Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


Criminal Justice


Earlier this year, 18-year-old Huang Chen was beaten and stabbed to death while making deliveries for his family’s Chinese restaurant in South Jamaica, Queens. The two teenagers who are accused of killing him, then stuffing his body into a box and dumping it in a pond, did so because, according to police, having robbed him of $49, they did not want to be identified.

The gruesome and seemingly capricious nature of Chen’s murder was only the latest in what seems to be a pattern of violent attacks on Chinese deliverymen working in the city. At least five Chinese deliverymen have been killed on the job in the past five years.

Officer Michael Lau of the New York Police Department's community affairs office, however, downplays the racial element in these crimes, pointing out that all deliverymen who work in high-crime areas are susceptible to violence regardless of race. "It’s not just crimes against Chinese delivery people," said Lau, "there are crimes against delivery people in general."

The police department, however, has begun conducting an ongoing series of outreach programs specifically designed for Chinese deliverymen, the latest of which took place in lower Manhattan at the end of March. During the program, which was attended by over 200 restaurant owners and workers, police gave a presentation in Mandarin and English on safety measures that deliverymen could take to protect themselves. In addition, flyers with safety tips were also distributed to command centers in each precinct, and from there to many Chinese restaurants.

Some advocates, however, wonder about the police department's ability to deal empathetically with deliverymen, many of whom are recent immigrants to the United States and who may be undocumented.

"In this day and age, the fact that you may be undocumented presents a problem," said Sin Yen Ling, a lawyer with the Asian American Legal Defense Fund. She added that, undocumented or not, "many immigrants are fearful of the police. Many of them come from a homeland where police aren’t trustworthy."

Officer Lau said that the police have taken steps to address these concerns. An executive order prohibits officers from asking victims or witnesses about their immigration status, a protection that is supposed to continue throughout the entire investigation and prosecution of a criminal case.

In addition, the police department’s community affairs office has also developed a new immigrant outreach program that specifically addresses the fears of immigrants who have a distrust of government officials.

Joyce Stephens of the deputy commissioner’s office said that these outreach efforts have led to a flood of tips being phoned in by members of the immigrant community, albeit anonymously.

"The contact that we’re having is worthwhile in building trust," Stephens said, "Even anonymous tips didn’t happen before."

The police department encourages deliverymen to report robberies or assaults as quickly as possible so specific police action can be taken. In the past, the department has used undercover officers to apprehend suspects in areas that have a pattern of assault against deliverymen. Officers have also trailed deliverymen on their routes to see if anybody is waiting to rob or assault them.

Stevens, however, emphasizes the "common-sense" measures the deliverymen could take to protect themselves while on the job.

"Maybe you want to set up some boundaries, like after a certain hour you won’t go into buildings," Stevens said, "You have to feel safe and use instinct, and if you don’t feel safe about going into locations, then don’t go in."

Khairul Effendy, a deliveryman for a Malaysian restaurant in lower Manhattan, said that in his seven years on the job, he has had his bicycle stolen five times, but he has managed to avoid being personally assaulted.

"We’re open until 11:30 PM," Effendy said, "but I’ll only delivery until 11. The area around the
restaurant is okay, but I’m not so sure of the areas to the east and west.

Many deliverymen who work in high crime areas are recently arrived immigrants whose lack of language or job skills prevent them from taking a job in safer areas. In addition, their low profit margins may prompt them to take risks in the hopes of making a few extra dollars.

"Many deliverymen are just scraping by to make a living," said New York City Councilmember John Liu.

Deliverymen in Far Rockaway, Queens reportedly make an average of 60 runs per eight hour shift. Deliverymen often work longer shifts, however, and the frequency of their deliveries make them an easy target for robberies. In addition, deliverymen often venture alone into apartment buildings because they are more likely to get tipped if they deliver food to individual apartments instead of waiting in a lobby.

"The trouble is that there are no quick fixes," said Hyun Lee of the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, "There are a number of things that need to be addressed, such as the lack of job opportunities for immigrants, as well as working conditions so these immigrants don’t always have to work around the clock."

In response to Chen’s murder, members of New York city council, including Liu, Hiram Monserrate and Charles Barron called for a one-day moratorium on restaurant deliveries, suggesting that customers pick up orders themselves. The event was supposed to honor Chen’s memory, and increase awareness among many New Yorkers who take for granted the risks involved in delivering a meal.

"We need to send a message," Liu said, "that it’s not going to be open season on deliverymen or immigrants."

Identity Theft


Last year, some 53 million Americans filed their taxes from the comfort and convenience of a personal computer. This year, more are expected to do so. (See Tech Links in the News for the Web sites to file for federal and state taxes, and to file for an extension.) Clearly, the computer-savvy are less worried about transmitting personal information over the Internet.

But in fact, while there are precautions to take when filing taxes – experts recommend the use of a personal computer used only by the tax filer – there is an increasing problem of cyber-crime, and nowhere more than in New York.

This month, Howard Carmack was found guilty of sending over 800 million spam messages from e-mail accounts that he opened under the names of two unsuspecting upstate New York residents.

This is the first case of identity theft -- a crime under New York State law since October 2002--prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s office. New York was one of the last states in the country to enact such legislation. "The guilty verdict shows that those engaged in identity theft and cyber-crime will be discovered, prosecuted, and convicted of their crimes," said Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

Identity theft is “crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. These crimes include fraud involving credit cards, telephones, utilities, banks and loans.

Currently, identity theft is a serious problem in New York City. In 2001, New York had the highest number of identity theft victims nationwide. Nationwide, there were over 160,000 victims of identity theft in 2002 according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. In 2003, the city had almost 9,000 acts of identity theftas compared to Rochester (355), Buffalo (208), Yonkers (147) and Syracuse (91).

While the increased use of computers to store sensitive information is one reason for the rise in identity theft, often criminals steal paper records to get access to personal information. With only someone’s name, date of birth, social security number or credit card number, an identity thief can cause substantial financial damage. In January 2004, New York State passed a law requiring businesses to remove the expiration date and print only the last five digits of credit cards from receipts.

Credit card fraud is the most common type of identity theft. In recent years, criminals have attacked computer systems and used hand-held technology to steal personal information from Automated Teller Machines, a practice called “skimming.” For example, last December three men stole $225,000 from 300 cardholders by stealing personal information from an ATM in a Manhattan candy store.

Currently, the City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs has three bills under consideration aimed at protecting and informing consumers about identity theft. These bills make businesses and the government responsible for protecting sensitive personal information. The first would allow the commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs to suspend, revoke or refuse to renew business licenses if the business has violated New York State identity theft law two or more times. The other two proposed laws require city agencies and businesses licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs to inform citizens when there has been a security breach of their personal information.

At a time when more--not less--personal information is being collected and stored in government and private sector computer databases, it is vital that New York City agencies and businesses be penalized if they are not able to guarantee the security of such information. Moreover, since New York State has been slow in implementing such legislation, it is important that the city move quickly to pass identity theft legislation to stop the high rates of the crime in New York City.

However, in the end, citizens—not governments and businesses--should be the true owners of their personal information and identities. Ken Jordan, an independent writer and digital media consultant, has collaborated with technologists and activists to develop an innovative proposalon how to best give citizens control of their personal information. It envisions a system of “online citizenship” that will not only curtain identity theft but also allow New Yorkers to participate more effectively in decision-making on local issues faced by the city.

Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.












The Right To Marry

Assemblyman Daniel ODonnell from the Upper West Side and his partner John Banta are among 13 same sex couples who have commenced a lawsuit against the State of New York and the New York State Department of Health, claiming the right to marry. According to the complaint, which seeks to declare the state's Domestic Relations Law unconstitutional, "they are here to ask that this Court perform what is perhaps its most solemn and sacred duty -- namely, ensuring that the basic rights of being a New Yorker and an American are extended to all... ."

The case of Sylvia Samuels, Diane Gallagher et al v New York State was filed in Supreme Court in Albany on behalf of couples from various parts of the state including Brooklyn and Manhattan. The complaint alleges that "the institution of marriage reflects legally the reality of life as a committed couple, creating vitally important protections, rights and obligations." The plaintiffs submit that "marriage is the universally recognized social structure...both a personal and a very public commitment.”

The lawsuit, the third such to be commenced in New York this year, relies on the equal protection and due process clauses of the State Constitution which protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation. "Denying same sex couples the ability to marry...deprives them of the equal protection of the laws based on their sexual orientation." Plaintiffs' counsel argue that New York State's constitution guarantees same sex couples the right to marry, but that the Domestic Relations Law which governs marriage does not. This law, they argue, is therefore unconstitutional. Specifically, it “discriminates based on gender because it allows a man and a woman to marry, but does not allow a man to marry a man, or a woman to marry a woman."

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs’ rights of free speech have also been violated. "Marriage is an important public act of speech that represents to the community at large the nature of two people's commitment to each other. The public expression of emotional support and public commitment two people make when they marry is a unique form of public expression that can only be made through a civil marriage ceremony or contract. " Equal access to this "unique public act of speech must be provided equally regardless of gender or sexual orientation."

Court papers filed refer to earlier discriminatory marriage laws such as disallowing slaves to marry and criminalizing interracial marriage. But plaintiffs argue, " Having created the institution of civil marriage through which individuals can proclaim their commitment in a unique way, the state cannot allow access to that institution on a discriminatory basis."

