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Huntington Station crime up, shootings down

Sgt. Steven Saar, left, and Police Officer Robert

Sgt. Steven Saar, left, and Police Officer Robert Dorr, of the Suffolk County Police Department's anti-gang unit, patrol a housing complex in Huntington Station looking for gang activity in the area. (Oct. 10, 2012) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A push to rid downtown Huntington Station of violent crime as the community takes steps toward redeveloping its core area has yielded uneven results, with crime up overall but shootings down.

The most recent statistics show crime in the hamlet had risen by 19 percent through Oct. 31 compared with the same period last year, even as police say many alleged gang members were arrested and the number of shootings dropped.

Murder and aggravated assault cases were at the same level as last year, with one fatal shooting and 42 assaults through October. Although burglaries and car thefts fell, robberies and larcenies increased -- pushing overall crime up.

But "the numbers of shootings have dropped off dramatically" since violent crime in the community peaked from 2008 to 2010, said Suffolk County Deputy Insp. Kevin Fallon, a department spokesman.

Police investigated 14 shootings in Huntington Station in 2010, nine in 2011 and two through Oct. 31, Insp. Edward Brady said. One involved a man who accidentally shot himself, and the other was the fatal shooting of a man in front of his residence that police said is under investigation as a homicide.

At the same time, arrests for felonies, misdemeanors and warrants have risen from last year, and 56 alleged gang members have been arrested in the same 10-month period, Brady said. Some of the violent crime figures reflect domestic violence cases that can't be attributed to street crime, he added.


New strategies

County Executive Steve Bellone in January reassigned anti-gang officers to the precincts, rather than having them operate from a centralized squad at police headquarters in Yaphank.

"Our new strategies are working, as we can tell from the reduction in firearms violence," said Brady, commanding officer of the Second Precinct, which includes Huntington Station.

Police assigned four anti-gang officers and a supervisor to Huntington Station and shifted its focus to "intelligence-led policing" where research on crime trends is sent to officers on the street, Brady said. ShotSpotter, a shooting-detection technology, was installed last December.

Police targeted pockets of the hamlet where crime had been high, including about 20 blocks of numbered streets along New York Avenue, a dozen numbered avenues on the west side and a cluster of roads north of Railroad Street.

Bellone said in a statement that he remains committed to anti-gang officers policing the streets and working with detectives and patrol officers.

"I believe the community feels safer by the decentralized approach," Bellone said.

Osman Canales, 23, a community activist whose family has been the victim of property crimes, assault and robbery in Huntington Station, said he's noticed a difference over several months.

"I think there's been a decrease in violence," he said. "I have seen more frequent patrols of police in the neighborhood. I have also noticed they've placed checkpoints in different spots."

Suffolk Police Sgt. Steven Saar and Officer Robert Dorr drive up and down main roads and darkened residential neighborhoods on patrol. On a recent night they circled vacant lots, shone flashlights into parked vehicles, went into alleyways behind commercial areas and walked through public and rental housing complexes as part of stepped-up enforcement to target gang activity.

"You have to keep hitting these streets over and over again, so they don't want to be here," Saar said.

The men stood under the glare of streetlamps in the same Lincoln Farm Apartments parking lot where three young men were shot last year, but this time it was quiet.

They didn't find any suspicious activity after hours of patrol that night, partly because "we've been out in the community and they know it," Dorr said. "For some of these guys, they saw a few of their friends being arrested and a lot of times that's all it takes."

Efforts to reduce crime parallel the town's push to redevelop the commercial area along New York Avenue, which has been mired for decades in haphazard renewal plans and suburban decay.

"We are coming together to try to have a balanced approach for the Station that will not only bring economic development, but will also begin to rid some of the crime," Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said.


New development

Renaissance Downtowns, a private developer selected last year by the town, is soliciting residents' ideas for a downtown Huntington Station that would be focused around the railroad stop.

At the same time, work has started at the site of a multifamily housing proposal by AvalonBay, following the dismissal of a lawsuit from a community organization opposing the project. That proposal, approved by the town in June 2011, includes 379 residences on a 26.6-acre tract about a half-mile from the LIRR station.

"If we can bring more development here, we could have more jobs and more housing and the small mom-and-pop shops that once gave us a feel for the community," said Dolores Thompson, a longtime community advocate who heads the nonprofit Huntington Station Enrichment Center and coordinates the hamlet's annual "Awareness" parade.More than 300 residents and business owners have signed up to offer ideas for redevelopment plans as part of Renaissance Downtowns' "Source the Station" campaign, said Erika Forland, the campaign's community outreach liaison.

The best of those proposals will go to the town for consideration, company officials said. Some of the projects will be pursued directly by Renaissance Downtowns while others may be proposed through partnerships with business owners or investors.

"We are not coming to the community with a plan and driving it down its throat," said Brandon Palanker, marketing vice president for Renaissance Downtowns. "We want to come up with a shared vision that everyone supports."

Amanda Peppard, who sells antiques in Huntington Station and had opposed the AvalonBay project because of its size, said she likes a lot of the ideas and has contributed her own -- a "DIY design center" for home improvement and furniture restoration projects at the site of Yankee Peddler Antiques, where she rents space for her Suite Pieces furniture store.

"I have a vested interest in the community. I live here and have my business here also," Peppard, 31, said. "If we bring law-abiding citizens, coming in and out of new businesses, and we bring a community feeling, we can push the crime out."But Steven Spucces, president of the Greater Huntington Civic Group, which represents residents opposing AvalonBay, said he wants more of a focus on fighting crime and acting against code violations.

"We have seen enough concepts for Huntington Station over the years," he said. "We need to start by taking corrective action now."

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