On Wednesday evening, December 2, Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim – Rabbinical Seminary of America, located at the corner of 76th Avenue and 147th Street in Kew Gardens Hills, was privileged to host the 107th Precinct, Sector D of Kew Gardens Hills, Build the Block Neighborhood Policing and Safety Meeting.

The Build the Block neighborhood safety meetings are a form of Neighborhood Policing that seeks to close the divide between cops and community. But it can only succeed with your support of the community. At the Build the Block meeting, a strategic session was held between local police officers and the people they serve. The meeting had two simple goals. First, identify the public safety challenges of our specific neighborhood, and then to discuss potential solutions. With the upcoming holiday season upon us, the officers explained how a larger, more noticeable police presence would be seen in the streets of our neighborhoods and how the NYPD would pay special attention to all synagogues. This was an effort of the department to take important steps towards improving trust, collaboration, and safety through Neighborhood Policing. The officers asked questions of the audience and discussed recent crime levels, car break-ins, and home invasions. The discussion about issues in our community was well-received and allowed residents to have the opportunity to voice concerns about specific safety and policing challenges.

A new patrol paradigm exists in today’s ever-changing world. The cornerstone of today’s New York Police Department is the concept of Neighborhood Policing, a comprehensive crime-fighting strategy built on improved communication and collaboration between local police officers and residents. Neighborhood Policing has been documented to greatly increase connectivity and engagement with the community without diminishing – and, in fact, improving – the NYPD’s crime-fighting capabilities. The NYPD has long encouraged officers to strengthen bonds with the communities they patrol, but past practice in precincts left little time or opportunity for true community engagement. In recent years, the Patrol Services Bureau has systematically reorganized its patrol methods to achieve the goal of establishing Neighborhood Policing in every precinct.

In attendance were an array of New York’s Finest and Rabbi Hayim Schwartz, the executive vice president of RSA. The Neighborhood Coordination Officer, Police Office Nicholas Afanasewicz, and his associate, Police Officer Matthew Zakian, did not shy away from addressing the uptick of crime in the neighborhood. The officers advised taking measures to protect from package thieves and vehicular theft. Homeowners and renters should ensure that packages are delivered when someone is scheduled to be home, or parcels can be arranged to be left at a local post office. Often, neighbors are home and can be called upon to protect your mail until you arrive. Elisheva D. pointed out that her neighbors are away each weekend. “We have an arrangement where I hold the mail and packages while the family is away. We have not had a package theft issue on our block of attached homes near Seasons Supermarket, but we certainly do not want to risk unnecessary difficulties with a crime,” she explained. The same goes for those who are in apartment buildings. Often, packages are left unattended in a vestibule and can be stolen by lurkers.

Regarding car theft, the officers said a simple task of dashing into a deli or dry cleaner can result in your car vanishing. “Always turn the automobile off, take your keys along, and lock the vehicle,” said the officer. “This issue has plagued our area.” Elisheva added, “Some years ago, our block fell victim to car theft, as criminals would check car doors and fumble around inside when they found a car to pry into. One of our own family cars was vandalized and money was taken from the middle console,” she concluded.

The officers also addressed a recent shooting on 150th Street and 71st Road this past week. “An occurrence like this is uncommon for this area, and the NYPD takes the matter quite seriously as they continue to investigate,” said an officer. A police vehicle was stationed near the incident site throughout the week to keep extra eyes on the area. The incident took the Jewish community of Kew Gardens Hills off-guard and highlights the need to always be vigilant. The officers detailed and reiterated several times that Queens was generally safe and was not falling victim to the gun violence plaguing other areas.

A special division of Steady Sector Officers supports the area. Filling out each sector’s team are two officers designated as the neighborhood coordination officers (NCOs) – Afanasewicz and Zakian in Kew Gardens Hills. The NCOs serve as liaisons between the police and the community, but also as key crime-fighters and problem-solvers in the sector. They familiarize themselves with residents and their problems by attending community meetings with neighborhood leaders and clergy, visiting schools, following up on previous incidents, and using creative techniques and adaptive skills.

Together, the NCOs are adding a new dimension to the NYPD’s crime-fighting capabilities. They function as adjuncts to the local detective squads, responding swiftly to breaking incidents, and developing leads and evidence that might have been missed under the old patrol model. Most importantly, they feel a sense of belonging and responsibility that fosters a willingness to do whatever it takes to keep the neighborhood safe and secure.

The NCOs are set to remain in our sector for the duration of their tour, as they are Steady Sector Officers and are eager to make strong bonds with the community they serve and resolve any local quality-of-life issues we may face. We all share responsibility for our neighborhood, its challenges and its potential, because it is our home.

Neighborhood policing divides precincts into four or five fully-staffed sectors that correspond, as much as possible, to the boundaries of actual established neighborhoods. The same officers work in the same neighborhoods on the same shifts, increasing their familiarity with residents and local problems. The radio dispatchers, supervisors, and sector officers work together to maintain “sector integrity,” meaning that the sector officers and sector cars do not leave the boundaries of their assigned sectors, except in precinct-wide emergencies.

Neighborhood policing is sufficiently staffed to permit off-radio time for the sector officers, so they are not exclusively assigned to answering calls for service. Their off-radio time is used to engage with neighborhood residents, identify local difficulties, and work toward reasonable solutions. The sector officer plays the role of a generalist cop who knows and feels responsible for the sector, and who provides the full range of policing services there.

The community extends appreciation to the NYPD for organizing, and to RSA for setting an example as a community partner.

 By Shabsie Saphirstein