The most recent US census counted 46,449 New York State households as being comprised of same-sex unmarried partners, according to plaintiffs. They also cite an Urban Institute study that says New York City has the largest gay population of any American city. "The State of New York has had a long and distinctive tradition of affording protection to gays and lesbians...and New York has long been a center for gay and lesbian life and culture."

While plaintiffs commend efforts at civil unions and domestic partnerships, and many of them have formalized their relationship in that way, "they fall short of reflecting the commitment that two people who build a life together have, and they fail adequately to protect the relationships of same sex couples."

Some of the New York City residents have registered under the domestic partnership law, but that does not provide the same rights benefits or obligations as marriage such as medical decision making, adoption, rights of inheritance, tax benefits. Moreover, domestic partnerships are not necessarily recognized by employers, insurers or other jurisdictions.

The first named parties to the action are two women who have been together for 24 years, raised children and have grandchildren. One of them, Sylvia Samuels, who works for the city, is seriously ill and wants her partner, Diane Gallagher, to be able to make health care decisions and hospital visits which may be limited to a spouse or family member as traditionally defined.

Alice J. Muniz, a New York City police officer, working out of the 23 precinct in East Harlem, has maintained a committed relationship with Oneida Garcia for the last four years, living together in Brooklyn with their children from prior relationships. Marriage, they say, would have a positive effect on their children.

John Wessel and William O'Connor are about to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their relationship. They are in the art business and own property together. One of their reasons for wanting to marry is to benefit from inheritance tax laws now limited to married survivors only.

Attorney Daniel O'Donnell, who is the first openly gay man to be elected to the Assembly (he is also Rosie O’Donnell’s brother), has been in a couple with John Banta since they met at college in the late 1970s. They describe themselves as "soulmates," but have not registered as domestic partners. "Nothing short of marriage is acceptable," they say.

Counsel for the plaintiffs summarize the lawsuit this way: "Defendants can offer no adequate justification for the exclusoin of same sex couples from the legal institution of marriage."

The plaintiffs are represented by the Manhattan law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP, the ACLU and the NYCLU. An answer in opposition is expected to be filed by Attorney General Elliot Spitzer.

Emily Jane Goodman is a New York State Supreme Court Justice















Public Authorities

Public authorites control many billions of dollars. In 2002 the 17 largest had $105 billion in debt.

The plumbing fixtures at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority headquarters at 2 Broadway can join the $7,500 thermometers in the Tweed courthouse and the Pentagon's $640 toilet seats in the annals of government waste, fraud and abuse.

Owners of Figliolia Plumbing in Brooklyn allegedly charged the authority $25.98 for lead-pipe connectors costing 49 cents each and marked up the cost of other materials by 5,000 percent as well. With the extra money, prosecutors charge, the Figliolia family bought jewelry, an indoor swimming pool, and backyard pond complete with footbridges. And some of the proceeds went for bribes and gifts to transit authority managers.

But some would accuse the Metropolitan Transportation Authority itself of even grander larceny (though perhaps not in violation of the criminal code). Before the 2002 election for governor, the MTA said it was in financial good health. But after New York State voters re-elected Governor George Pataki, who appoints the MTA board, the authority suddenly claimed it was running a $2.7 billion deficit and needed to raise bus and subway fares. Independent experts questioned the figure and discovered that the agency was keeping two sets of books to justify its wildly contradictory portrayal of its finances.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is just one of more than 640 authorities throughout the state. While they are created by the state government and operate for a public purpose, they are exempt from many of the rules and review under which government agencies normally operate. These authorities run the airports, operate bridges and tunnels, foster economic development, encourage development and oversee the subways and buses.

And, an increasing number of critics charge, they also:

  • Provide jobs and contracts to political cronies
  • Amass excessive amounts of debt
  • Operate outside public scrutiny and taxpayer control
  • And in general defy standard practices of good government.

Public authorities are the Enrons of state government, New York State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer charged in a speech last year, "hiding spots, breeding grounds for inertia, incompetence and, at times, worse." Faced with such concerns, public officials have proposed to reform the system. Ideas range from a modest directive issued by Governor George Pataki, whose appointees run many of the authorities, to State Assemblymember Richard Brodsky's call to eliminate authorities entirely.


Authorities were virtually unknown in the United States until the Great Depression, when local governments, desperate for money, cast about for new financing methods. Most of the authorities were created for a single purpose and for a limited period of time.

But Robert Moses changed all that. As Robert Caro relates in his book "The Power Broker", Moses saw that the money coming in from tolls on the Triborough Bridge far exceeded the cost of maintaining the bridge. This inspired him to create an array of authorities that could go on in perpetuity, taking money from fees such as tolls and using it to finance his other projects -- bridges, highways, parks and so on.

This arrangement lives on. Some authorities, like the New York State Housing Finance Agency or the New York State Dormitory Authority, are financing mechanisms that borrow money for allegedly public purposes. Others, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, also provide a service. Still others are economic development agencies, like the Hugh L. Carey Battery Park City Authority, which plan and finance large projects thought to be beyond the capacity of local government.

The governor controls the authorities through his appointment power. The MTA, for instance, has 17 voting (and six non-voting) members, all appointed by the governor. The Battery Park City Authority has three board members and a chief executive officer, all named by the governor. In some cases, like the current Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the city looks to be a partner, but the governor, through his appointment power, retains ultimate control.

In 1956, when there were 56 authorities, a commission reviewed their operations and eliminated 20 of those. This year, New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi directed his staff to undertake a similar study. The report, Public Authority Reform: Reining In New York’s Secret Government (in pdf format), was issued in February. It unearthed some 643 authorities, public benefit corporations and similar quasi-public agencies, most of them focused on a particular locality or facility.

Many affect the lives of average New York City residents. This includes most (though not all) of the more than 200 authorities considered to have statewide or regional responsibilities, such as the MTA and the Urban Development Corporation. About a dozen more have specific responsibilities in New York City, such as the Water Board and the School Construction Authority.

Many authorities do good things, Hevesi said at a recent New York City bar association forum on authorities. But, he added, "They're not supervised, and many of them develop a culture of arrogance and a set of behaviors we would never accept if we knew about them."


An earlier, 2003 Hevesi report focused on one authority: the MTA. As the controversy about the conflicting sets of financial information entered the headlines -- and the courts -- the public learned more about the agency that operated with little scrutiny or oversight. The MTA has an annual budget of about $7 billion, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, a transit advocacy group, noted. But he said, "In the last four of five years, they issued that budget on a Tuesday and the following Tuesday, they would approve it -- a budget larger than many states -- with no hearing, no public review. They got away with this for years and years."

The uproar sparked some reforms at the agency, including new budget rules. But the MTA is not alone.

Some other examples:

-- The New York State Power Authority hired Vincent Vesce, a childhood friend of Pataki's, as an executive vice president at the salary of $186,000, according to the New York Post. The authority also hired the governor's former bodyguard for $160,000 -- and issued a waiver letting him collect his $60,000 a year state-police pension at the same time. Pataki aides told reporters the men were qualified for the jobs.

-- From 1999 to 2002, the Long Island Power Authority contracted with a former adviser to Rick Lazio, who ran against Hillary Clinton for Senate in 2000, to survey ratepayers. In addition to questioning them about their electricity needs, the poll also asked Long Island residents what they thought of Pataki and whether they would vote for Lazio or Clinton. The authority paid its acting chief financial officer almost $600,000 over 14 months -- and defied requirements that the state comptroller approve the contract.

-- The New York State Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation, which oversee the Erie Canal, sold a developer the rights to develop land along 45 miles of the canal -- all for $30,000. Although the canal corporation defended the arrangement, critics called it a "sweetheart deal" with the state doing little to advertise that canal rights were available. "The state is selling used trucks for more than it quietly sold the rights to the entire Erie Canal corridor," Assemblymember Richard Brodsky told the New York Times. Hevesi later rescinded the contract.

--The Liberty Bond program, an $8 billion plan created after 9/11 to provide financing for major projects to revitalize Lower Manhattan and aid the city economy, is coordinated by the city Economic Development Corporation, a public-benefit corporation. The watchdog group Good Jobs New York has highlighted how little affordable housing the bonds have funded, while they have been approved. for a Forest City Ratner project near downtown Brooklyn that will house the Bank of New York, a power plant in Astoria, and luxury housing.

--Last year, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer charged that the New York Racing Association, a public authority, had ignored widespread abuses by its betting clerks, including money laundering, betting and borrowing from the cash drawers. With indictments looming, Pataki selected Kenneth Cook to head the agency's security operation. According to the Albany Times-Union, Cook contributed $10,000 to Pataki's 2002 re-election campaign and worked for a firm run by friends of, and contributors to, the governor.

Then there are the authorities that seem to come more from Comedy Central. What does the Long Island Regional Ashfill Board do? Does Tuckahoe really need its own parking authority? Why does Governors Island have two separate authorities? And what about the Overcoat Development Corporation? Although it is allegedly located at 633 Third Avenue, no one there had heard of it, a New York Times reporter found. He discovered the agency is what remains of an effort to lure an Indiana coat company to Amsterdam, New York... in 1986.


