Volume 74, Number 29 | November 24 - 30, 2004

State Senator Tom Duane shakes hands with a resident at Nov. 16 Chelsea crime forum

Police assure they have Chelsea projects covered

By Albert Amateau

In response to two shootings in October — one of them fatal — in front of the Elliott-Chelsea Houses, residents of the development and of the nearby Robert Fulton Houses last week pleaded with housing officials and police to pay better attention to their calls for help.

At a Nov. 16 meeting called by State Senator Tom Duane, residents of the projects also heard an update on the investigation of the drug-related shootings and talked about crime reporting and public safety strategies. Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and City Councilmember Christine Quinn were also at the forum.

Despite the Oct. 24 homicide in front of 450 W. 27th St. and the Oct. 10 shooting in front of 426 W. 26th St. in which the man later charged with the Oct. 24 murder was wounded, crime in the project is “not out of control,” according to Captain Edward Britton, commander of the P.S.A. 4 Housing Police Division, and Captain Dennis DeQuatro, commander of the 10th Precinct.

“We’ve done a lot of work in Elliott Chelsea,” DeQuatro said, but acknowledged, “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Roberto Velazquez, 26, known as Macho and described as a lifelong resident of the Chelsea Houses, was arrested for the murder on Nov. 2. In the three weeks following the shootings, police flooded the area and a mobile command post was parked on W. 26th St. and Ninth Ave. Although the command post was temporary, DeQuatro said it will be deployed again whenever needed.

Search warrants and narcotics investigations have increased in Elliott Chelsea, the police said. Captain John Walsh, commanding officer of Manhattan South Narcotics Division, said that since the shootings there were 36 drug-related arrests in the neighborhood, 29 of them felony arrests.

In the first shooting, Velazquez was shot in the lower abdomen during a Sunday afternoon dispute with four suspects. He got himself to St. Vincent’s Hospital for emergency surgery, but refused to co-operate with the investigation.

In the second shooting, Robert Dekle, 27, of E. 116 St., took three shots, in the chest, chin and knee, and was declared dead in St. Vincent’s Hospital. Nine days later, Velazquez was arrested for Deckle’s murder in Orlando, Fla., and was brought to New York to face a second-degree murder charge.

Although Velazquez gave a Bronx address when arrested, “W. 26th St. is where he hangs his hat,” DeQuatro said. Both the Oct. 10 and the Oct. 24 shootings were over drug disputes but they were not connected, DeQuatro said.

Police at the forum said two of the four suspects involved in the Oct. 10 shooting had been arrested and the other two were being sought. Three of those suspects are residents of the neighborhood and all are involved in illegal drug traffic, police said. Later, however, police said there were no arrests in the Oct. 10 incident.

Jimmy Pelsey, leader of the Robert Fulton Tenants’ Association, commended the work of police but complained, “We call and call about various things but there’s no response.”

Phyllis Gonzalez, leader of the Elliott Chelsea Tenants’ Association, said it appeared that some police were unfamiliar with the neighborhood. “We need cops who know what’s going on,” she said, adding that responses to calls are often late.

The 10th Precinct has recently reorganized its community policing, increasing coverage of Fulton and Elliott Chelsea with two officers 24 hours seven days a week, DeQuatro said. But he cautioned that police must respond to 911 calls throughout the precinct.

Invited to the forum by Duane, Marjorie Cohen, a founder of the West Side Crime Prevention Program that is active in the Amsterdam Houses and on the Upper West Side, offered to help organize the program in Chelsea. She suggested starting a network of neighborhood stores that display a yellow Safe Haven window sticker to provide places where children — or adults — can enter when they feel threatened on the street.

West Side Crime Prevention would train store owners for Safe Haven but wants residents to recruit them, Cohen said. “It lets kids know that adults in the community really care about their safety,” Cohen said.

The program also coordinates crime reporting. “We teach people how to identify, observe and report drug dealing. People can call the program and we’ll relay it,” said Cohen. The W.S.C.P.P. phone number is 212-866-8603.

New York City Housing Authority officials reminded the 80 residents at the forum that although the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed last year that the agency has the right to decide on whether to bring eviction proceedings against tenants convicted of narcotics felonies, the process still takes about a year.

NYCHA is also empowered to move against a family member convicted of a drug felony and bar the person from residence. In addition, a list of convicted sex offenders is being developed that will enable NYCHA to determine whether they are permitted to live in public housing.

On a positive note, Pelsey said that Robert Fulton tenants were grateful to Councilmember Quinn for getting funding for surveillance cameras in the project. Fulton management and the Tenants Association are deciding where the cameras should go, he said.

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