FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 24, 2004
MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG ANNOUNCES OPERATION SAFE HOUSING TO IMPROVE SAFETY FOR RESIDENTS OF PUBLIC HOUSING
Four-Point Program Takes Aim at Drug Dealing, Sex Crimes, and Gun Violence in Public Housing
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced Operation Safe Housing, a new initiative aimed at reducing drug dealing, sexual assault, and gun violence on New York City public housing property. Operation Safe Housing, which builds on the successful strategies of Operation Spotlight, is a four-pronged program. It will strengthen monitoring of convicted sex offenders who live in public housing with regular visits to their homes; create a dedicated New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) administrative hearing part to give priority to eviction cases involving felony gun, drug, and sex offenses committed on public housing grounds; disrupt drug dealers who sell drugs on NYCHA property by banning them from public housing grounds and arresting violators for trespass; and enhance supervision of parolees who live in public housing by establishing parole offices directly in their communities. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, NYCHA Chairman Tino Hernandez, Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt, New York State Division of Parole Deputy Executive Director Tom Herzog and representatives of the District Attorney’s offices joined Mayor Bloomberg for the announcement at NYCHA’s 24th Annual Senior Volunteer Floor Captain Recognition Luncheon in Eastchester, the Bronx.
“Today we fulfill a promise I made to all NYCHA residents at my State of the City address,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “All New Yorkers have a right to feel safe and secure in their homes. Under the leadership of Commissioner Kelly and Chairman Hernandez, we have made public housing safer than ever before for all of its residents – but we can do even better. With Operation Safe Housing, we will apply the surgical, team-oriented Operation Spotlight strategy to the drug dealers and gun and sex offenders who prey upon law-abiding NYCHA residents. Our tenants and their families deserve nothing less.”
Since 1996, major crime in New York City public housing has plummeted nearly 50%, and almost 16% three years ago. However, crime statistics show that public housing is still disproportionately targeted by criminals for three distinct types of crime: gun violence, sex crimes, and drug trafficking. Last year, 11% of the City’s murders, 11% of the City’s rapes, and 16% of the City’s shootings were committed on NYCHA property. In addition, approximately 65% of the shootings committed in public housing through May of this year have been classified as drug-related, compared to 33% for the City as a whole.
“By focusing police resources where they count, we’re making it safer for the law-abiding residents of these housing developments,” said Commissioner Kelly. “We’re putting out the ‘not welcome’ mat for criminals.”
The first prong of Operation Safe Housing focuses on sex offenders. The State’s Sex Offender Registry Act, commonly known as Megan’s Law, creates a mechanism for reducing the risk of recidivism by forcing convicted sex offenders to tell the authorities where they are living. Accurate address information, in turn, makes it possible for the police to monitor the activities of the most dangerous offenders. Operation Safe Housing will add another level of reliability to the safeguards already provided for in Megan’s Law, allowing for even closer monitoring of sex offenders who live in public housing. Rather than depending upon sex offenders to mail in a form or report in person to a police precinct, the police will now go directly to the sex offenders. For the first time, specially-trained police officers will visit the homes of every sex offender claiming to live in public housing and personally verify their addresses. Every sex offender will be accounted for. Offenders who are not living at the addresses where they have registered will be arrested and prosecuted for violating Megan’s Law. Follow-up visits will be repeated every six months to ensure strict compliance with the law.
The second prong of Operation Safe Housing focuses on gun offenders, sex offenders, and high-level drug dealers whose crimes subject them to eviction from their NYCHA apartments. When residents engage in criminal activity, NYCHA is entitled to take administrative action, with penalties ranging up to eviction or exclusion. Each year, NYCHA’s administrative hearing system processes a large volume of these cases, the severity of which can vary widely. To ensure that top priority is given to the most serious cases, a newly created Special Hearing Part will focus exclusively on cases involving residents who commit gun felonies, the most serious sex crimes, and the highest-level drug felonies on NYCHA property. The new Special Hearing Part will ensure that the system works faster and more efficiently than ever before for the criminals who pose the greatest risk to the safety of their neighbors.
