Call them victims of their own success.
After two straight years of record low crime statistics in the 112th Precinct, Deputy Inspector Christopher Tamola announced last Wednesday that major crime complaints saw a 14 percent increase for 2011.
Speaking before a meeting of the precinct’s Community Council on Jan. 18, Tamola said the increase was being driven largely by grand larceny, where most precincts in the city have seen sharp increases in the last year.
“But we still have the second-best statistics in Queens North ... because of the hard work of the men and women of the 112th Precinct,” he said.
He also said in a recent one-week period that six serious crimes were reported — a record since statistics have been kept at the precinct.
Tamola said that the low numbers of the last few years can lend themselves to being skewed by spikes in given areas.
“If over a period of time you have no cars stolen and then you get three, the percentages go up,” he said.
Much of the council’s meeting was devoted to helping people protect themselves and their property. Council President Heidi Chain spoke of a scam attempt that occurred recently on Queens Boulevard.
“Someone motioned for my friend to pull over, saying there was smoke coming from the engine,” Chain said. “My friend opened the hood, this guy just happened to have a wrench and started working on the engine.” The stunt cost the unsuspecting victim $100 for work that was not done on what was a perfectly functioning engine.
Officers said unless multiple people are motioning to a driver indicating trouble to not stop and to drive to a repair facility.
Tamola and Crime Prevention Officer Zena Vailes said scam artists and thieves keep an eye open for easy opportunities.
They said women can have wallets, cell phones and other valuables stolen quickly just by careless control of their handbags.
“We leave handbags on car seats, shopping carts, strollers and other places,” Vailes said.
She suggested that women in winter wear handbags with straps underneath their coats and jackets, even demonstrating for the crowd; and to hold purses in their hands while using public restrooms rather than rely on hooks in stalls.
“And at a buffet restaurant, don’t leave your handbag under your coat on your chair and think people don’t know your secret,” Vailes said.
Tamola and Vailes also said people using ATM machines should always exercise caution, or at least common sense. They said to use indoor machines when possible, take out as little money as necessary, and be alert to surroundings.
“There are 43 banks in this precinct, and people generally go to banks for one thing,” Tamola said.
Common sense also prevents burglaries, Tamola said, referring to a recent rash of thefts from cars in his own neighborhood in which his wife lost a cell phone and neighbors lost GPS devices and other valuables.
“Nothing was taken from my car,” he said. “Why? I locked it.”
Vailes said residents of the precinct can call her office at (718) 520-9319 and make appointments for her to conduct security checks of their houses and apartments, where she will look at locks, windows, doors, outdoor lighting and other things and make recommendations to help people become less likely to be burglarized.
“Get an alarm it you can afford one,” she said. “Burglars see those signs and know alarms are connected to 911. They don’t want to deal with that.”
She also accepts appointments to etch identification numbers into valuables to make them easier to trace if stolen.
She and Tamola said common sense can help individuals and entire neighborhoods.
“We like to catch criminals, but we’d rather prevent crimes in the first place,” Tamola said. “And informed residents are our most effective tool.”
“People will tell me ‘I saw a strange man in my neighbor’s backyard, but he didn’t look like he was doing anything,’” Vailes said. “He was doing something. He was burglarizing that house.”
“Try to give the dispatcher a description,” said Lt. John Gavan. “Male or female, clothing, description of a car, a license plate number. All of those can help us.”
Tamola also gave an example from about three weeks ago where a worker in an office building noticed a stranger wandering around going from office to office. She called police when the man gave evasive answers when questioned.
“We came and wound up arresting him, and it turns out this was a really bad guy,” Tamola said. “Do you think it’s a coincidence that we arrest this guy and the next week we have only six reported crimes in the precinct? I don’t.”
Tamola said people should call 911 rather than try and engage a suspicious person. He gave an example of tire rim theft, which has been increasing in some precincts.
“It’s fast because all you need in a jack and a cinderblock,” he said. “If you see someone changing tires on your street at 3 a.m., call us. If it’s his car, we’ll even help him out. But it probably isn’t.”