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POLICE, PARKS OFFICIALS CITE LACK OF RESOURCES

January 20, 2002 – A dozen and a half North Side residents were told Sunday that the major stumbling block to conquering crime in their neighborhoods and improving their parks is lack of resources -– specifically, money.
Capt. Al Donastorg, commander of Zone A, which covers the area from Raphune Hill on the east to Fortuna on the west, told the assembled group, "My major problem is resources."
It is a commonly known fact, Donastorg said, that police presence is a deterrent to crime. But with only 44 officers to cover the entire zone, he said, that presence is sometimes lacking.
Sen. Lorraine Berry, a North Side resident, asked Donastorg if the Police Department had received the additional allotment the Legislature had appropriated for the purpose of purchasing cars and hiring personnel.
Donastorg said he didn't know, as money is under the top management's purview. Berry promised to check into the matter.
North Side not exactly a hotbed of crime
Donastorg said crime on the North Side is "generally under control," at least according to the statistics.
But the statistics may be another problem. Of 171 reports of illegal discharges of firearms on the island, he said, only one came from Hull Bay. This startled at least one resident, as the sound of gunfire is fairly routine in the area. But Donastorg reiterated that the figures represented reported incidents.
Ann Durante-Arnold is president of the Northside Civic Organization, which called the meeting at Hull Bay Hideaway with Police and Housing, Parks and Recreations officials. She said of five burglaries she knew about, only two had been reported to the police.
Donastorg estimated "conservatively" that up to 20 percent of crimes are never reported to the police, which presents a problem in deploying resources.
Last month, he said, 2,195 calls for a Police response were received in Zone A alone. Many of them are a "waste of time," he said, citing calls for activated security alarms. "When you call a business and the owner says 'I'm not coming,' an officer has to make sure the business is secure," he said.
He later added the Police Department does get paid a fee for responding to those calls. After the third time a police officer goes to the same business because of an activated alarm, the department is paid $50, he said. Apparently it adds up, because he said $50,000 has been collected and used to buy equipment for the force. But responding to those types of calls can take up to an hour and a half of the time of two officers, he said.
Another very time-consuming responsibility, Donastorg said, is responding to domestic violence calls, which can take up an officer's entire eight-hour shift. In December, there were 87 domestic violence calls to Zone A, he said.
Donastorg also said the North Side doesn't get as much attention as other areas under his command because it is not a "hot spot" of crime.
Tot Lot hot spot
One small "hot spot" on the North Side that area mothers are trying to clean up is the Dorothea Tot Lot.
Kay Chandler, who has led recent efforts to clean up the park and redesign it, said it is well known that drug dealers work out of the park, often using the pay telephones to do their dealing. Stanley Smith, assistant commissioner of Housing, Parks and Recreation, told her the phones cannot be taken out because of security concerns.
One person said other playgrounds have had success by putting the most "fun" play equipment close to the phones in an effort to drive the dealers elsewhere. "They don't like all the noise of the children playing," she said.
Chandler told Ira Hobson, Housing, Parks and Recreation commissioner, that her group is prepared to go ahead with the project. The only snag, she said, is that she hasn't been able to secure a plot map of the park, and without it, the group cannot develop a scope of work.
Hobson told her to meet him at his office on Tuesday morning to work out details of how his department can work in concert with the Northside Civic Organization and the Northside Sportfishing Club to get the park in shape and keep it maintained.
Again, Berry questioned what had become of $40,000 in funds that were earmarked by the Legislature for the tot lot.
"When money is passed, it is on paper," Hobson said. "We have not received that money yet." In fact, he said, he sent a letter last week to Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, asking for the funds.
"We have a plan" for all of the parks, Hobson said, and that is to overhaul one park completely and keep it maintained before moving on to the next one.
"We want ours done before July," Berry said. "July is French Heritage Month."
Hobson will have help: The two North Side groups have raised $15,000 to help with the project.
After the meeting, Hobson said that in the seven years he has been commissioner, his budget has gone from $9 million to $5 million. But even so, he has completed work at two parks. "Check out Smith Bay," he said. "Go into the bathrooms. And then go to Emile Griffith."
He promised there will be no more "chicken fixing" because "it won't work." People have a right, he said, to a "safe, secure and decent park."
That's exactly what the mothers of the North Side are asking for their children.
Also representing the Police Department at the meeting were Deputy Police Chief Theodore Carty and Officers Destin Thompson and Michael Turnbull of the Crime Prevention Unit.

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