Homicides Up 5%; "Safe" Neighborhoods Share the Pain

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While the city is boasting of another historic crime drop, they are soft-pedaling -- with the egregious cooperation of the press -- one sobering stat: the homicide rate has actually risen five percent against last year,

When one thinks homicide, one doesn't generally think of neighborhoods like Kew Gardens or Belle Harbor or the New Dorp section of Staten Island. But police numbers through December 21 suggest that one of the factors driving the increase in homicides are jumps in some unlikely areas of the city.

Consider that murders jumped from 1 last year to 8 this year in the relatively sedate 102nd Precinct, home to Kew Gardens, Woodhaven and parts of Ozone Park.

And in the 100th Precinct -- which encompasses the leafy, almost suburban streets of Belle Harbor, Arverne, Broad Channel and Rockaway Park along with a couple of public housing developments, murders jumped from 1 to 5 -- the highest number of homicides since 1990. Assaults and burglaries are also up in the 100th, along with overall serious crime, by 4 percent.

In New Dorp, meanwhile, the number of murders shot up from 3 in 2007 to 7 in 2008 --driving a near doubling of the number of murders in Staten Island this year over last year.

In Brooklyn South, five of 13 precincts saw the number of murders more than double over last year, including precincts in neighborhoods like Bensonhurst, Marine Park, Boro Park, and Sunset Park.

In fairness to the NYPD, the murder rate remains far below the total of even two-years ago, when there were 579 homicides. In the early 1990s, there were more than 2,000 murders annually for a couple of years. So this year's citywide total of 501, though December 21, is just one quarter of what it was in those bad old days, but still an increase over the 2007 record low of 476, police stats show.

For Jonathan Gaska, the longtime director of the community board in the Rockaways, the jump in the 100th Precinct is a matter of concern.

"I can't remember the last time we had 5," Gaska says. "That's a lot for the 100th."

In the adjacent 101st Precinct, a much poorer neighborhood, crime has always been a problem, but it has been far better in recent years than a decade ago. However, Gaska has noted a change for the worse over the past year.

Homicides in the 101st Precinct more than doubled from just 4 last year to 10 this year. Robberies and assaults are also up in the precinct.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly asserted yesterday that the economic slowdown is not causing an increase in crime.

Gaska believes the uptick in homicides and in certain other serious crime categories have a lot to do with the economy. "We have a very high unemployment rate in this community," he says. "We have a large pool of lower skilled workers, and as the economy contracted, development slowed, it kind of left people with nothing to do, and that kind of makes people desperate."

At the Redfern Houses -- which one had the reputation as one of the more dangerous public housing developments in the city -- several years of relative calm were shaken by a series of shootings earlier this year. Meanwhile, the government budget crisis led to the closure of the complex's community center, Gaska says.

"It seems like there was a big up-tick in Redfern," Gaska says. "A bad economy is perfect for gangs."

Doris Jacobs, a member of the Redfern tenant board since 1991, says there was a spike in violence last Spring, which she attributed in part to the closure of the community center.

"The kids said they didn't have anything to do," she says. "The police came in and things quieted down again."

Jacobs and other tenants petitioned the city, got help from the office of state Sen. Malcolm Smith, and were able to get the center reopened, at least through next June.

"To me, Redfern is a good community," she says. "We have a lot of good young people here."

Meanwhile, Mary Ann Carey, the district manager of the community board in the 102nd Precinct in Queens says the increase from one murder to eight surprised her. "I didn't realize that," she says. "Traditionally, this has been a very low crime precinct. We've had very few homicides over the years."

The district manager for the New Dorp area declined to comment.

(Photo via New York Daily News.)

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