Longtime Huntington Station resident Jim McGoldrick has pleaded with police and local officials for five years to step up patrols in his neighborhood.
In 2009, McGoldrick, who grew up in the hamlet and settled there as an adult, began a letter-writing campaign after a drunken man crept into his wife's car in front of his home to get some sleep.
Then, on Oct. 12, Maggie Rosales, 18, was found with her throat slashed, steps away from McGoldrick's front door on Lynch Street near Depot Road.
"That was a baby out there on the street," McGoldrick said, tearing up as he sat in his dining room. "That was a kid."
Rosales' killing, the fourth in about a year, served as a catalyst, McGoldrick and others say, that tapped the fears and frustrations of residents, business owners and local workers worried that crime was resurfacing to levels unseen since 2010 in the 5-square-mile hamlet.
Police officials said they are working to stem crime. After seeing an increase in violence during the summer, a police task force was created to address the upswing. Last week, officials said it had made 496 arrests.
Despite the crackdown and the Nov. 3 indictment of Huntington Station resident Adam Saalfield in Rosales' slaying, residents and business owners remain focused on quality-of-life issues such as loitering, revolving-door rentals, housing code enforcement and lighting.
On a recent cold afternoon, more than a dozen men congregated inside the gated parking lot behind Yari's Carniceria.
Some played cards, others talked. Most were visibly drunk.
Could lose customers
Owner Luis Rodriguez, 47, is aware that he could lose customers if they see intoxicated men hang around the entrance to his Pulaski Road butcher shop, so he's placed a stoop next to his front door where he can sit outside and ward them off when they stray over from the back parking lot.
"We tried to get rid of the people and they [police] say, 'We can't do anything,' " said Rodriguez as he waved hello at two Suffolk police officers patrolling the area on bicycle. "Nobody parks in the back, because who's going to park there?"
His neighbor, Leo Martinez, 41, owner of Yari's Deli next door, is more worried about the four killings in the hamlet.
"The drunks aren't the problem," Martinez said in Spanish. "Here the most problematic are the deaths. Nobody knows who does them and they [police] don't find out."
Martinez said the unsolved July shooting death of Danny Carbajal is a big concern. Carbajal, 25, was shot in the head by a male outside his friend's home on East Ninth Street.
A spokeswoman for the Suffolk County Police Department said no arrests have been made in the homicide.
Insp. Edward Brady, commanding officer of Suffolk's Second Precinct, said increased patrols and the formation of the Huntington Station Violence Task Force helped stem the recent violence. He also said violent crime, specifically in Huntington Station, is at lower levels now than in 2010.
"We are making progress," Brady said. "There are problems which we are addressing, but I certainly believe we are making progress here."
Violence closed school
The recent deaths and other violence come four years after a series of shootings near the Jack Abrams Intermediate School on Lowndes Avenue -- among them daytime gunfire later attributed to Latin Kings gang members and the wounding of a 16-year-old just off school property -- prompted school officials to close the facility.
That year, police reported 100 violent crimes had occurred in Huntington Station. In the areas covered by the Second Precinct, which includes Huntington Station and most other parts of Huntington Town, there were six slayings and 207 violent crimes committed. Slayings then fell to two annually until this year -- when Rosales, Carbajal and Luis Ramos-Rodriguez all were killed in Huntington Station.
After the FBI stepped in to help by adding agents to investigations and boost its anti-gang personnel, and Suffolk increased patrols and joined the Long Island Gang Task Force, incidents of violent crime -- which include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- fell to 82 in Huntington Station during 2011.
In 2012 violent crime incidents rose to 89, then fell back to 75 in 2013 -- the year that the district reopened Abrams as a magnet school. Through Sept. 30 of this year, 61 violent crimes have been reported in Huntington Station and 136 in the precinct.
Aggravated assaults precinctwide are on track to surpass or equal last year's numbers, according to the Sept. 30 figures, with 91 this year compared with 93 for all of 2013. Rapes and robberies were down by about half, from 20 rapes in 2013 to 10 as of Sept. 30 of this year, and from 62 robberies in 2013 and to 32 this year.
