Last week, Stephen Melnick, founder of the Friends of MacDonald Park, noticed that two shrubs were stolen straight from the ground within the park.
Melnick explained that after weeks of freezing weather, milder temperatures and rain softened the soil.
“It just irks me so much when I see something like this,” he said. “It’s bad enough when it happens during the summer, but in the winter?”
In June 2016, someone stole 12 rose bushes from the park. The rose bushes were planted just two days prior in park along Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills.
“That’s life in the big city, but that’s our tax dollars that someone is stealing,” he said.
Although he filed a vandalism claim for the stolen shrubs last week, Melnick added there is little police patrol within the park during the summer and warmer months. During the winter, any type of patrol from the NYPD or the Parks Enforcement Patrol is almost nonexistent.
Plant thieves weren't only a problem in MacDonald Park either. On January 21 around 7:45 p.m., Adriana Morote noticed that her plants were stolen from in front of Biu Bella Caffe.
The restaurant, which is located directly across the street from the park, had ten trees and four planters with assorted plants stolen at once.
Morote, who lives in Forest Hills and worked in the now-closed Biu Bella Caffe, said she was walking her dog when she saw a pickup truck and noticed it was carrying her plants. She had just watered the plants earlier, just like she does every Sunday.
“These plants I bought seven years ago,” Morote said. “When I planted them they were really small, and my daughter used to take care of them with my father when he was alive. When I saw the pickup, I thought I was daydreaming.”
She was able to get a partial license plate number, and when officers ran the plate, a pickup truck came up in the system, but it was a different model and color than the vehicle Morote saw.
Morote tried to get security camera footage from nearby businesses to find the thieves, but wasn’t able to find more information. She was also discouraged that police haven’t been actively looking for the culprit.
“I don’t care if it costs me $1 or $1,000,” she said. “It’s the fact that people are taking stuff and nobody is doing anything and no one is enforcing the law.
“They have cameras all over Austin Street, why don’t the police check the footage from around there instead of taking my information and filing it away?” Morote added. “Today’s a plant, tomorrow we don’t know.”
She claimed that the Biu Bella Caffe had been broken into three times in the past, including once at night when employees were in the restaurant, and that a nearby diner was broken into about a month ago.
Over the last three years, said Morote, “the neighborhood has been going downwards.”
Morote wants the local businesses to come together and help each other out if they see anything suspicious.
For example, she thinks it’s a good idea for neighboring businesses to share contact information. In addition, she thinks a meeting every three months between businesses will help to combat theft problems, but also figure out how to improve the neighborhood overall.
“Nowadays everyone is in their own world and that’s the problem, that we’re not taking care of each other,” she said. “We want to change the neighborhood for the better.”
Before starting his venture at MacDonald Park, Melnick and his group would place tree boxes along Continental Avenue. Then, too, people were taking the trees.
“If it’s not locked down, that’s when it’s gone, and that’s what kills me,” Melnick said. “But to go for a tree or shrub? I’ll contribute $5, go buy your own, leave these alone. It’s a crime whether it’s private property or city property.”
There have been rumors circulating in the community that the plants are stolen to be sold to small landscaping companies, or it may be the landscapers doing the stealing themselves. Melnick said he suspects that could be a possibility.
“I was thinking it could just be a vandal who pulled them out and threw them somewhere, but I looked through the entire park and I couldn’t find them,” he said. “It was a clean sweep.”
He fears that whoever stole plants in the past will do it again. In the spring, the Friends of MacDonald Park will determine how to utilize a $10,000 grant for the park. But members are concerned about whether or not they should hire a guard once all of the new plants and equipment is brought in.
“It’s gotten to a point where people in my group are saying, ‘Steve, should we buy those spruce trees, because someone looking for a spruce tree may come here at 1 a.m. and take it,’” Melnick said. “We have to meet with the Parks Department and see what the security is going to be like during the summer.”
Friends of MacDonald Park is requesting better security and LED lighting for the park, which may help.
“The little tree doesn’t have a chance to grow on its own, it’s ridiculous,” he added.