Crime may never sleep, but the residents of Astoria are planning to put it to bed.
Following a wave of illegal activity that recently rolled through the neighborhood, members of the community and local elected officials united at an anti-crime rally on November 16.
A variety of crimes were discussed at the gathering, held at 21-77 31st Street, including numerous incidents of groping, the most recent of which occurred at Broadway and 31st Street; an attempted rape on 21st Street; the inappropriate touching of a young girl by an unidentified man in the Steinway Library; cases of car vandalism and robbery and three shootings.
“Astoria is one of the best neighborhoods in New York to raise a family, and we will not allow a few deplorable individuals – especially those who prey on women and children – to threaten that,” said Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, who announced that she is introducing legislation to increase sentences for certain sex crimes and close legal loopholes that allow sex offenders to avoid facing serious penalties. “It’s important that we use every resource at our disposal, including passing tougher laws, to send a message that we will not tolerate these types of acts in our community and criminals will be held accountable.”
In an effort to promote cooperation within the community, Senator Michael Gianaris is introducing legislation that expands upon “Good Samaritan” laws, allowing local businesses and non-profits to act as safe havens to individuals in danger without being liable for damages or injuries they incur while doing so.
“We must do everything in our power to combat the recent uncharacteristic crime wave in our community,” Gianaris said. “Protecting small businesses that rush to aid someone in distress will increase the safe havens available to crime victims and make our streets safer.”
New crime-fighting initiatives and techniques were also announced during the rally, including the proposed reinitiating of community patrol groups.
Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., who chairs the Public Safety Committee, hosted a meeting on November 17 to organize a neighborhood watch program – the first of its kind in over 25 years.
The councilmember, who was joined at the meeting by several Astoria anti-crime experts, announced that he will work with the 114th Precinct, the New York Anti-Crime Agency and the 114th Civilian Observation Patrol in creating the watch program. As part of the group, block captains will be established and the districts will be divided into sections.
“Make no mistake our police officers are doing a great job of preventing and fighting crime – but precincts are operating at half strength and need help – that’s where we come in,” said Vallone. “Our neighborhood watch will act as an additional deterrent and crime fighting tool.”
Some residents of Astoria, outraged and saddened by the illegal activity plaguing their neighborhood, appeared confident the community’s involvement would cease the crimes.
“I’m appalled at all of this crime that has taken place recently,” said John Pellitteri, an Astoria resident for 68 years. “This is our community, not the criminals’ community. We have to work hand in hand with the police and assist them in any way we can. We have to show these criminals that they are not welcome in Astoria and their crimes will not be tolerated. I’m glad elected officials are taking the steps necessary to help the people of Astoria, and to discourage anyone from coming into our community with thoughts of hurting people. I definitely feel better now with a community watch, and most of the people I’ve spoken to are happy we are getting started with it.”