December 31, 2013

Shining some light on NYPD's year-end reporting and the need for more transparency in reporting crimes

Photo credit: NYC.gov, top stories. Some of the cadets
from the last graduating class of 2013.
On Friday, December 27th, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly published a year end report on how successful the NYPD has been in reducing crime over the last 12 years, with a particular focus on the number of homicides. While the information that is published is good news for all New Yorkers, there is a lot to be desired with the little data we are able to obtain on a regular basis. How has anyone's particular precinct done in 2013? You can find out by looking at the official CompStats Page. But what about data on a neighborhood level? There is a somewhat feeble attempt to do that on the NYC Crime Map, but it doesn't give you the weekly statistics the same way that CompStats Report does, and it certainly doesn't give you the information by sector, or sub-sections of each precinct.

Too often, the NYPD has used a very broad brush to paint a rosy picture of what they believe the public should know, but that is dramatically different than the information that we should know. While the city has fared well according to the official report, how does the Bronx compare crime this year to 2012? What are the areas in the Bronx that need attention with the new administration taking office tomorrow? From the Bronx's official CompStat report (as of 12/22/13), we do see a significant drop in homicides (-26.8% vs 2012, -55.9% vs 2001) and likewise in crimes such as burglaries, rapes, and grand larceny autos over the same time period. However, the Bronx has gone in the opposite direction when it comes to felony assaults (+11.9% vs 2012, +1.9% vs 2001) and grand larcenies (+7.6% vs. 2012, +36.8% vs. 2001). Additionally, petite larcenies and misdemeanor assaults have also risen over the last two years by 10.4% and 5.9%, respectively.

While the above information does not have the same appeal as the official press release, it conveys much more information and includes the public in trying to play its role in addressing crime on a community level, which should be the intent of having crime data published in the first place. Even the above information is practically meaningless to the individual unless we are able to publish neighborhood level data by sector. We can only hope that the new Mayor and City Council will raise this as one of the first issues to address when they take office, especially given the somewhat spotty record of the NYPD when it comes to providing communities with information in the Bronx.

Additionally, here are two other suggestions for the new administration to improve reporting on crime statistics, starting in 2014. First, begin reporting each category in CompStats per capita (per 100,000 residents) as a way to compare precincts and boroughs equally. This can help highlight hotspots much more readily and rally communities to addressing public safety issues. Secondly, given the rapidly rising (yet still under-counted) population in the Bronx, it is time to create multiple borough commands to better serve the public, as is done in every other borough except Staten Island. Regarding this last point, when the Bronx is compared as a whole to half of another borough, it is no wonder that the Bronx continues to get a bad rap. However, if the Bronx was split, either North/South (46-52 pcts./40-45 pcts.) or East/West (Odd number vs Even number pcts.), the reality of crime stats becomes radically different for the Bronx (see image below).
Information obtained from weekly CompStat reports for each Bronx precinct as of 12/15/13, Vol. 20/No. 50 and compiled by proposed commands. East/West represents Odd/Even number precincts, North/South represents 46-52 pcts./40-45 pcts.

I understand how important it is for the Mayor and the Commissioner to demonstrate to residents that they have been able to get a handle on crime. It is equally important that residents are included in the public safety process with the most efficient and reliable data available instead of feeling that they are being fed a fluff piece that often leads to resentment and cynicism. It has been an uphill fight for many to get the NYPD to comply; hopefully in 2014 we reach the top of the hill and are able to get a clearer picture as to how truly safe are our neighborhoods.

December 28, 2013

The Gift of Giving… This holiday season one Hindu temple joins in collecting toys for the community with Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda.

By Bharati Kemraj

On Sunday, December 22, 2013 toys, toys and a few more toys were collected to bring the total of over 100 pieces of presents for boys and girls of all ages in the community. The items were collected by the Vishnu Mandir and the Bharati Dance Academy. They were then donated to Assemblyman Sepulveda for distribution at St. Andrews Church in their Annual Toy Giveaway to families in the community.

“To know that we can do anything to help bring happiness to a family here in our borough gives us great pleasure in wanting to help even more,” says dance choreographer Bharati Kemraj. “We are so excited for the kids that will have something to open on Christmas Day,” adds eight years old student, Sarah Dilchand, of the Bharati Dance Academy.  

“Myself and the kids brought a few toys today because we wanted to give back as a way of saying thank you for all that we have in our life,” says Indy Churaman as she hugs her son Stefan and daughter Ilyssa, who attended the monthly youth service at the temple.  

Once a month Pandit Vishnu, Pandit Vyaas and Pandit Krishna Sukul leads the youth in Hawan Ceremony and Puja where they give thanks to God and participate in singing religious songs, giving speeches and reading from the sacred Hindu Scriptures. Assemblyman Sepulveda expressed his gratitude to the members of the temple and said that he always feels like he is a part of the family. “Myself and my family have been asking people throughout the community to assist and help with the toy drive and I am thankful to those who found it in their hearts to donate today,” said the Assemblyman.

