University Gardens residents expressed frustration last week with what they called a lack of communications from the University Gardens Property Owners Association about a series of recent crimes and a perceived increase in speeding and other traffic-related violations in their community.
“Communication has been lacking between the board and the community,” University Gardens resident Judi Boico said. “In light of the events that have taken place lately, it is extremely important for people to know in real time when there’s issues with robberies, home invasions, burglaries. We need to know about it, not weeks later, but in real time. Within 24 hours so that we’re able to protect ourselves, our families and the rest of the community.”
Troubled by the recent crimes and questions of traffic safety, the property owners association called for an emergency meeting at the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department Jayson Avenue Firehouse last Wednesday to provide information to residents regarding crime prevention, and open a dialogue on public safety issues.
“I think that it’s going to open up the doors of communication for the community,” Boico said of the meeting. “It will give us a chance to let each other know what’s going on as opposed to hearing it through idle rumors that are going around.”
The meeting centered around presentations from law enforcement officials, property owners association board and committee members, as well Peter Allen, a representative from General Security Alarms.
Officials discussed issues ranging from important burglary-prevention techniques regarding indoor and outdoor lighting for homes to how to deal with solicitation, which is illegal in the Town of North Hempstead.
For Dr. Jeanne Choi-Rosen, a University Gardens resident, the meeting was important for at least one reason.
“I think the biggest fear here was because people weren’t having enough information,” she said. “They didn’t know where to turn to, what to do, what to anticipate.”
At times the meeting took on a question-and-answer format, with many residents expressing anger with presenters and board members.
“There is a lot of emotion here,” Choi-Rosen said. “A lot of things that could have been accomplished probably weren’t, but I think it’s a good first step,”
For Choi-Rosen and her husband Dr. Nelson Rosen, it is important for University Gardens to be proactive in its ability to disseminate information with local police departments.
“What we need to do is, and we’ve already taken steps toward this, is put a process into place for feedback to come into us for rapid verification with the Nassau County 6th Precinct,” Rosen said. “Expectation management is critical to any relations in the community.”
The couple also added that a major problem for many of the residents in attendance was that they didn’t truly understand the roles of the property owners association board members.
Although the board members are elected, they are not compensated for their duties and must perform community work in their spare time.
“I think part of the community doesn’t understand that this is really just all personal time,” Choi-Rosen said. “The community itself needs to be a little more active and involved so that all the work doesn’t fall on those few shoulders, but falls on all of us because it’s our homes.”
And that was precisely the message echoed by law enforcement officials.
Nassau County Police Department 6th Precinct Sergeant James Mandaro spoke to residents about the occurrence of crime in University Gardens.
“Burglaries happen in different places,” Mandaro said.”They come and they go.”
“I’m here just to gather information,” the officer added. “I know there’s a lot of questions from people. I’ll forward it back to my commanding officer and we can work on it.”
Town of North Hempstead Public Safety Commissioner Andrew DeMartin, told residents he did not believe that crime in University Gardens was any higher than most similar Great Neck communities.
“Anybody who has lived in this area, we tend to be the target as economic downturn comes,” DeMartin said.
Added property owners association board president Al Rudorfer, “Our research, little as it can be, is that we have no more crime in University Gardens than they have in the surrounding areas. We have Russell Gardens across the street. We have Lake Success (nearby) and we have the same amount of crime. That’s our research.”
Civic association board member Robert Leighton presented to residents about the history of crime in University Gardens.
“These things come and go,” he said. “These burglaries often times are gangs. The same guys are hitting the community two, three, four times and before they get caught they move on to some other community. They can’t make University Gardens their career. These things come in rashes. We can go many years without much problem and then we’ll have several months, even the better part of a year, where there’s a rash of these things.”
Since January, the public safety department has led what DeMartin called a “very proactive security initiative,” in which workers have installed more than 300 security cameras around the Town of North Hempstead. That number of cameras went up from 24, which were in use around the town last year.
“My initiatives and (Town of North Hempstead Supervisor) Jon Kaiman’s initiatives are renewed,” DeMartin said. “We want to make the community more safe.”
While security cameras could be used in University Gardens in the future, DeMartin warned that they are not effective in crime prevention, just with the investigation of burglary suspects.
Instead, auxiliary policewoman Maria D’Amelio, who has served University Gardens on a volunteer basis for the past nine years, told residents about simple ways to protect themselves from crime.
By better lighting the outside of their homes, along with leaving random lights on inside when not home, residents can deter a burglar from entering their home. The removal of circulars and other mail from the front of homes is also important, D’Amelio said.
But, her message was the same as her law enforcement colleagues in regards to the community’s crime rate.
“University Gardens does not stand out considering the neighboring units,” D’Amelio said. “There are other areas that there is a pattern and it is aggressively being addressed.”
A resident, who wished to remain anonymous because her home was burglarized last month, noted that her home was robbed, despite her family’s use of a security system and proper lightning techniques.
“You try to do everything right and they still came in and burglarized me,” she said. “They are giving all the things that the residents can do, but if a thief really wants to get in and take things, they can take things. So, that’s why I said, ‘you should just be really careful and not keep things in your bedroom.'”
“The truth is, if it’s going to happen, put yourself in a situation where they’re not going to find anything that you’re really going to care about,” she added. “Maybe that sounds terrible and I’m not saying not to do all the precautions, but if you do all of them anyway (this can) happen. That’s the reality.”
The resident also expressed frustration that her family was never contacted by any members of the property owners association following the burglary.
“I’m glad they’re talking about it (now),” she said. “The only thing that would make me feel really safer is that if the police could more of a presence around. I know that they probably just can’t because there are too many places and too few policemen. If there could be more of a police presence, I think (burglars) would pick another neighborhood.”
Reach reporter John Santa by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 516.307.1045 x203