Worried residents of the Zerega and surrounding communities filled Santa Maria Church on Tuesday, August 24, nervously sipping coffee and chatting to each other.
Loud music, drug dealers in the neighborhood, not enough police, an increase in rapes and an increase of shootings, too many traffic enforcement officers, and an influx of low-income housing and city-run social services, such as drug rehabilitation clinics, among other things.
In general the residents were worried about the decline of the neighborhood, and they gathered at the church to ask their local leaders and elected officials what can be done about it.
“This is my community, my home,” said Cynthia Figueroa, of the Zerega community. “And we can’t allow ourselves to be bullied like this.”
The meeting was organized and moderated by officials from Community Board 10. Although the meeting was intended as a forum for residents to meet face-to-face with officers from the 45th Precinct and discuss the rape of an 79-year-old woman at her apartment building on Benson Street, community members voiced their general concerns about what they see as a decay of the neighborhood’s guality of life.
About a dozen residents requested a larger police presence by their homes or businesses, and many others asked for an increase in security cameras around Zerega Avenue.
Others requested the precinct put up the Sky Lab tower, which is a roughly three-story structure, manned 24-hours a day by police officers and cameras.
Joe Bombace, a Morris Park resident, came to show support for his neighboring community.
“She was one of our own,” he said about the rape victim. “We take care of our own.”
Figueroa, who recently organized a meeting to establish neighborhood patrols in the neighborhood, suggested the precinct get rid of its automated call service, and many others agreed.
“It’s not time effective and it’s not crime effective,” she said.
The precinct’s response?
Forty-fifth Precinct Captain Russell Green, along with Councilman Jimmy Vacca, have already submitted a request to bring in the Sky Lab, and security cameras. The precinct is also looking into discontinuing the automated calling service, and, with four new officers coming to the department, the precinct is planning to increase patrols.
However, other suggestions will not only take time to accomplish, it will take the community’s involvement, precinct officials said.
To make sure patrols regularly pass by the areas where they will be most effective, police are asking residents to be on the look out for criminal activity, and to make sure to report anything suspicioius.
For problems in specific buildings, Senator Jeff Klein asked residents to speak with their landlords about the Safe Hallways program, which gives police permission to enter a building and patrol the halls.
Representatives from several community groups attended the meeting as well, and Greg Perry, president of the Westchester Square Merchants Association, suggested they focus their energies with elected officials to tackle the problems together.
“We’re with you in this fight,” said Kenneth Kearns, district manager of Community Board 10. “We want the situation resolved and we want a viable and safe place for our families. A city is only as strong as its neighborhoods.”