Category Archives: NYC

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.”

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Criminal Justice, Media/Journalism, NYC, Politics, Race

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Criminal Justice, NYC

NYC homicides on pace to set record-low number

Crime continues to fall in New York City, the mayor and the commissioner of the NYPD said this month, and they boasted about how New York is still the safest big city in the country, according to new data from the FBI’s Crime in the United States, the Uniform Crime Report from 2008.

Criminologists often say that the murder rate is the best indicator when forecasting overall crime. If this is the case, then New York City is doing quite well this year (that is, if you can ever say that when you’re talking about murders). The city is on pace in to hit a record-low number of homicides in 2009—while the number stood at 325 as of Sept. 18, the NYPD projects it will rise to 457 by year’s end. While still a lot, the number is the lowest in nearly 50 years since the police department began keeping the data in 1962. The previous low was 497 in 2007.

The high was in 1990, at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, when there were 2,245 homicides. That year was also in the midst of a hard-hitting economic downturn in the city, and unemployment was on the rise. Perhaps that’s why some criminologists are thankful about this year’s numbers, but still nervous about what is to come. The city is again in a recession in 2009 and unemployment jumped to 10.3 percent last month, hitting double digits for the first time in 16 years. The unemployment rate is not expected to hit its peak for at least another year.

One also begins to wonder about crime statistics kept by the city—especially in a year when the mayor is up for re-election.

While we should all be happy about crime being lower, it is interesting to note that the NYPD’s rate of the number of homicides solved in a year, compared to number of murders in that year, stands at about 70 percent, which is the same as it was about 15 years ago. So can the mayor and the NYPD really take so much credit? (Not to make light of this all, but I’m assuming that topping the list of unsolved homicides is the very first murder recorded in New York City from 400 years ago.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Criminal Justice, NYC

City’s Unemployment Rate Jumps Higher Than National Rate, Despite Addition of Jobs

By Kieran K. Meadows

New York City’s unemployment rate soared to 9.6 percent in July, up from 9.4 percent in June, making it the first month in which the city’s rate was higher than the national rate, according to data released by the state Department of Labor. The U.S. unemployment rate currently stands at 9.4 percent.

“This is something we’ve been expecting for awhile,” said James Brown, the principal economist for the New York State Labor Department. The city was actually quite late into this national recession, he said, compared to some other parts of the country, which saw their economies slowing down since 2006.

“We had pretty positive numbers well into 2008, but we are slipping fast,” Brown said.

The city’s economy has weakened significantly since this same time last year, when the unemployment rate was more than four percentage points lower. Since August 2008, the month the city entered the recession—almost a year behind the nation—it has lost 72,300 jobs.

Yet, in the face of these bleak numbers, there was job growth in the city in July, after months of steady declines. The city added 39,200 jobs in July, according to seasonally-adjusted data from Eastern Consolidated, a real estate investment services company.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

Red Hook’s “Bermuda” Triangle

By Kieran K. Meadows

An old woman pushed her walker out in front of her one morning in late March as she began to cross Wolcott Street in Brooklyn. She stopped abruptly not far from the sidewalk. A gray sedan made a sharp left turn in front of her from Dwight Street, flying past the “no left turn” sign posted above the stop sign on the corner, and coming within a few feet of hitting the woman.

A week earlier, in the same spot, Millie Otero, who lives across the street, stood on the corner and watched a police squad car make the same move.

“They’re not supposed to do it, but they do it too,” she said.

Local residents say this intersection in the center of Red Hook has been dangerous for years. An increase in traffic headed to and from the Ikea furniture store, which opened last year, and the Fairway supermarket, has only added to the danger. Neighbors say they have seen near-accidents here almost every day. People have been injured but no one has been killed at the intersection in the past five years, according to the city Department of Transportation.

The intersection is not of the classic 4-way variety. Instead, where the four streets—Lorraine, Wolcott, Otsego and Dwight—meet forms a 50-foot long triangular island, with multiple intersections in close proximity to one another. There is no traffic signal at the intersection, apparently because the “Bermuda” triangle is privately owned.
Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

Department of Juvenile Justice Says It Will Have to Cut Some Discharge Planning Services

By Kieran K. Meadows

Officials from the city Department of Juvenile Justice said they would have to make tough budget choices, as a result of impending state and city cuts, when they testified Wednesday at a hearing held by the City Council committee that has oversight over the agency.

One of the more controversial moves the department plans to make is to eliminate its discharge planning staff.

Discharge planning’s focus had been helping youth with serious health and mental health needs make the transition home from detention more seamless, by connecting them with community organizations and other support networks.

The agency plans to combine its discharge planning service into its case management system.

The chairwoman of the Committee on Juvenile Justice, Sara M. Gonzalez, asked agency officials to explain how the integration of the two units would benefit youth in the department’s custody.

Nina Aledort, the department’s assistant commissioner for program services, said that many parents get confused when they receive phone calls from too many different people.

“By incorporating the discharge planning responsibilities—none of which will go away—the parent will have a single point of contact,” Aledort said.  “A person who knows how the person is doing day-to-day in detention will also be able to work with the young person about how and what they might need when they return to the outside. It’s much more coordinated, really, is how we see it,” she said.

However, the addition of discharge planning responsibilities would place more pressure on case management staff, juvenile justice advocates said.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

“Justice Center a Success, But Budget Cuts Loom” – in the Brooklyn Rail

Been busy as usual, juggling many stories… but I wanted to direct your attention to a print piece I did for the Brooklyn Rail about the Red Hook Community Justice Center: “Justice Center a Success, But Budget Cuts Loom” — Hope you enjoy the story.

