Residents, Village Clash Over Communication

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By Michael Scro

mineola@antonmediagroup.com

The Village of East Williston Board of Trustees held another public forum on Feb. 13, with Nassau County Police Officer Todd Atkin and Jesse Cooper speaking on recent criminal activity, which has garnered some strong criticism from residents on how the village informs the public of reported crimes.

Atkin, who is with the Third Precinct POP (Problem Oriented Policing) Unit, last gave a presentation on Dec. 8, 2016, and said that since then, there were two incidents reported in the village—one being an attempted burglary and the other a report of an unusual suspicious individual, however no signs of an attempted break-in. Atkin also said another reported incident was concluded by police to be a legitimate salesman who had the wrong address.

The suspicious individual was reported on Feb. 5, where the daughter of the homeowner reported that the subject rang the doorbell, then came through the home’s gate to the backyard and ran off after seeing the house was occupied. The subject was described as a white male in his mid 40s, estimated at 5’7’’ and wearing a black coat.

Numerous residents who attended the Feb. 13 presentation, some of who reported the recent incidents, insisted that East Williston has an issue with break-ins, which is being underestimated by the village board.

The village sent out an email alert to residents on Jan. 26, in an attempt to correct information they deemed faulty on a Facebook group “Village of East Williston Community Watch” regarding the incident of a wrong address. There was, however, no email sent on what was reported on Feb. 5, which residents at the meeting took issue with.

Stephan Leccese, who has been outspoken on the village’s security measures, said it was “very upsetting” that he and other residents were first learning of the Feb. 5 incident at the village board meeting, and accused the board of selecting which information will be shared with the public.

“I am concerned about the communication protocol between the village and the police—there is a link missing,” Leccese said, who then said the village board is “managing the perception of crime in this community.”

Village Mayor David Tanner responded by saying that that information must be confirmed as truthful before sharing it with their residents, and that information they had at the time from police was not verifiable.

“The board is an officially elected group of residents who have the responsibility of safeguarding the entire community, and we’ve been very reactive, proactive and responsive to all the comments we’ve received for the past five or six months,” Tanner said.

Leccese also asked the village board if there has been a rash of burglaries in the past. Trustee Anthony Casella, who previously served as mayor for the village, said that other than four or five burglaries in the late 1980s which resulted in an arrest, it has remained “a very, very safe community” in the 49 years he’s lived in East Williston.

Casella also publicly read aloud an email from a resident which stated that they are not concerned about a “burglary problem” in East Williston, and considers the problem to be “a small group of alarmists on the Facebook Village of East Williston Community Watch who are doing their best to create the illusion that there is a problem.”

Resident Nicole Russo, who has also been vocally critical of the village, said the village board is treating her and others who share her concerns like “dissidents” for postings on the Facebook group, which is private with 247 members.

Atkin has said that Nassau County Police is in the process of rolling out a presence on NextDoor.com, which is designed for neighbors within a given community to keep in contact on various issues—including break-ins. Atkin said the police officers would be able to send out messages on the site, such as street closures for parades or if someone suspicious is being searched for, however not receive or read what neighbors write to each other.

“I think the sooner we get that up and running the better,” Tanner said.

Trustee James Iannone, a former prosecutor, urged that the village is not trying to downplay any criminal activity in the village, and that arguing about the issue is doing a disservice to the village.

“At the end of the day, we’re all residents here, and we all want a safe community,” Iannone said.

Over the summer last year, Atkin delivered another community forum on burglaries, where he listed that East Williston had five burglaries in 2014, six in 2015 with one arrest made at the time, and four in 2016 as of June with one arrest.

As a response, the village established a security committee comprised of several residents, and has been working closely with the Nassau County Police Department on increasing patrols in the area, and setting up a new camera system in Devlin Field. According to Tanner, the dollar amount for the security cameras has been included in the upcoming budget.

In November last year, Nassau County Police Officer Stephen Grasek, who delivered a presentation at village hall as well, said that total crime in the village was “down considerably” from 2015—seeing a 43 percent decrease.

“We’re not saying there is not attempts, they’re going to happen, and this is why we’re here,” Atkin said. “The police department is a mostly reactive type of force, there are some things we can do proactively, but we can’t prevent people from attempting to commit crimes.”

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