NEW YORK (AP) — In a city where security cameras have become ubiquitous since 9/11, some of the biggest surveillance gaps are in the neighborhoods of New York where poverty and violent crime remain among the highest: public housing projects.
The oversight became apparent this week after the horrific stabbing of two children in a housing project elevator that left one dead and the other in critical condition. No cameras were in place to capture an image of the suspect. Police, however, arrested a suspect days later on Wednesday.
Nearly 60 percent of the city's public housing buildings — home to more than 615,000 New Yorkers — don't have operational security cameras, according to city officials, including Brooklyn's Boulevard Houses, where the 6-year-old boy was stabbed to death.
"We've been forgotten out here," said Juan DeJesus, 43, who has lived the last three years in the buildings, which are tucked away in a gritty stretch of an East New York neighborhood. "It's like nobody cares about the people who live here."
An angry Mayor Bill de Blasio, elected last year on a mandate to address the growing divide between the city's rich and poor, lashed out this week at his own administration's failure to install such cameras despite money set aside for the New York City Housing Authority to do so.
"I think it's unacceptable bureaucracy, it's as simple as that," de Blasio said. "The buck stops with me. And I've ordered all these cameras put in place this year."
About 58 percent of the 334 city housing developments, encompassing more than 2,500 buildings, have some cameras, according to Housing Authority testimony delivered this week to the City Council. But only 41 percent of the individual building stock has cameras, leaving the majority of lobbies, elevators and stairwells unwatched.
Meanwhile, the NYPD operates more than 7,000 cameras throughout Manhattan, particularly near Times Square, the World Trade Center and other tourist locations. Additionally, thousands upon thousands of private cameras have been installed across the five boroughs, providing video coverage of much of the city's streets that can potentially be used by police as evidence.
Across the city, major crime continues to fall, down 2.4 percent from this time a year ago. But while major crime in public housing has ticked up only slightly, the number of shooting incidents has soared by more than 35 percent, according to NYPD statistics. Housing Authority buildings also are the site of about 20 percent of the city's murders while they only house 7 percent of its population.
De Blasio said the Housing Authority had yet to spend $27 million currently allocated for security improvements, money that could have helped safeguard nearly 50 developments. The city's Department of Investigation is currently probing the process by which cameras are installed in public housing, according to a city official briefed on the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly about an active investigation.
Six-year-old Prince Joshua Avitto was killed and 7-year-old Mikayla Capers was critically injured in Sunday night's stabbing. Investigators were exploring a possible connection to the murder of 18-year-old Tanya Copeland, who was stabbed to death a few blocks away Friday night.
"He destroyed our lives," said Rochelle Copeland, Tanya's mother. "It's harrowing to know that a psycho like that is out there."
Residents at the Boulevard Houses said the development was a tight-knit community where children frequently were allowed to play by themselves in the grassy courtyards once school was dismissed. But the ball fields and jungle gyms sat empty the last two days, as nervous parents kept their children inside, said longtime resident Jason Law.
"The community is being held hostage by this," said Law, 40, who has lived his whole life in the development. "People are terrified."
That fear is not unique to the Boulevard Houses; some residents of other public housing developments that have limited or no security cameras also called for greater protections.
"I take my kids somewhere else because I'm scared," said Tania Bailey, who lives in the Amsterdam Houses in Manhattan. "I can't take it no more, living around here; it's not well secured."
Associated Press writers Jake Pearson and Verena Dobnik contributed to this report.