EAST HARLEM — A state lawmaker Thursday unveiled a plan to tackle homelessness, drug use and crime on 125th Street and Lexington Avenue.
Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez’s plan calls for increasing police presence, removing elevated subway grates that homeless people use as beds, passing legislation restricting the number of methadone clinics in the area and enforcing new synthetic marijuana legislation.
His announcement came at a news conference one day after news the NYPD will create a “Times Square Unit,” increasing the number of officers in the tourist-saturated area to 100 from 47 as legally topless women are increasingly mingling with costumed characters seeking money.
Uptown problems deserve equal attention, Harlem representatives State Assemblyman Keith Wright, State Sen. Bill Perkins and Rep. Charles Rangel said at the Thursday news conference at 125th Street and Lexington Avenue.
“We have ideas on how to fix the problem,” Rodriguez said. “If we can get a fraction of the attention that is currently being placed on Times Square, we can make a change in this corridor.”
“It’s more important than people walking around naked,” Rangel said. “If we get naked and run around, we’ll get more attention.”
The new Times Square unit is modeled after a Neighborhood Policing model being tested in four precincts in upper Manhattan and Queens. East Harlem’s 25th Precinct is not one of the four precincts.
The NYPD currently deploys four to nine officers to the 125th Street corridor throughout the day, police sources said. While residents said they would like to see more, a recent addition of officers has helped.
“What you see here today is part of the [City Council] Speaker’s [Melissa Mark-Viverito] intervention in getting more officers here,” said Dianne Collier of Community Board 11. “Maybe it’s not the 100 you’re talking about, but there have been officers here.”
Speaking at a press conference in Lower Manhattan Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city has "been working on that area...for several months very intensively" with Mark-Viverito's office and an interagency task force.
"When you look at what's really happening on that block there's a substantial police presence, there's a substantial sanitation presence, there's a substantial presence of Department of Homeless Services, and it's had a very big effect," said the mayor.
"Now it's a true statement there are a number of facilities there and that's something that has happened over years," he added. "Our answer to that is to beef up the resources."
Mark-Viverito questioned the motives of the politicians raising issues about the area.
"I don't know where it is coming from," Mark-Viverito said as she left City Hall Thursday afternoon. "There is a lot of work we are doing and now suddenly it's not enough?"
The speaker cited her efforts to curb the sale and use of synthetic marijuana in the area. Next month she will introduce legislation stiffening penalties for sale of the drug including jail time, hefty fines and closing stores caught with the drug.
The Department of Health recently completed a survey of 200 people encountered on Lexington and Madison avenues from 122nd to 126th streets and Marcus Garvey Park as part of an effort to provide targeted services for the mentally ill and drug-addicted population in the area.
Mark-Viverito's office said she has a meeting scheduled with the MTA in September to talk about how to deal with the nuisance issues of loitering and trash caused by the subway flood barriers.
The MTA has already agreed to alter the subway barriers, the speaker's office said.
MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said the agency has agreed to the change but has yet to develop a timeline or cost for installation.
The new grates will be flush with the sidewalk but contain mechanical elements below street level to control flooding.
"This technology did not exist when we installed the raised gates," said Lisberg. "We'll work with the speaker and the community to develop a plan before we move forward."
Instead of pointing fingers, the politicians who are criticizing what's happening in the area need to bring additional government resources to bear, said Mark-Viverito.
"We are doing everything we can on the city side. We need state agencies to step up," said Mark-Viverito.
Community groups and advocates have been trying to clean up the corridor for years. They have done everything from trying to impose a moratorium on new drug-related programs moving to the neighborhood to push lawmakers to pass legislation that would limit how close a methadone clinic can be to a school.
Despite the community’s efforts, they have not received support from elected officials in the past, they said.
“This has been on Community Board 11’s budget priorities list that we submit to the city for the last 10 years,” said Collier. “You see those grates? The MTA came to us five years ago in our public safety committee meeting and we told them that this would become a seating area and aggravate the situation that was already here.”