Given such a checkered record, why allow authorities to exist at all?

The answer is simple -- to get money.

The New York State constitution sets strict restrictions on government borrowing. For all intents and purposes, said Charles Brecher of the Citizens Budget Commission, the state cannot borrow money unless the voters directly approve the amount of money involved and the purpose for which it will be used. And voters often say no. "As a result," Brecher said, "state functions have been starved for capital."

And so they turned to authorities. Some of the authority money comes from fees. But authorities can issue revenue bonds, bonds issued for a certain purpose that then use the proceeds generated by the project -- the tolls from a highway, say -- to pay back the debt. In theory, there is nothing wrong with this, according to an article by William Stern, former head of the state Urban Development Corporation, in City Journal. But, he said, "because revenue bonds do not even require the approval of the legislature, they escape all forms of popular scrutiny. New Yorkers, in short, never get a chance to vote down revenue bonds, as they often choose to do with general-obligation debt."

And Stern says, the authorities also "buy" state facilities, giving the state a quick infusion of cash but adding the money to the state's long-term debt. So, the Urban Development Corporation "bought" Attica Prison to help the state out of a budget crisis during the Cuomo administration.

"You don't ask children and grandchildren to pay for the services you use today," Brecher said. "The device of authority borrowing has on occasion enabled the legislature and the governor to do that."

The money involved is enormous. According to the Hevesi report, authorities account for 90 percent of state debt service payments, up from 60 percent in 1985. The state's 17 largest public authorities had $105 billion in outstanding debt in 2002; $34 billion of that debt is financed by the state itself. And it could rise even further. The state's public-authority debt service costs will increase from $2.9 billion this year to $4.6 billion in 2008, according to a projection in the state's five-year capital plan.

Beyond the money, the Hevesi report lists several other lures for politicians:

  • Public authorities can finance public improvements without raising taxes. (Besides selling bonds, they can charge user fees, such as highway tolls, to cover costs of construction and operations.)
  • They can make politically unpopular decisions that elected officials are unwilling to make.
  • They can often be more flexible than government and cross jurisdictional boundaries.

From this perspective, many of the authorities make sense. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for example, can serve the needs of all travelers in, to and around New York. Even Russianoff, who has often fought with the MTA, said the agency "shows both the good and the bad of public authorities."


The Battery Park City Authority also boasted a laudable public purpose: It would take the money from a large high-end office and residential development and use it to finance new affordable housing -- without taxpayers having to pick up the tab. The authority has had many successes -- developing office space, thousands of apartments, parks, esplanades and open space -- but it has not created nearly as much affordable housing as promised.

Originally, two thirds of the housing at Battery Park City was intended for people of low and moderate income. As the housing market in Lower Manhattan boomed, Governor Mario Cuomo, the state legislature and other officials decided to build luxury housing at Battery Park City and use the proceeds from that to build 24,000 low and moderate income apartments in other parts of the city.

In fact, though, only 1,557 affordable units were built with authority funding, according to a September 2000 City Project study. (See related article in Gotham Gazette, Public Subsidies Flowing Up The West Side by Brad Lander.)

Today the city uses the Battery Park City Authority's cash, and its ability to borrow money, as aids in balancing the city’s overall annual budget. The authority refinanced all of its existing debt so the city would get nearly $100 million of extra revenue for this year’s budget (and lesser amounts in subsequent years). The state legislature authorized the Battery Park City Authority to borrow an additional $150 million to buy property from the city -- another one-shot asset sale to fill the budget gap.

The money may sound like a windfall for the city, but it is not; it is closer to an accounting trick. The Battery Park City Authority’s debt now totals $1.1 billion. This means the authority will pay about $1.9 billion in debt service (paying off the interest on the bonds) through 2039, according to one bond document. The authority collects payments from Battery Park City residents and businesses in lieu of taxes. It turns some of the money over to the city -- after deducting expenses and debt service costs. In other words, every dollar that goes to the authority’s debt service is one dollar that does not go to the city.

Now, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced that the city will use $350 million from the Battery Park City Authority to help pay for the proposed Jets Stadium and Javits Convention Center expansion.

Authorities in general will play a big role in Bloomberg's ambitious plans for the West Side. The Hevesi report points out that the Empire State Development Corporation, run by long-time Pataki associate Charles Gargano, controls 90 authorities, including the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the New York Convention Center Development Corporation (the Javits Center) and the Pennsylvania Station Redevelopment Corporation (the new rail station). Add in the MTA, which controls the rail yards in the West 30s; the Hudson River Park Trust (largely controlled by the governor), the Port Authority and the Battery Park City Authority and it is clear that the big decisions about the West Side will be made outside the normal political channels. The City Council and the state legislature will be excluded, and much will be done without public scrutiny.


Public officials and others have offered a number of plans to reform the authority system. Dominating much of the discussion is a 113-page bill offered by Hevesi and Spitzer. It would create a commission, similar to the one almost 50 years ago, to look at the 212 statewide authorities and determine which ones can justify their existence.

Those that survive the process would have to act more like regular government agencies -- putting out their contracts for competitive bidding, for example, and then submitting them to the state comptroller for approval. The measure also requires that the authorities make their financial reports public. Overall, Hevesi said, "We don't want [the authorities] to be stripped of their ability to perform services, but we want them to respond as government agencies should."

The Assembly, controlled by Democrats, has approved another reform package that overlaps with some of Hevesi's proposals. Introduced by Brodsky, it would give the state attorney general the power to appoint an independent inspector general for authorities and would put the authority finances back in the state budget.

The Republican-controlled State Senate has not voted on that measure. Asked his response to reforming authorities, Senate Majority leader Joseph Bruno said, "It's time for us to take a look at a lot of things, and authorities are one. We're looking at consolidation as a way of saving taxpayers money."

Pataki has not formally weighed in on the plan, although a spokesperson told the New York Sun that the governor has already taken some of the steps recommended by Hevesi. Pataki has issued a directive saying authorities must follow the "best practice" principles of private businesses and in February an aide to the governor reportedly asked heads of the state's authorities to submit a plan for reform to the governor by May 14.

But others question whether any of these reforms address the real problems. For example, Brecher of the Citizens Budget Commission says that they would not keep the authorities from creating more and more debt. To solve this problem would require changes in the constitution.

Brodsky questions the existence of authorities altogether. The reason the authorities are not accountable, he said, is that they have been removed from the legislative process. "We learned from our earliest days of American democracy that we are different, not because we have photogenic chief executives, but because we have legislative bodies specifically set up for the purpose of checking executive power," Brodsky said. "What has happened here is a classic example of the failure of American democratic institutions to live by the principles of democratic and constitutional law."

In an ideal state, he said the state government would have the power to issue revenue bonds and authorities would be abolished. But Brodsky conceded that such a massive change would be impossible and so is backing the more modest Assembly package.

Of course, passing that or the Hevesi-Spitzer plan may prove difficult in Albany. The State Senate may be less anxious to reform a system that, with a Republican governor, largely benefits Republicans. More cynical observers can wonder whether in 50 years another commission will review the state authorities and wonder why New York needs an Overcoat Development Corporation.



Preventing Another Stansbury

Police victims, clockwise from top left: Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, Alberta Spruill, Timothy Stansbury, Jr.

When I heard that an unarmed black man had been shot by a white police officer in Brooklyn, my immediate reaction was probably similar to that of many New Yorkers: “Here we go again.” I was saddened by the news, but I was not shocked. I have represented over 100 victims of police misconduct in my career as an attorney. I know that for every outrage that makes it into the newspaper or into the courtroom, there are a good number more that never get reported at all.

The story of 19-year-old Timothy Stansbury, Jr., an innocent young man shot without cause, has joined those of Amadou Diallo, Alberta Spruill, Eleanor Bumpurs and Patrick Dorismond as illustrations that something is wrong with police procedures and practices. Stansbury left his elderly grandmother’s apartment at about 1 a.m. on Saturday, January 24. He was walking up the stairs to the roof in order to cross over to another building in the same housing development; people in this development regularly used the roof as a passageway between buildings. But the sight of Stansbury in the stairwell startled Richard Neri, a police officer who was patrolling the roof. He fired his weapon at Stansbury, killing him. A Brooklyn grand jury later cleared Neri of any criminal liability.

Less than 24 hours after I first heard of the killing on the news, I was asked to represent the Stansburys. I accepted, and am now assisting the Stansburys in a lawsuit filed against New York City.

For what we assert are violations of Stansbury’s civil rights, we are asking for $600 million. A judge and jury can order the police department to pay that amount, but they cannot tell the police department that it needs to re-examine its practices. We hope that by hitting the city in its pocketbook, we will force the police department to wake up and look at these chronic problems.

It is easy to think that this story – a young man, going to school, working, who was shot on his way to meet friends at a party -- is an exception. But while publicized cases such as Stansbury’s stand out because they are so blatant, they are hardly isolated events. New York City could significantly reduce the number of these unnecessary, and occasionally tragic, cases of police misconduct by reforming certain practices within the police department:

End The “Blue Wall of Silence”

In the late 1980s, I represented a black woman who said that she had been harassed and then arrested by a white police officer after he pulled her over in Clinton Hill. The woman, a PhD student at the time, was driving a BMW. The case would have been entirely her word against his, except that his partner had also witnessed the incident. During the confrontation, my client had actually called on this man to take note of how she was being treated.

