It’s only taken two years and the brutal stabbings of two children for New York to get serious about installing security cameras in its public housing facilities. At a press conference today, Mayor Bill de Blasio and a number of other city officials announced that they’ll install cameras at dozens of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments by the end of 2014. That includes the Boulevard Houses in East New York, where Mikayla Capers, 7, and Prince Joshua Avitto, 6, were stabbed in an elevator on the evening of Sunday, June 1. Avitto died of his injuries. Capers was in critical condition for ten days; de Blasio said at this afternoon’s press conference that she’ll be released from the hospital today. A 27-year-old man, Daniel St. Hubert, has been charged in the attack.
The city has earmarked $27 million for the project, including $500,000 to install 17 cameras at nine Boulevard buildings. The rest of the money will go towards installing cameras at 48 other NYCHA housing developments citywide. That includes 18 facilities where NYCHA said security camera installation had been completed nearly two years ago, in July of 2012.
In July of 2012, then-NYCHA Chairman John Rhea promised to install cameras at 85 housing facilities around the city by the fall of 2013. That was in response to a series of stories in the Daily News that alleged that the authority was sitting on more than $40 million allotted by the city for the cameras.
NYCHA fired back, saying that claim was inaccurate. In a series of statements, they claimed installing the cameras was “a priority,” and, what’s more, that they’d already installed plenty of them over the last fifteen years.
“Despite recent claims in the press, NYCHA has not failed to install security cameras,” a press release at the time claimed. “Since 1997 when the CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) surveillance program began, 6,680 security surveillance cameras of varying scale have been installed at 538 NYCHA buildings citywide. The New York City Housing Authority has installed 3,497 NYCHA surveillance cameras between 2003 and 2012.” They attributed the delay to a lack of funding, saying the city had only allotted them about a quarter of what they needed to install and upgrade the security systems at all their housing projects across the city.
In a separate release, NYCHA listed the 85 housing complexes individually, and whether the camera installation was “in process” or “complete.” Sixty-three were listed as complete. The Boulevard Houses, where Avitto died two years later, were not on the list at all.
With the benefit of hindsight — and with a new mayoral administration and a new NYCHA chair, Shola Olatoye, taking Rhea’s place — city officials admit there does seem to have been a bit of a delay previously.
“We are committed to doing things differently, resetting our relationships, and becoming a more transparent, next generation NYCHA,” Chair Olatoye is quoted as saying in a press release. “As we move forward now to install these cameras with a more efficient and timelier public process, thanks to Mayor de Blasio and Comptroller Stringer, as well as our own revised capital programs, we’re able to do even more for our residents. And that’s what matters most.”
The same release individually lists all 49 housing developments where the cameras will be installed by the end of 2014. But eighteen of them were listed as “completed” projects in 2012 — Baruch, Baruch Addition, De Hostos, Douglass, Johnson, and Vladeck Houses in Manhattan, Bailey, Fort Independence, Marble Hill, Middletown, Patterson, and Mitchel in the Bronx, Borinquen, Hylan, Sheepshead, Taylor-Wythe and Tilden in Brooklyn, and Latimer Gardens in Queens.
“We did install cameras there with what the funding covered,” NYCHA spokesperson Zodet Negron told the Voice. “And with additional funding we will be installing more cameras.” Perhaps this time it won’t take more years or more tragedies to get the job done.