By Stephen McKinley
Two rapes and a third sexual assault in recent weeks have raised concerns in Sunnyside, Queens, that the crimes were the work of one inidividual. But at a community meeting Tuesday night, police reassured people that they are certain that no serial rapist is at work.
Speaking for the 108th precinct, Det. Randy Scott said that policing in the area is still considered to be adequate, and that crime overall in the largely Irish neighborhood is down significantly.
But residents disagreed, sometimes angrily, and aired their grievances in what was an often rowdy meeting at the community hall of Queen of Angels Catholic Church, on 44th Street, Sunnyside.
"Two summers ago, I was attacked by a man who looked like this," one woman said, waving one of the photostat images of two suspects.
Scott interrupted her. "Did you call the police?" he asked.
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"I called the police five times," she replied angrily, to applause, "and no one returned my calls."
Scott admitted that the police record is not perfect, but insisted that it was much better. He also entreated the crowd to help the police by reporting anything they see that seems unusual or suspicious.
"We need your help," he said. "We cannot do it on our own. From this precinct we always have two cars — " Now it was Scott’s turn to be interrupted, by another woman, who held up both police fliers.
"I want to know why this neighborhood hasn’t been plastered with these two fliers," she asked angrily. "I want you to go back to your captain and let him know that the only way you’re going to get this guy is to plaster the streets with this flier."
Speaking for the community board, Alice Robinson told the crowd that they should take their anger and turn it toward building on the precinct’s work.
"There’s only so much the police can do," she said. "The reality is that you are all here right now."
Joe Heaphy, a candidate for City Council for the 26th district, agreed. "This is a unique opportunity tonight," he said. "I do encourage people to attend the precinct meetings. I think it would be a shame to take all this frustration and anger and not to do anything."
Heaphy added that people should dial not the precinct, but 911, because 911 calls are what eventually translates into crime statistics, and that then means the possibility of increases in the numbers of officers in the area.
Robinson suggested means by which local women could protect themselves, such as by carrying a whistle, remembering to tell colleagues and friends where they are and where they are going, especially after dark. She suggested that women learn some self-defense as well.
"Make resistance a real option," she said. Robinson also asked that store owners and locals be vigilant.
"One woman was saved when a stranger approached her, and pretended she knew her. The woman was being stalked," Robinson said.
As the meeting concluded, Fr. Vincent Daly of Queen of Angels parish thanked those present for coming. He also suggested that people should try to make more use of car services if they could afford it.
Before he left, already late for another community meeting, Det. Scott reminded the crowd to tell everyone they know that the police are interested in people suffering from crime, regardless of their immigrant status, lack of documentation or otherwise.
Virginia Clark and her best friend, Freddie, said they were reasonably satisfied with the meeting. Both were born in Manhattan but have lived in Sunnyside for over 60 years.
"[The detective] came for one reason, and that was to address the issue of a serial rapist," Clark said. "I’m reasonably happy that there isn’t one in this neighborhood. There were some issues that weren’t answered, though, it’s like they said, you have to be cautious."
Another woman, who gave her name as Liz, a Sunnyside pharmicist, said she had never felt frightened in the Sunnyside area. She said that she had only heard of one of the attacks in the area, not three.
But Helene McGowan was less happy with the evening. A bar owner from Sunnyside, she was angry, having seen police officers on Queens Boulevard ticketing people for jaywalking, and "what good was that doing? They told us to take care of ourselves, but a knife is illegal, a blackjack is illegal, all sorts of things that you could use to protect yourself, they’re illegal to carry," she said.
"I carry a blackjack, and as my father used to say, carry it, hit him with it, and then say you took it from him. The bottom line is that we need more police."