This podcast includes observations from the presiding judge, Alex Calabrese, and short interviews by Director of Communications Robert V. Wolf with the Brooklyn D.A.'s Chief Assistant District Attorney Anne Swern and Captain Kenneth Corey, commander of the 76th Precinct.
The following is a transcript:
ROBERT V. WOLF: Hi, I'm Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. When the Red Hook Community Justice Center was created in the year 2000, no one could predict its impact or how long it would last. But 10 years later, we have some idea.
Crime is down significantly, countless people from around the country and the world have visited, and the Justice Center continues to innovate.
What is the Justice Center? At its core, it's a multi-jurisdictional courtroom that combines housing, family, and criminal cases before a single judge, who has at his disposal not just conventional sanctions like fines and jail, but an array of on-site social services to address issues like addiction, employment, and housing.
Justice Center staff hosted a small reception in April to celebrate the center's 10 year anniversary. Among the speakers was Judge Alex Calabrese, who talked about the remarkable drop in crime in Red Hook.
JUDGE CALABRESE: Most importantly, in 2006 and 2007, the 76 precinct, our local precinct, had the highest percentage in New York City. And the 2008, 2009 numbers have remained relatively flat and low.
And so when people feel safer, it raises public confidence in the justice system. And so when the traditional court system had an 88 percent unfavorable rating before we opened, in a 2004 survey, 78 percent of the community gave a favorable rating to the Justice Center and in a 2009 survey that number increased to 94 percent of community members giving the Red Hook Community Justice Center a favorable rating.
That's an amazing number if you think about it. In fact, maybe it's time to retire because there's only one way that number can go
WOLF: After the judge and other speakers, I caught up with two people whose agencies are key collaborators in the center's work: Kenneth Corey, Commander of the 76th precinct, and Anne Swern, First Assistant District Attorney to Brooklyn D.A. Joe Hines. First Commander Corey.
COREY: The Justice Center is a tremendous asset for us, you know, from the host of programs that they provide to the alternative sentencing, and just being a partner to us in this ongoing battle, so to speak, to keep the community safe. Just having this one-stop shop, you know, where you know, the low-level crimes and the sentences, and the housing issues all get worked out together by the same judge. The results speak for themselves. It's truly been tremendous.
WOLF: Well let me ask you, how long have you been a police officer?
COREY: 22 years.
WOLF: So 22 years ago, when you started, you know, what was your thinking about how much influence the criminal justice system could have on quality of life in the community and crime?
COREY: 22 years ago, we didn't, we didn't focus on community, on quality of life crimes at all. You know, it was all violent felonies and that was about it.
You know, we used to term it ‘Big Justice’ because you'd lock somebody up, they'd go through the revolving door and be out the next day. You know, when I was—actually in the mid-90s I was a sergeant in the 72nd precinct, which also sends cases here. And one of the biggest quality-of-life-type crimes we had was street prostitution along 3rd Avenue under the Gowanus Expressway.
I had a team of cops, and we would lock up, without exaggeration, more than 100 a month of prostitutes. And we'd lock them up on Monday night, and we'd lock them up again on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday night and everything else.
So in 2005 I actually went back to the 72nd precinct as the executive officer. That's one of the first things I noticed is that the prostitutes were gone. The problem had largely been eradicated. And you know, I come to find out that a lot of that had to do with the Justice Center and getting these people drug treatment, job training, and things like that.
WOLF: It must be very exciting to be a police officer at this time.
COREY: It's wonderful, it really is. I mean it's - and again, it's completely different from what it was 20 years ago when I started.
WOLF: And what do you think are the key elements of, of what has made the difference? What are the ingredients? If someone wanted to package it, you know, what would you put in that package?
COREY: Well you know, I've always believed that one of the most important things is that the police and the community, in this case, the court, all have to work together. You know, the police can't be viewed as an occupying army in a community; they have to be partners with the community.
