Nassau County 1st Precinct police officers fielded questions from the public and offered holiday safety tips at a community forum at the Baldwin Public Library on Dec. 3.
Inspector Mark Vitelli, who recently took over for Inspector William Leahy, introduced himself and his colleagues, Deputy Inspector Michael Holfester, Officer John Bilello and Officer Daniel Clarke.
“We get the information from you guys, when you see things that are going on in your neighborhood that don’t seem right — a car on the corner, kids hanging out, someone walking down your block knocking on the doors, somebody looking suspicious — you need to call us,” Bilello said. “Call 911, don’t call the precinct. We will dispatch cars out there.”
“Why call 911 as opposed to calling the precinct?” asked Baldwin resident Todd Virga.
“Always call 911 if you need police response,” Bilello said. “If you call our office, or if you call the front desk of the precinct, they’re going to have to return and put the 911 call out.”
Bilello explained the call prioritization system: If there is a car collision in which people are injured, that is the precinct’s first priority. If there is a burglary in progress, that is a priority. If someone side-swiped a car, that is low on the priority list.
“If you need to talk to us, the 1st Precinct [problem-oriented policing] number is (516) 573-6170,” he said. He added that officers will conduct field interviews when necessary and cross-reference information as well as pass information to a crime analyst.
“From the month of Oct. 1 to Nov. 1, and from Nov. 1 to now, major crime in the 1st Precinct is down 23 percent,” Bilello said. “So we are out there.”
Baldwin resident Meta Mereday commended the POP officers, and said she would like to see more in Baldwin. The officers said they have between two and five POP officers covering Baldwin.
“Because we are an unincorporated hamlet sandwiched between two incorporated villages that do have more resources . . . we want to make sure that we’re maximizing the resources that we have to provide the support for you,” Mereday said, “and we know that POP actually works.”
“We do have more POP officers than any other precinct,” Bilello said, in addition to regular patrol posts, plainclothes officers and more resources.
The officers also offered tips to stay safe during the holidays, when victims become prey to package thieves, phone scams and robocalls. They said to make sure people coming to your front door are not misrepresenting themselves, and to call them if you are unsure.
“I’m very happy to see that we have crossing guards,” Mereday said, but added that she would like to see more.
The officers had applications on hand and invited residents to take them, adding that the pay for crossing guards has increased. “The crossing guard situation has improved dramatically from where it had been,” Holfester said.
“Twenty-five dollars an hour ain’t so bad for a couple hours a day,” Vitelli added.
Baldwin resident Jason Vitale, who is the quality-of-life chair for the Baldwin Civic Association, shared his concern about people drag racing on Sunrise Highway.
“At Best Buy, on random nights after they close the stores there, people do meet there,” he said. On Aug. 23, Vitale said he was trying to fall asleep when he heard engines revving loudly. He got up and drove about a half-mile away from where he lives, and “people were drag racing on Sunrise with people standing on Sunrise.”
“And I was like, ‘How do the police going back and forth not hear this? I can’t be the only person hearing this,’” he said. “I don’t normally see a lot of police cars sitting around watching people drive or listening or anything like that. . . . I know that it’s illegal to have really loud mufflers, but it seems like we’re kind of getting lax with that.”
Bilello said the precinct could use its extra resources — young officers — to address the issue and that he would mark Sunrise as a “hot spot.”
“And we’re trying to rebuild the downtown near the train station, and this was like a week after I found out about getting money for the downtown,” Vitale said, “and I was like, ‘No one’s going to live there if people are racing back and forth.’”
“You guys are our eyes and ears,” Clarke said. “And if you see something or hear something, give us a call.”
Additionally, Baldwin resident Patrick Keating asked to be provided with the 1st Precinct’s crime statistics, specifically a monthly statistics sheet on helicopter use.
“Throughout the last year, there has been a major change in the use of [Nassau County police] helicopters, and for some reason they have been flying over my house,” he said. “It’s facilitated throughout south Baldwin. It seems like every single night throughout the entire summer this year. I have a log of over 70 helicopter responses.”
He said he has submitted multiple requests for information about the helicopters, but has not received an answer.
“If you don’t think that helicopters create an environment of hell for peoples’ dogs and animals, it does, not to mention kids, because they don’t know what’s going on,” Keating said. “It doesn’t last for a second — it’s not a fly-over — it’s continuous, for an hour, 45 minutes, more than an hour, and they’re hovering in the area doing something.”
He said he understands that police use them to search for missing people, but it “doesn’t happen 63 times from July to September.”
The officers explained that they use the helicopters to search for criminals, too, and to medevac people and train new personnel in the aviation unit who require a certain number of hours for certification.
“We use the helicopters for any number of things,” Holfester said. “If we’re looking for somebody, say a crime occurred, we’re chasing somebody or we think they’re in the area, then we’ll use the helicopter — it’s a great tool. They have heat-seeking things. We may search for an hour trying to find somebody.”
“I’m not saying don’t use them,” Keating said. “I just want to know about it. There is no advisement, no communication, nothing, zero.”
Keating noted that Nassau does not have a police scanner now, but that he would like one. He recommended Nassau use a delayed broadcasting system to avoid instances of criminals escaping due to information obtained through a police scanner.
“In Baldwin, they have thre civic associations: Baldwin Oaks, Baldwin and South Hempstead,” Clarke said. “They have monthly meetings, and we go to the meetings every month and we go over the statistics . . . If you come down to those, you’ll be filled in monthly on what’s been going on.”