December 24, 2013

Mayor's office release progress reports for each borough, Bronx shows mixed results after 12 years

Last week the Mayor's office released a report for each of the 5 boroughs to demonstrate progress during his tenure. On Sunday, during his weekly radio show, Bloomberg stated that:

"The best way to appreciate the great things happening all over New York is to go out and see them.  Last week, that’s just what we did, using the final week before the holidays to spotlight progress the city is making in so many areas, in all five boroughs. That starts with creating new jobs for New Yorkers. The final jobs report of 2013 came out last week – and it shows New York City heading into 2014 riding high.  We’re on course to have a record-setting four million jobs by this year’s end."

While the total job numbers are good for the city as a whole, the number of  jobs created in the Bronx Progress report over the last 12 years is less than 6% of the city's total. And while we have the second highest number of schools housing built in the city, to say that only 23,915 out of 406,000 private sector jobs over 12 years have been created in the Bronx is a bit dismal. And about 66% of the new jobs created have been in leisure and hospitality industries, despite only 6 new hotels built in the same time-frame. That doesn't mean that Bronxites are not working in the other four boroughs, but that seems to be the norm and not the exception. This means that most Bronxites are spending time and money commuting, making part of the purchases elsewhere, and don't have as much time to invest locally in their communities. 

And with some sections and demographics of the Bronx having double digit unemployment since at least the 2000 census, these numbers are appalling. Investment has been slow for the Bronx, and only in the last few years has it started to change around for the borough. But it is and must change for all of our sakes. Projects like the new Kingsbridge National Ice Center and the La Central development are great news to the borough, but we must continue to better ourselves and our communities to encourage investment while we hold the feet of elected officials to the fire. Sorry to Mayor-elect DeBlasio, Bloomberg has thrown down the gauntlet and touted his own horn about job creation, how are you going to choose to respond? Hopefully better than the last 12 years. We'll have to wait and see.

December 23, 2013

One building's special way of celebrating Christmas by coming together for a meal

When you get the right mix of people to work together, they can really have a positive impact on their community. On Saturday night at one building's holiday celebration, its residents came together to have a meal with one another and enjoy the performance of some special young, uplifting talent.

Located in the Bedford Park section of the Bronx, the residents of 190 East Mosholu Parkway South held its 5th Annual Christmas Celebration, a break from the usual stress that goes along with holiday shopping, gridlock alerts, and nonstop television commercials. It was a chance for us (yes, a bit of self-promotion here) to sit down with our neighbors and talk, laugh, eat, and drink together, something that we wouldn't normally do the rest of the year. The event has become larger every year, and we look forward to sitting down with each other as opposed to passing by one other on our way to work as we do on every other day.

This year was a little bit more special. Some residents prepared dishes to share with one another, but we also hired a former resident, who's family still lives in the building, to prepare the main course instead of hiring someone from the outside. Executive Chef Roopchand "Raj" Seesochan recently started his own business, after serving as the executive chef for the Radio City Rockettes for many years, and prepared an elaborate spread from various cultures and cuisines that was a real treat. This hidden Bronx talent prepared an exquisite menu from Cajun shrimp to baked chicken to bacalaitos, and his particular flair definitely contributed to the holiday atmosphere. A very jovial and hardworking character, "Chef Raj" is very dedicated in the manner in which he both prepares and presents his food to his clients and friends. It is great to know that someone as talented as Chef Raj, a term that I don't use lightly, continues to make his home in the Bronx when he could have gone elsewhere.

In addition to the great food, we also had the privilege of listening to some great, talented pre-teens in our own private concert. Four seventh graders, two who are Bronxites, are from The Special Music School at PS 859 at the Kaufman Center near Lincoln Center, and performed several traditional Christmas carols on the violin and cello. Myah Segura, who lives with her parents in the building, has performed for us in the past, and the residents come out every year to support and encourage her. It is always a pleasure to hear her perform, along with her classmates Nina Uesato, Sofia Manuguerra, and Isabel Janovsky. These young women were led by their conductor Shana Mahoney, who happens to be the mother of Sofia and serves as the conductor for St. Barnabas Church in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx. 

So the moral of this particular story, happiness is not found in the things you have, but in the things you share with one another. Whether that is in a meal together, or in supporting one another in their  aspirations, we as Bronxites need to take a moment to reflect on who and what we have and support one another. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, y un Feliz Año Nuevo to everyone!

For more pics from this event, check out our album on the official Facebook Page.

