By LINDA G. RASTELLI
A recent string of burglaries and shootings in Red Bank evoked mixed reactions at a West Side Community Group neighborhood watch meeting last night, with some residents praising police efforts and others saying they feel unsafe.
“I was born and raised here. I never felt vulnerable before,” said Connie Festa Aparicio, owner of Salon 340 on Shrewsbury Avenue, who said her Catherine Street home was burglarized this week. “I dont know how to protect my home and business.”
My block has turned into a tenement situation,” she said. “I was gone for two hours and I was hit. It took them 10 minutes. The neighbors called (police), but he jumped off the roof (before they got there). It’s scary.”
Others among the roughly 25 residents in attendance complained about loitering, public urination and drinking on the West Side.
Dieter Bornemann, owner of The Little Kraut restaurant, asked Police Chief Mark Fitzgerald what could be done about people loitering and “having sex” on Bridge Avenue near the train station, and in the parking lots at his restaurant and at St. Anthonys church.
“It’s been going on for years and its getting worse. People look the other way. Who should be contacted?” he asked.
“You just did,” Fitzgerald replied.
Community activist John Tyler and his neighbor John Ross, both outspoken Leighton Avenue residents, said the stepped-up police presence was helpful, but that a police substation was needed on the West Side.
“Buckets of pee are being dumped out windows,” said Tyler, who recently ran unsuccessfully on the Republican ticket for a council seat. He and Ross suggested that landlords were advising tenants living in overcrowded conditions to use air mattresses and other strategies to evade housing law.
Ross joked that the Best Liquors store, a frequent flashpoint for residents’ anger, would be a good place for a substation. (Best Liquors owner Sunny Sharma is now appealing the revocation by the borough council of the store’s liquor license; a hearing before the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division is scheduled for next Wednesday in Mercerville.)
Best is still operating pending its appeal. Meanwhile, police have cracked down on loitering there, which has resulted in increased loitering at the Catherine Street and Shrewsbury Avenue intersection, residents said.
West Side Community Group leader Amy Goldsmith and councilwoman Sharon Lee suggested that the police try to track landlords who hide behind limited liability corporations while knowingly renting to larger number of tenants than allowed by ordinance. Publishing their addresses may deter these landlords from having repeated violations, said Lee, who also suggested finding a way to discourage people from negotiating with day laborers at the train station.
“If people are encouraged to think twice before picking someone up,” she said, it may stop.
Lee said that her house had been robbed once.
“You must know your neighbors,” she said. “I knock on doors. Im the nosy neighbor.”
Republican Councilman John Curley was also present.
Fitzgerald thanked residents for their cooperation in helping to immediately identify 19-year-old Anthony Sims as the suspect in the shooting of two brothers at the Montgomery Terrace projects last month. (One of the victims, who have no been publicly identified, is out of the hospital and “the other has a longer road” to recovery, Fitzgerald said.) Though Sims is still at large and considered armed and dangerous, police were “able to solve that because of major cooperation from residents,” he said. “We still need your cooperation.”
The police chief also mentioned an unsuccessful Shrewsbury Avenue record store robbery attempt Monday by four Bronx residents, one of whom was a former employee and knew the owner and the layout of the store. An officer stationed at the train station arrested the suspects as they left in a cab. The same day a burglary targeting Latino residents was stopped, although the suspect gave chase and got away.
Fitzgerald said he met with Corzine administration representatives and other police chiefs over the weekend to discuss a new “toolkit” for fighting crime. Citing a $48.5 million state crime-fighting fund, Fitzgerald said,
“We’re applying for as much as we can.”
Goldsmith seemed to hit a nerve when she suggested that the approximately 100 “Latino parents who attend packed PTO meetings” be encouraged to join the neighborhood watch, “whether theyre legal or not.”
Without Hispanic residents, “How can we have these conversations about safety issues?” she asked.
The previously calm group tensed, and a few spoke out in anger. After telling Goldsmith that she was “out of order,” Bornemann walked out.
“Thats such a small group you’re talking about,” another resident said. “Latinos make up 70 percent of the community (but) maybe 10 percent want to be involved in the community. They may be part of the neighborhood, but theyre part of the crime statistic.”
Goldsmith said Latinos were not committing all the crimes in Red Bank, and that a substantial number were also concerned citizens.