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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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.)

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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.

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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.
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