Arecent series of sexual assaults in the Valley Stream area rattled the community and left many residents stunned at the rare crime pattern. One suspect is in custody, and police say he is connected to at least two of the attacks, including a daytime rape at Valley Stream State Park on Sept. 1.
Following the attacks, several local civic organizations came together to host a crime forum at the Valley Stream American Legion hall on Sept. 12. Representatives of numerous law enforcement agencies, including the Nassau County police, the State Park police, the Nassau County district attorney’s office, Public Safety and the Auxiliary Police were on hand. They provided valuable information about policing in Valley Stream, including crime statistics and ways for residents to better protect themselves.
One concern raised by community members was that county police did not release information about two sexual assaults, which occurred within 20 minutes of each other on Aug. 12 — one on Lois Place, in Lynbrook, and the other on Mill Road, in Valley Stream — until after the Sept. 1 incident. That was when police first realized that the three attacks could be related.
The suspect in custody, a 16-year-old from Queens, was charged in both the state park rape and the Mill Road attack. Police said that because of the ongoing investigation, they could not say why they did not immediately release information about the Aug. 12 attacks.
The public deserves to know why those attacks were not publicized sooner. If it was known then that there was a man who was a threat to the community, police should have acknowledged it right away. The state park attack might not have happened if the public had been alerted to the previous crimes and made aware of the suspect’s description. Perhaps he could have been apprehended sooner.
And if the police wanted to withhold the subject’s description for legitimate investigatory reasons — they weren’t sure and didn’t want to misidentify — they could have at least informed the public that the attacks had happened and to be on guard.
When it comes to public safety, residents want to help. They are willing to be the eyes and ears of the police who can’t be everywhere. If public safety wasn’t important to residents, they would not have filled the American Legion hall to hear from law enforcement officials, and volunteer organizations like the Valley Stream Civilian Patrol and Auxiliary Police units would not exist.
The public can be a valuable crime-fighting tool. Citizens should not be shielded from the details of horrific crime. For their own safety, they need to know what is happening so they can take the proper steps to protect themselves.
We hope that as the investigation wraps up, the police will give the public a sensible answer as to why the Aug. 12 crimes were not reported right away. We also hope that in the future, police will re-evaluate their procedures so that the public is more aware of criminal activity, and can help put the bad guys away sooner.