You Could Get an Email When a Gun Offender Moves Next Door Under New Bill

By Jeff Mays on August 20, 2014 5:22pm 

 William Sands, 51, was shot to death in the High Bridge section of The Bronx Thursday night, police said.
William Sands, 51, was shot to death in the High Bridge section of The Bronx Thursday night, police said.
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Shutterstock/Burlingham

MANHATTAN — New Yorkers could receive an alert whenever a new gun offender moves into their neighborhood if a bill being introduced in the City Council Thursday gets approved.

The bill would make the NYPD's gun offender registry available to the public in a searchable database where people could sign up to receive an email alert if a gun offender moved into their neighborhood in the hope of reducing the recent rise in shootings citywide.

Under the law, the gun offenders' name and street will be listed along with a recent photograph, a physical description, the date of the gun crime and sentencing information.

"It will make our communities more aware of who is in our neighborhood and what actions they have taken," said Queens Councilman Costa Constantinides, who is sponsoring the bill with Council members Ritchie Torres of The Bronx and Paul Vallone of Queens. "Part of public safety is knowing who is on the field."

Leah Gunn Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, said providing the public with more information about gun offenders can only help bring attention to the issue.

"New Yorkers have a right to know," she said.

While overall crime in the city is down, shootings are on the rise. As of Aug. 10, there were 823 shooting victims, up from 736 this time last year, a 12 percent increase. Shooting incidents also rose 13 percent to 702 from 621 this time last year.

There were also 23 shootings this weekend, including two fatalities.

"This weekend was a really tragic weekend," Constantinides said. "The mayor and police commissioner have a plan to deal with this, but this is another tool in their tool box that can help."

Last week Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $12.7 million plan to use "violence interrupters" to thwart shootings before they take place in neighborhoods most plagued by gun violence.

At a Monday press conference, de Blasio said he was not taking the shootings "lightly," but added that compared to the city's historic crime numbers, "this is going to be one of the lowest years ever for shootings if we continue on this pace."

New York became the first city in 2006 to pass a gun registry law requiring people convicted of gun crimes to register and check in twice a year for four years with police. Other cities including Baltimore and Washington, D.C. have since followed.

Those convicted of felony gun crimes are more likely to be arrested and more likely to commit crimes that involve violence compared to other felons, according to city statistics. They are also four times as likely to be re-arrested for homicide.

But unlike the sex offender registry, the gun offender registry is currently only for internal use by the NYPD.

Legislation to make the gun registry public was also introduced last year but failed to gain Council approval amid concern about stigmatizing people with criminal convictions. The City Council recently introduced a law that would ban companies from asking job applicants about their criminal record.

Glenn Martin, a criminal justice reform advocate who is founder of JustLeadershipUSA, said he was disappointed to see the legislation being reintroduced.

"At a time when the country and New York is being much more thoughtful about crime and what does and doesn't work, you have policymakers placating the public with measures that have no evidence that they are effective," Martin said.

The stigma of being on a public gun offenders database would prevent those listed from getting jobs and housing, added Martin, a former vice president for the Fortune Society who also spent six years in New York State prison.

"If you want people to put down the guns you have to put something more valuable in their hands like hope and opportunity," said Martin. "What people need are jobs, employment, housing and treatment, not further stigmatization."

Constantinides said the bill has been tweaked so that the names of gun offenders would be removed from the public registry after four years.

"There is a rehabilitation piece here," he said. "If you leave that life behind we are not going to put this undue burden on the offender."

But Martin said that might be too little, too late.

"The best way to get people to commit more criminal activity," he said, "is to tell them they are no longer a part of society."

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