May. 11, 2023 By Carlotta Mohamed
The NYPD’s 109th Precinct is encouraging local businesses to sign up for the new Flushing Merchants Business Improvement Program that was launched last month to prevent disruptive and unwanted activity within stores.
To date, a total of 42 businesses have joined the initiative and five individuals have been issued a trespass notice, according to 109th Precinct Deputy Inspector Louron Hall, who briefed residents about the program at the precinct’s community council meeting at Bowne Street Community Church on Wednesday, May 10.
“The goal, again, is not to arrest everybody. The goal is to dissuade this disruptive behavior of shoplifting,” Hall said. “Shoplifting in the precinct is out of control — it’s up 33% with 117 shoplifting incidents compared to last year.”
According to Hall, 260 arrests were made this year compared to 48 arrests last year during the same period.
The precinct has partnered with the Queens District Attorney’s Office to launch the Flushing Merchants Business Improvement Program. The initiative comes after the Jamaica Business Improvement Program, launched in 2021, proved to be successful, according to Hall. Recently, the initiative expanded to the 114th Precinct in Astoria.
Under the program, merchants can contact the 109th Precinct whenever a person is committing a crime or causing a disruption at their store. The officers will issue trespass notices to these individuals. If these people do not leave the businesses or end up returning to cause problems, police can then arrest them.
While discussing a gunpoint robbery that occurred twice at Sophia Deli & Grocery, located at 57-01 Main St., Hall said he will increase police patrol outside of the store’s premises, especially during midnight hours.
Hall is recommending business owners to lock their front doors, place a camera at the entrance and ask customers to remove their face mask before entering the store. If an incident occurs, such as a robbery, police will be able to identify the unmasked individual on camera, according to Hall.
“What we have here are individuals going to the store masked up and then they steal a quantity of money from the deli and flee the location,” Hall said. “We responded and did a canvas as quickly as possible, but unfortunately we weren’t able to catch them.”
Hall said that the precinct learned it’s a citywide pact, where individuals have hit locations in Brooklyn as well, and that a citywide unit is investigating the incident that occurred at the Sophia Deli & Grocery store.
In regards to illegal vendors in downtown Flushing, Hall said the precinct has dedicated a team of five police officers that are tasked with handling the matter, from general vending to food vending.
Additionally, the precinct conducted a walkthrough with Councilwoman Sandra Ung, the city Department of Sanitation, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection and the Flushing BID following complaints of some stores in the area that have exceeded the stoop lines illegally on the sidewalk, which causes pedestrian traffic congestion.
Another issue that has become prevalent in the precinct are ATM scams and how individuals can protect themselves while withdrawing cash, according to Hall. He said people should cover their hand as they enter their pin number at the ATM machine and to be alert of suspicious people in the ATM vestibule.
“Sometimes you may be walking to your car or walking down the street and they may say you have something on your jacket, shirt or jeans, and they will quickly take your wallet and cell phone,” Hall said. “Be very, very wary of individuals who are trying to distract you, especially when you’ve just come out of the bank.”
When it comes to the issue of Grand Theft Larceny (GLA), the precinct recently seized eight stolen vehicles in one day that included seven Honda CR-Vs.
“This is a citywide problem. Grand larceny auto [crimes] are up exponentially and that’s why the mayor now wants to issue AirTags to vehicles. This is a pilot that is going on in the Bronx. This is after the fact — this is when the car is already stolen and you’ll report that you have an AirTag in your vehicle and we can track it,” Hall said.
The NYPD is encouraging New Yorkers to acquire an AirTag for their vehicle in order to reduce the city’s surging car theft numbers. The three vehicles driving GLA numbers up are Honda, KIA and Hyundai, according to Hall.