"We saw that over the summer that our violent crime was starting to go up, and at that time we started an initiative with additional personnel," Brady said. "We actually increased our gang team, and we had officers from the warrant squad come over here and help. We have them working in an undercover capacity with some of our officers, so there's been a lot of resources put into place here in Huntington Station."
Police expert Joseph Giacalone, a former NYPD sergeant with more than 20 years of experience, said policing works best when successful tactics to suppress crime are maintained.
"Once you clean up, you just don't forget about it," said Giacalone, citing the efforts police put in place in 2010. "You have to have some maintenance once you gain the ground. Once you clean it up, you have to leave some presence behind. They went full speed ahead, put their foot on the pedal, and then they left. Criminals are opportunists."
Brady said police have kept parts of some of their past initiatives in place, such as the community liaison officer position created during the 2010 violent surge to bridge a relationship between police and the community. In addition, a special unit created to patrol the area around the intermediate school has remained on the job.
Experts and police around the country say crime is enabled by signs of blight and neglect and by poor relations between law enforcement and the community -- a belief known as the "broken windows" theory.
Giacalone says the theory was implemented in the 1980s -- when the NYPD clamped down on such quality-of-life violations as graffiti, subway fare beaters and panhandlers as part of combating a crack epidemic.
"The broken windows theory of policing works," Giacalone said. "It works, but you have to deal with the bumps in the road. You gotta be able to take a hit."
What's happening in Huntington Station are signs of urban decay that can be seen in other parts of Long Island.
"As Long Islanders we've always been immune to this problem because it was always a 'city problem,' " Giacalone said. "The neighborhoods are changing, stores are being shuttered and when you have signs of urban decay, these are the things the bad guys take advantage of because they figure people don't care."
The Town of Huntington will work closely with police, including accompanying them on visits to bars, restaurants and bodegas to make sure the businesses are up to code, town spokesman A.J. Carter said.
In addition, the town has established contact with new community watch groups and stepped up patrols at town facilities. The goal is to "maintain greater links between the town, the community and the police to assure everyone is working together," Carter said.
Some residents say increased patrols and better code enforcement may not be the only solutions. For Khaled Amin, co-owner of Depot Mart, a convenience store on Depot Road in a small shopping strip between Caldwell and East 12th streets, the solution cost about $30,000 in surveillance cameras to safeguard his store, he said.
"The neighborhood is getting worse," said Amin, 34, adding that he's had to call police on several occasions because beggars in groups will approach customers asking for money, only to go across the street and spend it on liquor.
"I'm also concerned for my elderly customers," Amin said. "Yesterday, an old lady came up to me. She said 15 people rushed her for money. She was so nervous. I walked her to her car."
Millie Pichardo, 45, a hairdresser at a salon in the strip mall on Depot Road, said she'd feel safer if police were around more during the evening.
"We work every day and sometimes we leave at night," Pichardo said in Spanish. "And we don't feel secure at all."
Nicholas Gonzalez, 23, of Melville, attended Walt Whitman High School with Carbajal, one of the three people killed this year in Huntington Station. He attended the November precinct community meeting at South Huntington Library "to see how they are going to fix the issues at hand."
Gonzalez said he is concerned about gang violence and the prevalence of drugs in Huntington Station.
"I feel safe for myself," he said. "I sometimes get worried for my mother. It's a very toxic area."
Friends of another victim and former Walt Whitman student, Sarah Strobel, pleaded with police at the meeting to find her killer. Strobel's body was found in October of last year at Froehlich Farm Nature Preserve.
"It's been over a year, so what are we supposed to do?" asked Taylor Friedman, 23, of Huntington Station, at the meeting. "I applaud you for what you did for Maggie Rosales. But what about Sarah?"
Brady assured Friedman that homicide was on the case.
McGoldrick said he wants the anti-crime effort to continue.
"I feel safer; my wife feels safer," McGoldrick said. "But the problem is, we hope they stay on top of it. And I don't want to see any more dead teenagers."