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Queens Chronicle

Creedmoor patients causing problems?

Neighbors complain of noise, drug dealing, panhandling and robbery

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Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 9:28 am, Thu Jul 19, 2012.

Crime and other security issues continue to persist on and around the campus of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens Village, according to area residents, and they are hoping that the state Office of Mental Health, elected officials and the NYPD will do more to help.

Frank Toner, the president of the Rocky Hill Civic Association, said his members have been complaining about quality of life issues stemming from the Creedmoor campus, located along Union Turnpike and Winchester Boulevard, for years. Noise, fighting, aggressive panhandling and what appears to be drug dealing have been consistent problems, Toner said. The hospital is operated by the state Office of Mental Health.

“Our staff at OMH meets regularly with the community and the surrounding businesses,” Leesa Rademacher, a spokeswoman for the agency said in an email. “In most cases many of the troubles attributed to clients of the Office of Mental Health are in fact, not OMH patients.”

It’s hard to tell who’s who because the two security booths on the campus have remained empty for the last five years, and people come and go unmonitored, according to Linda Nadel, the office manager at Services Now For Adult Persons, located on the south quad of the Creedmoor campus.

“The state doesn’t have the money to man these booths anymore,” she said. “They used to have state police in those booths all the time — not anymore. They barely have the manpower to circle the campus. ... Their main concern is the hospital.”

Nadel said SNAP has been broken into about 10 times since opening in 2000. The office has been vandalized and an entire safe taken, along with other valuables such as cash and an expensive digital camera.

“We have never been able to catch anyone,” she said. “We suspect that it may have been the people next door or it could have been people passing through the Creedmoor campus. We can’t say for sure.”

The Milestones Residence, a facility that provides housing to those undergoing drug and alcohol rehabilitation, is located next door to SNAP. The staffers are not allowed to search the clients, Nadel said, making it impossible to know if anyone there was in possession of SNAP’s stolen property.

Nadel said in the beginning the organization used to keep cash on the premises, but no more. The last attempted break-in was about a month ago.

“They attempted to get into the door that leads to the basement, but it has a special triple-lock,” she said. “They broke off the side of the door, but discovered they couldn’t get through the lock. We had to have the door repaired, which was a couple of hundred dollars.”

About three months ago, a SNAP client who is in her 80s and uses a cane was walking from the office with a group of seniors when her gold chain was snatched from her neck, Nadel said.

The assailant fled the scene and was never apprehended. The police took the victim around the neighborhood to see if she could identify her attacker, but since she was accosted from behind, she did not see the thief, according to Nadel.

“She was able to maintain her balance and did not fall or get hurt,” Nadel said, “but she was badly shaken up.”

After the incident, SNAP had some bushes removed from the area, to improve visibility. It was also an attempt to get men to stop urinating on the property. Nadel said the OMH told SNAP that it could hire its own security guards if the staff and clients felt unsafe. “We need that money to feed seniors,” Nadel said.

The Rocky Hill civic has contacted the 105th Precinct and its commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Joseph Courtesis, has beefed up security in the area, Toner said. Cops have been issuing tickets, about 40 so far this year, for panhandling and other nuisance issues, but the problems persist.

“There are fights in the middle of the night, yelling and screaming,” Toner said. “Last year, someone pulled a knife, but the police got there in time and they dispersed.”

Toner said he knows several residents who no longer patronize the Winchester Deli at the corner of Winchester Avenue and Hillside Avenue because it is a known hangout for Creedmoor patients who panhandle. In one case, after a person declined to give money, it turned into a physical altercation.

One woman, who lives nearby and wished to remain anonymous, said she was targeted by panhandlers three times last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“They came so close to me,” she said. “It didn’t get physical, but each time I felt if I didn’t give enough money, it could have gotten to that point. It was a lot of psychological intimidation.”

The area around Creedmoor also appears to be a prime location for drug dealing, according to Toner and others, since many of the patients on the campus are recovering addicts.

“The dealers go where the market is,” Toner said. “Even though those people are recovering, that’s the population to go to.”

Jerry Wind, the president of the Bellerose-Hillside Civic Association, said he has seen suspicious activity in front of the Creedmoor campus that might be drug dealing — people getting out of parked cars and going into other cars, remaining inside for a few minutes and then exiting. Toner said Courtesis told him of at least one drug-related arrest in the area.

“There are benches and you see guys sitting there all the time, smoking,” Nadel said. “We don’t know what they’re doing. You see them handing things to each other.”

But Nadel said she can’t be sure what the men are doing because no one at SNAP has questioned them.

The security problems associated with Creedmoor prompted a meeting of concerned parties at Borough Hall on June 27, organized by Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik, according to Toner. Courtesis and representatives from Creedmoor were in attendance.

The Creedmoor brass told attendees that they have 17 security staffers, about three per shift, due to budget constraints, Toner said. “That’s simply not a big enough security force for such a big campus,” he added. “The 105th Precinct can’t keep going there all the time and draining their resources.”

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