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Bloomberg: Fingerprint NYCHA residents

Stephon Johnson | 8/22/2013, 9:15 a.m. | Updated on 8/22/2013, 9:15 a.m.
New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Houses Photo by Bill Moore

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is nothing if not bold. Other New Yorkers might have some other choice words to call him after his latest comments.

In a further attempt to fight crime, Bloomberg suggested last week that residents at New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) complexes be fingerprinted in order to make them safer. While responding to questions about the federal court’s ruling of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics as unconstitutional, the mayor explained his idea.

“Five percent of our population lives in NYCHA housing, 20 percent of the crime is in NYCHA housing–numbers like that,” said Bloomberg. “And we’ve just got to find some way to keep bringing crime down there. And we have a whole group of police officers assigned to NYCHA housing.

“The people that live there, most of them, want more police protection,” continued Bloomberg. “They want more people. If you have strangers walking in the halls of your apartment building, don’t you want somebody to stop and say, ‘Who are you, why are you here?’”

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. jumped right into the fray and called the city out for not addressing what he felt were more pressing needs regarding security in public housing.

“Numerous NYCHA developments are waiting for much needed security upgrades, such as cameras, which have yet to be installed, despite the money being available,” said Diaz in a statement. “The agency is sitting on $50 million in funds earmarked for critical repairs. If the city really wants to make our public housing developments safer, they should stop dragging their feet on these security improvements and repairs.”

“Mayor Bloomberg’s off-hand proposal to fingerprint all NYCHA residents treats public housing residents as if they were criminals,” said mayoral candidate and City Comptroller John Liu. “If he were serious about building security, he would press NYCHA to install more security cameras, which are long overdue. Also, given the administration’s lousy record on technology, a program to install fingerprint scanners in NYCHA housing could very well become another boondoggle like the scandal-plagued CityTime. What a terrible idea.”

Mayoral candidate and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio followed suit.

“Once again, Mayor Bloomberg has resorted to presuming innocent people are guilty simply because they happen to live in certain areas, and in doing so, he is stigmatizing entire communities,” said de Blasio. “Fingerprinting people just for entering NYCHA buildings will achieve little more than to further embitter tens of thousands of innocent people who have done nothing wrong and who have earned the suspicion of the police for their trouble.

“This won’t catch bad guys or reduce crime; it will drive neighbors and the police even further apart at the exact moment we need to bring them closer together to keep our streets safe,” concluded de Blasio.

Communities United for Police Reform, an organization that has long taken Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and City Hall to task for alleged police misconduct, sent the AmNews a statement that cited the need for the City Council to override Bloomberg’s veto of the Community Safety Act.

“Mayor Bloomberg’s comments about fingerprinting people entering NYCHA buildings are highly insulting, and his insistence that some people in the city do not deserve the same level of civil rights as others unfortunately no longer comes as a shock,” said Joo-Hyun Kang of Communities United for Police Reform. “His comments only reinforce the dire need for the City Council to override his veto of the Community Safety Act and finally protect New Yorkers from discriminatory profiling—including protections against discrimination based on housing status.”

With outrage over Bloomberg’s comments, the Legal Aid Society’s Attorney-in-Chief Steven Banks said they were ready if the mayor were to ever take his suggestions on fingerprinting further.

“As the largest legal defense and legal services program in the United States, we stand ready to protect public housing applicants and residents and their families from a draconian fingerprinting initiative,” said Banks.