Fearful Residents Blast Planned Move of a Probation Office to FiDi

Nov. 07, 2013

Financial District residents crowded into a hearing room last month in a display of anger and fear over the planned move of a probation office to their neighborhood.

The city plans to move a division of the Department of Probation from its 346 Broadway offices, at Leonard Street, to 66 John Street. According to city officials, who appeared at the sometimes raucous meeting of Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee, a daily average of 40 “low-risk” offenders would report to the offices. 

The relocation of the Probation De­part­ment’s Community Progression Track, as the office is called, is part of a shuffling of many city agencies to new locations due to the sale of two city buildings.

The most common offenses among those visiting the offices, which are open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., are theft and larceny, drug-related charges and driving while intoxicated, said Ry­an Dodge, the Probation Department’s communications director. He tried to allay residents’ fears, saying that the offenders “earned their way” into the program based on many factors, including job and family status and compliance with their terms of probation.

“The vast majority of probation clients are everyday New Yorkers who are working to overcome their past mistakes,” he said. “We’re committed to helping them do so, but our first priority is public safety.”

Dodge, along with Matthew Berk, a city real estate official, and Laurence Busching, a criminal justice coordinator in the mayor’s office, sat at a table facing the committee. The three men drew verbal fire from the board and community members who expressed their indignation over a plan that came to light, only incidentally, a couple of weeks before.

Repeatedly, plan opponents referred to schools and families in the area and the perceived threat to residents’ safety.

“I want you to look her in the eye and tell her you want her to be the victim of a crime,” Millie Gillon, a Financial District resident, said, holding her 8-month-old daughter and squarely facing the city representatives. “And you want her mother to be the victim of a crime.”

Mark Craig, the president of 99 John Street, a condominium with more than 400 units, noted the many children in his building and the surrounding area. “You have a lot of narrow streets that can be conducive to hanging out,” he said. 

Many at the meeting, held in the New York State Assembly hearing room, were angry over the lack of notification by the city, much like the reaction of Tribeca residents over a planned summons court move from 346 Broadway to 71 Thomas Street

“It’s unfortunate that there was no due process where people should have the opportunity to come and raise concerns,” said Paul Goldstein, director of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s district office. In a letter to administration officials, Silver expressed his “deep concerns” about the plan.

“Now that the cat is out of the bag, it’s time for this administration to listen to us,” said Patrick Kennell, a Financial Dis­trict resident, noting an online petition against the move with more than 1,500 signatures.

The city officials listened but continued to insist that the community had no­thing to fear. “There are residential apartments across the street and next door,” Busching said of the current probation office, “and we’ve had no complaints.”

Other sites were considered, Berk said, but “programmatically, operationally, this [66 John Street] location was the best solution.”

“There is anxiety,” responded committee member Susan Cole. “There is nothing you’re telling us that alleviates that anxiety.”

The community board later passed a  a resolution “strongly” opposing the re­location of the probation office to 66 John Street. A “comprehensive assessment” of the impact to the neighborhood should be conducted, the board said, be­fore the move takes place.