Vance vows to be vigilant on quality of life in Village


By Albert Amateau

After four months as Manhattan district attorney, Cy Vance Jr. brought about two-dozen assistant D.A.’s to his May 6 town hall meeting in Greenwich Village last week to speak about his criminal justice policies and to hear from Lower West Side residents about their concerns.

“The fact that there are so many assistant district attorneys here is a reflection of our commitment to community service,” Vance told the gathering at Our Lady of Pompei Church in the heart of the Village.

Noting what he called a resurgence of hate crimes in the past year, Vance announced the creation of hate crimes unit led by Joan Illuzzi-Orbon to prosecute crimes that target people because of who they are — because of color, age, sexual orientation or any special condition.

“These crimes hurt not only the victims but hurt the entire community and must be taken very seriously,” Vance said. “We will make sure that they are prosecuted sensitively, accurately and quickly,” he added.

Katie Doran, adviser on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, will be coordinating the effort, Vance said.

Identity theft, one of the most prevalent crimes in the nation, is another priority.

“We are at the center of commerce and we need to be national leaders in combating Internet crime,” said Vance, noting that his office has initiated a cyber crime unit.

Although the Manhattan district attorney is not likely to take the lead in prosecuting terrorism cases, such as the attempted car bombing in Times Square last week, Vance said, the prosecution of cases like identity theft and credit-card fraud strikes at crimes that often finance terrorism.

Vance cited the April 27 traffic accident that took the life of Community Boar 3 member Harry Wieder.

“It speaks to the unacceptably high number of traffic death and injury,” said Vance, who is asking the state Legislature to pass tougher laws on auto crimes involving high speed, alcohol and controlled substances. “Our vehicular assault unit will make sure we’re on top of it and that crimes involving cars are treated as seriously as crimes involving guns,” Vance said.

Nevertheless, people at the forum said they wanted more penalties for minor violations.

“Police don’t recognize that not yielding the right of way to a pedestrian is against the law,” complained one audience member. Another wanted attention to be paid to the posting of illegal fliers.

One resident of W. 11th St. demanded a criminal investigation of the closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital, saying she believed “there was a misappropriation of funds.” Vance, however, said his office had no information about criminal activity or fraud in connection with the hospital. The W. 11th St. resident persisted in saying there was criminal liability in St. Vincent’s closing.

Domestic violence was one issue that Vance was confident in addressing.

“It needs to be taken seriously the first time it happens,” Vance said. Unfortunately, depending on its severity, under current law, such an assault is likely to be a simple misdemeanor, and if it happens a year later, another misdemeanor, he explained. Vance is seeking changes in the law classifying repeat domestic assaults as felonies. “We don’t want a second offense to be a murder,” he said.

“We have a serious issue of repeat criminal offenders,” said Jason Mansfield, chairperson of Community Board 2’s Environment, Public Safety and Public Health Committee. “Someone can be arrested multiple times for prostitution, and police get discouraged arresting the same person over and over again. Can’t judges hand out stiffer penalties?” he asked.

“I share your concern,” Vance replied, adding that his office is also calling for felony classification for repeat offenders in such cases including prostitution.

“That doesn’t mean that an offender would necessarily go to jail, but it would give judges more choices to address the case,” said Vance. “There has to be a way that judges could try to change the behavior of repeat offenders,” he added.

In a response to other questions about improving the quality of life, Vance announced that he has organized a crime strategy unit that would focus on specific communities. As part of this initiative, experienced prosecutors were being assigned to quality-of-life cases, said Vance.

“We’re working with judges to address these cases, but we have 109,000 cases a year, and judges haven’t received a raise in 10 years,” Vance said.

Nevertheless, Vance pledged to build on the 35-year record of his predecessor, Robert Morgenthau.

“Our job is to ensure safety in our streets and fairness in our courtrooms,” the D.A. said. “We’ve started a conviction integrity unit to make sure our cases at the beginning are as strong they can be to minimize the chance of convicting someone of a crime he didn’t commit.”