By Jeff Mays
HARLEM— Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. met with Upper Manhattan residents Thursday to discuss the spike in area crime and to explain two new initiatives his office is unveiling to help tamp down crime in the area before it happens.
Vance's office has created a new Crime Strategies Unit that will work closely with police, the community, and other data to monitor conflicts on a block-by-block basis before they become full-blown crimes, he said.
"It's intelligent enforcement," Vance said of the unit, which divides Manhattan into five areas. A senior assistant district attorney is assigned to each area and uses a variety of techniques, including computer analysis, and anecdotal evidence from police to decide how to handle crimes.
"Their job is to know block by block, day by day and building by building what is happening with crime," Vance said. "That is one way we can not wait for cases to come to us but be more proactive."
Vance also told the more than 120 people assembled Thursday night that he plans to open a small Family Justice Center in Upper Manhattan to focus on issues of domestic violence and elder abuse.
Vance said he's interested in the Family Justice Center because 60 percent of Manhattan's domestic violence cases occur in Northern Manhattan.
Those who turned up for the meeting asked Vance about everything from drug dealing in their neighborhoods to the disproportionate incarceration rates among blacks and Latinos. Also of particular interest to residents in the area were housing issues and housing fraud.
Gwinevere von Ludwig, a member of the 144th Street Block Association, complained that her stretch of 144th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway has become rife with open-air drug dealing.
"It's known as the area to go to, the bad block. They are out there openly dealing drugs and they are always there," said von Ludwig. "There are a lot of people on the block looking to make it a better place to live. We just want support from the city."
Vance said his crime strategies program could work especially well in this situation by targeting efforts on the people responsible for the drug dealing.
George Espinal, 23, a research technician for Columbia University's Center for Violence Prevention wanted to know what Vance was doing about youth crime and whether a community court could be started in Upper Manhattan.
Vance said he was in partnership with the teacher's union and that his office regularly went into schools to speak with kids about the dangers of "guns, gangs and drugs."
Vance said that he was a believer in community courts and that his office would soon begin using Midtown Community Court.
"I'm very interested in exploring a Northern Manhattan community court," Vance said "We are not there yet. We are nowhere near there......The community has to own this."
Vance added that he has not yet taken a position on calls from some Harlem community activists to institute a trial curfew for teens under 18.
Several participants said they were happy with Vance's performance
"I'm impressed that you are the type of D.A. that hits the ground running," said retiree Judy Eason,who lives in the area, "To see you here with a cadre of lawyers says you mean what you say."