Because of an increasing concern about crime among the residents, the Concerned Citizens of Manorhaven sponsored an open public meeting to discuss various crime-related issues with the Nassau County Police Department. Over 70 persons gathered to enter into dialogue with the invited guests: Inspector Peter Matuza, commanding officer of the 6th precinct, which covers the village of Manorhaven and Manhasset as well as other neighboring communities, Deputy Inspector Albert Jaskot, and Administrative Lieutenant Raymond Cote. Rita Santelli, president of Concerned Citizens, introduced the topic, namely, crime in Manorhaven, and gangs in Nassau County and Manorhaven in particular. She said, "We want to know, how much is there and what can we do about it?"
Inspector Matuza made no formal remarks, saying that he would prefer a question-and-answer format. Michael Ragusa, founder and president emeritus of Concerned Citizens, said, "In reviewing the police reports, I noticed there was no category for assaults." Inspector Matuza responded, "Assaults are only a small part of crime; it would be too much work to compile those. We tally crimes each month. We look at where the crimes are happening, we can therefore target our resources more efficiently." In a subsequent interview, Ragusa said, "I think that they should compile assaults. That is important information. Assaults are compiled by category by the Port Washington Police Department." (The Port News confirmed this with Deputy Chief Ron De Meo of the PWPD.)
Matuza went on to say that there were three recent assaults in Manorhaven. He said, "One was a stabbing. We identified two individuals; one went into a house. We located the house and when the victim went to the hospital, he recanted his story. If we had witnessed the crime, that would have been a different story." Matuza said that there were two other stabbings in addition to this one. He said, "One involved two beers - one was warm one was cold. One individual gave the other the warm beer, and that was enough of an insult for him to go home and get a knife." Another incident, he said, involved a dispute where one individual stabbed the other with a beer bottle. He summed up by saying, "To go back to the assault thing, it is not a major thing. We use burglaries, car accidents, etc."
In a separate interview, Ragusa said that he was particularly concerned about an incident on Kirkwood near Cambridge, where one individual stabbed another. He said a SWAT team responded; the street was cordoned off, and a number of law enforcement and emergency personnel people were there "for quite a long time." [Ed note: This is the same area where a stolen cash register was dropped in a backyard and where a suspected burglary took place - Port Washington News August 19]. Ragusa, a longtime activist with a particular interest in the quality of life in Manorhaven, said, "The citizens were very frightened."
Matuza said that over a month ago a task force was created to deal with the problem of gangs. He said, "We made 36 arrests through end September 2004, whereas all of last year we made 21 arrests. "Of the 36," he said, "we consider 15 to be gang-related." In addition, he said, there were 33 appearance tickets so far in 2004 and 18 in 2004 for such things as open containers of alcoholic beverages, harassment, possession of marijuana and violations of Town and Village ordinances. He pointed out that these were not serious crimes. He added, "Is it going up? I'm not really sure, because we are paying more attention. Generally, almost half the arrests we make are gang related."
Matuza and his colleagues said that one of their methods of controlling and discouraging gang activity is to enforce all violations. For example, Matuza said, "We will enforce any law or ordinance such as being in the park after dark, carrying open containers [of alcohol], and so forth. We want to make it as uncomfortable as possible for them." He pointed out that the precinct is somewhat constrained by limited resources, but under Operation Clean Sweep they were able to do 50 vehicle stop-and-searches. He also said that he has authorized overtime to combat gang activity. He summarized by saying, "Is there gang activity in Manorhaven? Absolutely. Are we doing everything possible to make it uncomfortable for them? Absolutely."
Matuza, Jaskott and Cote emphasized that the overwhelming majority of the crimes committed by gang members are against other gang members, not generally against other members of the community. In addition, they tend to be non-serious crimes. They said that for the most part the individuals arrested come from outside the area - they may work around here or come to watch a sports event. According to the guest speakers, about 60 percent of the arrests made here are of people who come from outside Manorhaven. Cote added that they use bike patrols to monitor the area, especially after work and on weekends when they are most likely to congregate.