When I questioned the officer’s partner, however, he gave me what I call the "Standard Police Answer": He told me, very politely, that he could not recall anything that had happened. Such forgetfulness is common in police cases, as officers try to avoid saying anything that would get other cops in trouble.

During my investigation for this case, I spoke to several officers who told me, in confidence, that the man involved had a tendency to pull over black people in expensive cars. Often the justification for these traffic stops would be minor or non-existent violations. Had they communicated this to their commanders previously, it could have been dealt with easily through the force’s own disciplinary procedures, instead of in the courts. And at least one woman would not have had this experience.

Breaking down the “blue wall of silence” is not necessarily easy; cops are strongly discouraged from speaking out against other cops. This is the wrong message to send; police officers should realize that they aren’t helping anybody when they cover for bad cops.

Have the Corporation Counsel Report on Patterns of Problems

Last year, Alberta Spruill, a career civil servant, died of a heart attack when police officers threw a flash grenade into her house while serving a search warrant. Sadly, they had the wrong apartment. Many were shocked, but others, myself included, were not surprised. Cases like this only become newsworthy when the victim dies.

I am representing another civil servant, working in law enforcement, who was handcuffed, naked, on the floor of her apartment for three hours while police officers tore it apart looking for drugs. As in Spruill’s case, they had the wrong address.

These two stories are not directly related, but they may indicate a pattern of faulty police work. I do not have the data necessary to make definite conclusions about systematic police failures. But the Corporation Counsel, the city’s law firm, does.

The Corporation Counsel represents New York City police officers and the police department every time they get sued. Surely it should be able to discern patterns of problems within the police department. Issuing a report examining such findings would be a good first step toward addressing many of the problems that the police department has in dealing with the citizens of the city.

Sensitize Police Officers to the Neighborhoods They Patrol

Interactions between white police officers and black and Hispanic New Yorkers end too often in tragedy. Most of us are familiar with the more outrageous examples, cases in which the police often make farfetched claims that they perceived a threat to their safety. In examining these cases, we have to take into account the element they all have in common: race.

I am not suggesting that all white police officers are racist. But many white officers are assigned to patrol communities that they have no understanding of. Often these are minority neighborhoods. When they patrol such areas, white police officers are overly nervous and prone to make very bad judgments about what is or is not a threat.

If you talk to older retired New York City police officers, they will tell you that when they walked a regular beat, they became part of the community. They knew the merchants, the schools, the families that lived in the neighborhood. They knew where the problematic areas in the neighborhood were, and they knew who was involved in criminal activity.

The neighborhood cop on the beat may not be a reasonable expectation anymore, but the police department has to keep up with changes, in a city that is constantly evolving.

This means constantly sensitizing police officers to the neighborhoods in which they work. Black and Latino officers who patrol what we call inner-city neighborhoods aren’t usually involved in cases where innocent civilians are shot or killed. In large part, that is because these officers grew up learning the subtleties and nuances of such neighborhoods.

There are probably officers from every neighborhood in the city on the police force. Let them tell their colleagues about what they might experience, and what to look for.

Improve Weapons Training

The most tragic – and high profile – cases of police misconduct are those in which officers make bad decisions with deadly weapons.

There are cases where police have to use force; training officers to use good judgment in these instances is essential.

Eleanor Bumpurs – an elderly, obese, emotionally disturbed woman – was killed when a police officer shot her with a shotgun. Bumpurs was wielding a knife, there is no doubt about that. But this was not a woman who moved like a halfback; she could probably have been restrained by the group of five or six police officers who confronted her the day of her death.

Even if the use of weapons was necessary, the officers were armed with billy clubs and handguns, which could have been used to disable Bumpurs without killing her.

Yet the weapon that the police chose was a shotgun – which any hunter will tell you is a kill weapon. Better weapons training, in this case, could have prevented a death while dealing with a potentially dangerous situation.

Could changes in police training have saved the life of Timothy Stansbury, Jr.?


If Richard Neri had known, for instance, that the roof he was patrolling was a commonly used passageway, he wouldn’t have been so shocked to see Stansbury. If he had been trained to not keep his finger on the trigger of his weapon, he probably would not have shot him.

Kenneth Ramseur is an attorney in New York City

Gotham Gazette's Related Articles:
Aftermath of the Stansbury Killing
Operation Impact And The Shooting Of Timothy Stansbury, Jr.
Questioning Police Statistics For Crime and Cases Of Misconduct

Questioning Police Statistics For Crime and Cases Of Misconduct

City officials seem more skeptical than concerned over charges that some police commanders may have downgraded or simply not reported crimes in order to meet numerical targets set by top police department officials for reducing crime. The suspicions were brought forward last month by Newsday for one precinct and repeated forcefully by a major police union alleging a department-wide problem.

But the allegations -- along with the silence over another set of numbers, the substantial increase in documented and substantiated complaints about police misconduct -- show how numbers can add up to more, or less, than one might expect when trying to size up the quality of policing in New York.

A Case Study?

Though long whispered about among skeptics with little faith in the police department to begin with, the most recent allegations about underreporting crime surfaced with a report by Newsday examining the 50th precinct, in the Bronx.

That storynoted that while crime had decreased nearly 26 percent during the three-year leadership of Deputy Inspector Thomas DiRusso, there was an 11 percent increase in crime since the January departure of DiRusso to head one of two the narcotics divisions in Brooklyn.

Newsday pointed to several incidents that occurred on DiRusso’s watch to suggest an underreporting of crimes: an officer disciplined for allegedly forging a complainant’s name in order to downgrade a grand larceny to a petit larceny (the complainant later disputedthis characterization) ; interviews with two people who said police responded to their complaints in person but did not write a report; and, after a rash of reports from delivery drivers that they were targets for robbery led to a stationhouse meeting, the way DiRusso threatened the delivery drivers with summonses for riding their bicycles on the sidewalk.

Two days after the story was published, leaders for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association called a press conference. Union president Patrick Lynch asserted that the problem was endemic to the department, and called on Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to conduct a thorough investigation.

“It is a truth that is widely known by members of the department," Lynch reportedly said, "and now we have to see if the police commissioner has the courage to face the truth and do what is right for the City of New York."

Police regularly subject crime reports to an internal audit, and last June admitted that 203 crimes had been improperly downgraded in Manhattan’s 10th precinct. But in this case, police officials have sharply denied the accusations, pointing to audits that showed no wrongdoing. Police officials instead have accused Lynch of targeting DiRusso because the deputy inspector had transferred a union delegate. Meanwhile, the union claims that that officer was transferred after taking a stand against the underreporting of crime in the precinct.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg also scoffed at the comments by Lynch, calling them outrageous. “You can’t have it both ways,” said Bloomberg reportedly. “You can’t have a billboardin Times Square claiming you’re doing such a great job and therefore need a raise, and then…claim that the success of the NYPD is inflated.”

An Ever-Moving Target

The union has been fighting Kelly and the Bloomberg administration for months, publicly calling for the resignation of Kelly for the way he publicly said the shooting of unarmed teen Timothy Stansbury Jr. was “apparently unjustified” before a departmental investigation could be conducted.

In their latest criticism of top department officials, the PBA are seeking to highlight shrinking police department personnel, which since 2000 have dipped by about 4,000 officers to 37,000.

“We’ve reached a point today where because of a significant loss of personnel in our department we are unable to fight crime successfully, and yet the bureaucracy doesn’t want to admit this,” said Albert O’Leary, communications director of the police union.

The controversy also highlights possible shortcomings of the Compstat systemfor tracking crime, which, despite its ubiquity, is not without its detractors.

O’Leary said that precinct commanders were under “tremendous pressure” to reach managerial targets for reducing crime. Compstat simply doesn’t take into account the law diminishing returns, said O’Leary, something top departmental officials have failed to incorporate when evaluating department performance.

“I honestly believe, if [former Commissioner William Bratton] was still commissioner…there would be adjustments made,” said O’Leary.

O’Leary promised that the story is not going to go away, with the union continuing to speak out on the issue “over the next few weeks, as our officers come out with hard and incontrovertible evidence.”

And as for residents or those thinking of moving into a new neighborhood using Compstat numbers to gauge safety, O’Leary had this to say: “Don’t live your life based on numbers like the police department does.”

More Complaints Means…Well, More Complaints

If fewer crimes reported may not mean fewer crimes, what does an increase in complaints about police misconduct mean? According to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, just about anything.

Despite releasing a report in January that showed 5,581 people filed complaints against police officers, an increase of 969 from the previous year, the review board maintains that the numbers don’t necessarily point to widespread police misconduct.

“It’s not a proportional equation.” said Ray Patterson, noting that specific incidents can lead to spikes in complaints, such as anti-war rallies last February. Commissioners on the board have also noted that the introduction of the 311 system for reporting complaints may have also contributed to the increase in complaints.

Christopher Dunn, associate legal director the New York Civil Liberties Union, disagrees. “When complaints over the course of three years increase significantly, that certainly suggests something significant is happening.” Substantiation rates have also increased from year to year.

