East Harlem, New York

Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation

East Harlem, New York

Target Area: East Harlem

BCJI Awardee: Center for Court Innovation

Research Partner: Center for Court Innovation

Focus Areas: Violent Crime, Felony Assaults, Gangs

BCJI Funding Year: FY2019

Neighborhood Profile

The Center for Court Innovation's (CCI) Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) project focuses on three New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments: Wagner Houses, Jefferson Houses, and Johnson Houses. The project area will also include the blocks between the housing developments in the East Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan. Data on violent felonies provided by the NYC Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice demonstrates that violent crime in the area, while improving, remains a considerable concern. Violent offenses have been decreasing in the three developments, but the East Harlem community is home to a disproportionate amount of these crimes.

Wagner Houses is one of the 15 targeted campuses in the Mayor's Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety (MAP). While many of the MAP developments have decreasing crime rates, Wagner Houses has seen a 14 percent increase in violent felony crime. One driver of the disproportionately high levels of violent crime is the ongoing conflict between Wagner and its neighbors, Jefferson and Johnson, with the current spate of violence linked to a series of incidents and retaliation related to the 2016 fatal shooting in Jefferson Houses of Juwan "Chico" Tavarez, a resident of Wagner Houses. February 2019 saw the arrest and indictment of 12 residents from Wagner Houses for a series of shootings from 2016 through 2018 allegedly linked to the "Chico Gang." Despite these arrests, crews remain active, and violent crime continues to be a concern in the community, with 23 felony assaults in the months of March and April 2019 alone.

Residents on the Wagner MAP stakeholder team ranging from adolescents to seniors have identified the youth gang activity as a continued challenge facing the community. While violent crime is a significant concern, it is not the only challenge. The quality of life remains a significant issue for many residents. The Wagner Houses MAP stakeholder team created a policy brief identifying areas of concern, including trash, rodents, and poorly maintained public spaces.

Despite facing considerable challenges, the area is also home to significant assets. The souther partn of the catchment area is home to Stand Against Violence East Harlem, which uses the Cure Violence model to prevent gun violence. The neighborhood contains multiple organizations devoted to working with young people, including Union Settlement and SCAN New York, as well as institutions that work with justice-involved and formerly incarcerated individuals, such as Just Leadership and Exodus Transitional Community. Since 2000, the Center for Court Innovation has operated the Harlem Community Justice Center in East Harlem, a community court with a focus on housing, youth, and reentry post-incarceration.

Planning Phase

The Planning Phase will build on outreach, assessment, and project development activities utilized in Wagner Houses with the MAP stakeholder team over the past 18 months. The goals of the Planning Phase will be to:

  1. Convene catchment area residents and other stakeholders as a team to guide issue identification and project development;
  2. Gather data about the drivers of crime in the catchment area, including available quantitative data on demographics, crime, and quality-of-life metrics, as well as qualitative data collection methods such as discussion with residents and safety audits in known hot spot sites;
  3. Develop a blueprint for an implementation plan that can overcome some of the underlying root issues that have led to violent crime in East Harlem; and
  4. Identify and develop a council of young people from Jefferson, Johnson, Wagner developments to advise and direct on implementation plans.

In planning for the Implementation Phase, strategies will be selected around the overarching goal of reducing violence and improving community safety and quality of life in the target area. Project objectives include:

  • Objective 1: Develop and implement a targeted, place-based, resident-driven public safety strategy.
  • Objective 2: Increase the use of data-driven and research-based strategies to reduce crime and increase safety.
  • Objective 3: Build the capacity of the community and cross-sector partners to achieve sustainable safety improvements.

COVID-19 Response

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic during the Planning Phase, the Neighborhood Safety Institute (NSI) and their partners have moved rapidly to transition their community-based work to a remote model, minimizing person-to-person contact while experimenting with new ways to be available to those who need help more than ever before. They conducted baseline needs assessments with residents of MAP stakeholder teams. As of the first week of April 2020, NSI connected each resident stakeholder with technology and WiFi needs; mobilized subcommittees of residents into a COVID-19 volunteer corps; and created a COVID-19 needs assessment survey that is disseminated throughout all 17 NYCHA developments, including Wagner, Jefferson, and Johnson in East Harlem, reaching all five boroughs.

As of July 2020, 15,814 needs assessments were completed via www.hoodsafety.org, 24 percent of which were in East Harlem. NSI has sourced, purchased, and delivered food, cleaning, personal hygiene, and personal protective equipment supplies to over 2,000 residents in the Jefferson, Johnson, and Wagner Houses. In addition to coordinating food, water, cleaning, and personal hygiene supplies and access to medication, NSI is also leveraging MAP city agency partners and community-based organizations to match resident needs with citywide relief efforts. They have mobilized residents to build contact lists to support a COVID-19 public education campaign, as well as protect and invest in resident leadership via the Neighborhood Heroes Micro-Grant. Lastly, NSI is coordinating internal CCI specialists and city agencies to respond to resident requests for one-on-one support.

Other Key Partners

Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, New York Police Department, Manhattan District Attorney's Office, New York Housing Authority, Union Settlement, SCAN New York, Just Leadership, Exodus Transitional Community, Harlem Community Justice Center

This project is supported by Cooperative Agreement No. 2018-BJ-BX-K035 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions contained herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. References to specific agencies, companies, products, or services should not be considered an endorsement by the author(s) or the U.S. Department of Justice. Rather, the references are illustrations to supplement discussion of the issues. 

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