By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
While crime has continued to drop all across Brooklyn and New York City, theft of iPhone smartphones, or "apple picking,” has become an epidemic. Rather than target criminals with harsher penalties, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has chosen to target cell phone companies to implement “kill switches” to make stolen phones unusable.
“There were 1.6 million people that had their cell phones stolen in 2012,” Schneiderman said. “But the cell phone companies had no incentive to try to stop it because they were profiting more than $30 million a year in selling replacements,” he noted at a community forum held at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch at Grand Army Plaza Monday night.
The event was organized to explain to Brooklynites what the AG's Office does, what they can do to help citizens, and a call to action for anybody that has seen wrongdoing.
“The most important thing that people should take from tonight is that we want to be helpful, but we need to hear from you,” said Marty Mack, executive deputy attorney general for regional offices. “None of us can get this done on our own.”
The two-hour event had members from different divisions of Schneiderman’s staff — the Health Care Bureau, the Civil Rights Bureau, the Labor Bureau, the Environmental Protection Bureau and the Brooklyn regional office — on hand to explain what they do and how they can help the average Brooklynite.
“Tonight is not really about hearing from me, although there are some things that I want to say, but mainly we are bringing out here our bureau chiefs,” Schneiderman said. “These are people that are on the ground, pursuing issues that a lot of people care about and these are the people that make our office run.”
Lois Booker-Williams, from the Brooklyn Regional Office, spoke first about local issues that included car dealerships with shady practices, a bus company that went bankrupt and refused to refund thousands in prepaid fares and the Holiday Inn Express on Union Street, which gouged people during Superstorm Sandy.
Lemuel Srolovic, from the environmental protection bureau, gave a brief overview of what his office does but spoke at much more length during the question-and-answer portion when an audience member asked about hydrofracking.
“There is presently a moratorium on fracking in New York while the state conducts an environmental review, but that moratorium is being fought very aggressively by energy companies,” Srolovic said. “We’ve been very active in defense of that moratorium.”
Srolovic also mentioned that his office is monitoring the amount of water that leaves the state to be used for hydrofracking in Pennsylvania and how that affects New York’s environment.
Terri Gerstein, from the Labor Bureau, discussed local issues. She mentioned cases that the AG's Office won against local franchises of McDonald’s and Pizza Hut for wage theft. Gerstein also identified instances where affordable housing units were not being built up to code, how taxi drivers had been getting overcharged and how a cleaning contractor overcharged the Sheepshead Bay movie theater by thousands of dollars.
“These cases are a good example of the kind of work that we are doing, but we depend on community groups to bring things to our attention,” Gerstein said.
Kristen Clarke, from the Civil Rights Bureau, spoke to the office’s work of trying to ensure that convicts are not automatically disqualified from jobs after leaving prison and that nurses aren’t being reassigned due to their race [in some nursing homes]. She spoke mostly about stop-and-frisk, though.
“There have been 2.4 million stops between 2009 and 2012, and only 150,000 resulted in arrests,” Clarke said. “When we looked at those arrests, only half of them saw a conviction and only 0.1 percent of all stops led to a conviction of a violent crime.
“Change is on the horizon in New York City and we hope that these findings help to hasten those changes,” she said.
Clarke further mentioned the office’s work in fighting for LGBT rights by working with the NFL, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer to ensure the rights of openly gay athletes, since sports has such an influence on our culture.
“We’re especially proud that Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in a major league sport, has a home right here with the Brooklyn Nets,” Clarke said. “No American should face barriers due to their sexual orientation.”
Finally, Lisa Landau, from the Health Care Bureau, spoke about mental health issues and medical debt. She explained that because of the Affordable Care Act, over 700,000 more New Yorkers have signed up with New York State Health Exchange and that their office is making sure that insurance providers hold up their end of the new laws.