But Bill Kuntz, a commissioner for the review board, noted during a February meeting(In PDF Format) that during the 1992 “Dirty 30” scandal in which more than 30 officers from the 30th Precinct in Harlem were accused of stealing drugs and cash and taking bribes, complaints about police misconduct were actually going down, citywide and in that precinct.

Kuntz railed against both the police and those from the civil liberties communities who seek to use the numbers as proof of either widespread problems or exemplary performance.

“Life is more complicated than that,” Kuntz said. Of course, the department is currently facing a corruption inquiry focusing on as many as 10 officers accused of taking drug money

Patterson said that the review board simply doesn’t have the resources to undertake the “social science” project to analyze its own data.

So why release the data publicly?

“We’re duty bound by law to report to the mayor,” Patterson said flatly.






























Yes, Welfare Workers Deserve Workforce Protection

 Beginning in 1997, Tammy Auer’s supervisor at the Sanitation Department made inappropriate sexual comments to her, including the suggestion that they have a baby together. Eventually he began to touch her and threaten that he would fire her. When she secured another assignment, he followed her. Auer resigned and filed a complaint with the United States Equal Opportunity Commission, which upheld her charges.

The next year, Tonja McGhee was assigned to do maintenance work at the New York City Housing Authority. For a while, she was engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with her supervisor. When she terminated the relationship, the supervisor falsely reported to higher-ups that McGhee was not doing her work. Following that, he ordered her to undress. McGhee’s complaints were ignored and she, too, filed a complaint with the federal commission. As in Auer’s case, the commission found reasonable cause to accept the truth of the allegations and referred the charges to the United States Department of Justice.

What these women had in common besides their harassment is that they were participating in the city’s “Work Experience Program,” and there was a question whether they were employees or not, and whether they were thus entitled to federal protection when sexually harassed. They were also part of a case that asked the federal courts to decide.

Previous state and federal cases decided that such workers were not in fact employees and therefore not eligible for employee discrimination protection. (See “Do Welfare Workers Deserve Workplace Protection” by Jonathan Rosenbloom, the February 2003 law topic page update for Gotham Gazette.)

But now, In the case of United States of America v. City of New York, the United States Court of Appeals for the 2d Circuit has reversed the lower federal court and decided that women workers who had complained of sexual harassment were indeed entitled to federal protection.

The opinion by Judge Rosemary Pooler said that Work Experience Program workers are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits employment discrimination.

Attorney Timothy J. Casey, of NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, who argued the appeal for the workers said, “It is unusual for the United States Department of Justice and us to take the same position on a civil rights issue, and for the City of New York to take a contrary position.” But that is what happened here.

The parties’ contrary positions turned on whether plaintiffs’ activities constituted employment; the defendants maintain that the answer to that is no. The city argued that the plaintiffs were not employees, were not hired, did not receive wages and were therefore not eligible for the protection of Title VII. In essence, according to the defendants, the aggrieved participants had no remedies and were given no protections by Congress against sex, race or other forms of employment discrimination because they were not employed.

However, the United States Department of Justice and the various named plaintiffs argued that the plaintiffs worked, that their work was a condition of receiving public assistance, that they were paid cash and food stamps, that they received additional benefits such as childcare and transportation amounting to compensation, and that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act applied to them. Federal Judge Pooler wrote, “A plaintiff who unjustifiably refused to work could lose the portion of the family’s grant attributable to her. Thus, each plaintiff had to work in order to receive her share of the family grant. A functional commonsense assessment of the plaintiffs’ alleged relationship with the city results in the conclusion that they were employees.”

The plaintiffs became Work Experience Program workers when previous welfare laws were replaced by the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) , which ended government benefits by “promoting job preparation, work, and marriage.” As political figures commonly described the new laws at the time, “This is the end of welfare as we know it.” In order for a state to receive federal this assistance, it must require work activities in exchange for paying benefits to needy families. In compliance with the new laws and mandates, each of the women in this case sought and accepted a work assignment at a New York City agency -- and each was harrassed:

  • Maria Gonzalez was assigned by the Human Resources Administration to work in its office. There her supervisor began to grope her, to speak to her in an abusive and menacing way, including threatening her life. In 1999 she, too, filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission, which was also referred to the Department of Justice.

  • Theresa Caldwell-Benjamin, an African-American woman, was assigned to the Parks Department on Staten Island. On her first day there, she found a noose hanging in her work area, as well as a racist caricature of black people. Ms. Caldwell-Benjamin, similarly complained to the commission.

  • Norma Colon received a Human Resources Administration assignment as a computer operator. Her supervisor repeatedly commented on the physical characteristics of Colon and other women; he suggested spending the night together at a motel. Because Ms. Colon rejected him, he refused to authorize her childcare and she was forced to leave the work assignment. She, too, complained to the commission and was granted the right to sue.

Shortly after Judge Pooler’s opinion was handed down, the defendant City of New York, represented by Corporation Counsel, petitioned for a rehearing before the full 2nd Circuit bench. Although Judge Pooler’s opinion was not unanimous (one of three appellate judges dissented), such petitions are rarely granted by this court; no decision has been reached. Unless the full court does reconsider the matter and reverses, a trial will be scheduled on the charges and claims for monetary damages. Emily Jane Goodman is a New York State Supreme Court Justice

Pushcart Wars


Community Gazettes, a look at street vendors in:
Banning Street Vendors from Ground Zero
(Lower Manhattan,
Dist. 1)
From Street Vendor To Small Business
(Flatbush, Dist. 40)
Moving Off 125th Street
(Harlem, Dist. 9)

Also, articles by two street vendors in New York City:

• Selling Hotdogs, Getting Ticketed
by Anwar Hussein

• Selling Jewelry, Spending the Night in Jail
by Aeisha

Rich McCormick looked with contempt as a street vendor selling drawings in Times Square tried to talk to a passerby. "Stop bothering him," McCormick snapped, and the vendor backed away.

McCormick, a disabled Vietnam vet, is a street vendor himself, sharing the corner uneasily with several other salesmen of the streets -- the proprietor of a hotdog cart and several men tending tables full of reproduced drawings. McCormick sells five-dollar watches, as he has done for 30 years.

McCormick's outburst at the other vendor came because he was worried that too many pitches would scare the customer away.

But his beef is more general as well. He fully understands why vendors have been the target of much ire, and new legislation. "The problem is these guys," he said pointing to his colleagues; they're clogging up the streets.

The owners of retail stores in the neighborhood feel the same way.

"They're taking away our business and undercutting our prices," Capri Lee, who runs Giftmania on Seventh Avenue near 47th Street, told the New York Post in December. "They don't pay rent, they don't pay taxes, they don't pay anything."

Responding to such complaints, state legislators passed a law this month that bans vending in some of the city's busiest, and most lucrative, street corners. The new law explicitly regulates disabled veterans, who long have been given special exemption from most vending laws. The law also prohibits vending in much of Midtown and in the area around Ground Zero. (See the Community Gazettes story about the vending ban at Ground Zero) The result is a sudden and striking visual change. The large numbers of vendors that lined the streets for the last year are gone.

The law forced McCormick to move from his long-time spot on Seventh Avenue, at 43rd street, but it has not seriously affected him; he only had to move around the corner, to 43rd at Seventh. But that is not the case for other street vendors in the city, who say the changes threaten their livelihood.

To the people on the front lines of the pushcart wars, there are lofty principles involved; it is an often-bitter conflict that pits freedom of speech against freedom of movement, the rights of the disabled against the needs of small business, law versus order, arts versus crafts, good taste versus a good hot dog.


Downtown one day last year, Gretchen Dykstra was offering a load of onions to her customers, one by one, for free.

"The city's vending laws are like an onion," said Dykstra, the city's Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, while each member of the City Council's Consumer Affairs Committee looked at the onions she had given them. "It has many layers, and after a while, one can't help but cry."

The commissioner was offering a much-needed demonstration. In a city with thousands of vendors regulated by three city agencies and a multitude of city and state laws, as well as court decisions on several levels, Dykstra says very few New Yorkers really understand how street vending regulations work.

No one is sure exactly how many vendors there are in the city, but the most common estimate is about 10,000. These vendors fall into a variety of legal categories with different licenses:

Category Number of Licenses Who Licenses and For What
Disabled Veterans 374 Department of Consumer Affairs for non-food merchandise
Veterans 1,304 Non-disabled veterans licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs for non-food merchandise
General Vendors 853 licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs for non-food merchandise
Food Vendors 3,000 by the Department of Health; an additional 1,000 in the summer
Parks Vendors 600 Licensed for food or general merchandise by the parks department in city parks
First Amendment Vendors -- No licenses
Unlicensed Vendors -- No licenses

In 1979, the city capped the number of general vendor licenses and food vendor licenses in the city, and there is a waiting list many years long for one of those licenses to become available Discouraged vendors often set up shop illegally, after finding out that they cannot get a license.

"First Amendment Vendors" are those selling written material and certain types of art. They are permitted to vend in New York City without a permit, because their merchandise is protected under the first amendment.

While some unlicensed vendors sell merchandise that would be legal if they did have a license, the city is concerned that vendors also sell bootleg merchandise, a trade that costs the city $1 billion annually, according to the city comptroller's office.

That there are all these different categories, says Dykstra, makes it difficult for the city to establish a reasonable regulation strategy for street vending. It also divides vendors, setting them against each other and causing them to ignore their common interests.

