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Friday, February 29, 2008

Reclaiming Newark

On Tuesday, the City of Newark ended a 43 day streak without a single homicide, the longest stretch in decades, while other indicators of violent crime like shootings and rapes are down as well. The New York Times carried a feature article on the issue yesterday, profiling the reactions by the city's homicide squad, chief of police Garry F. McCarthy, and Mayor Cory Booker, and debating whether the streak could be just random luck or the real thing: results of improved policing strategies and the beginning of a turnaround.

“We are seeing the result of all that work, and all that activity,” Mr. Booker said. “The trend line is heading in the right direction.”

Also, this map is worth a look. View three years worth of New York City homicide statistics for each borough displayed on a Google Map. The majority of homicides are concentrated in a few areas. If you click on any single marker, you can view the age, race and gender of victims and suspects, as well as the date and exact location, as well as suspected motive.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ticker Tape Parade

I just have to post this Newsday photograph of Bronx Community Solutions staff member Danny Abriano (in the white jersey) at the ticker tape parade for the upset Superbowl XLII champion New York Giants, in Manhattan's famous Canyon of Heroes.

Nutrition for Underserved Communities

Last summer this blog reported on the opening of a new farmers market in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx at 138th and Cypress Avenue. Recently, a study published in American Journal of Public Health shows that vouchers that permit low-income women to shop at a local farmers’ market increase fruit and vegetable consumption in poor families. Rules for the federally-funded WIC program are being changed so that more purchases of fruits and vegetables will be allowed under the program.

Now, the New York Times reports on a new initiative proposed by the City to license a fleet of 1000 fruit and vegetable carts that would operate in sections of the city where people in very low income neighborhoods currently consume very little fresh produce. (Additional coverage in the Daily News). The proposal immediately drew opposition from trade groups representing Korean-owned small groceries, citing unfair competition. Representatives from those groups did acknowledge that there were few options for fresh produce in parts of Uppper Manhattan and the Bronx that would be affected by the program, but stated that “Eventually,” Mr. Park said, “they’ll find out the reason why there are no grocery stores where they are. And sooner or later, they’ll be tempted to move to where there are other grocery stores,” implying that there are reasons businesses don't want to operate in certain neighborhoods. For additional coverage of community reactions on the issue, Read More.

Recently I had a chance to ask a community activist from Central Brooklyn who's hoping her organization will open its own farmers market what she thought of the plan. Her organization is nuetral on the idea, but her main insight was that this plan would be most succesful in hispanic neighborhoods. "This kind of thing is something people are used to in Latin American countries."

And, in the Daily News' "Voice of the People" section, one reader had this to say: "Fresh fruit and vegetable wagons and carts used to be very common. You would hear the fruit man calling out the goods he had and the prices. "String beans, 10 cents a pound," he might say. String beans don't sell for 10 cents a pound anymore, and people don't buy their produce at curbside either. If there were people who wanted to buy produce from a street vendor, there would probably be plenty of street vendors already out there selling to them."

Here is a summary of some other efforts across the country to increase the supply of fresh food markets in underserved communities. Finally, don't miss this humorous video documentary about the staple of Bronx diets: the Bodega (mildly offensive language).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


In a "Leaders" editorial the current issue of the Economist magazine asks the question, "Why does business succeed on the web, while government mostly fails?" Governments have managed "I-Government," putting public information on the web, but mostly failed at "E-Government," using the interactivity and speed of intenet to provide public services. The editorial makes convincing points about what dynamics are at play, and what strategies might be successful. The piece captions a special report on technology and government in the same issue, an 18 page feature profiling all the latest developments.

The Murky World of Police Informants

My latest article in the Gotham Gazette explores the topic of police informants. Narcotics detectives in Brooklyn sparked a scandal last year when they paid informants with cocaine, clearly breaking the law. But even when police follow regulations, dealing with informants raises a host of concerns. To read the full article, click here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More Than A Bird's Eye View, Part II

Several interesting developments are afoot. Mayor Bloomberg recently announced plans for online access to 311 data, and a "digital 911" (the idea is that citizens can take a camera phone picture of a crime in progress and send it directly to the NYPD). Sites like "Holla Back" use the internet to channel public outrage over harrasment of women on the subway. And on Google, features like MyMaps and Streetview are enhancing the power of online maps: millions of users are adding their own content to create a growing Geoweb. All of this makes it easier for citizens with access to the internet to find out what's going on in their neighborhood and communicate with others.

Now, another online resource. I recently discovered a website that makes it possible to sort through new building permits, building violations, business reviews, crime reports, pending and completed graffiti cleanings, landmark building permits issued, liquor licenses, news articles, Flikr photos, restaurant inspections, even lost and found postings and "missed connections," by neighborhood, zip code, or Precinct. View the Bronx section of Every Block NYC.

Update (02/22/2008): Every Block NYC is trying to include up to date crime data, but hitting some obstacles. From Wonkster (Gotham Gazette): Police No Help For Crime Map Project.

