Monthly Archives: October 2009

Bloomberg’s Approach to Job Centers Seen As Successful, Despite Criticism

By Kieran K. Meadows

Dozens of jobseekers sized up the others seated in the packed waiting room of the city’s job training center in Brooklyn one recent Friday morning. Fifty people waited to see counselors, attend workshops and improve resumes. The bright blue walls and fancy logos offered a sense of a hope that, despite the city’s highest unemployment rate in 16 years, this center would connect them to a job.

With changes to the job placement system over the last six years, they might have a better chance than ever before.

“The focus has actually changed now,” said John Maul, the coordinator at the Brooklyn Workforce1 Center, one of the job development hubs found in each borough. “It’s more like, ‘Go out and find the companies and what their needs are, and then find the people to fill those. It’s a different perspective,” he said.

The workforce centers are the frontlines in a city that faces the most severe downturn in years. Job losses continue to mount; the jobless rate jumped to 10.3 percent in September and forecasts say it’s not likely to peak for at least another year.

It is against this bleak backdrop that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s overhaul of job development centers is being put to the test. Despite critics who say he hasn’t done enough, the mayor’s emphasis on building strong relationships with businesses that do the hiring—stressing placement over training—is seen as the reason for the overhaul’s success.

The change in focus was long overdue, according to David J. Fischer, the project director for workforce development and social policy at the Center for an Urban Future. “It’s crucial to get employers on board,” Fischer said. The mayor’s shift in focus “has been very good. It was absolutely the right decision,” he said.

Fischer believes that while Mayor Bloomberg deserves credit, it may be more because he overhauled a system that none of his predecessors took seriously.

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Despite record homicide-low, many murder trials seen in Brooklyn Court

A flurry of low-profile murder cases have been congesting the Brooklyn State Supreme Court in recent weeks, The New York Times reports. But it quickly points out that this happens every once in a while—in fact, three times a year—at the start of the year, in September after summer vacation and in the months preceding the holidays.

The Times offers an interesting glimpse into the world of the courtroom trial (or many in this case) long after the headlines about the latest murder in the city’s tabloids have disappeared. In fact, many of the cases in Brooklyn’s criminal court on Jay Street never were in the newspapers to begin with. The article states:

By and large, these were not the sort of trials that gain wide public notice or have multiple books written about them. They were quieter cases. Still, violence had occurred. People were dead.

“People were dead.” This definitely sticks with you for a moment. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office has completed 51 murder trials this year. That’s 51 people who were murdered. And except for the families of the victim or the defendant, no one pays attention to these trials. That’s why The Times’ piece is so good. It offers a quick snapshot into one day at the court and puts some names and faces to the statistics, the record-lows and the unnamed numbers of people affected by the loss of life.

While rather morbid, The Times has also put together an interactive city map that shows all the homicides since 2003 (each geo-tagged) and allows the reader the ability to break down the statistics visually. It’s definitely worth a look.

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Mayoral candidates talk about stop-and-frisk at debate

AP

Courtesy: AP

Police in the U.S. stop more than one million people on the street each year. Civil liberties critics say that the stop-and-frisk tactic employs racial profiling. It’s hard to argue with the numbers—most stops are of black and Latino men. The New York City Police Department is a staunch defender of the practice and out of the million stops cited by the AP, the NYPD will be responsible for about 600,000 of them by year’s end.

Therefore it was no surprise that at the mayoral debate last Tuesday evening (see 45:30 in NY1 video), the issue of NYPD tactics under Mayor Mike Bloomberg came up when the Daily News’ Adam Lisberg asked challenger and current Comptroller Bill Thompson to clarify his position with regard to the stop-and-frisk policy.

I was at the debate along with two of my colleagues (check out Lindsay Lazarski’s post re: education) and my ears perked up when I heard Lisberg’s question.

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Rockefeller drug law reforms go into effect

David Paterson NYCNew York’s Gov. David Paterson may be ridiculously unpopular these days, but if anything, his legacy will include accomplishing something that no one could for over 30 years: reforming the draconian Rockefeller drug laws.

The governor visited Brooklyn’s Supreme Court on Wednesday to mark the day the reforms, through a deal reached in Albany last March, went into effect.

“Today is a day for second chances,” Gov. Paterson said to a crowd gathered in the Kings County courtroom.

