Source: Yahoo News, New York Daily News
BY Erin Durkin - DAILY NEWS WRITER
Just a few years ago, Brownsville's Noble Drew Ali Plaza housing complex looked like a lost cause.
The courtyard was an open-air drug market. Two of the five buildings were vacant and taken over by squatters and drug dealers — including one dealer who commandeered 20 apartments and sold $20,000 of heroin a day.
Hallways were filled with urine, graffiti and garbage, and front-door locks were always broken.
"It was a mess here. . . . There was a lot of crime, people getting shot and killed," said Remy Johnson, 54. "It was disgusting. It wasn't even livable."
But after ex-Mets slugger Mo Vaughn bought the 386-unit complex in 2007, city cops and a private security firm launched a major effort to clean it up.
The results are impressive.
Major crimes at Noble Drew Ali have been cut in half since 2006, according to Deputy Inspector Samuel Wright, commander of the 73rd Precinct.
Cops swooped in and arrested 35 alleged drug dealers in June 2007. The new owners spent $23 million to rehab the apartment buildings and beef up security.
But the improvements have come at a price to tenants' privacy.
Residents now live under the watchful eye of 325 cameras — almost one for every apartment — installed in courtyards, stairwells and elevators.
Several residents complained that getting into the complex was restrictive: Security guards check IDs and tenants must use keys with sensors to pass through locked gates.
Investigators from SecureWatch 24 observe digital images streamed to flat-screen monitors, and crack down on small offenses to deter bigger crimes.
"It wasn't just slap up cameras and everybody cross their fingers," said SecureWatch 24 president Desmond Smyth.
"You have to fix the door immediately after it's broken. You have to pursue the arrest on the person who broke the door or graffitied the elevator," he said. "The idea is to create an environment that's just too uncomfortable to operate illegal activities in."
Neil Nappi, security director of Omni New York, played back video of a teenager kicking a hole in a laundry room wall — and then looking up at a security camera and realizing his mistake.
"He knows he's on camera. He knows he just screwed up," said Nappi, adding the young man's family was charged to fix the wall.
When bigger crimes happen, the cameras catch those, too. Cops arrested a suspect in a July 3 shooting near the plaza after spotting him on video carrying a gun.
Most tenants welcomed the changes.
"You're never going to get rid of drugs [but] we came a long way," Johnson said. "If someone does something wrong, they're going to get caught."
But some say the crackdown has gone too far. Claudette Robinson, 44, said her son is frequently stopped by cops.
"Every night he gets harassed by the police," said Robinson. "I want a change, but the police harassment I don't like."
SecureWatch uses similar tactics at 1,200 other properties around the city — but Noble Drew Ali was one of the hardest cases.
"It was really Brooklyn's house of horrors," said executive vice president Thomas Barrett.
Police from the 73rd Precinct also stepped up patrols to the complex, and entered the area in the Impact Zone program, where rookie cops flood the zone to reduce quality of life offenses, Wright said.
There were 10 assaults and five robberies reported at the property in 2006, compared with two assaults and one robbery so far this year, he said.
Robinson admitted the complex is "much quieter now; it's peaceful. . . . We still got rats . . . but they're trying."