May 9, 2023 By Michael Dorgan
Law enforcement and small business owners gathered in Astoria on Tuesday, May 9, to launch a new initiative aimed at deterring suspects from repeatedly stealing or vandalizing local stores.
The new initiative, called the Astoria Merchants Business Improvement Program, will see police issue suspects with a trespass notice if they return to a premises after previously shoplifting there. The notice can also be issued to individuals who persistently harass or threaten staff and customers at the location, or if they constantly physically damage the premises.
The notice warns repeat offenders that even setting foot on a particular business property could result in their arrest.
Under the program, a participating small business owner can call the police if they notice repeat offenders in and around their business acting suspiciously. The police will then issue the suspects with a trespass notice.
The notice, officials said, will reduce the chances of repeat offenders committing another crime at the respective locations, since they can be cuffed for trespassing. The issuing of notices will enhance safety in and around local stores while also acting as a deterrent to potential repeat offenders thinking about committing more crimes, officials said.
The program was first created by the Queens District Attorney’s Office and business owners in Jamaica, Queens, in June 2021. The initiative has proven successful, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said, with 23 trespass notices issued followed by three arrests. It has since been expanded into Flushing.
Katz said that retailers in Astoria appealed for the program to be rolled out in their neighborhood and so she announced the launch of the initiative today at a press conference in front of the Key Foods supermarket, located at 32-11 Newtown Ave. Katz was joined by members of the NYPD’s 114th Precinct, including Deputy Inspector Kenneth Gorman, the commanding officer of the precinct, as well as local business owners and representatives from Community Board 1 and local tenants associations.
Katz said the program focuses on the small number of individuals who are responsible for the vast majority of shoplifting and vandalism done to local businesses in the neighborhood. In many instances the disruptions have gone on for years, Katz said.
“Our goal is to protect local businesses, many of them mom-and-pop shops, and the customers and communities depending on them,” Katz said.
“We should never lose sight of the fact that communities thrive when local businesses thrive.”
Katz said that 24 establishments in Astoria have already signed up for the program.
In the 114th precinct — which serves Astoria, Long Island City, Woodside, and Jackson Heights — crime is up 6.23% for the year through May 7, compared to the same period a year ago, according to NYPD data. Robberies are up 14.6% and grand larceny is up 13.2%, while burglaries are down 16.5 %.
Katz emphasized that the goal was to target repeat offenders as opposed to first-time offenders and to stop them from returning to locations where they continue to be disruptive. Notices will be given to individuals who have previously been arrested for crimes such as larceny, officials said.
“We created the program to create an equitable way to deter [crime] without necessarily putting people in the system,” Katz said. “First you get a warning, if you choose to ignore that warning, you could be subject to arrest.”
“I think a warning the first time is a good thing and then we are able to take action the second time,” she added. “So in addition [to] the larceny charge, we actually arrest them for the trespass.”
Gorman said that the expansion of the program highlights the NYPD’s unwavering commitment to ensuring public safety for all New Yorkers. Astoria is the third neighborhood in the city, following on from Jamaica and then Flushing, to implement the program.
“We heard from the businesses in western Queens, and we listened — because we know that public safety is a shared responsibility between our communities and their police,” Gorman said. “I commend and thank our local merchants, the officers of the 114th Precinct, District Attorney Katz, and all of our partners involved in this important initiative to further reduce crime and improve the quality of life in our great city.”
Roseann McSorley, the founder of the Western Queens Business Advisory Council, a group that aims to help small businesses in the neighborhood, said business owners welcomed the launch of the program. McSorley said that local business owners approached Katz and the 114th Precinct to help bring the initiative to Astoria.
“Small business owners are not just numbers,” said McSorley, who co-owns the gastropub Katch on Newtown Avenue. “We are working-class families; we are families who work in our businesses. We want our families, our customers and our neighborhood to be safe, and to have a better quality of life.”
McSorley said that local businesses worked hard to overcome the economic pain of the pandemic lockdowns and are now battling crime for survival. She said the program will help businesses, and she urged Astoria business owners to call the 114th Precinct to sign up to participate.
“We are not going to lose our businesses to rising crime, it is not going to happen,” McSorley said.