The primary gang activity is from the MS-13, which stands for La Mara Salvatrucha, loosely translated as the Wild Salvadorians. A nationwide group, its origins are in the 1980s, and it is comprised primarily of immigrants from El Salvador. The gang colors are blue and white. The MS-13 has recently been the subject of a lot of media attention; for example, the August 15 New York Times Magazine discussed the proliferation of the MS-13 and similar gangs into suburban and rural areas throughout the United States. The murder in October of two informants precipitated a series of articles in Newsday about the MS-13. According to Newsday (October 13, 2004) Nassau County police said that of the 22 homicides last year, six were gang-related, meaning either the perpetrator or victim was a gang member. They said that this year so far, five of the 18 homicides have been classified as gang-related. Cote said, "They [gangs] are all over the United States. They are not that well organized in Nassau County, and we hope to keep it that way." He added that, although there are not a great number of gang members, there are a lot of "wannabees" who imitate the gang members in dress and so forth.
In answer to another question, Matuza said that there is very little drug-related crime and drug traffic in Manorhaven. He said, "Most of the drugs that we see are just personal use of marijuana." Cote agreed that there is no major hard drug trafficking, but did mention a major arrest about two months ago for cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana.
Rudy Santos, another active Manorhaven resident, said, "It seems as if there is a direct correlation between overcrowding and crime. They are attracted by low rents. I know that you have no authority, but do you, in all of the villages, emphasize that the villages enforce the regulations that can minimize the problem?" Matuza responded, "We have been working with the Town of North Hempstead and the villages. We have been doing this for a couple of months, and we will pick up the speed. There are people who are undesirable. Let them move someplace else." He added, "We did seven investigations with the Manorhaven code inspector."
Bill Solomon of All Port Travel mentioned that on Manorhaven Blvd there was a break-in. He said, "They kicked in the door bottom at Nick and Pedro's restaurant. MS-13 was scrawled on the side of the nearby buildings." He added, "The Chamber of Commerce and BID are concerned if people are afraid to get out of the car in certain areas. There is a certain intimidation. As soon as people hear gangs, people get scared (because of the media). It is a problem to cope with. Some of it is real, some of it not. It is like terrorism. What can we do?" Matuza reiterated that they are doing their best to move the gangs out of the neighborhood given limited resources. He added, "If there is intimidation, give us a call." Both Matuza and De Meo spoke of the ongoing cooperation between the NCPD and the PWPD. Matuza said, "We have weekly contact where we share information specific to gangs. Our job is to make the problem go away." In answer to this reporter's question about how the NCPD is handling the perception of safety, Matuza talked mainly about maintaining a visible police presence.
Bob O'Brien, Concerned Citizens Executive Committee member and newsletter editor, asked about what is being done to combat gang membership and activity by going to root causes. Matuza responded that they have had conversations with social services and have reached out to other county agencies. Cote added, "Most of these people have jobs; they are not vagrants. The majority of time, they congregate after work." O'Brien also asked about auxiliary police, and at Matuza's suggestion is following up with the appropriate personnel at the NCPD to see if an active auxiliary can be organized in Manorhaven.
In conclusion, Matuza said, "Communities do change, but there probably is not more crime than there was." All of the NCPD representatives urged residents to call if they see a crime or something suspicious - 911 for emergencies; 516-578-6600 for non-emergencies.
Rita Santelli, president of Concerned Citizens of Manorhaven, said in a subsequent interview, "I was very happy with the meeting. People asked very pertinent questions and Inspector Matuza and his two colleagues were very well informed and very kind and open to us. Any questions we asked they were happy to answer." She said that they look forward to an ongoing dialogue between the civic group and the law enforcement personnel. Santelli announced that Manorhaven Village Justice Robert A. Carpentier will be the speaker at the January 20 meeting of the organization, which will take place in the Hagedorn room of the Port Washington library.