FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 7, 2003
MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG ANNOUNCES LATEST EXPANSION OF OPERATION SPOTLIGHT WITH OPENING OF BROOKLYN GUN COURT
New Court Part to Target Five Precincts that Account for Over 50% of Shootings in Brooklyn and Approximately 25% of Shootings Citywide
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced the opening of the Brooklyn Gun Court, which will handle all felony gun possession cases from the five neighborhoods with the heaviest concentration of shootings in the City. The Gun Court will consolidate, expedite, and assign gun cases to a dedicated judge, increasing the efficiency, consistency, and quality of the judicial disposition of these cases. Five precincts in Brooklyn account for more than half of all shootings in the borough and approximately one quarter of all shootings Citywide. The Brooklyn Gun Court is the latest expansion of Operation Spotlight, a successful comprehensive criminal justice initiative announced in May 2002 that focuses on a small group of offenders who commit a large portion of offenses in New York City. Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes, and Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt joined Mayor Bloomberg at City Hall for the announcement.
“For the past 16 months, New York City has successfully reduced crime to historic lows,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “Thanks to the coordinated efforts of the City’s criminal justice team and the State court system, shootings have continued to decline in 2003 but there is still a disproportionate and unacceptable amount of gun violence plaguing five neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Operation Spotlight’s new Gun Court will help the City and State to efficiently focus their policing, prosecutorial, and judicial resources in those communities possessing the heaviest concentration of shootings, to effectively remove illegal firearms off of our streets, and to swiftly bring gun offenders to justice. The Police Department does a spectacular and heroic job when cracking down on illegal guns and our justice system has to be just as efficient and effective to ensure that those who threaten the lives of others are punished to the full extent of the law.”
The new Brooklyn Gun Court significantly changes the way that the criminal justice system processes gun possession cases. One designated court part will now focus exclusively on felony gun possession, targeting the five precincts with the heaviest concentration of gun violence in the City. Moreover, one judge will preside over all of these cases, making all legal rulings, conducting all hearings and trials, and rendering all sentences for convicted offenders.
While shooting incidents in New York City have fallen 74% over the last ten years and 13% compared to the same period last year, five precincts (the 67th, 73rd, 75th, 77th, and 79th Precincts) in Brooklyn have continued to account for more than half of all shootings in the borough and approximately one quarter of all shootings Citywide. Of Brooklyn’s 23 precincts, these five precincts accounted for 56% of all shooting incidents and 60% of all gun arrests in the borough in 2002. The same five precincts – out of 76 total City precincts – accounted for 25% of all shootings and 26% of all gun arrests Citywide in 2002. The new Gun Court will handle every felony gun possession case from these precincts, which include parts of East Flatbush, Brownsville, East New York, Crown Heights, and Bedford-Stuyvesant, from start to finish.
The Gun Court will also utilize an expedited schedule that requires all cases to be disposed of within 120 days – a 33% percent improvement over the current standard for case disposition in Brooklyn – and all prosecutions will be conducted by three specially-designated Assistant District Attorneys supported by a dedicated senior supervisor. In addition, detectives will debrief all defendants and aggressively seek search warrants in an effort to develop intelligence about gun activity in the target precincts.
As a complement to the new Brooklyn Gun Court, the City will also conduct a newly developed police training program designed to enhance the quality of gun arrests and the cases that result from these arrests. The New York Police Department will instruct and train officers assigned to the five target precincts, as well as officers in specialized units in these precincts, to identify individuals carrying guns, to safely apprehend and disarm these individuals, and to clearly articulate the facts that provide the legal basis for searches and seizures during court testimony. The Kings County District Attorney’s Office will conduct the portion of the training concerning testimony.
“Stopping gun violence means stopping the people who carry guns, and that is exactly what the Brooklyn Gun Court is designed to do,” John Feinblatt said. “It's a strategy that will allow prosecutors, police, and the judiciary to focus intensely and to work collaboratively on gun cases. For those who carry guns, and for the neighborhoods that suffer from their crimes, the message should be crystal clear: We're not going to wait for shootings to happen before we deal with gun offenders. The Brooklyn Gun Court will ensure that gun cases – and gun offenders – get the swift and certain justice that they deserve.”
“The new gun court will be a welcomed addition to the New York City Police Department’s comprehensive strategy to reduce the number of shootings in the City,” Commissioner Kelly said. “This type of focus and cooperation will help us take more guns off the streets and ensure that New York remains the safest big city in America.”
“I am pleased that Brooklyn is the site of this new pilot program which will expedite the handling of all gun cases in the top 5 precincts in the borough,” District Attorney Hynes said. “By working with the police department and the courts we can make justice swifter, decrease the backlog in the courts and be responsive to citizens who have been plagued by gun violence. When all parts of the system – the courts, the prosecutors and the police – make gun cases a priority we can be assured that we will collectively improve the administration of justice.”
The Brooklyn Gun Court is the latest expansion of Operation Spotlight. Since the launch of Operation Spotlight, the percentage of chronic misdemeanants receiving jail sentences has increased 46%. In February 2003, Mayor Bloomberg announced the first expansion of Operation Spotlight through the creation of Probation Violation Courts. These specialized probation courts focus solely on felons who violate their probation and issue strict and speedy sentences to these felons. Roughly 60% of the dispositions in the recently launched Brooklyn and Bronx Probation Violation Courts result in jail sentences. In addition, the Specially Targeted Offenders Project (STOP) has produced a 40% increase in arrests of convicted sex offenders for Megan’s Law violations as compared to last year.
The Brooklyn Gun Court began processing gun cases on April 28, 2003, and expansion to additional precincts will be considered in the future. The Gun Court is expected to process approximately 400 cases per year. Under New York State law, felony gun possession carries a mandatory one-year minimum jail sentence.
Edward Skyler / Jerry Russo (212) 788-2958
Michael O’Looney (NYPD)