Â Atop a Brooklyn roof, a single bullet from one cop’s gun pierced the chest of a nineteen-year old last month, ending his life and sparking yet another firestorm over police tactics. Timothy Stansbury, Jr. was armed only with a stack of CDs, on his way to a party via a rooftop shortcut, when he was shot at the top of the stairwell in his building, a public housing project in Bedford-Stuyvesant, by Officer Richard Neri.
Neri and other officers were patrolling the rooftop of the building, reportedly trying to open the door to go downstairs at the same time Stansbury and his friends were trying to use the same door to reach the roof. Whether Stansbury, Jr., was the victim of an accident or something criminal, a grand jury will decide. But while some focused on the swiftness with which Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly condemned the shooting as unjustified, as well as Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s quick arrival on the scene to comfort a grieving family, on the streets the story was about the police.
“The police see you and think you’re a suspect,” said Samuel Jackson, 20, of Crown Heights, calling police in his neighborhood disrespectful and overly aggressive. Jackson was reacting not only to the Stansbury shooting, but to a police effort widely hailed as a triumph by city leaders.
Last January, the story in Crown Heights was Operation Impact, a police effort involving bulked-up patrols in high-crime neighborhoods, in some cases, areas as small as a subway station or housing project. The police effort reduced total felony crimes in the targeted areas by 33 percent, from 11,033 to 7,421.Those numbers probably contributed to an FBI rating announced in December that put New York City among the safest cities with a population of 100,000 or more. City officials proudly trumpeted the success of Operation Impact when announcing last month that the program would be expanded. Operation Impact II will involve more police officers and stretch across more police precincts.
Crown Heights was where the original Operation Impact was first announced, and the increased police presence has not gone unnoticed. But while no one denied the need for police in their neighborhood, police tactics were openly questioned.
Jackson described tales of harassment that ranged from the trivial (he was told to go inside while drinking a beer on a stoop) to something more than that (he was pulled over while in a cab, searched and then “left like a dog.” )
He is not alone in expressing concerns about police conduct. Across the city, 5,581 people issued complaints about New York police last year, a 21 percent increase from 2002 and the highest number since 1995, according to a report by the Civilian Complaint Review Board released last month, as reported in Newsday.
Nevertheless, shooting incidents have decreased substantially for the police precinct, the 77th, which includes Crown Heights. Shootings numbered 64 in 2003, a reported 15 percent decrease from 2002. Police had reported a 41 percent increase in shooting incidents from 2001-2002. Homicides, however, remained unchanged, numbering 15 in 2002 and 2003.
Zeroing in on the impact areas, the numbers are rosier for the city overall. Shooting incidents in the impact zones decreased 30 percent, from 184 to 128. Homicides decreased 39 percent in the troubled areas, from 49 to 30.
Operation Impact II will send more than 1,000 police officers to 52 so-called impact zones, each chosen based on a statistical analysis of crimes. The officers, fresh graduates from the police academy, will join about 700 officers already working in the impact zones. Many of the new officers will be on foot patrols, and they will work with more veteran officers.
With public safety one issue where New Yorkers seem satisfied with city officials (Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had an approval rating of 70 percent in one poll)
Mayor Bloomberg mentioned three other recent police initiatives in his 2004 State of the City address:
Brooklyn Gun Court
Brooklyn Gun Court began last April. One judge was assigned to hear only felony gun possession cases from five of the most violent police precincts in Brooklyn, following each case from arraignment to sentencing. The results have been more convictions and lengthier sentences. Of the first 97 cases heard in the court, 99 percent resulted in convictions. The court has also largely done away with strictly probationary sentences, and the median jail time increased from 90 days to a year.
Mayor Bloomberg announced an expansion of the program in December, with similar courts now established in Bronx and Queens. An estimated two-thirds of all felony gun prosecutions will be funneled through the gun courts, with the Bronx Gun Court expected to process approximately 270 cases per year and the Queens Gun Court expected to handle about 175 cases. The Brooklyn Gun Court will now hear cases from seven police precincts.
“Gun cases are processed quickly, adjudicated fairly, and are sentenced in accordance with the state mandatory minimum laws,” Bloomberg said in a press release announcing the expansion of the program.
Operation Spotlight established specialized courts designed to speed-up the handling of what Bloomberg called career misdemeanor offenders at a press conference announcing the initiative.
The program began in July of 2002. Even as the city struggles with the financial burden of housing inmates at Rikers Island, that seems to be the destination for criminals going through the spotlight courts, though offenders can also be sent to drug treatment through the program.
The percentage of defendants receiving jail sentences has increased 48 percent, with sentences of more than 30 days increasing 75 percent.
Operation Silent Night
Launched in October 2002, Operation Silent Night initiative identified 24 high noise neighborhoods throughout the City based on the number of complaints. More than 30,000 more quality of life police summonses have been issued in the first four months of the fiscal year (July 1 through Oct. 31) than those same months in 2002, and city officials have pinned the increase in part on Operation Silent Night and Operation Impact. Newsday reportedthat noise violations rose 31 percent to 4,648 in fiscal year 2003.
“I think from a public perspective it is terrific,” said Arline Bronzaft, a consultant to The Council on the Environment of New York City. However, Bronzaft questioned whether the city was any less noisy. Bronzaft said she was optimistic about a revision of the noise code, which she said has the support of the mayor’s office. Bronzaft said a draft of the code could be made public this month if approved by city officials, and brought before the City Council soon after.
Crackdown In The Schools
City officials have cited Operation Spotlight and Operation Impact as the model for the program in place to clamp down on violent crime in schools, according to articles in the Times and Gotham Gazette. Like Operation Impact, the school program uses statistical analysis to decide which school is an “Impact School.” Chronic troublemakers with two or more principal or superintendent suspensions within a 24-month period will be dubbed “Spotlight Students” and subject to more stringent punishments for subsequent misbehavior.