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NYC officials detail fight on public housing crime

Residents of the Wagner Houses shake hands with

Residents of the Wagner Houses shake hands with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as he arrived at their community center to announce a $210.5 million citywide plan to make neighborhoods safer and reduce violent crime in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

City officials are investing $210 million in NYPD patrols, exterior lighting and other measures to combat crime at public housing developments, targeting 15 complexes that have accounted for 20 percent of the New York City Housing Authority's violent crime, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.

Light towers will be erected, sidewalk sheds removed because they can double as criminal hiding spots and community center hours extended to keep young residents engaged, the mayor said. The changes come on top of previous pledges to devote 700 more officers to public housing, install additional surveillance cameras, and fix and improve door locks.

Though crime rates are lower citywide since de Blasio took office on Jan. 1, shootings in public housing developments are up by 31 percent. Among the 15 complexes getting new resources is the Boulevard Houses in Brooklyn's East New York neighborhood, where a boy was fatally stabbed last month.

"This is not a short-term promise from the city, but a commitment for the long haul," City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said at the news conference at East Harlem's Wagner Houses that was attended by the mayor and about a dozen other elected officials.

There are 334 public housing developments citywide, with 400,000 residents.

The 200 police officers who will be shifted from desk duty to street patrol -- as set in a budget compromise last month between the mayor and the council -- will be assigned to public housing. Civilians will be hired to take over the office tasks, at a cost of $21.4 million.

City officials previously announced they are sparing NYCHA from $122 million in policing bills so those funds can be used for repairs and maintenance. Tuesday, they said they will also spend $50 million on physical improvements, $1.5 million for exterior lighting and $15.6 million to expand community programs.

The NYPD will make wellness checks and otherwise try to improve community relations to show residents "we're not just out there to arrest people," NYPD Chief of Housing Carlos Gomez said.

Asked whether his pullback on the Michael Bloomberg administration's stop-and-frisk policing tactic has led to higher crime, de Blasio said no. Stop-and-frisk is now used more "judiciously," with a higher arrest rate, he said.

Myrna Santiago, 57, who was born and raised in the Wagner Houses, said the 150 light towers to be installed in 15 NYCHA complexes will go a long way to deter crime.

"The main issue is lighting," she said. "We do need better lighting."

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