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Concerns on crime aired at Hempstead Village gathering

Hempstead Mayor Wayne Hall, left, and Hempstead Police

Hempstead Mayor Wayne Hall, left, and Hempstead Police Chief Michael McGowan talk in the mayor's office about the drug and crime problem in Hempstead Village at Village Hall. (May 23, 2012) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

More than 150 Hempstead Village officials, school district leaders, residents, community activists gathered at a community forum to raise concerns about neighborhood violence, the struggling education system and high unemployment in the village.

“We need to drive down violent crime,” Hempstead Village Police Chief Michael McGowan said last week at the Hempstead library. “We need to change the mindset of the youth about gangs.”

The Hempstead Police Department has 121 officers who patrol the village of about 54,000 residents, with one of the highest crime rates on Long Island.

Homicides in the village increased 14 percent, from 7 to 8, from Jan. 1 to Sept. 23 compared with last year, according to village police. Overall violent crime — including rape, robbery and assault — is down 11 percent, from 308 to 275, compared with a year ago.

“We need more patrols on the streets,” former Hempstead Housing Authority chairman Cornell Bozier said. “The murders and the killings in Hempstead are just ridiculous. We need a larger police presence.”

This month, Dante James Quinones-Wright, 17, was fatally shot on Dartmouth Street in Hempstead. Pedro Merchant, 20, of North Valley Stream, was arrested and charged with one count of second-degree murder.

“You must eradicate the mentality of using a gun,” said community activist Valerie McFadden of Uniondale, who asked forum attendees to indicate if they lost someone to violence. About a fifth of the audience stood up.

The village installed ShotSpotter, a gunshot sound-detection system, in February to help police more quickly find the location of a shooting, Mayor Wayne J. Hall Sr. said. The village has also freed up officers for patrol.

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