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Do Something Bold for Huntington's Children

Mike Tracy challenges town officials to be bold and swap buildings

Last Night’s community meeting at Jack Abrams Intermediate School with Legislators Cooper and D’Amaro was filled with many old ideas and some new ones on how to make Huntington Station and JAI safe. D’Amaro and Cooper both felt that the safety and revitalization of Huntington Station were top priorities for them.  Cooper has five children and D’Amaro has two.  They spoke to the audience as parent to parent.  While neither man’s children attend JAI, they both said they sympathize with the JAI and Huntington Station communities and understand that children must be safe at all costs. Legislator Cooper said that he and D ‘Amaro both responded swiftly to escalating violence last spring around JAI and spoke with police from the second precinct who in turn immediately re-assigned special operations teams to Huntington Station. Leegislator Cooper says that as a result of these actions, numerous arrests were made and the violence stopped for a while but has increased again lately.

The commanding officer of the second precinct, Inspector Joseph Blaettler spoke about what is being done in response to the recent criminal activity in Huntington Station:

-Police will be at JAI when the children arrive and when they depart

-Increased police presence for Lowndes Avenue and surrounding streets

-The police will be implementing the “broken window “ theory, which means an enforcement of the quality of life.  Even the smallest infraction will be penalized. Similar to Rudolph Giuliani’s approach during his time as mayor of New York, the belief is that if you work on the small issues then the larger issues will be corrected as well.

-A mobile command center will be set up at JAI when it is not in use elsewhere.  The command center is intended as an immediate presence for the neighborhood to go to with any troubles

-Gang task force of twenty officers in the area until crime has significantly decreased.

-Weed and seed program brought back (pull the weeds and cultivate the good seeds – any association with the recently relaxed marijuana policies by the Obama administration is unintentional)

In addition, there has been an influx of police from other communities and the increased police presence is bearing fruit.  Lt. Blaettler asked that the community become more involved because the police usually get no cooperation from witnesses or even victims.

Legislator Cooper and D’Amaro acknowledged that while the current actions are a good step they are fugacious and a more permanent solution needs to be made.

They feel that the situation is multi-faceted problem, has taken decades to deteriorate into the current state and it will take a while rectify. In the past they have allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to revitalization and” taking back the block”, in Huntington Station as well as working with the TRI-CYA CAST program where children are dissuaded from joining a gang in the first place. They believe that this is critical to vanquishing the gangs from the area.

Cooper believes that the rise in gang activity is a direct component of heroin sales.  The MS13, Latin Kings, Bloods and Crips have all taken up residence in the area. He would like to see a permanent police sub-station set up in the school. A woman on the Huntington Hispanic task force believes that the level of criminal acts on the rise is mainly from Latino boys. “They advertise their business in Brentwood and Hempstead to come here for a good time?  What’s a good time to them mean?  Does it mean a dead body on Rogues path or shooting someone who just came out of a bar? Not a nice way to live in America. “ She said that she has information these Latino gangs are recruiting girls in the high school to sell their drugs.

A mother from Huntington Bay asked Legislator Cooper how he would feel if instead of sending his kids to Cold Spring Harbor schools, he would have to send them to JAI.  Cooper responded that CSH has its own problems with drugs and sex and he wishes that he could offer a panacea to solve the problems of JAI overnight but cannot. Lt Blaettler said that he would like to wave a magic wand and make all crime go away but alas, I suppose he was not issued one.  He said that it is unfortunate that we live in a society that has changed from fistfights to solve a conflict to gunfights and murder.  Human life has lost its value to many here. Cooper has asked for more police and more foot patrol for Huntington for the past several years. The police commissioner and County Executive Levy feel that they managed to get 100 more police on the street in the last five years by reconfiguring the force and have not had to raise property taxes and that is sufficient.  Jon Cooper agrees with Levy on many issues but this is one that he does not. He believes that people will pay a little more if it means more police in town.

Neither legislator nor Frank Petrone who showed up later addressed the fact that the problems being addressed are not problems with JAI school itself.  The problems are all rooted in the neighborhood and the result is that a good school and good school kids are now bused and walked into a dangerous, gang-infested environment on a daily basis.