As amatuer activists and journalist build an ever growing online repository of neighborhood information, photos, and maps, the can get into trouble sometimes. People might wonder why you're taking pictures! "People are being stopped, harassed, and even intimidated into handing over their personal property simply because they were taking photographs of subjects that made other people uncomfortable." Here's a downloadable PDF "Know your rights" pamphlet on the subject.

Graffiti Wars

More from the war of words over graffiti. According to this article in the Brooklyn Star Ledger, Queens Councilman (and aspiring mayoral candidate) Peter Vallone is demanding that Arizona Beverage Company discontinue it's "All City" beverage line, which he says glorifies graffiti, and that New York City stores should pull the products from their shelves. Says Vallone, "Graffiti is on the rise again because corporations like this continue to glorify it." Also check out the Brooklyn Star/Queens Ledger Blogspot - the online publication of eight local newspapers covering Brooklyn and Queens. In a related story, the Star reports that Arizona-based "O.G. Nation" will change it's name to "Hall of Fame Beverages, Inc." after critics including Queens Councilman Leroy Comrie charged that the company's moniker promoted gang culture.

According to Razor Apple, a blog devoted to New York City arts, culture and happenings that celebrates graffiti, street art, and urban culture, Ellis G is suing the city for false arrest after he was detained for making sidewalk chalk drawings (which is not illegal). Also from Razor Apple, recent news about an NYPD deployment of their "Skywatch" mobile surveillence tower in Crown Heights.

For a compilation of posts on Changing the Court about the topic of graffiti, including project updates, click here.

Gaurdian: Seeing Justice Being Done

Britain's Minister of Justice, Jack Straw, just returned from a visit to the Red Hook Community Justice Center and published this editorial in the Gaurdian, in which he argues that "Courts should be accessible and should make a visible difference to the daily lives of the local community, including offenders." The online version generated a lot of reader discussion.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bringing in the Community

Veteran dean of alternative journalism and third-party politics Sam Smith recently reported on the latest developments in the community justice movement for the online edition of the Progressive Review, in a post entitled "Bringing the Community Into Law and Order." The post covers problem-solving justice news from New York, California, Vancouver, the UK, and other related items.

You can view other urban affairs related news from the Progressive Review City Planning, Transportation, and Urban Affairs Archive. For some highlights of interest to community justice advocates, Read More. A green homeless shelter

'"You'll wake up here and feel good because it's an environment that is healthy. We are asking our people to deal with some heavy issues, so it is best that we support their health," said Wendy Jackson, executive director of the East Oakland Community Project. "Many of the clients are ill, about 60 percent are ill, often with chronic diseases of asthma, diabetes, so we wanted to do whatever we can to make this as healthy an environment as possible," she said. The building, with high windows for natural light and walls painted with a green paint that does not emit toxins, has an airy, good feel to it.'
Preserving Culture and Community as well as we do History, By Sam Smith, and the The Great Neighborhood Book, By Jay Walljasper
Abandoned lots and litter-strewn pathways, or rows of green beans and pockets of wildflowers? Graffiti-marked walls and desolate bus stops, or shady refuges and comfortable seating? What transforms a dingy, inhospitable area into a dynamic gathering place? How do individuals take back their neighborhood? Neighborhoods decline when the people who live there lose their connection and no longer feel part of their community. Recapturing that sense of belonging and pride of place can be as simple as planting a civic garden or placing some benches in a park.

The Great Neighborhood Book explains how most struggling communities can be revived, not by vast infusions of cash, not by government, but by the people who live there. The author addresses such challenges as traffic control, crime, comfort and safety, and developing economic vitality. Using a technique called "placemaking"-- the process of transforming public space -- this exciting guide offers inspiring real-life examples that show the magic that happens when individuals take small steps, and motivate others to make change. Jay Walljasper is a Senior Fellow of Project for Public Spaces (PPS), whose mission is to create and sustain enriching public places that build communities. He is a former editor of Utne Reader and currently Executive Editor of Ode Magazine.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Daily News: Graffiti Still a Problem

This article from the Daily News reports that arrests in the Bronx for graffiti charges were up in 2008. Bronx Community Solutions Advisory Board member and 45th Precinct Community Council President Frank Fitts is interviewed, and Bronx Community Solutions is mentioned.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Pyramid of Risk

“The fact that most youth don’t get arrested, even in the poorest neighborhoods, means that traditional thinking about risk factors needs to be stood on its head”, said Karl Bertrand, the founder and President of Program Design and Development, LLC., an agency that helps public and private organizations develop effective and innovative programs. Click Here to read more.

I heard Mr. Bertrand and many others speak at a conference this week sponsored by the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) for reducing youth violence. Over 400 individuals from across the country were in attendance along with over two dozen speakers to address issues surrounding youth crime and prevention. I was there with a handful of others from the Center for Court Innovation looking to bring ideas back to the Bronx.

