Suffolk officials vowed Tuesday to keep up police presence and other security measures in the troubled Huntington Station area near the Jack Abrams School, where neighborhood violence has forced the closing of its doors for the near future.
At a raucous Monday night meeting, Huntington school district officials dropped their idea of using the school as a sixth-grade center and instead will send all fifth- and sixth-graders to Woodhull Intermediate School. Kindergarten through fourth-grade students will attend the district's four primary schools. The school board's decision follows several acts of violence near the Abrams School in recent months, including shots that rang out March 11 during school hours and last week's shooting of a 16-year-old girl in her leg at a nearby parking lot.
"Whether the school remains there or not, we've reassured the community that the heightened presence of the police in that area will remain," said County Executive Steve Levy, who showed up at Monday's school board meeting. Levy said the county in recent months had added more police to patrol the area, particularly at night, increased surveillance cameras, and worked with the FBI to combat gangs and narcotics trafficking in the neighborhood.
But Legis. Jon Cooper, (D-Lloyd Harbor), whose district includes many who attend the school, sharply criticized Levy for not providing enough police officers to crime-plagued areas of Suffolk, including the Huntington Station area near the Abrams School, and for delays in hiring more police officers. After Monday's meeting, Cooper and Levy had an angry confrontation as both tried to speak with local residents upset about the closing of the school, at least until a new use can be determined.
"The county could have done more here," said Cooper. "I'm not saying it [more police officers] would have prevented someone from being shot, but it's common sense that more cops would have made it safer around the school area."
After more than a year of debate over Suffolk's high police costs, Levy signed off on a second new class of 70 to 80 rookie recruits, who after training would be expected to be in uniform sometime next year. Another 70 were hired earlier this year. Levy said the police department had made many efforts to deploy more officers near the Abrams School and even relocated a shift change for officers at the site to increase the police presence.
Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone also said he wanted to see more police officers but said he felt county officials and police had cooperated to try to address safety concerns near the school. "We need more police, especially in the late hours," Petrone said. He said the town had beefed up its zoning code enforcement against absentee landlords in Huntington Station and was looking to revitalize business in the neighborhood as a way to combat crime.
However, Levy, Cooper and Petrone would not comment directly on whether the school board's decision to close the school's doors was the right one. "No one is very happy with a decision like this," Petrone said.