Surely the most contentious consequence of the hodge-podge of laws and regulations is the odd linking of vendors injured in wars with those protected by the first amendment.

Disabled Veterans

The long history of street peddling in New York City is accompanied by a long history of regulation. As far back as 1691, the city passed a law forbidding 'hucksters' to sell anything on the street until two hours after public markets opened. Vending has been banned completely as long ago as the 1700s, and as recently as the 1940s.

Many such laws passed out of use, but in the early 1990s one gained new life. Citing a Civil War era state law that exempted disabled veterans from all city vending regulations, Joseph Kaswan, a disabled World War II veteran, challenged the city's ban on vendors in Midtown. He won in court.

While vendors saw a new market, storeowners thought the newcomers were crowding the sidewalk and creating competition. Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), organizations that represent business owners in specific neighborhoods , lobbied for restrictions on veterans. Largely because of these efforts, Albany passed a law in 1993 creating two tiers of licenses for disabled veterans: blue licenses, which provided prime access, and yellow licenses, with more restrictions on vending locations. The blue would be awarded based on vending seniority.

First Amendment Vendors

New York State gave licenses to disabled veterans that allowed them to go where other licensed vendors could not. New York City declared that vendors selling certain types of material did not need a license at all.

The idea of freedom of expression first entered into New York City's vending law in the early 1980s, when the city council passed a law, in order to comply with the U.S. Constitution, allowing vendors selling books and other written material to ignore the existing city laws regulating street vending. At the time, the law seemed to be a minor one, since few people sold books on the streets.

As more vendors took advantage of this permission, the city decided to limit the freedom of these so-called first amendment vendors. Instead of giving them free access to any streets, the city said that first amendment vendors could only set up on blocks where at least one licensed vendor was also allowed to do business. Since disabled veterans had access to many places that other vendors did not, the fate of these two groups became intertwined.

Meanwhile, through court actions brought by artists , the definition of what material the city's first amendment law protects has expanded. Vendors selling visual art, including reproductions of original art, do not need a city license; the city also considers DVDs and CDs as first amendment-protected expression, unless they are bootlegged copies of copyrighted material. But those who want to sell jewelry or crafts are told they must get a vending license before hitting the streets.


Starting in March of 2003, the number of vendors in Midtown began to increase dramatically. According to the Times Square Business Improvement District, the number of vendors on Times Square sidewalks rose by 50 percent between April and October, mainly along Seventh Avenue, Broadway, and 42nd Street.

The reason for the increase was that the law limiting the number of disabled veteran vendors had expired, and the nineteenth century law that gave them free reign went back into effect. Veteran vendors rushed back to Midtown, with first amendment vendors in tow.

Lawmakers used the opportunity in having to write a replacement law to try to deal with what they saw as the many problems with vendors. One provision was proposed, for example, that would fingerprint vendors brought in for licensing violations; another would have added extra controls on first amendment vendors.

These added provisions ground the process to a halt. Meanwhile, almost a year passed, with ever-larger numbers of vendors working the Midtown streets.

When the bill was passed, most far-reaching provisions had been removed. The law increased the number of licenses for disabled veterans to vend in Midtown, but banned them from the avenues, and tightened regulations on how a vendor must set up his cart to allow pedestrian flow.

One unrelated provision was also enacted. Since 9/11, heavy foot traffic in Lower Manhattan from tourists visiting Ground Zero attracted large numbers of vendors. The area around Ground Zero -- a box bordered by Broadway on the east, Vesey on the north, West Street on the west and Liberty street on the south -- was also placed off-limit to vendors.

Congestion was cited as the cause for banning vending near Ground Zero, the same logic that is used to restrict street vending elsewhere in the city. But the decision was also made because many felt that it was inappropriate to vend near the site of such tragedy. Because the new law imposes restrictions at least in part to avoid offending people, some art vendors have warned that it sets a dangerous precedent.

"This law was based on the idea that vending might offend somebody, somewhere. Every time I set up I'm offending somebody," said Robert Lederman, the head of the art vendors group A.R.T.I.S.T. "I sell political art."


"A band of flower peddlers infests my neighborhood along Fifth Avenue from 8th Street to 12th Street. They are dirty, defiant, unlicensed peddlers, and the flowers they sell last about twenty minutes," complained Deputy Mayor Henry H. Curran. "I hear many complaints from people who live about there and whose passage along the sidewalk is actually blocked by these peddlers thrusting their wares on passers-by."

Though Curran was speaking in 1938, variants of the same argument are in common use today. Vendors cause congestion, say critics, dirtying up a neighborhood with useless merchandise.

Many of the complaints come from business improvement districts, groups that seem to be in near-constant conflict with street vendors. These groups complain that vendors using the city's busiest sidewalks cause dangerous congestion. But others argue that a comprehensive sidewalk policy -- one addressing street planters, information kiosks, and ever-present scaffolding as similar forms of sidewalk blockage -- would make more sense than blaming vendors for it all.

Complaints of congestion are often accompanied by harsh words directed at vendors themselves, particularly, nowadays, first amendment vendors.

"I sure as hell don't have any place in my heart for the people who took advantage of [disabled veterans]," said Michael O'Connor, of the Alliance for Downtown New York, the business improvement district for Lower Manhattan. "We were really taken aback by the fact that everybody who was selling a comic book or baseball cards, or anything that is loosely protected by the first amendment -- that they were just all over the place."

City Solutions, From Vendor Markets To Increased Fines

Today, city and state officials usually speak in more diplomatic terms. Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, however, was not shy with his disdain for vendors. He grouped them with vandals and panhandlers as the targets of his quality-of-life campaign, earning him the enduring enmity of vendors throughout the city.

Malcolm Shabazz Market

More in Community Gazettes: Harlem: Moving Off 125th Street

Giuliani's quality of life campaign closed streets to vendors, including large-scale removals of vendors from 125th street in Harlem (See Harlem Community Gazettes for related article) and Fulton Street in Brooklyn. As an alternative, the city offered vendor markets, which were located in abandoned lots near their previous spots. Fred Leopold-Hooke, the director of the city's Department of Small Business Services micro-enterprise project, said these markets would keep vendors from congesting streets, while also allowing them to turn themselves into legitimate businesspeople.

While Leopold-Hooke claims success for the program, vendor groups and the Department of Consumer Affairs criticize many of the markets set up as replacement sites for the streets. Markets, they say, have not solved congestion problems, and have hurt vendors economically.

Rejecting one alternative is not the same as creating another, though. Dykstra concedes that the city does not have a clear picture of what needs to be done. The Department of Consumer Affairs is working on a single publication that would clarify the regulations for vendors. In addition, several laws concerning vendors are being considered which would:

  • Increase fines for license violations
  • Regulate first-amendment vendors in city parks
  • Require that vendors keep the areas in which they vend free from litter, including litter that is not their own

The Department of Consumer Affairs sees the freedom of first amendment vendors as the major obstacle to a wider solution to vendor regulation, and says it is considering possible solutions.


In the children's book The Pushcart War, New York's street vendors band together after being accused of clogging city streets, and engage in full-on warfare with the real culprits -- truck drivers. Through military and public relations tactics, the vendors force the truck drivers to compromise on the vendor's terms, fixing the congestion of the streets and earning the admiration of millions of New Yorkers.

In New York today, it's not so easy.

Vendors do feel that they are being unfairly scapegoated, not by a conspiracy among truck drivers, but through the efforts of business improvement districts. Using congestion as an excuse, say vendors, business improvement districts try to remove them because they want to eliminate competition, or because they feel vendors make their neighborhood seem downtrodden.

But because different groups of vendors have different interests, they are often at odds with one another. Some veteran vendors are wary of -- or outright hostile to -- the first amendment vendors; native-born vendors sometimes disparage illegal immigrants; licensed vendors worry that unlicensed vendors make it harder on them.

As a result, the concerns the vendors have in common go unaddressed, according to Sean Basinski, the head of the Urban Justice Center's Street Vendor Project (in pdf format). "Imagine it from the city's perspective," he said. "How can you negotiate with vendors when they are not united?"

Police Harassment

If there is one issue that runs across these lines, though, it is the antagonistic relationship that vendors have with police. The arbitrary way that vending laws are enforced, say vendors, often has a bigger effect on their day-to-day lives than the laws themselves. Practically every vendor has stories about getting tickets from police officers when they felt they were set up legally. Vendors have little trust in officers' respect for the law; many doubt that the police even understand it.

"The police come, sometimes they don't even get out of the van, and they say "let me see your license," said Anwar Hussein a hot-dog vendor on Canal Street who says he got 27 tickets last year. (See "Selling Hot Dogs, Getting Ticketed" by Anwar Hussein) "When we give them the license, they don't ask anything, they just write a ticket." Hussein complains that he receives many tickets for being too close to a store, though he has measured the distance and offers to do so for the police who issue tickets. After presenting a judge with photos of the scene, he said, his tickets are often thrown out.

Prompted by such complaints, the Urban Justice Center and other groups have gotten the police to agree to a meeting this week.

But some vendors have simply resigned themselves to repeated confrontations with police.

