LIRR tries to boost Jamaica Station image
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Two stabbing incidents near Jamaica Station in recent months have reinforced its reputation as a dangerous place -- a perception that Long Island Rail Road officials, police and community leaders say is undeserved, but nonetheless held by riders.
"It's not always a question of being safe. It's sometimes a question of feeling safe," LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein said.
On Wednesday, police arrested a woman suspected of stabbing three people on the escalator of the Sutphin Boulevard subway station, just below the LIRR's Jamaica Station. None of the injuries was life-threatening.
In July, MTA Police Officer John Barnett was stabbed in the eye near a taxi stand just underneath the station. Barnett then fatally shot the assailant, Edgar Owens. It remains unclear whether Barnett will regain full use of his eye.
Worry about crime was on the mind of Sarah Mongone, 18, of Franklin Square, when she began traveling through the station two weeks ago to take classes at St. John's University.
"My dad was like, 'You better be careful,' " said Mongone, who walks two blocks from a bus stop to the station to get home from school each day. "I don't look around. I don't do anything. I just come here."
Rise in major crime
MTA police statistics show a 73 percent increase in major crimes at the station between 2007 and 2011, from 15 a year to 26. This year, 11 major crimes have been reported through August.
But, LIRR officials noted any crimes that take place on trains before they arrive at the station are put on Jamaica's tally.
Jamaica Station's increase in crime last year was driven largely by 15 grand larcenies -- about half of those on trains -- a spike officials attribute to the popularity of expensive mobile devices such as iPhones.
MTA Police Chief Michael Coan said that of the 10 felony assaults reported at Jamaica last year, none were against LIRR customers at the station. Nine were against police and LIRR crew members. One of them took place on board a train as it pulled into the station.
The fears some riders have about the area are "largely unfounded," said Joe Calderone, the LIRR's executive vice president for customer service, whose office is at Jamaica Station.
"I've been here five years and I feel completely safe walking up and down Jamaica Avenue at all hours of the night and in all kinds of weather," Calderone said.
New York Police Department statistics show crime in the 103rd Precinct, which includes the Jamaica Station area, dropped 30 percent between 2001 and 2011.
"They're extremely safe," Coan said of the 200,000 LIRR riders who pass through the station each day. Although most riders only transfer to other trains at the station, about 20,000 begin and end their LIRR trips in the Southeast Queens community.
"It's a working-class, middle-class neighborhood . . . It's just done nothing but improve," Coan said.