December 16, 2013

Raising the minimum wage is needed, but may not be enough

There has been a lot of talk lately about raising the minimum wage as of late, especially with the coverage of food service workers protesting an increase to $15/hour. While many have balked at the notion and even labeled these workers negatively, from a historical perspective the wage increase issue is not really that far-fetched. 

As a teen, I went to work to help my parents with the bills and my own expenses, and times were tough then. When I was working my first job in 1985, the minimum wage was $3.35/hour, and working everyday after school and weekends, I barely made $100 in two weeks and after taxes. Now there was no way that I could have supported myself on those wages, but I do remember there were some of the adults who were working alongside me at the same rate of pay, and I didn't know how they did it.

Calculating that rate of pay now and adjusting it for inflation using the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Price Index (CPI) Inflation Calendar, my rate of pay in 2013 dollars would be $7.27, two cents hire than the consumer minimum (you can verify the information by clicking here and here). How is it that the rate people are getting paid slightly less than it was almost 30 years ago, despite the rate of inflation going up in the same time period a whopping 117%? That was due to bad political decisions that failed to peg wages to inflation and kept them stagnant so that companies can control labor costs. In addition to these efforts to control labor costs, many low to medium wage jobs in the same time period have been exported to other countries, creating an even greater wage disparity.

While the demands of many to raise the wage to $15/hour may have come from noble intentions, doubling the wages immediately would be disastrous for the economy, especially for smaller businesses. The result would be many employers simply letting go of their staff or even worse, forcing them to go out of business entirely and forcing many to seek unemployment insurance and public assistance. So what is a fair and balanced policy to ease the economic disparities?

Many of the proposals being put out there are no more than a band-aid on a laceration, purely cosmetic and will force the working poor to continue to be at the mercy of others. The talks from the state and the nation on dueling rates are doing nothing but wasting time and hurting people. Here is a three-step recommendation for what could be done to ease in a raise for the working poor and give businesses time to adjust. 

  1. Raise the minimum wage to $9.00/hour in 2014. This has the same purchasing power as $4.38/hour in 1985 and while it doesn't make up for the last two and a half decades, it's a start.
  2. Peg wages to a percentage of inflation annually. Politics should not turn a blind eye to the plight of its citizens for political expediency, which has unfortunately become the norm for this generation. Tying wages to 50-75% of the inflation rate (50% when inflation exceeds 3% 60% between 2-3%, and 75% below 2%), would give the most vulnerable a better chance of escaping the cycle of poverty.
  3. Eliminate local, state, and national income taxes for everyone making 200% or lower of the federal poverty level (or an annual salary of $22,980 for an individual). This elimination will provide these individuals with more disposable income and localities can make this up by the increase in sales taxes as a result of greater spending. On a national level, the feds can absorb this small reduction easily by cutting spending in other areas. From a moral imperative, governments should not be in the business of using income taxes from the poor as a way to engage in untested policies, givebacks to lobbyists, or as incentives to large corporations anyway.
I'm sure that there are many arguments for and against these recommendations, but at least they are on the table. And like the saying goes, if you're not at the table, you might be on the menu. Lets make things right for the working poor now and not wait until the next decade like our predecessors have.

December 7, 2013

Bronx entrepreneurs come together to bring toys to local kids for Christmas

On Wednesday, December 4th, local business owners gathered in the Throggs Neck section of the Bronx to participate in a Toys for Tots event for local Bronx kids. The event was organized by Clarisel Gonzalez of the Bronx Entrepreneurs and Business Network (BEBN), Evelyn Torres of The Foxy Family Organization, and Thirty3 Sixty 3 Restaurant. It was an opportunity for local businesses and organizations to come together at the Jolly Holiday Network & Toy Drive and collect almost 75 toys for local kids. Foxy Family, a Bronx-based nonprofit organization that provides primary services to women, men and children who are exposed to and experiencing domestic violence. will distribute the toys to Bronx kids on Dec. 21 at another jolly holiday gathering.

In addition to the toy drive, almost a dozen of the participants received awards from the BEBN for their contributions over the past year. These entrepreneurs incorporate giving back to the Bronx community as part of their everyday business, and the award "... recognizes entrepreneurs, small business and local leaders who have lived up to [BEBN's] business and social mission of informing, empowering, and building community in their personal and/or professional lives." 

The 2013 BEBN Award winners are: George Acevedo, Bronx Women's Business Resource Center; Jacqueline Acevedo-Villanueva, MAS, Inc.; Nina Cochran, CodeNYC; Ed Garcia Conde, Welcome to the Bronx; Mariposa Maria Teresa Fernandez, Poetry for Entrepreneurs; Alexandra Maruri, MCNY Tours; Maribel Mercado, Amapola Events Planning; Nicole Perrino, BronxMama; Cheryl Sanchez, The NetWorks Organization; and Evelyn Torres, Foxy Family.

To see additional pictures from the event, check out our Facebook Page album.