One of the biggest fears many Elmhurst residents had regarding last month’s conversion of the Pan American Hotel into a homeless shelter was a potential increase in crime throughout the area.
In the seven weeks since homeless families began occupying the building, the 110th Precinct and area officials say that worry has gone unfounded.
Multiple Chinese language media outlets have reported an uptick in minor crimes, such as shoplifting and trespassing, being allegedly committed by shelter residents at area restaurants and businesses.
However, Deputy Inspector Ronald Leyson, the 110th Precinct’s commanding officer, said at Tuesday’s protest outside the shelter that crime has actually decreased in the area around the shelter at 79-00 Queens Blvd. since homeless families started moving in June 6, according to a search of the precinct’s crime database.
“We have a slight increase in crime in the 110th Precinct, but what I did was a radius search of 2,000 feet around the hotel and actually it showed crime has decreased since the residents moved into the shelter,” Leyson said. “So we do not have an increase in major crimes or minor crimes in the area since anyone moved into the shelter.”
In a three-block radius around the Pan American building, four burglaries, two grand larcenies and two car thefts were committed in May, the month before the shelter opened. Those eight crimes help make up the 41 various offenses committed in the same area during the first five months of the year.
Leyson did not give the precise figures for June when saying crime had decreased.
In terms of crime occurring inside the shelter, he said, only one incident, a misdemeanor assault, has been reported since families began moving in early last month.
Leyson added that he has not increased the number of patrols in the immediate area as conditions have not warranted it, despite a World Journal article published July 11 claiming the precinct had deployed more officers around the shelter.
Community Board 4 District Manager Christian Cassagnol, like Leyson, said he had not been notified by residents or area business owners of any crime spike.
“No, I have not heard anything. We have not heard anything official regarding an uptick in crime,” Cassagnol said. “We have not heard from any business owners or supermarkets. They may not know to call here, but I haven’t heard anything so far.”
A press release issued by the Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together civic group to announce Tuesday’s protest outside the Pan American Hotel made reference to reports of a crime increase and reinforced its wish for safe streets.
“There has been a decline in the quality of life of the area since the opening of the shelter,” the group said. “The 110th Precinct is undermanned and overburdened as is. We want a safe neighborhood!”
When asked if she knew of any specific instances of crimes committed by shelter residents, COMET President Roe Daraio said she is not privy to such information.
“You would have to ask the 110th Precinct about any tangible increase in crime. There allegedly have been petty crimes at area businesses but to my knowledge none have been reported,” Daraio said. “Even if they were reported, and the thief has left the premises, there would be no way to prove he or she was from the shelter.”
Newtown Civic Association Treasurer Robert Valdes-Clausell said his group is investigating troubling rumors of crimes occurring inside the hotel.
“Our NCA public safety committee has heard of various incidents at the Pan Am Shelter over the last couple of days,” Valdes-Clausell said. “Reports of drug selling inside the hotel and possible use of the hotel by certain residents as a prostitution pimping hub are under investigation by our public safety committee.”
Marty Wilson, the owner of the AAMCO franchise at 79-14 Queens Blvd., directly next to the Pan American building, said the hotel’s conversion into a homeless shelter originally worried him, but he hasn’t noticed any instances of suspicious activity since the shelter opened.
“When I heard about it, I wasn’t happy,” Wilson, the owner of the franchise for over a decade, said. “It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, a lot of loitering, hanging out, people looking undesirable. I’m not as negative on it as people would like me to be.”
As COMET organized another protest outside the Pan American building on Tuesday, Wilson called on the community to just accept the people living in the shelter and move forward.
“Homeless people need a place to go, so long as they respect the property, respect the area and it doesn’t turn into a slum,” he said. “So let’s move on with this.”