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University Gardens: Taking a Hard Look at Increasing Security

Large Crowd Turns Out at Emergency Meeting by Homeowners

With heightened concerns about four recent burglaries, a crowd of approximately 75 University Gardens residents turned out last Wednesday, a raw, rainy evening, for an emergency meeting held by their homeowners association board. Board President Al Rudorfer spoke briefly attempting to reassure residents that the board was exploring various options to make the area safer and introduced a host of security experts who spoke, but throughout the evening, resident after resident expressed frustration about  a lack of responsiveness and communication from the board surrounding the incidents.

The first speaker was Sgt. James Mandaro from the 6th Precinct. Although there was one unsolved incident in which a woman had been followed and was robbed of jewelry in her driveway during the daytime, Sgt. Mandaro emphasized that most burglars were looking for easy targets, unoccupied houses, and even with alarms going off, would grab money and cash and make fast getaways. Sgt. Mandaro stated that one break-in that occurred while residents were home was evidently “accidental” with the burglar as surprised as the homeowners. He did acknowledge that the POP, problem oriented policing, program has been reduced, but said that it is not unusual for crime spikes to rise and fall.

Board member Robert Leighton traced the history of security measures taken for the last decade. He said that several years ago there was a spate of burglaries in the community that prompted the board to hire a security person to drive through the neighborhood at various hours. It cost the association $1000 a week and was finally abandoned because it was deemed not effective enough to warrant the money spent. He urged residents to consider more outdoor lighting at their homes to deter criminals.

Several months ago before the crime spate, three residents with concerns about security came to the board and were authorized to form an ad hoc “security committee” to investigate security situations and to recommend solutions. Summarizing their work, Lauraine Kanders reported that more lighting was installed at the community pool, newer security technologies were being explored and efforts were made to improve communications with residents. Two other topics of concern were roaming solicitors in the neighborhood whom some residents described as threatening, as well as speeding on Merrivale Road that cuts through the neighborhood from Lakeville Road to Northern Blvd.

Town of North Hempstead Commissioner of Public Safety Andrew DeMartin informed the public that two weeks ago a meeting was held with Supervisor Jon Kaiman regarding community concerns and what the town could do to help. He informed the group that the town has installed 350 security cameras recently throughout the town. He warned that cameras help in catching criminals, but that they do not necessarily prevent crimes. The town could install and monitor cameras in University Gardens, but there would be a cost associated with it. He did, however, note that the street lighting will be analyzed by the town’s vendor and it could be increased, but added that increased lighting could be annoying and increase glare.

He said that a town ordinance requires that street numbers on houses be lit so that fire and ambulance emergency workers can locate homes quickly and accurately. Further he urged that if residents see cars parked illegally in the neighborhood, they should report them to the 311 system. (In areas that border Queens, sometimes a 311 call will go to New York City. In those cases, call 869-6311) He also informed the group that home-to-home solicitations are illegal and advised that residents ask for the name of the organization, report it to the town’s 311 system and the town will follow up to warn and perhaps fine the organizations. He stressed that it is important for a community to have a consensus on the level and cost of security measures they will support before the town takes steps to upgrade lighting and cameras.

In relation to speeding, he stated that he does not advise the installation of speed bumps.

Peter Allen from General Security Alarms spoke about the initiatives in the Village of Kings Point to install “ high-definition-license-reading” cameras for security purposes and the recent technological advances in security devices and transmission of information. The read-out from plates goes into a database that will tag “problematic” plates such as stolen cars and then police officers in the village can respond.

He encouraged homeowners to be proactive and make it harder for smash-and-grab burglars to make successful hauls by purchasing home safes for valuables.

The program for the evening concluded with Captain Maria D’Amelio, Auxiliary Police, who gave safety tips which include having a trusted neighbor remove mail, papers, circulars from visible locations when one is away from home; making sure snow is removed from sidewalks while out of town; using timers for interior and exterior lighting; closing garage doors; locking doors between garages and interiors; guarding information about out-of-town trips; learning how to smartly use security systems and calling for help if you need it by using 311 for reporting parking violations and solicitors and 911 for real emergencies.

Mr. Rudorfer introduced the board’s new secretary, Sharon Kim, who described herself as a person with technological savvy who will be able to re-invigorate the association’s website and increase communications among residents and with the board.

After the meeting, some residents were hopeful that the crisis would promote more community-mindedness in general and were willing to give the board some slack for perceived past missteps. One woman said, “It’s a thankless job...volunteering for the board..let’s give them a chance.”

Others took a more skeptical, wait-and-see stance saying, “Let’s see what they do next...they need an action plan to analyze our options and a way to have more community participation in making decisions about what could be costly alternatives for improved safety.”