100th Pct Community Council April Meeting Recap

By Kami-Leigh Agard

The elephant in the room at last Wednesday, April 26th’s 100th Precinct Community Council meeting, held via Zoom, was sex trafficking. And judging from Queens District Assistant Attorney Jessica Melton, Bureau Chief of the Human Trafficking Bureau at Queens D.A. Melinda Katz’s office, it is hauntingly alive with traffickers stomping in Rockaway and other areas of southeastern Queens. The three-hour meeting also provided valuable information about the NYPD Counterterrorism (CT) Bureau installing large cement blocks, concentrated on the boardwalk’s concession areas, to circumvent electric bikes, ATVs and other electronic vehicles speeding down the boardwalk, and even more significantly to prevent ill-fated vehicular “ramming attacks.” Needless to say, the three-hour meeting was long, but chock-full of crucial information on the policing front.

First, Queens D.A. Katz gave a few updates on successful criminal convictions. A perp, who in 2022, was charged with shooting and carjacking an off-duty NYPD police officer on Beach 62nd Street, pled guilty, and will be sentenced to a maximum of 19 years. Katz said, “We are prosecuting those drivers of crime, while still making sure we give second chances to PTSD victims, those individuals that fought for our country with mental health illness and need drug rehabilitation. At the end of the day, we hold people accountable for their actions. I don’t think ‘accountability’ is a dirty word. You have to hold people accountable. It could be jail time, but it could also be services that they need.”

She also spoke about a 45-year-old unsolved murder case, in which a World War I veteran was murdered. 

“A woman calls our office and says, ‘Forty-five years ago, I saw my mother’s boyfriend burying a body in the backyard of my house, and I think he’s still there.’ So, we sent in the dogs and they found the bones. We are the first NYC D.A. office to use forensic genealogy. We found relatives of the deceased. Turns out that they had an uncle who was 82 years old and fought for this country in WWI, and went missing 45 years ago. So, we aged the photo, and found witnesses. The man who murdered that WWI veteran is today doing 20 years.”

Next, D.A. Katz introduced Queens Assistant D.A. Melton, who gave a bone-chilling presentation about sex trafficking, including signs to look out for.

According to Melton, the U.S. State Department estimates that a staggering 27.6 million people worldwide are victims of sex and labor trafficking. Katz’s office created the first human trafficking bureau in NYS.

Melton said, “There’s a preconceived notion on what is human trafficking. We think it only happens overseas when people are being brought to this country, but it can happen without the victim leaving their residence. Also, a lot of people think it always involves violence. 

“They always think somebody’s being held against their will at gunpoint or beaten, but oftentimes it involves very deep forms of psychological manipulation and control. It really involves instilling fear in somebody with threats that something’s gonna happen to them if they don’t comply with what they are told to do. 

“The one common thread we see running through all forms is that traffickers are targeting the most vulnerable members of our community. That could be those who are facing discrimination, foreign born, have mental health or substance abuse issues. Those who are discriminated against because of their gender or gender identity. Then, we also really need to talk about children. Teenagers are vulnerable just by their nature. We have experts talking about how the brain chemistry of a teenager isn’t fully formed and their appreciation of risk and consequences is not formed until they’re older, but then think about how monumentally that risk increases if a child is a product of a group home or foster care system, or has little social support systems in their home? If a teenager doesn’t feel loved, safe and secure, they’re going to seek those needs elsewhere. And traffickers know exactly what buttons to push, what needs to fill, to gain control over them. All of a sudden, a young woman has a boyfriend. They start partying together, and suddenly, she’s being trafficked,” Melton said.

According to Melton’s presentation, there are two types of human trafficking: sex and labor—using force, fraud or coercion.

She shared, “A person is guilty of labor trafficking if he or she compels or induces another person to engage in labor or recruits, entices, harbors or transports another person by means of requiring that labor be performed to repay a real or purported debt that the trafficker caused with the intent to defraud somebody. This could be with sex trafficking as well. It could be as simple as, ‘Okay, I helped you get your visa to come to this country. Now you owe me that money back. So, you have to work in this restaurant, nail salon, masseuse parlor or construction.  Also, a lot of teenagers are trafficked by intimate partners who like groom them. Tell them they want to spend time with them, then take them to a hotel offering, marijuana or alcohol. By the end of the night, he says, ‘You owe me. All of that wasn’t for free.’” 

For more information or to report any suspicions of sex or labor trafficking, email: HumanTrafficking@queensda.org or call 718-286-6548.

Another significant item on Wednesday night’s agenda was the installation of cement blocks concentrated on the boardwalk’s concession areas by the NYPD Counterterrorism (CT) Bureau. 

According to Lauren Haber, representing the 100th Precinct’s Office of Community Affairs, Rockaway is under no immediate threat, and these blocks are just precautionary.  

Haber stated, “The Bureau came to Rockaway and did an analysis of where the blocks will be placed. We actually received a map of where the blocks will be placed near the boardwalk’s concessions. We felt strongly that the boardwalk ramps should be clear and readily available for the FDNY and other emergency personnel to prevent for example, a delay in rescuing a drowning. The blocks will be placed on the boardwalk in a zigzag formation. Every year, we talk about the bikes speeding through the concession areas. So, the way that these blocks will be set up is really from a counter-terrorism standpoint, which includes the ‘ramming attacks,’ of people attempting to drive up on the boardwalk. However, the Parks department has discussed keeping a forklift readily available in case the blocks need to be removed in case of another emergency.”

Haber said the Bureau also identified Coney Island boardwalk as an additional vulnerable location, and they already have blocks in place. This idea stemmed from the ramming incident this past February, in which a man drove a U-Haul truck drove through Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, resulting in one fatality and numerous injuries. 

She said, “Fortunately, many high-ranking individuals in the Bureau call Rockaway home, and installing these cement blocks was a priority for them. So, the blocks will be in place before the beaches are open to the public. And just to make sure everyone understands, there is no known intelligence that Rockaway is under any immediate threat.”

Rockaway Stuff

Related post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *