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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

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Internet resources for what you need to know about NYC Crime and Police
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
"Crime/Police" refers to criminal activity, the efforts to combat it, and its impact on city life. Near-synonyms:Criminal Justice; Public Safety.
The Context
The decline in the NYC crime rate may be the greatest story of the decade. But in the wake of the Louima and Diallo cases, NYPD practices have come under scrutiny. Accusations of racial bias, abuse of power and infringement on civil liberties abound. What is the balance between civil liberty and civil order? Who decides?
The Reporter
Jerome Chou is a freelance writer. He works part-time interviewing recently released ex-offenders about their re-entry into society.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Crime and Justice.

by Jerome Chou

In The News: Operation Condor

(apr '00) From Louima to Diallo to Dorismond, Mayor Giuliani has never wavered in his support for the NYPD, a stance that seems equal parts political strategy and personal conviction. Not surprisingly, through months of controversy the Mayor has continued to pursue one central element of the crime war that has defined his administration: a crackdown on misdemeanors and "quality of life" offenses.

That philosophy is carried out everyday by the 500 officers deployed by Operation Condor, a $24 million narcotics enforcement drive. What the Street Crime Unit, the roving elite squad involved in the Diallo case, did for gun seizures, Condor has done for drug activity arrests. In two months, Condor officers have produced a staggering 21,445 arrests, and seem to have inherited from the Street Crime Unit an aggressive, quota-minded approach to policing. Indeed, shortly before his confrontation with Patrick Dorismond, Officer Anthony Vazquez is said to have told his fellow officers that he wanted to get one more "collar" or arrest that night.

Critics claim that too many of these arrests have netted small-time offenders: while arrests for misdemeanors and violations is up 68% from last year, felony arrests are down 9%. But the very essence of the "broken windows" theory Mayor Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir have put into practice is that sooner or later lesser offenders commit violent crime. From this standpoint, Operation Condor has accomplished exactly what it has set out to do.

Further down the line in the criminal justice system, Mayor Giuliani is following up the increased police activity with a legislative battle to put more lesser offenders behind bars for longer stays. The Mayor's Criminal Justice Coordinator Steven Fishner recently testified before City Council in favor of legislation that would create tougher sentences for repeat misdemeanor offenders.

Is this the right strategy for the City? Although Commissioner Safir has cited statistics showing further drops in crime, the homicide rate is up 22% this year.

Jerome Sounds Off: If Trends Continue, We Could See...

News review: Week of May 12, 2000:
A police officer shot and killed an unarmed Catholic priest who was driving home after services at his Brooklyn church Wednesday night. According to police department records, Father Smith, who was black, was stopped by two officers for reckless driving at 10:15pm, shortly after finishing a weekly prayer meeting at the Our Ascension Church in the Flatbush neighborhood of Central Brooklyn.

When he was asked to step out of his vehicle, Father Smith began arguing with the officers, who were uniformed and were driving an NYPD patrol car. A brief scuffle ensued, during which time one of the officers shot Father Miller, who died at King's County Hospital later that night.

At a press conference on Thursday, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who has faced sharp criticism for his handling of recent police shootings, said "As you know, I am a practicing Catholic, and in no way do I condone the killing of a clergyman. But the fact is, these officers were patrolling a high-crime area." Mayor Giuliani added that Father Miller's behavior was "clearly hostile" and "bears further investigation."

News Review: Week of June 4, 2000
In another fatal police shooting that has once again raised questions about the New York Police Department's tactics in minority neighborhoods, an unarmed man was shot and killed in his Harlem apartment early Thursday morning by an undercover officer.

According to eyewitness accounts, Sgt. Smith Wesson followed William Baga, 22, into his building on Lenox Avenue and approached him as he entered his first-floor apartment. When Mr. Baga attempted to close the door, Sgt. Wesson shot Mr. Baga six times. Mr. Baga was the fifth unarmed black man killed by police in the last 13 months.

Sgt. Wesson was part of "Operation Condor," an aggressive drug crackdown initiative whose officers were involved in the March shooting of an unarmed security guard in Manhattan. Speaking to reporters on Thursday Mayor Giuliani urged New Yorkers to reserve judgment in the shooting. At a Friday press conference, however, Police Commissioner Howard Safir released to the press on Friday copies of pornographic videos and magazines found in Mr Baga's apartment. Mr. Baga, a recent immigrant from Barbados who had been unemployed for six months before the shooting, had also received numerous complaints from neighbors about excessive noise, according to the Commissioner. "This man belonged to an element of society that has done a lot of harm to this City," said Commissioner Safir.

News Review: Week of June 18, 2000
In an incident that has shocked a city already reeling from a series of police shootings, Commissioner Howard Safir shot and killed an unarmed, black homeless man as he and Mayor Giuliani left a press conference at City Hall Monday morning. The victim, a 38-year-old who frequently panhandled the downtown area, physically threatened the Mayor and Commissioner, according to city officials. When police officers failed to restrain Mr. James, Commissioner Safir drew his weapon and fired 3 times, killing Mr. James. Neither the Mayor or the Commissioner had ever fired a weapon in the line of duty.

The incident sparked massive demonstrations at City Hall, as well as condemnation by Senate candidate Hillary Clinton. In a statement on Tuesday, mayoral aide Bruce Teitelbaum said "Obviously this is a difficult situation and a tragedy that, once again, the Mayor's political opponents have chosen to distort and exploit."

Jerome's Favorite Five Sites For Beginners:

  • NYPD - "Just the facts ma'am." The official site for the Finest, with the official information: precincts, crimestoppers, FAQs. All right, so the site exists in a vacuum. What did you expect, a page on policy brutality?
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation, Unit for Crime Reports - This nationwide cooperative effort provides statistics on crime as reported from over 17,000 city, county and state law enforcement entities. Every crime statistic imaginable, all in downloadable format. Especially dramatic: the Crime Clock in the executive summary.
  • Vera Institute for Justice - Non-profit foundation that works with State and Federal governments to study and implement policy. Impressive range of topics, especially on what happens after the crime is committed (e.g. drug rehab, ex-offenders, sentencing).
  • New York State Assembly - Unveils Public Safety 2000: an 8-point crimebusting proposal from the Democratic-controlled Assembly. The criminal is political--check out the anti-Pataki potshots for a preview of where Albany's battle lines will be drawn.
  • Essential Information on Abuse, Assault, Rape & Domestic Violence - No catchy acronyms here. The site seems oddly personal at first (it was set up by a mother-daughter team), but contains loads of links and resources for anyone who needs to know where to turn.

Other Recommendations:

  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving - Comprehensive and informative, and especially timely now that the new car seizure laws are in place. With stats on local DUI rates and info on NY chapters.
  • Families Against Mandatory Minimums - As the nation's prison population nears 2 million inmates, most for non-violent (read: drug-related) offenses, even conservative commentators are seeking to repeal mandatory-minimum drug sentencing laws. FAMM's site includes a brief history (including a section on NY's Rockefeller drug laws), updates on pending legislation, and stories from prisoners and their families.
  • NYC Dept. of Corrections - Dig a little to find revealing stats and information about NYC's jails (e.g. average annual cost per inmate, 1998: $45,026). In the archive section, check out the timeline of NYC's correctional facilities (did you know City Hall once housed dangerous prisoners in the basement?)
  • Financial Scandals - A good introduction to Wall Street crooks and classic heists, among other corporate crimes. Too text-heavy, but don't miss the section on pension fund scandals before you hand your Social Security money to J.P. Morgan.
  • The John Gotti Tribute Page - Free John Gotti! An amusing mafia site that includes lessons on Italian profanities and a rant against the "Witless Protection Program." Also provides a good Links page for those interested in more traditional approaches to Organized Crime.

Visit the Topic Archives!

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