a slight increase from 6,962 incidents in 2007 to 7,011 incidents in 2008, he said.

Overall, the city had a drop in the number of rapes, felonious assaults, burglaries, grand larceny incidents and grand larceny auto incidents during 2008. But the number of city murders rose from 493 in 2007 to 517 in 2008, while the number of robberies was up from 21,584 in 2007 to 22,114 in 2008.

Vallone said the number of felony crimes went down by 3 percent citywide. But he said the number of incidents had dropped by as much as 6 percent during the past 10 years.

“In the context of the city having less police officers, a faltering economy and weaker drug laws, I think this is a huge cause for concern,” said Vallone, referring to city Police Department cuts and Albany’s recent reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. “We cannot let these difficult financial times be a threat to our safety.”

In the 1970s, the state had one of the toughest drug laws in the nation, handing out mandatory sentences in drug−related crimes amid a city heroin epidemic. The laws were named after former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.

Leaders in the state Legislature reached an agreement earlier this month to reform the laws that would give judges the option to send low−level, nonviolent drug offenders to treatment facilities, rather than hand them prison sentences.

Major felony crimes dropped citywide from 119,737 incidents in 2007 to 116,389 incidents in 2008, according to police statistics. But the number of misdemeanor complaints rose citywide from 270,641 incidents in 2007 to 309,331 incidents in 2008.

Quality−of−life crimes dropped from 597,595 summonses in 2007 to 527,027 summonses in 2008, Vallone said. The most commonly issued summonses were for public consumption of alcohol, disorderly conduct, trespassing, marijuana use or possession, dumping, littering and urinating in public, he said.

Graffiti was also on the rise last year with 4,025 arrests compared to 3,562 arrests the previous year.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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