“As a public landlord, NYCHA has a special obligation to ensure the public safety and quality of life of residents. We have a history of working closely with the police and residents to enhance public safety at our developments,” said Chairman Hernandez. “We now look forward to extending this collaborative effort under Operation Safe Housing to include the New York State Division of Parole and the District Attorney’s Offices. Together, we can make public housing even safer.”
The third prong of the initiative is a new trespass policy that targets drug dealers by denying them access to public housing grounds. Drug dealing has a profoundly negative impact on quality of life; one of the most common complaints from residents of public housing is the persistent presence of drug dealers in their developments. In addition, crime statistics indicate that the drug trade is a contributing factor in a large percentage of the violent crime that occurs in public housing, particularly shootings and homicides. The new policy will disrupt the drug trade and the violence that comes with it by depriving drug dealers of the turf they need for their trade. Under the new policy, individuals arrested for the felony sale of drugs on public housing grounds will be given notice that they are banned from NYCHA property. A database of all individuals subject to the ban will be maintained and made available to the police, and the ban will be aggressively enforced. If these drug dealers come back – for any reason – they will be arrested and prosecuted for trespass.
“Crime is different in public housing,” said Mr. Feinblatt. “Operation Safe Housing recognizes the unique nature of public housing and focuses the collective resources of the police, NYCHA, Parole, and the District Attorneys on the problem people who cause it the most harm. It’s going to help us keep closer tabs on sex offenders, give top priority to the most serious eviction cases, deprive drug dealers of the places where they like to do business, and give Parole the tools that they need to help parolees continue to stay crime-free. It’s smart, it’s surgical, and it’s going to make life a lot better for the law-abiding residents who make up the overwhelming majority of public housing.”
The fourth and final prong complements the first three by establishing a partnership with the New York State Division of Parole to improve the supervision of parolees who live in public housing. With space provided by NYCHA, Parole will pilot a new community-based supervision model for two clusters of developments in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Parole officers will be dedicated to supervising parolees who reside in these developments and will use offices that are actually located in public housing buildings. Having a presence in the developments will provide greater opportunities for interaction between parole officers and the family members of parolees, as well as community residents. Closer proximity will also enhance the ability of Parole, NYPD, and NYCHA to work collaboratively. The community-based office in the Bronx will service the Millbrook, Patterson, Melrose, Morris, Jackson, Morrisania, and Betances developments; while the community-based office in Brooklyn will service the Tilden, Brownsville, Seth Low, Van Dyke, Howard, and Langston Hughes developments.
Operation Safe Housing builds on the success of other cooperative crime-fighting efforts between the Police Department, NYCHA, and residents of public housing. Previous initiatives include tenant patrols, the installation of closed circuit television in selected housing developments, and the addition of state-of-the-art intercoms and electro-magnetic locks to better secure building entrances.
Approximately 420,000 New Yorkers, about 5% of the City’s population, reside in 345 public housing developments throughout the City. The sex offender address verification prong of Operation Housing Spotlight is currently underway. The NYCHA Special Hearing Part will begin hearing cases in July. The new parole offices in Brooklyn and the Bronx will open in late summer. The new NYCHA trespass policy will begin in Queens in the fall and will expand to the other boroughs in the months thereafter.
Operation Spotlight was launched in 2002 to focus the attention of the criminal justice system on chronic misdemeanor offenders who commit a disproportionate amount of crime. Specialized courts were established in all five boroughs, and have expedited the processing of narcotics laboratory reports, fast-tracked probation and parole revocations, and increased trial capacity and direct links to services for drug-addicted and mentally ill defendants. Since the launch of the initiative, the percentage of defendants receiving jail sentences has increased 47%, with sentences of more than 30 days increasing 74%. The percentage of defendants detained on bail has increased nearly 20%.
Edward Skyler/Robert Lawson (212) 788-2958
Paul Browne (NYPD)
Howard Marder (NYCHA)
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