The community has to tell us what their problems are and work with us to solve their problems, and we have a lot of that going on. There are a lot of people who are actively involved in the community, from coaching a little league baseball team, to other kinds of volunteerism and again, just letting us know what's going on so that we can address their concerns.
WOLF: Just one more thing, the remarkable turnaround in terms of the number of murders in the, in this area, like what do you attribute that to, because that's such a - that seems so much removed from the quality-of-life business that comes through the Justice Center.
COREY: Yeah, but a lot of that was just - it is far removed from it, but it was the same people. It was, you know, the problems with the kids hanging out on the corner which affected quality-of-life problems; those were the same people who may have either been the perpetrators or the victims of a homicide.
You know, it escalated as a dispute and instead of fighting with their fists, they went to guns. So the crackdown on the quality-of-life crimes removed a lot of guns from the street, either because they got arrested or people were afraid they were going to get arrested and left the gun in the house, and by the time they went and got it, cooler heads may have prevailed.
WOLF: Great, thank you so much. That was Kenneth Corey, commander of the 76th Precinct.
Afterwards I spoke with Anne Swern, first assistant district attorney to Brooklyn D.A. Joe Hines.
What has changed in terms of the potential you feel a prosecutor has to make a neighborhood safe? ANNE SWERN: Well, I think Red Hook signifies some of those changes that are more global. Red Hook, for example, uses a lot of drug treatment, uses a lot of alternative sentencing. Looks at the collateral consequence of a conviction to see—Does it undermine a person's ability to get a job, or to be employed? Does it help with employment?—All of those things to create an environment where people can succeed after their case, become productive for their communities and their families, and create a safer neighborhood.
So all of those things occur in Red Hook. Hopefully they occur downtown. One of the wonderful things about Red Hook is that everyone here is really committed to excellence. The building is committed to excellence; the people within it are committed to excellence; all of the wraparound service providers are committed to excellence.
WOLF: With crime rates going down, down—in the '90s they went down and everyone was like ‘Wow, look what we did. Let's pat ourselves on the back.’ And then they have continued to go down. I wonder how far, knock on wood, how far can we go with this?
SWERN: Well first, I'm happy to report that since 1990 serious crime, the index crimes, is down almost 80 percent in Brooklyn. So people should know that. And we are much safer and much more secure in our persons, and our property, and much freer to walk about, play about, go about, establish businesses, establish lives, and families, and residences here than ever before.
How far can it go? I would like to say no crime. I would like to say, no homicides, no robberies, no rapes. But unfortunately I don't think that's possible.
I think the best thing we can do is hedge against it. Have proactive programs for education, preventive programs, so that we look at people most likely to offend or get into trouble and give additional services to those people, and warn against it so that it doesn't spike again.
How low can it go? I wish 100 percent. What I'm most concerned about is keeping it low and doing the best that we can to keep it low, and I think we do that with preventive programs and targeting people most likely to re-offend.
WOLF: One last thing. I just want to ask you in this climate of budget cuts—national, state, city—are we at risk, perhaps, of, just because there isn't the money there, going backwards? I mean is there a way to consolidate these gains and move forward with the knowledge we have learned and the experience we've acquired in fighting crime?
SWERN: I would hope that we're all smart on crime and smart on public safety and smart on public policy. But some of these things, like this beautiful Red Hook court cost money.
When we're talking about replicating it, there are things you can and can't do if you don't have the money to do so. If the social service providers are not given adequate funding. If the court system is not given adequate funding, if prosecutor and defender offices are not given adequate funding, how do you staff a place like this? How do you build a place like this?
So while we're smart on consolidating and using resources wisely, there is a point where the rubber meets the road that is resource-based. And we all have to decide where our precious few resources belong in order to keep us safe and keep us productive and thriving.
WOLF: That was Anne Swern, first assistant district attorney to Brooklyn D.A. Joe Hynes. We've been talking about the Red Hook Community Justice Center, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. To find out more about the Justice Center or the Center for Court Innovation, visit www.courtinnovation.org. I'm Rob Wolf, thanks for listening.