New laws would target those who commit crimes of opportunity during states of emergency

New York, NY – Today, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn advocated for the passage of new laws that would create criminal and civil penalties for those who target vulnerable New Yorkers during a local state of emergency. Based on a proposal first presented in recently introduced legislation sponsored by Minority Leader James Oddo and Council Member Eric Ulrich, Speaker Quinn expressed her support for the concept and committed to working towards passing even more comprehensive legislation. Council Member Rosie Mendez joined the Speaker and sponsors at today’s announcement.

Reports of crime following recent Hurricanes Irene and Sandy have included troubling cases of criminals targeting vulnerable residents of mandatory evacuation zones, by illegally posing as city officials and by looting abandoned property. Just yesterday it was reported that two men were arrested for stealing relief supplies from a church. The proposed legislation will target the perpetrators of such crimes.

The purpose of the legislation is to recognize that crimes of opportunity committed during times of emergency are different and more serious than simple burglary or trespass and that they need to be treated as such. The new law would thus target those who, during a local state of emergency, knowingly or recklessly act or attempt to act in a manner that causes or would likely cause harm to a person or property such as entering property without permission, injuring, damaging, or removing/stealing property, physically harming a person by use of force or harming a person or property through fraudulent methods. In addition to criminal penalties, the legislation authorizes the City’s Corporation Counsel to pursue civil actions against perpetrators.

“Crimes committed during and in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and in any other time of crisis are crimes of opportunity carried out against vulnerable people and communities struggling to rebuild,” said Speaker Quinn. “In fact, such crimes are even worse because they divert critical resources from helping victims recover from disasters. These acts must therefore be treated with the utmost seriousness and result in significant penalties. I’m proud to support legislation that states loud and clear that taking advantage of New Yorkers during emergency situations will not be tolerated. I want to thank Minority Leader Oddo and Council Members Ulrich and Ignizio for their leadership on this crucial issue.”

“Anyone who takes advantage of a natural disaster to prey on their fellow New Yorkers deserves to be punished harshly,” said Minority Leader Oddo. “This has two parts. First, the criminal justice system must work to ensure that perpetrators are punished to the fullest extent possible. At the same time, there should be real and harsh additional penalties for those who would commit such crimes. This bill does that. Maybe it does not deter the hardened criminals who commit crimes no matter the potential punishment. But it might deter those who are tempted to commit crimes of opportunity in neighborhoods that have been evacuated when a dangerous storm is on its way.”

“People who commit crimes in disaster areas are downright despicable and deserve to face the stiffest penalties under the law,” said Council Member Ulrich. “If passed, this bill would punish those who capitalize on other’s misfortune and act as a deterrent for anyone who thinks they can get away with breaking the law.”

“It is disgusting to think that anyone would scam or loot during an emergency, but this law will help make sure these crooks think twice before they act and are punished more severely if they do,” said Committee on Public Safety Chair Vallone, Jr.

Council Member Debi Rose said, “I wish that I did not have to be standing here today. I wish that this law was not necessary. But, sadly, it is necessary, so I am standing here today with Speaker Quinn and Council Members Oddo, Ignizio, and Ulrich to support this important legislation. Victims of storm and flood are robbed of so much – of their homes, their businesses, of memories that cannot be re-captured. To steal from them is doubly treacherous and must not be countenanced; those who steal from victims of natural disaster must be made examples of, and receive the harshest punishment possible for such a despicable act. Our Zone A residents should not have to fear for their personal items being looted in time of an evacuation.”

“Only the worst among us would use a natural disaster as an opportunity to prey on the vulnerability of others,” said Council Member Domenic M. Recchia Jr. “This legislation makes clear that during a mandatory evacuation, those who break the law in order to take advantage of New Yorkers will not be tolerated and will be subject to the full extent of our legal system.”
“As a City, we must demonstrate zero tolerance for looting, vandalism, and other criminal acts perpetrated during an emergency,” said Council Member Margaret Chin. “Anyone who seeks to take advantage of others during a life-threatening situation must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I want to thank Speaker Quinn, as well as Council members Oddo and Ulrich, for taking the lead on this important issue.”

“The idea that someone would take advantage of a mandatory evacuation by looting, or committing other property crimes, is not just disgusting, it is also directly endangering others,” said Council Member Lewis Fidler. “They are forcing the police department to divert needed manpower from rescuing people to protecting property. My community was hit hard by the recent hurricane and I continue to be proud of the many neighbors who worked together to help each other. There is simply no place in our community, or our City, for people who would instead seek their own illegal gain.”