Neighbors On Lookout For Suspects In F. Hills
Call For Vigilance Amid Break-In Pattern
More than 200 residents gathered at Our Lady of Mercy School in Forest Hills on Tuesday night, Apr. 2, for a special meeting of the 112th Precinct Community Council about an ongoing burglary pattern that has stricken a small section of the neighborhood over the last two months.
“When this kind of thing happens, it falls on my shoulders,” said Capt. Thomas Conforti, commanding officer of the 112th Precinct. “I’m not going to leave until I’ve answered all your questions.”
He told attendees the precinct’s response time to burglaries and suspicious activity calls is two minutes. A recent response was mounted in 40 seconds, he stated.
P.O. Gigi Redzematovic of the 112th Precinct Community Affairs Unit said she hasn’t seen a pattern like this in her 15 years with the precinct.
What is known
There have been nine burglaries in Forest Hills since Feb. 5—all of them appear to be connected, according to Sgt. Claudia Bartolomei, commanding officer of the 112th Precinct’s Detective Squad.
The last hit was Mar. 17, and there are no signs the perps moved to a different area, she said.
The break-ins occurred in an 11- block stretch between 69th and 70th streets and Metropolitan Avenue and Fleet Street.
All but one of the burglaries occurred in single-family, detached homes with secluded backyards, Conforti said.
Bartolomei stated the burglars kicked in wooden doors to gain access. Two of the nine incidents involved window-entry—the rest of the time, perps busted down doors, she said.
Based on the strength required to break down a door, it is doubtful kids or teens are responsible, Bartolomei said.
It appears the burglars are working as a team, officials said. Bartolomei noted the thieves were able to remove valuables from four rooms in under 30 seconds.
They are mostly taking small, untraceable items like jewelry, though they took big screen TVs in two instances, she told the crowd.
Residents were out during all the break-ins, and none of the burglaries resulted in a confrontation, according to Bartolomei.
The detective squad has removed four sets of prints which are currently being processed, and there are leads, she said.
Conforti declined to comment on whether, given the small area affected, the burglars might be local.
“I’m going to say they’re very comfortable with a certain area,” he added.
In the course of the investigation, the detective squad researched burglars that have been apprehended in the area and since released going back to 2006, Bartolomei noted. She declined to comment whether any of those individuals were suspects.
One resident in attendance reported that someone rang her neighbor’s doorbell late one evening, and when the neighbor looked out her window, a van parked in front of her home sped away.
Bartolomei told the resident the perps were casing homes in the area, and anyone with information should contact her office at 1-718-520-9252.
Safety and prevention tips
The best way to prevent burglaries is to be vigilant, officers noted.
“Burglary is one of the hardest crimes to solve, unless you catch them in the act,” Conforti said.
He said it is important to call 911 when you see a suspicious person on your neighbor’s property.
Bartolomei suggested photographing untraceable items and registering them with the NYPD. The force IDs jewelry, electronics and other valuables to help recover them if they are stolen.
Steel doors are another preventative measure, she said. Conforti added that installing multiple dead bolts is a less expensive alternative for reinforcing a door.
The captain called putting bars on windows unnecessary, saying that, in the case of a fire, they pose a risk. He added that burglars only break windows about 5 percent of the time— often, they simply aren’t locked.
He told the audience a better solution is video cameras, which have become extremely affordable in recent years.
Cameras provide evidence that helps cops catch and prosecute criminals, Conforti said.
Street cameras monitored by the NYPD would take time to approve and install due to privacy concerns, but they are possible, he said, adding that City Council Member Karen Koslowitz—who represents Forest Hills and was in attendance Tuesday night—has secured $500,000 to install such cameras in the council district.
Officers also conduct home safety assesments that help homeowners identify and fix potential safety issues and points of entry. Anyone interested can call P.O. Christine Narsingh at 1-718-520-9319.
Redzematovic told attendees about the “Block Watchers Program,” which helps residents learn to identify suspicious persons.
The program allows individuals to report suspicious activity without giving a name—program participants are issued a “block watcher number” and can report using that number, Redzematovic said.
Toward the end of the meeting, one resident stood up and identified himself as a victim of the burglary pattern. He stressed the importance of vigilance and community.
“The precinct did everything they could. We have to watch out for each other; help each other; that’s what this neighborhood does,” he said.