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Island Trees Holds Town Hall Meeting

Eighth Precinct officers meet with residents about local crime trends, precinct closure

The most recent Island Trees Town Hall meeting, on April 3, was in response to a growing concern from members of the community, business owners, board of education members, school administrators and staff about safety of the community and the well-being of many of the Island Trees youth. More than 65 people were in attendance, with special guest speakers from the Nassau County Police Department’s Eighth Precinct.

Island Trees Superintendent Dr. Charles Murphy opened the meeting by noting the large turnout, considering the generous weather, and it being a Tuesday night. He acknowledged the apparent need for more conversation about drug use that had carried over from the previous town hall meeting on Oct. 11, which was heavily shadowed by the death of a recent 2010 Island Trees High School graduate, from an alleged drug overdose. 

Those in attendance at the previous town hall meeting specifically asked to have officers from the local precinct invited to the next scheduled meeting to field questions, share some statistics. Their request was heard and granted. Officers Paul Lamonica and Deputy Inspector John Johnsen were on hand from the soon-to-be closed, Eighth Precinct to share some of the existing crime trends, discuss the observed drug use among area youth, and ease concerns about the precinct closing, slated for the end of April. 

In response to one resident’s concern that the precinct closing will affect the quality of policing in the Island Trees area, Lamonica, a 25-year veteran on the department, said, “I wish it was staying the way it was, but it’s changing; we’ll adapt.” Four police post cars presently cover the Island Trees community. Lamonica said the same officers would be covering the community once the precinct closes; management will move to the Woodbury precinct.

Lamonica explained that one of the biggest upswings in the community has been burglary, with personal jewelry as the main objective. He said gold and jewelry seem to be the target because of the high resale value, adding, “Your bedroom, that’s the first place they [burglars] will go to look for jewelry,” including the bedrooms of children and elderly. Lamonica suggested residents make good records, keep descriptions of valuables in case they become a victim of a burglary. This can aid a detective’s recovery of valuables.

One resident asked what the trend is currently with home burglaries. Officer Lamonica said while the act of actually “breaking in” is down, it seems that many of the recent crimes are unintentionally aided by a homeowner leaving a door or window open or unlocked. Wallets, laptops, and phones left in unlocked cars are also easy targets. And shoppers dropping off bags at their car, then returning to do more shopping is also a regular incident at local shopping plazas.

In two separate incidents, two residents in attendance said they have experienced their own children, unintentionally, sharing pivotal information with their own friends and neighbors, and then becoming victims of theft by a houseguest. One of the women said she knows her son’s friend, to gain cash for drugs, stole from her house.

Lamonica said there have been 61 drug-related arrests in Island Trees in the past three months, and as much as 182 Levittown-wide over the same period. A regularly updated local crime report can be found at http://www.police.co.nassau.ny.us

One woman shared information of underage drinking being a problem at the local block parties in Island Trees. She reported being at one last summer where the problem was rampant and blatant, if front of many adults, and with drinks supplied by some of the adult guests. Inspector Johnson said this crime falls under the Social Host Law and is enforceable, but needs to be reported.

Some residents told about witnessing kids drinking openly at the parks, school grounds, and even at local bars and restaurants that are not checking IDs and are serving alcohol to minors. Officer Lamonica told about an Island Trees teen, 14 years old, who was recently detained by officers, given an appearance ticket for public intoxication, released to her mother and within two hours was located again, back out on the street, still intoxicated. Lamonica said, “We are trying,” implying that every parent has a different level of concern and parental values. Johnsen reinforced that message saying the officers want to do all they can to help parents who may have active parenting troubles, often asking parents of detained kids, “What can I do to help you?”

Two residents brought evidence of drug paraphernalia to the town hall meeting that they had recently found on or near their property. One of the items was a package of simulated marijuana that she believes is in widespread use with the kids in Island Trees. Lamonica could not confirm the degree that this type of product is being misused. The other item was a heroine packet wrapper called, “Death Trap,” that was found near a syringe.

Within the high school and middle school, both principals, Nick Grande and Roger Bloom, explained what each is doing to take preventative measures, offer preventative counseling and programs, as well as counseling and other help offered to students who may already be affect by drug use. The district has used drug-detecting dogs for random searches of the schools, and is considering the use of dogs for its prom and other social events. The schools regularly offer counseling services, guidance, peer training, and guest speakers.

On April 4 the high school hosted former NBA player, Chris Herren, who spoke to the students how he lost control of his life because of drugs, and destroyed his professional career. Herren, former Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics player, regularly speaks to students about his struggle with cocaine, oxycontin, heroin, and more, and the devastating results.

One of the final topics came from an Island Trees parent who regularly chaperones the C.A.P.I.T. program. C.A.P.I.T. is sponsored by parents of the Island Trees community and is held once a month for the middle school students, as a free-play, intramural program. She and one other parent confirmed that on separate occasions, they have stopped students from executing the trending “cinnamon challenge.”

On March 28, the American Association of Poison Control Centers released a public statement about the potentially fatal trend:

“Experts at America’s 57 poison centers are warning parents and teens about the health risks associated with the intentional misuse or abuse of the spice cinnamon in the “cinnamon challenge,” according to Alvin C. Bronstein, MD, FACEP, managing and medical director for the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center.

“The cinnamon challenge begins with a teen being dared to swallow a spoonful of powdered or ground cinnamon without drinking water. This results in the cinnamon coating and drying the mouth and throat, causing gagging, vomiting, coughing, choking and throat irritation. Teens with asthma or other respiratory conditions are at greater risk of respiratory distress, including shortness of breath and trouble breathing.

“‘Although cinnamon is a common flavoring, swallowing a spoonful may result in unpleasant effects that can pose a health risk,’ Bronstein said. ‘The concern with the cinnamon challenge is that the cinnamon quickly dries out the mouth, making swallowing difficult. As a result, teens who engage in this activity often injure their mouths, throats and lungs. Teens who unintentionally breathe the cinnamon into their lungs also risk getting pneumonia as a result.’

“According to information in the American Association of Poison Control Center’s National Poison Data System, which collects information in near real-time about every call made to poison centers across the U.S., the number of calls to poison centers concerning exposures of teens ages 13 to 19 to cinnamon spice has increased dramatically:

*In 2011, poison centers received 51 calls about teen exposure to the spice cinnamon.

* In the first three months of 2012, poison centers received 139 calls.

* Of those, 122 were classified as intentional misuse or abuse.

* 30 required medical evaluation.

“‘The exposures reported to poison centers indicating intentional misuse or abuse are likely related to the cinnamon challenge,’ Bronstein said. ‘Unfortunately, videos on the Internet are helping to spread this risky activity among teens. We urge parents and caregivers to talk to their teens about the cinnamon challenge, explaining that what may seem like a silly game can have serious health consequences. AAPCC does not recommend using cinnamon this way.’ To learn more, visit www.aapcc.org

Later Superintendent Murphy told the Levittown Tribune, “The ‘challenge’ took place at a local youth organization event. This was not a school event. That said, the idea of children trying to eat two spoonfuls of cinnamon would not be something we would condone.”

The town hall meeting is an open forum. For this meeting, the district set up an email submission option on its website to receive questions in advance from the community, which Dr. Murphy indicated was useful. Officer Lamonica met with several residents at the end of the meeting to get some specific information to be able to follow-up their questions at a later date. Other topics of concern were vandalism and graffiti. Inspector Johnsen reminded members of the community to use 911 for all emergencies and for a crime-in-progress. The next Island Trees Town Hall meeting will be held in the fall.