Areas hardest hit by Sandy see crime rise

Damage caused by superstorm Sandy in Breezy Point. Damage caused by superstorm Sandy in Breezy Point. (Oct. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

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New York City neighborhoods hit hardest by superstorm Sandy suffered big crime increases in the past month -- more than double last year's rate in some places -- driven by a dramatic spike in burglaries, according to police data.

The latest NYPD report of citywide crime for the four-week period ending Nov. 25, showed a surge in property crimes in parts of the Rockaways, Brooklyn and Staten Island that mostly have low crime rates.

With hundreds of homes and businesses severely damaged and vacated, thieves targeted the distressed areas. Police responded with increased helicopter and car patrols and set up floodlights in unlit areas.

The city overall has seen a serious crime increase of only 3.3 percent this year, and in the month after the storm, reported felonies dropped 7.6 percent, according to the data released Monday.

But in the 100th Precinct, which covers the heavily damaged Belle Harbor and Breezy Point areas of Queens, crime is up 131 percent in November over a year ago, including a 237 percent jump last week alone. Burglaries are to blame, said Deputy Insp. Scott Olexa, the precinct commander.

"Certainly, property crimes are our issue now," said Olexa, a Nassau County resident who took over the precinct some 18 months ago. "People did evacuate for a period of time, and that gives the advantage to the criminal element."

Burglaries in the precinct have increased 1,200 percent so far in November compared with the same period of 2011, from five to 65, according to police data.

In the neighboring 101st Precinct, which covers Far Rockaway, burglaries jumped more than sevenfold, from eight in November 2011 to 57 so far this month.

Burglaries also more than doubled in Staten Island's 120th Precinct, which includes St. George and Stapleton; the 122nd on Staten Island, which covers New Dorp Beach and Midland Beach; the 60th in Brooklyn, which patrols Coney Island; and the neighboring 61st Precinct, which handles Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay.

"Things were hit hard in Coney Island," said Insp. Peter DeBlasio, commander of the 60th Precinct, who is now operating out of a large communications vehicle while his severely damaged station house is repaired.

To combat burglaries in Coney Island, the NYPD brought in police from other units and placed them on the commercial strips while patrol cars drive around with their rooftop light arrays on, DeBlasio said.

"[Police] aviation has helped out tremendously, they do patrols and watch out at nighttime. They keep an eye on the commercial strips," said DeBlasio.

Another problem spawned by Sandy has been thefts of storm-wrecked cars, the precinct commanders said. The 100th and 101st precincts made eight arrests for auto theft or unauthorized towing.

To combat unscrupulous tow-truck operators, police will stop the trucks to check for proper insurance authorizations, Olexa and DeBlasio said.

Crime levels should recede as residents and businesses gradually reclaim their neighborhoods.

"You will see those numbers continually go down as people return," said Olexa.

With Kevin Deutsch

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