Desiree Pardo strolled into the courtroom six months after she was arrested for possession of a small amount of crack cocaine with a reason to be happy. She had struggled with drug addiction for 17 years, but this morning she had tested negative for all substances. Three large windows let sunlight illuminate the clean white walls of the small courtroom. Pardo sat in the second row of polished wooden benches and maneuvered to get a good view of the judge. “This man is a good man,” she said. “He gave me a chance.”

The 38-year-old Pardo had been attending a court-monitored drug-counseling program five days a week in the same building as the court.

Her success story is one of many at the Red Hook Community Justice Center, which was developed in response to high crime rates and soaring unemployment in the isolated Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1980s and 90s. The center housed the first multi-jurisdictional court in the nation; a single judge, Alex M. Calabrese, hears criminal, civil, and family matters. Because it is a problem-solving court, Judge Calabrese has a variety of sentencing tools at his disposal aside from jail time—including on-site social services and programs. Sentences often incorporate substance abuse treatment, counseling, and education. In addition, many offenders must perform community service as a means of reparation to the community that was harmed by their actions.

Now with the downturn in the economy affecting the state’s budget, the center has begun to feel the squeeze.

Read more…

Leave a comment

Filed under Criminal Justice, Law, NYC

Red Hook Residents Say Big-Box Stores Broke Job Promises

By Kieran K. Meadows

Red Hook residents were deeply divided eight years ago over the building of a large Fairway supermarket on the waterfront. Proponents said it would bring jobs. Opponents said it would be the beginning of the end of the historic waterfront and would bring tons of traffic to quiet streets.

A similar battle erupted four years ago when the Swedish furniture giant Ikea eyed a 340,000 square former shipyard down the street. The argument came down to economic development and the promise of jobs, versus environmental concerns and neighborhood preservation.

“The people in here, in the projects, everybody wanted Ikea to come here, cause they wanted jobs,” said Alisa Pizarro, an 18 year resident of the Red Hook Houses, a public housing project just blocks from the store. “They said they’d give us jobs so we’d say, ‘Yeah come to the neighborhood.’ ”

More than six months after Ikea opened and four years after Fairway, some residents say that the promises of jobs for local residents—pledges that Fairway and Ikea made central to their case for building the giant big-box stores along the Red Hook waterfront—have been broken.

While some local jobseekers were hired, the residents say the stores let many go in favor of people from outside the community. This situation has only served to exacerbate the unemployment dilemna in Red Hook, particularly in the Houses, the largest public housing project in Brooklyn.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

In Contentious Vote, City Council Approves Speaker’s Choice For Clerk

By Kieran K. Meadows

The City Council approved Speaker Christine Quinn’s (D-Manhattan) appointment of Michael McSweeney to the position of city clerk on Thursday, by a 32-16 vote. McSweeney, of Queens, has been the acting city clerk since the fall.

The vote was contentious—all but one member of the Council’s Brooklyn delegation voted no. They were joined by one Council member from the Bronx. The outcome exposed the ongoing conflict between borough delegations, but particularly between Brooklyn and the speaker.

Brooklyn Democratic Chair and Assemblyman Vito Lopez, along with Bronx Democratic Chair and Assemblyman Carl Heastie, had hoped to postpone the vote. They had been hoping to work out an agreement with the speaker regarding the city clerk position at a later date.

McSweeney is a former aide of Queens County Democratic Chair and U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley. Although Brooklyn has the largest delegation in the council, Quinn became speaker in 2006 by putting together a coalition between Manhattan and Queens. By giving the city clerk position to a Queens resident, the speaker is likely politically paying back the borough for its support.

The city clerk appoints the deputy city clerks in each borough, and they control a number of jobs. The clerk’s salary is also a handsome $185,700 – a nice reward for a loyal party player.

“When you deal with patronage, it’s a plum spot, because those are appointed jobs,” said Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island), as he stood in the lobby of City Hall before the vote. “It’s been said that that is the mother’s milk of politics, and quite frankly, it’s in full effect right here. There’s tons of meetings with the speaker, with the county [party] leaders in trying to come to an agreement on who will be the next city clerk.”

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

Despite Obstacles, Community Organization Remains Upbeat

By Kieran K. Meadows

Rebecca Fishburne waited outside a large brick-red building on Valentine’s Day morning in Red Hook, Brooklyn. She was waiting for a mobile HIV testing van to arrive, but the van was running an hour late. Despite the bitter cold, Fishburne, the organizer of the free “HIV Testing Day,” wasn’t discouraged.

Instead, she remained calm, determined to hold a successful community event.

“You just have to take a deep breath, relax, and keep it moving,” said Fishburne, a community health coordinator with the local organization and sponsor of the event, the Red Hook Initiative. “If you don’t, then you’ll freak over everything.”

Fishburne’s calm and positive attitude while waiting for the van is a perfect analogy for the Red Hook Initiative’s own current situation. The organization lost its Clinton Street headquarters of five years last November, and is now waiting to move into a larger space in the heart of the neighborhood. But the new space needs to be renovated before the group, which provides numerous programs and services to hundreds of youth and adults each month, most of whom live in public housing, can move in. The cost of the renovation is over $300,000. Fundraising that much money takes awhile, even in better economic times.

Despite the obstacles resulting from the upcoming move, the Initiative’s employees are coping well and spirits are strong.

“The Red Hook Initiative does a lot for the community,” said Debbie Jackson, a diabetes health educator. “We’re going to survive no matter what. We’re making it happen.”

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC