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Oh, SmAlbany!

Daily posts and occasional longer essays about politics, culture, and life in the Capital Region...updated M-F, midmorning

"I write this not as a booster of Albany, which I am, nor an apologist for the city, which I sometimes am, but rather as a person whose imagination has become fused with a single place, and in that place finds all the elements that a man ever needs..." -W. Kennedy, from O Albany!

Back in the high life

Street fighting man: After a short pause, DA Soares is back on the public relations warpath. Yesterday he pulled double duty: unveiling a new plan to fight drugs and then continuing his dance of seduction with Joan Porco. We'll be able to talk Porco for weeks, so I'll take up the drug plan today. First, the plan itself:

A landlord training program will teach property owners how to avoid renting to tenants with known criminal records for selling narcotics. It will also help create leases that reflect community standards.

A narcotics eviction program will give landlords a leg up in booting out those who conduct illegal activities on the premises.

And a trespass affidavit program will let landlords and tenants fight crimes committed in the public spaces between private buildings by vigorously enforcing "no trespass" laws.

Ok, those are all reasonable objectives. No one will argue with that. But I'm not sure they do all that much to stop drug dealing, do they? The first plank looks pretty flimsy to me - even if it worked perfectly it would only stop convicted narcotics dealers from signing leases. That's probably a pretty small portion of the population involved with narcotics. And who knows what "leases that reflect community standards" means. I certainly don't. The second plank only helps after someone is convicted of a crime. That's fine, but it doesn't really get at the source of the problem. And if I'm reading the third plank correctly, it just means they are going to get tough on trespassing. Doesn't this all amount to - in the best case scenario - a shift in where drug transactions occur? Now, that may be better than nothing, but it can't be that much better.

And look, I'm reasonably sympathetic to a "get tough" method of combatting drug dealers. But this "get tough" plan doesn't seem to have much in the way of teeth, at least as its presented. Maybe this will really help out the landlords. But I doubt it. In fact, it strikes me as a plan ripe for both abuse and complaints. Isn't it the worst of both worlds - a "get tough" apporach that isn't actaully tough enough to do anything? And strangely enough, Soares is promoting it as a money-saving plan:

As he unveiled the Safe Homes -- Safe Streets program in front of 12 Dana Ave., District Attorney David Soares waved a 6-inch stack of police printouts detailing more than 500 calls for assistance to that boarded-up building -- and to its neighbors at 14 and 16 Dana Ave. -- over the past five years. During that time, tenants of the three buildings -- and the people who visit them -- have been charged with a range of felonies, including selling drugs.

"Each of these calls costs more than $100 in direct costs and as many as several thousands in follow-ups," Soares said. "When we clean up these crack houses, this money can be better spent on street lighting, remedial reading classes or better sports programs for our teens."

I'm not so sure. For one, as mentioned above I don't see this program as anything close to strong enough to "clean up these crack houses." That means it will almost certainly be a perpetual program. And it looks like the plan has some costs of its own: at the very least the "landlord training program" is going to cost a bit. In the short run, this doesn't look like a money saver. And unless it works perfectly, it's probably a long-term negative cost, financially. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be done - it might be worth the money. But i don't think it's going to be reaping a windfall for the teen sports program anytime soon.

Second issue, the politics. I thought this was a very interesting program for Soares to be backing. A few point here:

point #1 - By standing there with the mayor and police chief, this move is basically insulated politically for all involved. Obviously, this is basically a "motherhood issue." Whether you think it's a good idea or not, if you're the mayor, chief, or DA, you back it if it's going to happen. The last thing you want to be seen doing is not supporting something like this. So once it's definitely going to happen, you get behind it even if you think it's absurd. Of course, that doesn't mean you actually start believing in the plan. Good politics and good policy don't always go hand in hand. I don't know who has their heart in this and who doesn't, but if I had to bet I'd say that Soares doesn't, because...

point #2 - Isn't this somewhat different than the approach you thought Soares might take if you followed his campaign last year? I'm no expert, but didn't Soares call the "war on drugs" a complete failure. Sure, he was talking about the Rockefellar laws, but this new plan strikes me as the same old song - set up a tighter net that will catch a few more dealers and a lot more users. It's basically an empowerment of landlords to harrass people in the lower class, no? I honestly never thought I'd see this from Soares:

One of Soares' staff members will be the contact person for confronting drug dealing, prostitution, trespassing, the sale of stolen property, gambling and other illegal activities in private buildings.

"This is not a matter of the system breaking down," Soares said. "It's making sure we get the problem at the root. This is a new administration. And we are taking a more proactive approach."

Gosh, that sounds like Guilliani in the 90's. Does Soares now believe in the "broken window" theory? Because that involves getting tough on petty crime and small time illegal vice activity. Now that was definitely not the Soares approach last fall. Does this mean that...

point #3 - Soares might be feeling the institutional pressures of the office a bit. DA's can campaign on whatever they want, but when they get into office and want to be re-elected, they need to show that 1) they are proactive and tough on crime and 2) that they are getting results. It looks to me like Soares might be shifting toward that attitude. And that's fine. It's just surprising.

I don't want to kill the DA here. I'm not trying to lay blame. I just thought the program was strange, and an interesting plan for Soares to get behind. I'm actually quite sympathetic to David right now. He's facing a difficult set of circumstances. His high profile cases haven't been friendly to him, in the sense that the public has been divided on them. Crime - or at least violent crime - seems to be increasing recently from the perspective of the average observer. And he's obviously tangling with a police force and mayor who aren't particularly friendly or fun to work with. That's a tough situation.

I dunno. Thoughts?

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At 8:38 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

I am going to contact them and see about their training program, not because I cant spot a drug dealer at 1000 paces, but because I want to see how the DA thinks I should be doing it.

The single most helpful thing that the DA can do is create an on-line criminal database where we can do a background check on applicants. While you can check to see if someone was in the state system: (www.nysdocslookup.docs.state.ny.us/kinqw00) there is no way to check if someone was in a county.

The leases bit is pure hog wash. The police will not enforce lease restrictions. Period. I use a lease that is very strict and when I tried to have someone removed for Criminal Trespassing I could not. As lease provisions are only enforceable in court which means a delay of 30-90 days during which the tenant can act as they want as they have nothing to loose.

The second plank is worthless. All standard leases have an “illegal activities” clause. Enforcing it is another matter. You cannot evict unless there is a conviction. You cannot evict without going to court after an eviction AND you cannot lock out. Only the sheriffs department can do that and that adds another 45 plus days onto the deal.

Trespass affidavits are worthless. A person will be arrested only after they refuse to leave when a police officer tells them to do so. It doesnt matter what is posted. A person trespassing will be given an opportunity to move.    

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