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The safety of our public housing developments should be of critical concern to every New Yorker. We must use every tool available to reduce escalating crime in New York City Housing Authority developments. Our union has long advocated for the funding and installation of security cameras and other measures to protect both residents and workers. We have a long way to go, but thanks to a new state law, we believe there will be fewer assaults on NYCHA workers.
At Teamsters Local 237, we’re proud to represent 8,000 NYCHA workers, a third of whom are also NYCHA residents. We are devastated each time we hear that one of our members is injured in an attack. These men and women are sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers who often face dangerous situations to protect and care for us in housing developments around the city. Until recently, however, NYCHA workers were not given the same protections that other public employees have, such as police officers and firefighters, who face similarly dangerous situations.
For example, a caretaker at the South Jamaica Houses in Queens recently fought off an attempted rape. The district attorney's office charged the assailant with only “criminal mischief” because that was all that was allowable under the law. Another NYCHA employee was shot at Howard Houses in Brooklyn, while others have been stabbed, robbed and threatened. Cameras and surveillance equipment can only go so far in preventing assaults or capturing assailants.
Over the years, Local 237 has won enhanced criminal assault penalties to protect its members who work in peace officer titles. But that was not enough in our eyes. We wanted all of NYCHA workers to feel protected when they are at work each day.
That’s why we’re so pleased that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill recently to make assaults on NYCHA workers a felony following an aggressive advocacy campaign spearheaded by Local 237. Under this legislation, any attack resulting in physical injury of an employee while performing duties at an Authority-owned or -operated housing project will now be elevated from a misdemeanor to a violent felony. We fully supported this bill and thank state Sen. Andrew Lanza and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol for spearheading it with us from the beginning. NYCHA workers deserve this added protection so they can feel safe and complete their jobs each day.
Everyone deserves to feel safe and protected in their jobs and communities, but legislation only goes so far. So for the half-million New Yorkers who live in NYCHA housing, I encourage you to take time to get to know the employees who work hard to make your residence a home. Reach out and talk to the maintenance worker or administration employee. These men and women serve you every day, and getting to know them better is a great way to show your appreciation and strengthen ties in your community.
Crime in the housing developments is up 31 percent this year, and there is no indication that it will go down soon. Too often, NYCHA workers find themselves in the middle of a conflict occurring at one of the nearly 200,000 city-run apartments, and some are seriously injured as a result. If everyone in the community were to reach out and get to know these employees, think how many positive relationships would develop to care for and protect one another. So next time you pass a NYCHA employee, ask them how their day is going. Such friendly communications are at the heart of stable communities and go a long way in creating trust and a safer environment.