D.A. Talks Progress At Breakfast With Pols
Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown briefed city, state and federal elected officials from Queens at his annual legislative breakfast held last Friday, Feb. 8, at the prosecutor’s Kew Gardens offices.
The public safety briefing highlighted key accomplishments and major initiatives of the past year, as well as the difficult challenges facing the office in the year ahead.
Brown said that “2012 was a year in which Queens County was once again among the city’s leaders in crime reduction … A year in which we, as prosecutors, once again contributed greatly to New York City’s historic decline in serious crime through our law enforcement initiatives and the utilization of cuttingedge intervention and prevention programs-which, in turn, have created safer neighborhoods for our residents.”
The historical trend in index crimes-such as, homicide, rapes, robberies, felony assaults, burglaries, and grand larcenies-continued its downward spiral when index crimes in 2012 were compared with index crimes in 1993. For example, there has been a 69.8 percent decline in murders, a 41.2 percent decline in rapes, a 75.5 percent decline in robberies, a 41.3 percent decline in felony assaults, a 78 percent decline in burglaries and a 50.7 percent decline in grand larcenies.
“Without a doubt, these figures offer clear and compelling evidence that our law enforcement initiatives continue to have a profound impact in making Queens County one of the safest counties not just in the city but in the nation,” Brown said.
As further evidence, the district attorney cited a recent statistical report issued by the Mayor’s office on the functioning of New York City’s criminal justice system, which concluded that Queens continued to lead the city in many significant categories. They include the following:
– Queens has the best arrest to arraignment time in the city-and the highest percentage of cases arraigned within 24 hours;
– Queens has the highest conviction rate in the city both for felony arrests (69 percent) and for violent felony arrests (64 percent);
– In Queens, 76 percent of defendants arrested for illegal possession of a loaded firearm were sentenced to prison-the highest percent of any county in the city (overall, across the five boroughs, only 50 percent were sentenced to prison); and
– Queens sent 61 percent of its Operation Spotlight defendants-its most persistent misdemeanor offenders- to jail, second only to Manhattan with 63 percent.
At the same time, Queens stood out in the city’s report for its use of drug treatment and mental health courts with the second highest number of new cases handled by those courts in the city.
Overall, the Queens District Attorney’s Office maintains an array of alternative sentencing programs that divert criminal defendants from a traditional sentencing structure toward mandatory treatment for behavioral issues that motivate criminal behavior.
“We also have dedicated Child Advocacy and Family Justice Centers and a Domestic Violence Bureau that maintains the highest domestic violence conviction rate and the lowest dismissal rate in the city and which takes more pre-indictment pleas than the rest of the city combined,” said Brown. “In addition, our Special Prosecutions Division runs a host of crime prevention, school-based and community outreach programs.”
The D.A.’s office continues to be a national leader in the number of court-authorized wiretaps. According to the most recent wiretap report, Queens did more than 12 percent of the non-federal wires in the entire country-more than any other jurisdiction. In nearly 22 years, the office, with one exception which is now under appeal, has never had any one of its wires controverted.
Brown went on to tell the elected officials and their staff how his Investigations Division conducted “many significant long term investigations over the past year into criminal enterprises throughout Queens County-criminal enterprises that prey upon our residents. We have consistently brought major cases and have successfully taken down white collar enterprises involved in identity theft, credit card fraud, mortgage fraud, auto theft, insurance fraud and illegal gambling.”
“Particularly telling is our auto theft number,” he added. “In 1991, my first year as district attorney, we had some 52,000 cars reported stolen here is Queens County. Last year that number was 2,694.”
Reducing gun violence in the county continues to be among Brown’s major priorities: “In December 2012, five individuals were charged in connection with illegal firearms trafficking in Southeast Queens. Twenty revolvers and semiautomatic firearms were allegedly purchased during the investigation. This operation followed a successful August gun buyback program in which 509 weapons were collected over a six-hour period. Among the weapons recovered were an AK 47, a Tec-9, a Calico 9mm with a 50 round magazine, 245 revolvers, 168 semiautomatic pistols and five sawed-off shotguns.”
Another priority of the District Attorney’s office is sex trafficking. “Since the enactment of New York State’s Sex Trafficking statute in 2007, we have been in the forefront of efforts to use the stature to protect trafficking victims-many of whom were underage runaways as young as 13 and 14 years old- and bring their traffickers to justice,” said Brown.
“My office is proud to have brought the first indictment in New York State and obtained the first conviction in New York State for sex trafficking,” he added. “To date, eight individuals have been convicted of sex trafficking, and all have received state prison sentences. Another seven individuals are under indictment for sex trafficking and their cases are pending.”
The district attorney also told lawmakers about initiatives aimed at protecting Queens residents, including its immigrant and elderly populations, against frauds targeting them in this economic downturn.
“Because Queens County is the most diverse county in the nation, we make a special effort to protect people who are new to this country and may be more vulnerable to deception. Last year we obtained a felony conviction against a Queens woman who targeted the Latino community in Queens with a ‘Ponzi’ scheme and bilked 30 people out of their life saving s by pretending to invest the money in a corporation that bought and sold real estate and offered above-market returns on it,” Brown said. “The woman was ultimately sentenced to three to nine years in prison.”
The public safety briefing also touched on Hurricane Sandy, with Brown telling the assemblage that, as of Jan. 28, a total of 23 individuals have been charged with looting in Far Rockaway right after Hurricane Sandy swept through the peninsula. Of that total, six have pleaded guilty (all to the top count), 11 individuals have been indicted, three are presently awaiting indictment and the grand jury voted no true bill on the remaining three cases.
Brown said, “I am optimistic that by continuing the very successful strategies that we have employed in recent years we, together with our law enforcement colleagues, can make Queens County even safer in 2013.”
The district attorney concluded his remarks to the officials with a request for help, declaring, “Programs such as these, as well as other innovative initiatives and the use of new technology, have revolutionized the prosecution of criminal cases-and have helped in quickly exonerating individuals who have been mistakenly arrested. But the bottom line is that we need you-more than ever before-to help us to get the resources necessary to continue to reduce the level of violence within the County and improve the quality of the lives of our residents.”