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Lower East Side Housing Complex Pushing for Surveillance Cameras in Wake of Violence

The Vladeck Houses stretch over 13 acres on the Lower East Side, housing nearly 3,000 residents.
The Vladeck Houses stretch over 13 acres on the Lower East Side, housing nearly 3,000 residents.
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By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

LOWER EAST SIDE — A sprawling public housing complex is looking to fit  new security cameras to help combat crime in the wake of a series of violent incidents in the area.

The Vladeck Houses — made up of 20 buildings containing more than 1,500 apartments by the East River — raised $3.7 million over the years from local council members allocating funds specifically for the installation of surveillance equipment.

After a string of brutal crimes, including the grisly murder of a former model at a nearby complex in February, Vladeck's tenant association is discussing its options with residents.

"Vladeck is in a unique place. If there there's a crime committed on Grand Street, they're going to run through Vladeck to get away," said Nancy Ortiz, the complex's tenant-association president.

Jomali Morales, 42, was found stabbed to death inside the Baruch Houses on Feb. 12, police said.
Jomali Morales, 42, was found stabbed to death inside the Baruch Houses on Feb. 12, police said.
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"It's too big of a hiding place for criminals."

Ortiz has handed out 1,100 surveys to residents to gauge their support for the security measures, and is currently weighing whether Vladeck should be included in a city pilot program that provides comprehensive surveillance-camera installation and "layered access control."

The NYC Housing Authority's program, currently being tested in the Bronx, includes a "layered access" system that provides multiple security measures for tenants.

It includes electronic entrance keys that cannot be duplicated or copied; mechanical door-locking hardware; and system-wide sensors that would indicate whether any of the devices have been tampered with or failed.

Additionally, the NYPD would work with NYCHA to place surveillance cameras strategically throughout the complex, which currently has no such cameras, an agency spokeswoman said.

Overall, the new system would go a long way toward both catching criminals and preventing crime, Ortiz said.

"They're tired of hearing gunshots in the middle of the night, tired of fights, tired of cars being broken into," she said of Vladeck residents, noting that about 70 percent of survey respondents so far are in favor of implementing the new measures.

Ortiz added that an uptick in crime at the complex can be attributed to the fact the Vladeck does not have any surveillance cameras, while other nearby complexes have already introduced them.

"It's an easy exit point for criminals," she noted. "They see how easy it is to get lost in here and how quick it is to hide."

Ortiz added that the growing Asian community in public housing is particularly at risk, given the language barrier and an unwillingness to always report crimes.

Just over a year ago, a series of attacks on elderly Asian women sent shockwaves through the community.

"I look at them like when the Puerto Ricans first came to the U.S. and didn't know how to speak English," Ortiz said. "They didn't know how to defend themselves. This is the second wave of that."

Small-scale surveillance systems, or cameras located at key points, have been installed at nearby public housing complexes including the LaGuardia, Rutgers, Smith, Riis and LES 1 houses, a NYCHA spokeswoman said.

However, one complex lacking any surveillance cameras is the Baruch Houses, where 42-year-old Jomali Morales was stabbed nearly 20 times in an elevator three months ago.

Had a system been in place like the one being considered for the Vladeck Houses, the alleged killer may have been caught sooner or even been scared off from committing the brutal attack, Morales' mother said.

"It might have deterred him, it might have stopped him," said Morales' mother Petra Montañez, who lived with her daughter in a Lower East Side co-op building. "I know  in my heart that cameras would have helped."

Montañez, a one-time Lower East Side public housing resident herself, added that cameras could have helped police arrest her daughter's alleged killer earlier, and possibly provided the evidence needed for a swift conviction.

NYCHA submitted its plan for the pilot program, which includes surveillance cameras and layered access at all Vladeck Houses buildings, and is currently awaiting response from tenant association and local councilmembers.

Funding for the new security measures was made possible by allocations from Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, Councilwoman Margaret Chin and her predecessor, Alan Gerson.

A spokeswoman for Chin said it will be up to the tenants to decide whether to enter into the pilot program. But if all goes according to plan, Ortiz believes the complex could be equipped with the new security measures by summer 2012.

"It's like a Godsend for us," she said.