Queens Borough President and District Attorney candidate Melinda Katz held a conference on Tuesday to present her plan to use the office to fund programs aimed at reducing gun violence.
With two weeks until the Queens DA election, Katz joined a group of clergy and at-risk youth leaders predominantly from southeastern Queens to call for a collaborative response to the borough’s spike in gun violence over the past year.
“It’s critical for the Queens District Attorney’s office to become a community partner. The centerpiece of our plan up here today is to implement guns as a public health issue and to treat it as such–to treat violence as a contagious disease, one that can effectively be treated and prevented,” said Melinda Katz.
Katz said that as DA she would use the office’s criminal asset forfeiture funds on the organizations that run job trainings, mentorship programs, drug treatment programs, mental health services, re-entry programs, and after school programs.
According to NYPD CompStat data, the number of shooting victims in Queens increased from 117 to date in 2018 to 127 victims in 2019. The biggest jump in this number, however, did not occur in southeast Queens but in the northern half of the borough where the victims went from 33 in 2018 to 42 this year.
Katz said that she would use what she deemed a “public health response” to these statistics, meaning she would try to reduce arrests through funding mentorship and advocacy work in high-risk communities.
In addition to more engagement and funding for faith- and community-based organizations, Katz said that her approach would include longer sentences for gun traffickers, a 24/7 gun-buyback program, and increased training for law enforcement and school officials on the use of Red Flag laws to take guns from individuals who they consider to be a threat to themselves or others.
Besides cracking down on gun traffickers, Katz focused mostly on preventive efforts instead of prosecution. In her speech, she did not make mention of how she would prosecute weapons possession charges — an area that has proven controversial for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
In approaching weapons charges, Gonzalez has made prominent use of diversion programs, an option which permits certain offenders to plead guilty and join a community programs instead of going to jail.
When asked by QNS how much she plans to use diversionary plans in response to weapons charges, Katz said that she believed the primary problem facing the office was not illegal possession but gun trafficking, although she showed support for such programs
“I am a true believer in diversionary programs, especially for low-level criminal activity,” Katz said. “But the Cure Violence groups, the mentorship groups, the workforce development programs–all the programs we provide–we need to figure out how to get people into those programs so even if they have a violation, or if they’re arrested for illegal weapons, they don’t do it again.”