By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Bay Ridge residents are demanding action to combat drug dealers who they said are invading the area around an important commercial zone making neighbors and storeowners fearful and angry.
The drug dealers and their customers appear to be congregating on Fifth Avenue and the side streets adjacent to the shopping area, according to residents. The illegal activity can also be found on the blocks from 72nd Street to 76th Street between Fourth and Sixth Avenues.
“It’s a serious problem and it’s been going on a long time. You’re afraid to go out at night. What’s happening is that you become a prisoner in your own home,” June Johnson, a longtime 76th Street resident, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “I’ve heard reports of people running in and out of houses. And I spoke to a deli owner on Fifth Avenue who told me he has seen drug deals going on,” she said.
A 74th Street resident, who asked that his name not be used, said he started to become concerned two years ago, when he saw suspicious activity on his block. “I would notice a kid on the corner and another kid on a bicycle halfway up the block. People would give money to the kid on the corner and then go get the drugs from the kid on the bicycle,” he said.
The resident said he wasn’t sure what types of drugs were being sold. “But I think it could have been heroin or cocaine,” he said. “I’m very worried about this. I have three children, two of whom are still living at home and they come home at night,” he added.
The same resident said he often finds the sidewalk in his block littered with small plastic bags in the morning.
Residents said they’re fearful that the drug dealing will lead to violence and that innocent people will be caught in the middle. “What if a drug deal goes bad and these people start shooting at each other?” Johnson asked.
Jim Clark, president of the Bay Ridge Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, said storeowners on the avenue are concerned about their personal safety and about the possibility of losing business. “It’s difficult to do business if people are afraid to come out at night and shop,” he said.
The BID represents hundreds of store owners and property owners on Fifth Avenue between 65th and 85th Streets.
The BID’s board of directors recently sent an informational flier to each of the hundreds of store owners on the avenue containing advice on how to stay safe and who to call in the event of a crime.
A group of residents have voiced their concerns to the local community board, Community Board 10, which contacted the 68th Police Precinct and Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’s office for help getting a handle on the problem.
At a recent meeting focusing on the issue, police from the 68th Precinct told residents they are aware of the problem and doing their best to address it. Police also urged residents to call 911 whenever they see something suspicious.
Fran Vella-Marrone, chairman of Community Board 10’s Police and Public Safety Committee, issued a report on the drug danger in Bay Ridge. “The community board has received numerous complaints regarding this matter and has worked with community residents to assist them,” wrote Vella-Marrone. She called the drug problems “serious matters that need to be addressed.”
In her report, Vella-Marrone wrote the community board “has and will continue to advocate for additional law enforcement services.”
To that end, the community board voted at its April 15 meeting to request that the NYPD install ARGUS surveillance cameras on Fifth Avenue. Following the meeting, a letter was sent to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Vella-Marrone pointed out that Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) and state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) have both allocated funds toward the purchase of surveillance cameras.
The cameras would serve as a crime deterrent, according to Gentile. “I have allocated funds for several surveillance cameras in my district and have suggested a number of locations where we felt they would be most effective. Even if the actual act of crime is not recorded in the cameras, they help to deter criminals from committing a crime in the first place. And ultimately, that is our goal,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
“We need the cameras,” Johnson said.
Clark, a retired police officer, agreed that the cameras were a good idea. “We’re also urging our members to put up security cameras on their own,” he said. Clark added that he believed the drug problem will be addressed because the local precinct and the district attorney’s office “are on top of this.”
But the 74th Street resident who regularly finds evidence of drug sales on the sidewalk said that while he thinks installing cameras is a good idea, he also believes more should be done. “We need more cops on the street. We need police walking the beat as opposed to driving by in a car,” he said.