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Tougher prosecution helped cut Queens crime: DA

Crime in Queens has dropped dramatically over the last decade thanks to tougher prosecutions and new laws, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown told elected officials late last month.

At his annual legislative breakfast at the DA’s office on Jan. 30, Brown gave updates on the borough’s crime rate, which saw a 3.7 percent decline in 2008, including a 10.9 percent drop in burglary.

Despite a rise in arrests and government budget cuts, the DA said his office has been leading the way in keeping thugs off the streets by enforcing the law with strict punishments.

“In 2008, we took full advantage of recent state legislation that increased the penalty for possession of a loaded firearm — particularly with respect to repeat offenders,” he told the group of Queens leaders, including Borough President Helen Marshall and state Sen. Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D−St. Albans).

The Queens DA’s office had more than 70,000 criminal prosecutions in 2008 and handled 21 percent of the city’s violent felony prosecutions, according to Brown. The borough’s 91.2 percent felony conviction rate was the highest in the city last year, the DA said.

Overall crime has been reduced 34 percent in the borough since 2001 and by 76 percent since 1993. Brown also noted Queens had the best arrest−to−arraignment time in New York of approximately 20 hours, which he said contributed to the reduction in crime.

“Such enhanced performance means ... that we get our police officers back out on the street more quickly to do their jobs rather than having them out in courthouse corridors,” he said.

Brown said the rise in prosecutions came at a time when city and state budget cuts have hindered his office. He recently placed a hiring freeze for new assistant district attorneys.

The DA said his office also took several initiatives outside of Queens Criminal Court to tackle specific criminal acts, such as Operation Spotlight, which targets misdemeanor recidivists and the Elder Abuse Project, which gives service assistance to senior crime victims. In July, Brown’s office opened the Family Justice Center, which offers service and support to domestic violence victims.

“In the first three months following its opening, over[sic] 2,500 clients visited the center ... [and] 38 percent of the client visits were directed to our office’s Domestic Violence Bureau for assistance in pursuing a criminal prosecution,” he said.

Brown said his office is starting a pilot program this year to complement the Family Center. Operation Exclusion Zone requires specially screened domestic abuse convicts to wear an ankle bracelet, which sends text messages to 911 and the victim if the abuser crosses a prohibited zone.

“Programs such as these, as well as other innovative initiatives and the use of new technology, have revolutionized the prosecution of criminal cases,” the DA said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 146.

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