Aiesha, who continued to vend even after she was told that even the waiting list for general vendors licenses was closed, says that she is arrested too often to keep track. (See "Selling Jewelry, Spending The Night in Jail") Stories like this prove that the total number of vending licenses should be raised, some say. City officials say that this is not off the table -- though there is no current activity to implement such a plan.

"They keep coming, and coming," says Aiesha, who asked that her last name not be used. "They are asking me for the license, they know I don't have it... They say "you're going to have to come with us", and I say 'Okay, I'll come with you. You do your job, I'll do mine.'"

Though Aiesha has spent countless nights in jail, she says that she loves what she does -- and that her customers seem to love her too.

"Besides," she asks, "can you imagine New York without street vendors?"


Selling Jewelry, Spending the Night in Jail

Also, by another street vendor in New York City:
• Selling Hotdogs, Getting Ticketed
by Anwar Hussein

• Pushcart Wars
by Joshua Brustein

Community Gazettes, a look at street vendors in:
Banning Street Vendors from Ground Zero
(Lower Manhattan,
Dist. 1)
From Street Vendor To Small Business
(Flatbush, Dist. 40)
Moving Off 125th Street
(Harlem, Dist. 9)

I have been vending all my life, starting in Senegal, where I sold clothes, mainly those made in the United States. My dad was doing the traveling; he was bringing the merchandise from here or France, and I was selling it.

When I was first in this country I began vending too, this time making my own jewelry and clothing. I was doing festivals, state to state. I went everywhere on the East Coast, and that was good. But what I was doing, I didn’t have any life; I decided to stop. I said no more traveling.

I began to wonder “what can I do in New York?” I looked for other jobs, but they were asking me for [immigration] papers and I don’t have any. So I think, why not go into the street? I see people in the street and I ask them “what do you need to go to the street?” You just need your ID and everything, so I said let me go.

I went to the Department of Consumer Affairs, and they told me that the list has been closed for ten years. But I needed to make a living; I had to take my chances.

Vending is not that good every day, but you can make $200 a week. Even if that’s not okay, it’s better than nothing. And I’m settled; I can go home every day.

Every day I wake early. I am a Muslim, so I wake up and do my prayers really early in the morning. Monday to Friday I go to the gym by 9:30, do the stairs, or do the bike. Then I go to get my stuff from storage.

By 11:30 AM I get to my spot – 12:30 or 1:00 if it’s really cold. I always work at the same place, because it’s close to my storage, and people know me. People come and buy my things over and over.

It takes me an hour to set up. I like to make it look really nice; make the colors right. I put earrings up on a board, put the rings on the table, the bracelets on one side. I feel really comfortable with it. Even if people don’t buy one day, it makes them think about it, and they come back the next day or over the weekend.

I make my jewelry when I’m on my table. When I’m already set up, I get my chair and I make my jewelry.

If it’s cold, I stay until 8 o’clock at night. If it’s summertime I stay out until 11. I need that money, so I stay out. I wake up really early, I live really far, it takes me one hour to get home, so when I get home, I’m so tired I don’t even eat at night, I just get a bowl of cereal, and that’s all.

Since I don’t have a license, the police lock me up, they take my stuff, and I spend the night in jail. I wouldn’t guess how many times that happens. They keep coming, and coming. They are asking me for the license, they know I don’t have it, and I say ‘I don’t have it.’ They say ‘you’re going to have to come with us’, and I say ‘Okay, I’ll come with you. You do your job, I’ll do mine.’

Still, I love what I’m doing. I don’t feel like changing my job. I ‘m really comfortable with it, and I’m free. I’m my own boss.

Besides, can you imagine New York without street vendors? I go to other cities and there are no street vendors and it’s like they have no life. No sunshine.

Aiesha asked that neither her full name nor the spot where she works be revealed, because she vends without a license and does not have legal immigration status.

Aftermath of the Stansbury Killing

Timothy Stansbury Jr. was buried six days after he was shot and killed by police, but it will take much longer before the controversy surrounding his death can be laid to rest.

After a state grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot Stansbury, police are now faced with the task of rebuilding community relations, even as some city politicians and community leaders see the shooting as proof that major changes need to be made in the police department.

Then, there is the turmoil the shooting has caused among rank-and-file cops, as the 23,000-member Patrolman’s Benevolent Association has called for Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to resign. They are angry that comments Kelly made were unfair to the officer who shot Stansbury.

No Charges

The shooting will not result in homicide or manslaughter charges against the officer, Richard Neri, who shot nineteen-year-old Stansbury on the rooftop of a Brooklyn public housing development. Though Stansbury was unarmed, and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said their appeared to be “no justification” for the shooting within hours after it happened, a grand jury cleared Neri on February 17, part of a trend, say some.

Jurors were reportedly moved by Neri’s tearful testimony that he had been caught by surprise when Stansbury, on his way to a party, opened the door. Neri reportedly also testified that he has no memory of firing the gun.

At a press conference the day after the grand jury’s ruling, Stansbury’s family denounced the ruling.

"That wasn't no accident," Stansbury’s father, Timothy Stansbury Sr., reportedly said. "Officer Neri, you need to come and tell the truth about what happened."

Federal prosecutors announced at the press conference they were beginning a thorough review of the evidence in the shooting. Neri could potentially still face criminal charges that he violated Stansbury’s civil rights. On February 26, several city council members proposed a resolution that would support a federal civil rights probe.

Not All Negative Community Attitudes

The ruling undoubtedly angered many residents in the neighborhood. But police efforts to ingratiate themselves with those living in public housing have not gone unnoticed by Tina Oliver.

“I give them an ‘S’ for satisfactory,” said Oliver, a longtime resident of the Lafayette Gardens public housing development, just a few blocks from the Louis Armstrong Houses where Stansbury was killed.

Though police declined to speak for this article about their efforts to build relationships with tenants in public housing, Oliver said she appreciated things like after-school programs and Christmas parties for children organized by police, who have a headquarters across the street.

Within the New York Police Housing Bureau, there are nine divisions that work to patrol housing developments where more than 700,000 New Yorkers live. Each division has its own community affairs unit, which holds meetings at least once a month with residents in each housing development.

“They’re here to help,” said Oliver.

Change In Procedure?

Two members of the New York City Council, Charles Barron and Bill Perkins, have begun to lobby for a change in police policy, which currently allows guns to be drawn during vertical patrols in public housing. After the shooting, Commissioner Kelly announced that this procedure -- as well as police training -- would be reviewed by a special panel, but he has also said that officers should be able to decide when to draw their guns.

Barron, at a press conference, disagreed. "No officer should be carrying a gun out on the rooftops in our neighborhoods, when you know that is a normal route for passage. And if you are afraid to police us, then get out of our communities and go police a community you feel comfortable in."

Criticizing Kelly

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at the funeral for Stansbury, reportedly said he was speaking for eight million New Yorkers who probably said, "There but for the grace of God, go I."

But many police must empathize more with Officer Neri, an 11-year veteran who had never fired his gun while on duty before shooting Stansbury. The Patrolman’s Benevolent Association has called for the resignation of Commissioner Kelly, citing his public judgment after the shooting.

"The commissioner does not afford the benefit of a doubt to the very police officers who risk their lives to make this city safe," said Patrick Lynch, head of the 23,000-member union.

The decision by the police union to go after Kelly, who recently enjoyed a 70 percent approval rating among New Yorkers, occurred after 400 delegates gave a vote of “no-confidence” in the commissioner. Many of these delegates chanted, “Kelly must go,” at a press conference announcing the PBA’s position.

"The message that commissioner Kelly has sent to New York City police officers is: do your job and risk your life, but you are on your own."

The no-confidence vote may not amount to much. Many have praised Kelly's quick reaction denouncing the shooting, including Mayor Bloomberg, who also criticized the police union.

"We should take a non-confidence vote in the PBA. We have the best police commissioner this city has ever seen. He's done exactly what's right…Cover-ups are not in anybody's interest -- and it's certainly not in the interest of the world's greatest police department not to go out there and be open,” Bloomberg told Newsday.

Neri is currently on modified duty, without a gun or a badge, and may still face police department disciplinary charges.

Internet resources for what you need to know about NYC Crime and Police

The Topic
"Crime/Justice" refers to relationships among criminal activity, the police, the courts and community life.
The Context
The decline in the NYC crime rate may be the greatest story of the decade. But in the wake of the police torture of Abner Louima and the police shooting of Amadou Diallo, the practices of the New York Police Department 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
Julia Vitullo-Martin, a long-time editor and writer on urban affairs, is the former director of the Citizens Jury Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. She is now writing a book entitled The Conscience of the American Jury.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Crime and Justice.

Most New Yorkers probably think that government learned a great deal from September 11 about protecting the city, its symbols, landmarks, and people. The attack's immediate aftermath saw a barrage of reassuring official actions that were military-like in their precision -- securing vital areas, shutting down ground access to the city, and patrolling New York's perimeter from the skies and seas. In the months since, the official presence has withdrawn from the skies and the streets, but most New Yorkers assume hopefully that this retreat masks ongoing work behind the scenes. Citizens have no way of knowing for sure, since all anti-terror operations are secret. For those who agree with the former city official who told Richard Cohen of the Daily News that the September 11 attack meant that "the government let us down," the secrecy is yet another barrier to evaluating government actions.

