Last week, Suffolk Executive Steve Levy and Police Commissioner Richard Dormer joined Town of Huntington Supervisor Frank P. Petrone and Councilman Mark Cuthbertson to announce a new initiative to work with Huntington Station residents in driving out the elements responsible for criminal acts and violations seriously affecting the community's quality of life.
Levy and Dormer noted that numerous public safety measures have been implemented in and around Huntington Station in recent months, and will remain in place. Some include police officer bike and foot patrols, establishing a police relief point at the Jack Abrams Intermediate School and deployment of 11 more patrol officers in the Second Precinct than were present in 2003.
Local officials and residents are saying it's a start.
"The policy initiatives that they announced are certainly a step in the right direction, but it took four decades for this problem to be created and for us to be at the point we are now, the solution is not going to be arrived at overnight," said Suffolk Country Legis. Jon Cooper, D-Lloyd Harbor. "What we need is for elected officials at all levels – federal, state, county, and town – to work together with a common purpose, which has often not been the case."
The new initiative will include establishment of a hotline for residents to relay information about criminal activity and Town Code violations, as well as the establishment of a Community Outreach Office. According to officials, the hotline can be used to report complaints about code, quality of life, and criminal violations. It will also allow for residents to make complaints anonymously, while being given case numbers they can use to track county and town responses.
Rebecca Sanin, who organized a rally prior to the July 19 school board meeting to keep the Jack Abrams Intermediate School open, agreed with Cooper and his assessment of the local government, but said she felt the area's youth is most important.
"It's important that all of our local governments work together," Sanin said. "We need to look at preventing crime and making sure our youth has viable options that are healthy to engage them. Until we start really investing in Huntington Station, with creating a state-of-the-art youth center, with creating great programs, and with getting the Jack Abrams Intermediate School reopened, I think we're going to see progress but it won't be as powerful as it could be."
The anti-crime initiative will also include the county's support of state legislation allowing the town to create a Code Violations Bureau to more quickly and efficiently prosecute persons charged with violating Town Codes; an agreement by the county and town to hold regularly scheduled meetings at which community members can interact with their elected and appointed representatives; and increased support at both the town and county levels of the Neighborhood Watch programs being formed in Huntington Station.
Area officials who will be invited to participate in the community meetings include Suffolk legislators Lou D'Amaro, Steve Stern and Cooper. Additional participants will include Huntington Town Council members Susan Berland and Mark Mayoka, who have been in contact with Levy about the Huntington Station situation on a frequent basis.
"Every effort that we make is in a positive direction, and the compilation of all of those I think should really make a big difference," Berland said.
As local officials and residents have suggested, the change will not occur overnight, but all are in agreement that the anti-crime initiative is a step towards something better for the entire Town of Huntington.
"We welcome any and all initiatives focused on improving safety and security and enhancing the quality of life in the Huntington Station area, including the near Jack Abrams School," said Huntington Superintendent John J. Finello. "All of us hope that town, county, state and federal officials will work together to once and for all end the violence in the area and rid our community of those who choose to violate the law and create havoc."
"It's a step in the right direction, but we really need to be investing in the area with a focus on what we're doing for children," Sanin added.
The crime and violence in the area has been rampant for quite some time, but the seriousness of the situation reached a critical state when a 16-year-old girl was shot in the leg at Huntington Station party on July 11. The shooting led to what some have referred to as a "knee-jerk" reaction in closing Jack Abrams.
Cooper, Sanin, Petrone, as well as Huntington's NAACP Chapter President Dee Thompson, Sen. Carl Marcellino, and Assemblyman James Conte will take part in a press conference Tuesday at 1 p.m., in front of the Jack Abrams Intermediate School to address the July 19 decision by the Huntington Union Free School District's Board of Education to close the school.
The NAACP is concerned that the board's reaction may be replicated in other communities. Along with other community leaders, they are standing together and demanding the school board revisit its decision.
"This is not the time to further isolate a community based upon social demographics, race or ethnicity," Thompson said. "Our press conference is an effort to bring Huntington together. We are committed to work cooperatively with the community including town and county officials, law enforcement and the school district in order to bring unity and joint decision making to an important process that undoubtedly will have a significant impact on our children's education and well-being of all families in the Huntington community."
The hotline, Community Outreach Office, community meetings, and combined efforts of the local governments will hopefully be the beginning of the end of crime in the Town of Huntington.
"We need to reach out to community leaders from all parts of Huntington because the way I've perceived it is that this is not a problem for only Huntington Station," Cooper said. "If there's one part of our town in trouble, it affects the entire town. … We're all in this together. We need to come together collectively – all levels of government, all community leaders whether they're white, African American, Latino, all parts of the town – to do deal with this problem."