Supervisor Frank Petrone showed up and had to leave in a few minutes. He compared Huntington Station to Amityville many years ago and how it had fell into a seedy crime ridden area but then the town and officials fought back and it has become reinvigorated. He has committed himself to chair a group of community leaders to help solve Huntington Stations problems and will not give up. Like Santa in the Parade, Petrone hoped to wave, reassure and exit.  However resident Mike Tracy had other ideas. He stepped to the microphone and asked Mr. Petrone if he could have just three minutes of his time.  Supervisor Petrone said that he’d allow two. Mr. Tracy has three children in the district.  He reviewed all of the safety measures being implemented and concluded that it is not enough and the children are still in danger.  Mr. Petrone interrupted Mr. Tracy and told him that he had to leave. Mr. Tracy’s question was to ask Mr. Petrone and councilwoman Susan Berland (who also stopped in briefly) if they would do something brave and bold for the children and switch the school to Huntington Town Hall which used to be a school in  the sixties. He told them not to just dip their toe in but jump on in.  In one move they could make the 600 kids of JAI safe and the whole community surrounding JAI safe just by their presence.  Parts of the school could be used for community services so kids could have a place to go to during the day!

Supervisor Petrone responded that the idea misses many pieces and is not a fix. Things started to get heated as Tracy and Petrone raised their voices across the auditorium with Mr. Tracy demanding “Why not? Why not get 600 kids to safety?”

Petrone answered with  “What community has town Hall got?”  After a little more back and forth he had to leave for another event.

Mr. Cooper told us that it is not a county issue but a school board and a town issue and if people want to move the school then they need to lobby the school district.

There were many other concerned residents. A Huntington Station man asked the police why there were no more minority officers in the community?  He wanted to know if there are bilingual officers on the force?  He believes that the Huntington Station Community would be much more willing to work with the police if it reflected the diversity of the community. .Lt. Blaettler explained that officer request that precinct they want to go to and they are not forced to go to an area.  Currently they have two or three African Americans on the force .  A concerned parent who has been in the district for six years lamented that he has heard the same problems surrounding JAI since he’s been here and it is impacting the school district because there is a stigma associated with our school district wholly because of JAI.  People send their  children to Saint Patrick’s in Third grade to avoid sending them to JAI. “St. Pat’s is getting rich because of us”.  The parent asserted that people don’t move here, or they move away to the Harborfields district or Northport, because they don’t want to put their children in the milieu of this school.  The education and teachers are great but people are afraid of this school and therefore; by association, all of Huntington’s school have negative connotations.

Pauline DiBari moved from Rockaway, Queens Five years ago to Lowndes Ave across the street from JAI.  She told of  her old community and it’s leaders and their efforts to put a notorious crack house out of business by standing outside of it with baseball bats repeatedly.  She would like to see our elected leaders taking part and getting outside in the area.  Legislator D’Amaro pointed out that he did come to the neighborhood with his family last year to plant flowers and landscape some parts of Huntington Station.

Susan Minson has children in the district and she thought that Mr. Tracy’s idea of moving the school to town hall was a great one.  She does not want to abandon the neighborhood without a solid plan for it but the switch would help the area.  She was disappointed that Mr. Petrone seems always to be in a rush to leave at these meetings and questions his level of commitment.

Mr. Paul Johnston has been a Huntington Station resident for fifty years and does not want the police in the school but out on the street getting rid of the “free loaders” who have five families illegally in a house. He says he wants our elected officials to do their job.  He does not want to leave saying “I’ll smell like fish when I go anywhere”.  He is staying.  “They shoot and you want to move the school?” he asked in disbelief.  “Roll up your sleeves and let’s start fighting them!”

Cooper let Johnston know that adding more police is not under his jurisdiction.  Every year he, D’Amaro and the other legislators put money in the budget to hire more police.  The BPA says we need 500 more police and the county executive says that we don’t need any. Most legislators believe that it is somewhere in between.

The legislators can budget for the police but they cannot force the police dept. to actually use the budgeted money to hire more officers.  If Mr. Levy and the Police Commissioner don’t believe we need more police then that money will be rolled over into the next year’s budget.  Legislator Cooper gave everyone a homework assignment: If you want more protection then write to Steve Levy and the Police Commissioner and let them know that you’d be willing to have a tax increase for more police.  If 500 people email or phone then it will get done.  The time to do it is now and not in a month when the money will already be allocated elsewhere.

Bernadette Watkins, a pastor in the area has nine children who run to a designated safe place in the house when they hear gunshots.  She is fighting with her greatest strength, which is prayer.  She is also organizing a candle light vigil on Monday October 26th at 6pm at JAI know to let the children in the neighborhood that we care and we will fight for them. She hopes that many will join her.

Huntington Station and Jack Abrams need a solution immediately.  What is it going to be? Who is right? Do we need more police, to switch the school with town hall or more prayer? Maybe everybody is right and we need all three.

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