This would seem like an easy task at a three-day conference, however new ideas can often go in one ear and come out the other. The one that did resonate, however, was Mr. Bertrand’s “Evidence-Based Targeting” (EBT). EBT focuses on prioritizing risk factors to determine which have the greatest impact on preventing youth crime. Common risk factors include being a male of color, having an arrest history, cutting school excessively and living in poverty. The reality is however, that thousands of young people experience at least one if not several of these risk factors and yet not all of them are getting arrested. “Why?” Mr. Bertrand asked the audience.

The answer is that although they are all risk factors, the affect they have individually varies greatly. Being a young Black man from a low-income neighborhood does not predestine you to a life of criminality. Being poor does not mean you will end up in jail or even that there is a good chance you will get arrested. In Yonkers, where Mr. Bertrand’s agency is located, only 1 in 29 youth aged 7-15 will be arrested within the next three years and among the 20% of residents that live in poverty, only 1 in 23 youth are likely to be arrested. What this tells us is that poverty alone is not much of a risk factor and with community programs often working with limited resources, it is important to be efficient and not waste money and time on an overly general target population that is not collectively at great risk.

“Rather”, suggests Mr. Bertrand, “find out what factors do greatly increase the chance of teenagers getting arrested and focus your resources on targeting that population”. Illustrated by a chart he calls the “Pyramid of Risk”, cutting school, being suspended or a combination of the two are risk factors that much more often lead to youth crime than some of its competitors. According to the Yonkers Juvenile Crime Enforcement Coalition and data from the 2000 census, of the 6,612 individual’s age 10-14 living in poverty in Yonkers, only 7% were arrested within three years. Contrastingly, of the 709 students in grades 7-8 with more than twenty unexcused absences from school, 21% were arrested and of the students in grades 6-8 with more than twenty absences and at least one suspension, 61% were arrested. The message from the data is clear: Youth who are excessively absent from school have a much greater chance of getting arrested than those who attend regularly, regardless of income. By targeting the right population, programs can conserve time, funding and avoid combing through the hundreds and thousands of other individuals who fall into a general target population, but aren’t necessarily at high risk of being arrested.

Although the Juvenile Accountability Court works with adolescents who have already been arrested and placed on probation, many of the risk factors are still applicable to our population. Our youth are mostly African American and Latino males who reside in poor Bronx neighborhoods; several of them come from households with limited resources and several of them are chronically absent from school. Additionally, just because they are on probation does not mean they cannot get rearrested. Applying the lessons from Yonkers’ Evidence-Based Targeting, it would make sense to focus more energy and resources on the probationers who fail to attend school regularly or at least design our own “Pyramid of Risk” where we determine which risk factors affect our kids, teenagers who have already been arrested and are on probation, the most.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Bronx Crime Reports

Four recent crime-related items from the Bronx: a string of muggings in the Longwood section, an NYPD crackdown on drag racing on the Hutchinson and the Thruway, two teens apprehended for a string of subway robberies on the 6 train, and a profile on the officers of the Bronx violent felonies warrant squad, with a photo essay. All the Crime related stories from the Daily News are compiled on this page.

Monday, February 04, 2008

City Council: Congestion Pricing Good for South Bronx

Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem and the South Bronx, endorses Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal in a Metro News editorial today, citing revenue generation for mass transit funding and improved air quailty as paramount interests for her district. I liked this quote:

"We are automatically skeptical when business interests and politicians from outside our communities claim to be watching out for us — because nine times out of 10, they’re doing just the opposite."

Friday, February 01, 2008

News from around the region

I thought I would end the week with a round-up of items of local interest from around the tri-state region.

The shooting death of an off-duty Mount Vernon police officer in White Plains by Westchester County police on Jan. 25 has been a developing story all week, centered around a confrontation with a homeless man outside the County Department of Social Services offices on Main Street and rising tensions as the downtown area undergoes fast-paced real estate development. Latest in the Journal-News here and coverage in the New York Times here.

This profile of Newark, NJ mayor Cory Booker appeared in the New Yorker magazine this week. It provides a good look at the interesting city of Newark and analyzes generational transition in black urban political leadership. This passage, quoting veteran political operative Carl Sharif, stood out to me:

"There are certain messages that the community has to have. Certain things you have to say whether people want to hear them or not. But, you see, if you offend people if you offend their sensibilities, they won't vote for you. So you can't say to people, 'Look, my sanitation department is not throwing trash on the ground. You are! The community. You're throwing trash on the ground. Stop throwing crap out of your cars, put your garbage in garbage cans. Stop walking down the steet, unwrapping wrappers and just dropping stuff on the ground, and then calling City Hall and complaining about it. Clean up!'"
For more reporting on community justice related developments in Newark, read here and here.

Finally, the current issue of the Norwood News features interesting maps of 2007 crime statistics for the 52 Precinct. For more on New York City's crime numbers read here and for more on uses of mapping in law enforcement and community justice read here. For links to sources for local Bronx news, read here.