Anthony Papa, the author of 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way To Freedom, was there and lavished praise on the governor:

Governor Paterson deserves thanks and praise for getting the job done. He has been instrumental and worked tirelessly, first as a state senator from Harlem and then as governor, to make these reforms happen.

But Papa still said much needs to be done:

Now that the laws have been reformed, we have to make sure the changes are done right. Advocates and service providers have jumped in and have been working diligently to prepare for implementation.

The revisions to the law, signed by Paterson in April, now gives judges the option of sending nonviolent offenders to drug treatment and rehabilitation programs rather then sending them to jail. Under the old laws, there were mandatory minimums of 15 years to life, even for first-time offenders. The law that went into effect on Wednesday will also allow lawyers for nonviolent offenders to file petitions to judges for resentencing, although no one is guaranteed this chance. Each case—and advocates estimate there may be up to 1,000 incarcerated individuals eligible—will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

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Dutch Scholar in New York Studying Communication Between Police and Communities

By Kieran K. Meadows

A Dutch communications scholar is conducting research on the way the city’s police department and its critics get their messages out in the public sphere. Based on the work she’s done so far, she believes that the two groups both feel victimized by the other, and what they say in public sometimes exacerbates the problem.

Michelle Knight, a doctoral candidate at the University of Groeningen in the Netherlands, is in New York working on her dissertation. She has already written the first part—a historical look at the police department and its critics from the 1850s to the present. Now she is specifically examining the Sean Bell shooting and its aftermath as a case study.

“People are always surprised that I am studying this,” Knight said. “I have a passion for the New York City Police Department. I have a passion for New York history.”

“And I have a passion for polarized communication,” she said.

Knight was a master’s student of American Studies on an exchange program at the University of North Carolina in 1999 when Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, died in a hail of 41 police bullets while he stood in his home’s vestibule.

Knight didn’t understand how it was possible for something like that to happen, so she closely followed the case and the ensuing debate. She went to New York and arranged meetings with police union and community leaders, and became fascinated they held such a different reality on the events that had taken place. She eventually wrote her master’s thesis on the history of the police department, which became the first chapter of her dissertation.

In 2006, Knight was back in Holland when she heard about the police shooting of Sean Bell, who was also unarmed, and killed the night before his wedding. This time, police had fired 50 bullets. Again, she followed the aftermath online, through the indictments of the officers involved, their trial and subsequent acquittal. As methodology, she chose to examine every utterance of a stakeholder in the New York Times’ reports.

“Everybody watches the NYPD and the various claims-makers interact in the press, on the stage of the metropolis,” said Greg Donaldson, a professor of communications at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. “But nobody has really studied it in a scholarly way.”

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City receives federal grant for criminal justice agencies from US DOJ

Mayor Bloomberg announced on Wednesday that the city has been awarded a federal stimulus competitive grant to enhance its Departments of Probation and Correction, and the Office of Chief Medical examiner.

The $10.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, named for fallen NYPD Officer Edward R. Byrne, will allow the city to hire my probation officers, improve gang intelligence in jails, and add new staff to the DNA lab in the Medical Examiner’s office. John Feinblatt, the mayor’s criminal justice coordinator spoke about how the money will continue to help keep crime low:

“We have been able to drive down crime to historic lows by finding innovative new ways to prevent crime, among both adults and juveniles,” said John Feinblatt, the Mayor’s Criminal Justice Coordinator. “This grant will allow us to build on the success of the NYPD’s Real Time Crime Center, strengthen our oversight of mentally ill probationers, expand our DNA analysis capabilities, and keep more kids out of trouble.”

The city is the only state or local jurisdiction to receive three different grants from the Byrne national program. The Department of Probation will get $6.6 million, the Department of Correction $2.5 million, and the Medical Examiner’s office $986,000. Including these grants, the city has now received a total of $82.7 million in stimulus money for criminal justice and public safety purposes.

But perhaps it was the Medical Examiner’s office that needed more money. It’s interesting to note that according to the city’s own “CPR: Agency Performance Ratings” from the Mayor’s Office of Operations, the Departments of Probation and Correction have seen their performance improving or stable, while the Office of Chief Medical Examiner has seen its performance vastly declining via 83.3 percent of the indicators used.

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