Klein launches Graffiti Court Watchers

A crowd of community members fed up with slap-on-the-wrist sentences for graffiti offenses met outside of Bronx Criminal Court to call for jail time for repeat adult offenders. The group, decked out in bright colored T-shirts drawing attention to the perils of graffiti, were on hand for the launch of Senator Jeff Klein’s Court Watchers Program.

The program launchedon Friday, April 16 works in conjunction with the Bronx District Attorney’s office by having groups of citizens sit in on court hearings for graffiti vandals and tracking the progression of the cases.

The groups will wear brightly colored T-shirts with slogans “no graffiti” and “our community wants to be graffiti free”that are designed to send a message to a presiding judge that the community would not tolerate light sentencing in graffiti cases. The idea is to increase the community’s presence in the courtroom when cases are being heard. As part of the Court Watchers program, the volunteers will sit in the proceedings as an expression of their desire for jail time for the defendants.

“Graffiti to our homes, businesses, and places of worship causes emotional and in many cases financial distress and is too serious a crime to allow vandals to get away with a slap on the wrist,” Klein said. “This program shows judges that we stand strong and stand together in our call to make graffiti sentences tougher and make sure that defendants see real jail time.”

The group included Community Board 10 district manager Kenneth Kearns, Community Board 11 district manager John Fratta, and members of the Waterbury LaSalle Community Association, Van Nest Civic Association, Country Club Civic Association and Pelham Bay Taxpayers and Community Association. The Court-Watcher’s first sit-in takes place on April 22.

Klein also took the opportunity to release data from the Bronx District Attorney’s office showing the outcomes of graffiti cases in 2010. According to the Bronx DA’s office, from January 1 to April 1, 17 cases were heard in Bronx Criminal Court for either making graffiti or possession of graffiti making instruments. In all of those cases, the defendants were charged as adults and 13 ended in guilty pleas, but only one defendant received jail time.

“I think that the community has to stay involved in what happens in the justice system,” said Joe Thompson, president of the 49th Precinct Council. “I think that the justice system works well but unfortunately sometimes the communication between the District Attorney, police and judge breaks down and I think it is incumbent upon the community that’s affected by the recidivists to go and speak up and let the system know how harmful these people are.”

“I am very excited about this program,” said Mary Jane Musano of the WLCA. “We have implemented a lot of creative programs in the past, and they are helping, but they are not getting us to where we want to be. I believe that Senator Klein’s program is really going to get us to that point.”

Reach reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 742-3393.

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