Police search for Bayside purse snatchers

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A group of serial purse snatchers has been operating in the Bayside area, police from the 111th Precinct said.

The suspects have struck four times in the vicinity of Horace Harding Expressway and Springfield Boulevard, and once near 216th Street and Northern Boulevard since Jan. 14, officers said.

“We’re looking to alert people who are coming into the area,” said Lt. Dan Heffernan. “We are conjecturing that there might be a group of them.”

The group has targeted four women and one teenage boy, police said.

The men, who have been described as white, black and Hispanic, operated in the same manner each time, according to Heffernan.

They rode the bus and waited for their victims to get off. Once the victim left the bus, the men followed at a distance, waiting until the victim turned down a small, dark street, Heffernan said.

Then the men ran up behind the victim and pulled the purse off her shoulder or, in the case of the teenager, stole his wallet, Heffernan said.

The purse snatchings have not turned violent, Heffernan said, but in two of the incidents, the women struggled and refused to immediately relinquish their purses.

“Nobody has been seriously injured,” Heffernan said.

In one instance, a victim saw the suspects getting into a silver vehicle with tinted windows before fleeing the scene, he said.

Three of the five snatchings occurred on a Friday, possibly because it is payday for many Bayside residents, Heffernan said.

The 111th Precinct has stepped up patrols in the area and has the detective squad working the case.

“My opinion is that they’re from the area, but that remains to be seen,” Heffernan said. “Hopefully, we’ll catch these guys soon.”

But police are not the only ones who can help prevent the attacks.

Heffernan said there are several precautions that residents can take to deter the crooks.

“Sometimes we recommend not carrying a purse,” Heffernan said, although he admitted that many women would not heed that advice. “If you do, you should carry it football-style so they are less likely to target you. They are looking for that purse hanging off of your shoulder.”

Heffernan also suggested that residents look over their shoulders before going down a dark street to check if anyone is following them.

“If you have a gut feeling, follow it because something might be wrong,” Heffernan said.

Community leaders were alarmed to hear the news of the incidents.

“This is the first time I’ve heard about these kind of purse snatchings,“ said Susan Seinfeld, district manager of Community Board 11.

“We had youth-on-youth crimes previously,” she said, referring to school-related thefts of cell phones and electronics. “This is much worse.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 10:41 am, October 12, 2011
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