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Burned-out streetlights evoke safety fears

Scenes around the Village of Hempstead where there

Scenes around the Village of Hempstead where there are some lighting problems. (March 17, 2011) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Lights out.

Burned-out streetlights in parts of Hempstead Village have left stretches of roads dark for months. The lack of light invites crime into the area, some unnerved residents and the police chief say.

Pedro Reyes, who's lived in the village for 20 years, said he looked out his window while washing dishes a few months ago and saw a man getting beaten by four others right under a streetlight that had been out for almost two months.

The assault might have been deterred if the light in front of his house had been working, he said. Reyes, 51, added that he helped translate for the Spanish-speaking victim when the paramedics arrived.

"Streetlights are very important because you don't have muggings during the daytime, you have them at night," he said.

Other residents of darkened streets in the community of almost 54,000 worry about their safety. So does Village Police Chief Joseph Wing.

"We have seen more crime where lights are out or trees have grown over it," Wing acknowledged.

In 2010, the village had 452 violent crime reports, including murder, rape, robbery and assault. In 2009, there were 482 incidents and 341 in 2008, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. So far this year, from Jan. 1 to March 6, 57 violent crimes were reported.

"By having more lighting, it doesn't mean it would stop crimes, but it would make the streets safer," said Javier Gallardo, organizer of the Long Island Civic Participation Project, a community organization based in the village.

Wing and Mayor Wayne J. Hall noted that having good street lighting can be a crime-fighting tool, which is why lamp voltage has been increased in some areas.

The Village Department of Fire Alarm and Street Lighting, which responds to complaints about burned-out lights, works with a $532,050 budget to cover electrical costs, repairs and replacements, according to Raymond Calame, village treasurer and comptroller. The budget represents a $5,500 increase from the previous year's.

At least two employees are assigned to address outages among the village's approximately 2,000 streetlights, according to department Superintendent Lael Von Elm. Workers address reports of an outage "on a first-in, first-out basis" except in cases of extreme emergency, he said.

In 2009, the department received 671 streetlight outage reports and repaired 750 lights. Last year, the numbers of outages reported increased to 941 and 990 lights were repaired. Through March 16 this year, 205 outages were reported and 189 lights were fixed.

"It may be commonly perceived that merely changing the bulb will be enough to fix the light," Von Elm said in an email. "However, making repairs to a piece of equipment that is exposed to all types of conditions 24/7, 365 days a year, poses many challenges . . .that this department is doing its best to meet."

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