Most New Yorkers -- 72 percent -- believe another terrorist attack is very or somewhat likely, according to a poll conducted by Blum & Weprin for the Daily News. A plurality of 28 percent speculate that it will probably involve smaller-scale car bombs or suicide-bombers, while 20 percent anticipate the use of biological weapons and 16 percent expect chemical weapons. Still, 72 percent say they feel safer or as safe in the city as anywhere else in the country. Are they right?


September 11 badly damaged public confidence in the federal security agencies -- the FBI and the CIA -- but enhanced confidence in the NYPD, which immediately went onto Omega Alert, its highest state of readiness. Through what Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly calls "target hardening" it has since been able to reduce the number of officers assigned to Omega posts Ă‘not an insignificant matter since some violent crime, including rape, seems to be heading back up.

Nonetheless the New York Police Department has been refocusing the problem-solving strategy that helped reduce violent crime from local crime to terrorism. The strategy's specific elements, according to policing expert George Kelling, are accurate and timely intelligence, rapid deployment, effective tactics, and relentless follow-up and assessment. The media have contained many accounts of both historic and recent federal stone-walling of the NYPD on intelligence, the greatest federal failing, of course, on September 11. All parties now insist publicly that this is a problem of the past.

Perhaps it is. The NYPD is led by a police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, who has far stronger federal security credentials than any previous commissioner. His federal experience helps him in the many instances in which the NYPD tangles with the FBI and the federal Department of Justice over jurisdiction. As Cooper Union historian Fred Siegel says, "In a time in which the distinction between war and crime has narrowed, Kelly has already worked in positions in which he had to deal with this reality. Given that we're a target in New York, it's a huge asset that he's in a good position to make a difference."

Kelly has been aggressive, assigning NYPD personnel to areas that were once exclusively federal -- training some cops abroad, sending brass to the Naval War College, expanding the intelligence office to include foreign terrorism, and setting up a medical office to coordinate with federal agencies and the city's Department of Health on biological weaponry.

He has brought in high-level people with federal experience. He hired Ret. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti as Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism to head a new division on counterterrorism and to direct the department's work with the FBI/NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force. The idea is to ensure cooperation and flow of information between the agencies Ă‘not a strength in the past. Libutti oversees the new Terrorism Security and Analysis Section, which conducts comprehensive security assessments of terrorist threats in the city. An Incident Response Team has been set up to respond to requests for assistance at suspected terrorist events. Kelly also hired a former top CIA operative, David Cohen, as the new Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence. Both deputies report directly to Kelly, who also established a new position of medical adviser to coordinate with the Department of Health.

How effective are these measures? We're unlikely to know unless -- probably until -- there is another attack. Over the last decade, the city has been the target of at least three other known terrorist plots: the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center; the 1993 plot to bomb the United Nations and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels; and the 1997 plan to bomb the subways. New York remains the symbol of capitalism and Western culture, and a target.


Even before September 11 New Yorkers had become accustomed to security measures deterring the common thug: metal detectors, photo IDs, bag searches, checks of electronic equipment. The devices are often primitive and the training of the personnel poor, but routine security checks have prevented at least some crime and perhaps some terrorism. The future, however, lies with high-tech solutions that are independent of human judgment, such as new sensing machines that can detect biologic agents, explosives, suspicious voids in truck cargo, or weapons hidden on someone a distance away. Private companies tend to be way ahead of government in spending the millions of dollars these machines cost.

The other set of measures are what the security trade calls Israeli tactics -- traffic-stopping checkpoints, street closings, intrusive questioning, random identification checks, intimate searches, and racial profiling. These are ostensibly meant to deter crime, but they are also meant to remind the public often and aggressively of the presence of terrorists and to get the public to accept the authority of the police and military. The inconvenience that accompanies these tactics is deliberate.

Giuliani's NYPD actually introduced a few of these ideas, such as the traffic-stopping checkpoints that were ostensibly for drunk-driving or seat-belt use. His 1998 pedestrian-controlling concrete barriers are another Israeli tactic, a re-engineering to encourage people to go only where they are directed and to accustom the public to accepting restrictions on their movements.

Street closings, immensely disruptive to the city's business and psyche, are increasingly being insisted on by powerful interests, including the federal government. The main federal building in Lower Manhattan, 26 Federal Plaza, has always had security problems. It houses the FBI field office that has investigated many terror plots. It houses the Immigration and Nationalization Service. Lines of anxious immigrants with federal applications snake around the building during peak periods. In late 2000, the General Service Administration installed barriers and posts and hired additional guards. Some federal officials are now urging the closing-off of Broadway(the main artery downtown), Centre Street (which leads to the Brooklyn Bridge), and Worth Street.

The public has very limited access now to most government buildings in New York. The new federal courthouse, for example, is blocked by a huge hydraulic truck barrier. Police headquarters, never really accessible since it was built during the Lindsay administration, has a 24-hour guard out front. Visitors must go through three checkpoints, carrying a government-issued photo I.D.

One bright spot on this glum governmental scene, however, is City Hall, which Mayor Bloomberg has re-opened to political events. press conferences and peaceful gatherings . They are again allowed on the steps of City Hall, as they had been from the early 19th century until the Giuliani administration.

And it's not just public buildings that have internal checkpoints and external barriers. Ugly concrete bolsters are being installed in front of otherwise handsome new buildings, like the Jewish Community Center on the West Side. The elegant glass, iron, and greystone building would be a beauty, if its exterior were not marred by white and yellow blocks of junky concrete, looking as if a sloppy contractor forgot to take them home.


Much as it will seek to protect itself, New York will only be safe insofar as others protect it as well. The plane that flew into the World Trade Center took off from Logan Airport in Boston, an airport that the Federal Aviation Administration has repeatedly cited for safety violations. Everyone wants whatever went wrong at Logan Airport in Boston fixed. But what was it that failed? And will the FAA's new proposals and restrictions on passengers work? Are tactics like the FAA's ban on steak knives in first class or the abolition of curbside checking effective? Certainly neither would have prevented the hijackings.

Mary Schiavo, former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation, argues that aviation security is a law enforcement function, and belongs with a law enforcement agency, not the FAA. Law enforcement officials would be far less ready to listen to concerns about the weight of new cockpit doors (additional weight would affect the cost of every flight), or the extra costs of sky marshals or deputized pilots.

New York has an acute interest in these issues, and in all matters having to do with its air space. In May the FAA announced that its ban on flights by small planes and helicopters over key American cities had been lifted. Planes could return to flying under visual flight rules without asking permission to enter a city's airspace, or identifying themselves to FAA regional or local controllers.

Even before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, local officials had often been at odds with the FAA, which maintains that all small aircraft should be able to fly low, with no restrictions, over major cities and national monuments. This is in part because the FAA's role is to promote the aviation industry Ă‘not police or regulate it beyond preventing collisions. They argue that flying freely anywhere in the country is a basic American right and expectation. As an FAA representative said at a community meeting in Manhattan, the same rules that apply over Kansas wheat fields apply to flying over New York City.

There is little doubt but that Al Qaeda intends to use small planes to attack more targets. Plans to pack a corporate jet with explosives were found in a German apartment rented by suspected Al Qaeda terrorists. Cell members in the U.S. trained at flight schools, obtained small-plane pilot licenses, and sought to rent crop dusters. The FBI renewed its warning about air attacks in early July.

Even the FAA concedes that some landmarks may be vulnerable. Deferring to its sister federal agency, the National Park Service, the FAA in late June banned flights near the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and the St. Louis Gateway Arch during the July 4 holidays. The Statue of Liberty ban will continue through September 30, and forbids any plane from flying below 1,500 feet within a 6,000-foot radius of the statue.

These bans may be comforting to some, but they are not significant security measures because the FAA has no air police to stop a plane violating its rules. It can only suspend the pilot's license and levy a fine. The NYPD, though it has an aviation unit and some older helicopters, has no official enforcement role or authority in the air over the city.

Anyone with a license can rent a plane at many of the approximately 2000 general aviation airfields within a short flight of New York. Few of these have more than the most minimal security. Pilot licenses, which are easily forged and carry no photos, are seldom verified. Planes, which can fly into these fields from almost anywhere in the US, are not inspected before departure. Helicopters do not even need an airport for departureÑand in any case can stop anywhere to pick up anything.

So long as New York's skies are open, the city is undefended. An attacker boarding an airplane at LaGuardia faces far more government inspection than one flying a plane at 700 feet across 42nd Street.

Sites For Beginners:

  • New York Police Department - Hokey design but good substance, particularly the feature that allows you to check out your own neighborhood. The department has begun posting crime figures for each of the city's 76 police precincts on both its own and City Hall's official websites. Precinct maps show where crimes have recently been committed. One drawback: the only official you can email is the commissioner. Still, that's better than nothing--if the commissioner reads and answers his email. Let us know what happens when you try.
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation, Unit for Crime Reports- The FBI's uniform crime reports are the nation's most useful tracking system for both violent crimes (murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) and property crimes (burglary, larceny and theft, car theft, and arson.)
  • Vera Institute of Justice - Vera is a nonprofit organization, founded in 1961, that works collaboratively with government officials to develop innovative approaches to problems and to improve the quality of urban life both here and abroad. It is currently working with both the New York City and New York State police departments to strengthen police accountability through civilian complaint review, community policing, and computerized management systems.

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