(FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL 12/16/14)
By Laura Kusisto
This fall, the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has directed tens of millions of dollars from a settlement with a French bank to pay for everything from computer equipment for police to processing rape-evidence kits.
Now Mr. Vance plans to give $101 million to the New York City Housing Authority for security cameras, better lighting and a swipe-card system for residents to enter the buildings.
Mr. Vance's office has nearly $450 million to distribute, thanks to the settlement earlier this year with the bank, BNP Paribas SA, which pleaded guilty to violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, among other nations. The sum equates to more than four times his office's annual budget.
Mr. Vance has allocated $90 million to help get tablets and other mobile devices to police; $40 million for mental-health treatment and training to help keep certain offenders out of jail; and $35 million to address a national backlog of rape kits, the forensic evidence needed to prosecute such cases.
"Each of those investments is a once-in-a-generation type investment opportunity," he said.
The money for the housing authority will go to 15 developments where about one-fifth of the violent crime in the authority's developments takes place, including Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, Stapleton Houses on Staten Island and St. Nicholas Houses in Harlem.
Mr. Vance said he wanted to address the reality that about 20% of the city's violent crime happens in housing-authority developments even though about 5% of the city population lives in them.
The authority's security needs have drawn heightened scrutiny since two children were stabbed at Boulevard Houses in Brooklyn in June. That complex will be one of the beneficiaries of the district attorney's funds.
The authority also recently received an allocation of $27 million from the City Council for more security cameras. So far, it says that it has installed 44 out of the 49 camera systems paid for with that money.
"He really has been a very significant partner in transforming the criminal justice system in the city," Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, said of Mr. Vance.
Officials with the district attorney's office said Mr. Vance had discretion under state law on how to allocate the bank-settlement dollars, though he must direct them to matters related to criminal justice. Mr. Vance said he had been working with the city, nonprofit groups and other entities to determine where the money should go.
He said he had hired the City University of New York to provide technical advice on issues such as issuing requests for proposals and making sure deadlines are met.
"Is this a frolic and detour by a district attorney? The answer is of course not," he said.
Over the past five years, Mr. Vance's office has helped to secure more than $2.5 billion in settlements from six other banks.
In total, New York state received $3.25 billion from the settlement with BNP Paribas. The the city received $447 million, a sum separate from the $448.7 million Mr. Vance's office received. An additional amount of around $298 million went to a special state fund.
A spokeswoman for BNP Paribas declined to comment on the settlement.
Thus far, Mr. Vance's initiatives to spend the BNP settlement have met with widespread approval from criminal-justice experts.
"These are ill-gotten gains that are being redirected toward reducing crime. It's like when you seize money from drug traffickers and you use that to prevent drug trafficking. There's a certain justice to that," said Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, a nonprofit focused on criminal justice.
Experts and resident leaders at housing-authority developments said security cameras were effective both as a deterrent to crime and in catching criminals after offenses are committed.
"Once you catch a crime on camera, it's hard to dispute that when you go to a court of law. It makes residents feel safer," said John Johnson, president of the tenants association at Mott Haven Houses, which has installed security cameras, intercoms and new lobby doors.
Thanks to both the security-camera funds and the ones for new mobile devices, Mr. Vance said that police officers would be able to access security-video footage on their tablets as they are pulling up to developments where a suspected crime has been committed.
Experts said the distribution of the bank-settlement funds had met with little criticism in part because there has been enough to go around that officials have had to make few tough choices.
"The award money is fairly substantial," said Robert Hockett, a professor at Cornell University Law School who teaches financial regulation. "There seems to be, at least so far, plenty to go around to all of those particular constituencies."
District Attorney Cyrus Vance's plan for using $448.7 million:
To enhance NYPD mobility, including providing tablets and smartphones for patrol cars
For mental-health initiatives
To address national backlog of rape-evidence kits
For New York City Housing Authority buildings security
For unnamed future public-safety projects
Manhattan district attorney's office
Access Investor Kit for BNP Paribas SA
Access Investor Kit for BNP Paribas SA