For residents of Astoria concerned about the recent spate of crime in the area, the 114th Precinct had a reassuring message on Tuesday — “Don’t worry. Everything is under control.”
At a packed community council meeting on Tuesday, deputy inspector Paul Vorbeck of the 114th Precinct and his colleagues briefed the community on steps taken to curb the growth of crime in the area. Revealing the year-to-date crime figures, Vorbeck stated that overall crime in the area was down less than one percent, while rape was down 30 percent. Grand larceny had dipped 17 percent, but he noted that there was an increase in burglaries — which had spiked to 32 percent.
Vorbeck told residents not to be alarmed by the statistic and reassured them that having more police on the Astoria beat would help curb the rise in burglaries. He also cautioned residents to be aware of their surroundings, not to leave their rear entrances unlocked, and to report any suspicious activities in their area.
Citing success capturing suspects in connection with recent incidents, Vorbeck reported that Jesus Fernandez, a 23-year-old suspect who attacked an 81-year-old grand father on 47th Street and Broadway to steal his car, was apprehended by the police.
Fernandez, allegedly robbed Mayer Behmoiras just outside the door of the fifth-floor apartment, viciously beating the man and fracturing his skull. Behmoiras was admitted to the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center at Mount Sinai Hospital and was reportedly unable to walk.
In another case, a livery cab driver was murdered by two other men in Long Island City. Suspects Gregory Johnson, 32, and Auther Latten, 22, were charged with murder. “They thought they could just get away with the crime,” Vorbeck said.
For residents in Norwood Gardens, who saw a rash of car break-ins and stolen GPSs, there was some good news too, as the man suspected of stealing the instruments had also been nabbed. Gary Yergarian, 29, was charged with a felony and several misdemeanors for stealing GPS units from two vehicles.
The police, however, are still seeking the public’s assistance in finding two suspects wanted for robbing a Dunkin Donuts located at 33-26, 21st St. on April 22. Both suspects entered the store in sweatshirts, armed with a handgun and demanded money. Vorbeck said anyone with any tips should call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS (8477) or text 27437 (CRIMES) followed by TIP577. All calls are confidential.
For residents around 30th Avenue who have been complaining about the increase in noise and fights in the bars around the area, Vorbeck said their concerns regarding deteriorating quality of life will be addressed. He said that establishments that have been particularly troublesome will be scrutinized further as they renew their liquor licenses.“We can’t have people shooting and fighting in these bars,” he said. “We will review their licenses. We can’t have such establishments in the area.”
The deputy inspector said he had enough officers in his precinct to deal with any crime. Countering Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.’s concern that Albany’s budget cuts would hamstring the local police force, Vorbeck stated he had about 200 cops at the precinct. “Sure, I’ll take more cops if they give them,” but he pointed out that there was no statistical relation between the number of officers on the streets and the amount of crime.
“Many years ago, there were cops in the precinct, but there were more crimes too,” he said.
Police officers from the Transit Authority too, made a brief presentation on subway safety. They urged passengers to be wary of the electronics they use on the subway, “not have their heads buried deep into their phones,” and not to use their iPhones by the subway door, as they risk being snatched by someone outside. The officers also reminded passengers to be wary of other riders and keep an eye out for pick-pockets.
Several residents at the meeting said they were satisfied with the officers’ presentation, saying overall they felt safe living in Astoria. Vinne Marsanico, a resident of 47th Street said while Behmoiras’ assault “shook him up a little,” he felt the area where he lived in was “pretty quiet.” “The 114 does an outstanding job,” he said. There are cops everywhere. You can see them go up and down the street. They respond very quickly.”
That sentiment was echoed by Daniela Mastrogiacomo, a resident of 37th Street who said that while she avoided walking alone at night, Astoria was still a safe place. “Of course, these events make me concerned,” she said. “I don’t want to be on astreet by myself when something happens,” she added.
Agnes and Vincent Maniace, who have lived in Astoria for more 80 years, remarked that while their neighborhood had changed over the years, they felt comfortable in their area. “We have nice neighbors; we have known each other for years,” Agnes Maniace said. “I call and tell a friend if I am out. They keep an eye out on the house for me then.” Commenting on the reported rise in crimes, Vincent Maniace added, “No matter where you go, there will always be break-ins, always be crimes.”