Senator Michael Balboni has co-sponsored and passed legislation in the New York State Senate that would create a new license plate called the "United We Stand Anti-Terrorism" plate, with the surcharge going toward paying rewards for anyone turning in terrorists both at home and overseas. The distinctive license plate will contain the words "United We Stand" with the image of the Statue of Liberty and red, white and blue running around the statue's upraised arm. A $25 surcharge would be added to the usual plate registration fee, with proceeds going to the Rewards for Justice Fund.
The new "United We Stand Anti-Terrorism" license plate.
"The United We Stand license plate is an opportunity for New Yorkers to display their patriotism, as well as contribute to the war on terrorism," Balboni said.
The Rewards for Justice Fund was created shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks as a means for the American public to provide direct financial support to government anti-terrorism activities. All monies collected by the fund will be given to the U.S. State Department's Rewards for Justice Program, an initiative begun in 1984 which uses reward payments to bring terrorists to justice. It was this program which led to the arrest of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the alleged mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attacks. The legislation has been sent to the Assembly for consideration.
State Senator Michael Balboni and his colleagues on the New York
State Senate Task Force on State and Local Emergency Preparedness held their first public hearing in Albany on March 13 in a continuing effort to determine if communities across the state are prepared to mount effective responses to unexpected disasters.
"Since its inception following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and anthrax attacks, the Senate Task Force on State and Local Emergency Preparedness has held several fact finding meetings in an attempt to assess New York State's capabilities and preparedness in responding to disasters," Balboni said.
"By beginning a series of local hearings and roundtable discussions, we will have a better understanding of how prepared our localities are to deal with a disaster and what additional resources they may need. Such information will provide better insight into how emergency responders at all levels can function more effectively, both on their own and in coordination with other groups."
The Task Force heard testimony from first responders, including personnel at Ground Zero, about current local disaster plans and what additional training, funding, support and assistance first responders and local entities need to respond to disasters in light of Sept. 11. Participants in the hearings, including fire chiefs and EMS personnel, told Task Force members of the need for improved pre-incident communication and planning in order to prevent disasters. They also discussed the additional resources needed to mitigate disasters, including training, staffing and voluntarism, equipment and communication and new technology.
To date, the Task Force has held several meetings and has conducted informational meetings with James Kallstrom, director, New York State Office of Public Safety; James Natoli, director, Governor's Office of State Operations; Edward Jacoby, director, State Emergency Management Office (SEMO); and officials from the New York State Department of Health.
Members of the Task Force have also toured the Department of Health's David Axelrod Institute to learn about their capabilities for addressing infectious disease and bio-terrorism and inspected the SEMO underground disaster response coordination bunker.
The Task Force's efforts are part of a coordinated state response to the public's demand for increased disaster and emergency preparedness that also include the creation by Governor Pataki of a new Office of Public Security and enactment of tough new anti-terrorism laws.
The Task Force will be conducting another public hearing in metropolitan New York in late spring.
Concerned by the ever-increasing presence of gangs in Long Island suburbs and the rise of gang-related violence on school property, State Senator Michael Balboni and Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli were joined by other elected officials and members of the Nassau County and Port Washington Police Departments to highlight the need for a more coordinated community response to gang violence.
The group called for a multifaceted approach in addressing gang problems, including the passage of more stringent anti-gang legislation, utilization of a gang-tracking database, implementation of intervention programs and better awareness by parents and educators of gang activity in their communities.
Recent arrests of gang members on school grounds in New Cassel, Port Washington, Garden City Park and Hempstead have called attention to the vulnerability of students, schools and entire communities to gang violence. Once thought safe havens for children, school grounds are now being used to recruit new gang members. In response, Balboni has sponsored and passed in the Senate legislation that would establish the crime of gang recruitment on school grounds. Since gang viability is dependent upon membership, it is anticipated that by criminalizing gang recruitment, a gang's structure will be greatly weakened.
"Schools should be safe havens for children, not stalking grounds for predatory gang members." Balboni said. "Gangs prey upon and intimidate students without fear of retribution because there are no specific laws on the books to prosecute them. We need to pass legislation that explicitly prohibits and prosecutes gang recruitment on school grounds. But more importantly, we need to establish better communication between parents, educators, law enforcement officers and our children about what we can do to recognize the presence of gangs in our communities and how we can protect ourselves against their influence."
DiNapoli said, "Increasingly, criminal gangs are turning to schools as recruitment centers to increase their membership and expand their criminal and violent activities. State penalties should be increased to serve as a deterrent for those who seek to intimidate and prey on our children, disrupt their education and threaten the safety of our teachers and our communities."
Balboni also noted that stiffening penalties is only one component of combating gang influence. Communities should also implement programs that build children's self-esteem, encourage community involvement and discourage the negative influences of gangs.
The Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentoring Program is one such program that helps keep disadvantaged and troubled youths from getting into further trouble. Community-based mentoring programs such as this are highly successful in keeping kids drug and alcohol free, keeping them in school and fostering better relationships with parents and peers.
Balboni and DiNapoli are currently seeking funding for a Big Brothers Big Sisters Program that would focus on neighborhoods where gang violence is prevalent.
Town of North Hempstead Councilman Tom Dwyer, actively involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters since 1996, said, "It is incumbent upon us as a community to fight gang violence and to give children positive energy and attempt to bring stability and foundation to their lives. Our elected leaders are here today weeding out the bad element in our community and also seeding the community with a program that I hold near and dear to my heart, Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentoring Program."
Town of North Hempstead Supervisor May Newburger concurred, saying, "I applaud our legislators for taking the steps necessary to deal with the issue of gang violence. It is important to address gang threats now before they turn into real problems later. We must focus our efforts on being preventative rather than corrective."
According to local, county and state law enforcement officials, members of well-organized, national gangs including MS-13, the Bloods and the Crips, have begun recruiting new gang members on school grounds. Balboni noted that gang activity has become so pervasive and so destructive in certain areas that the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) formed a task force several years ago to identify and monitor gang-related activities.
In an effort to reach out to school districts, gang experts from the NCPD meet with school boards all over the county to instruct educators on how to recognize gang symbols (tattoos, graffiti, colors) and to assist them in deterring/preventing gang activity.
Dr. Albert Inserra, superintendent of schools, Port Washington School District said, "No issue is more important than the safety of our children and staff. Legislation that helps support law enforcement and at the same time provides communities and school districts with the resources to educate everyone on the random violence that is plaguing communities across the country must be encouraged. I also appreciate any effort that focuses our attention on prevention rather than correction. I want to thank Senator Balboni and Assemblyman DiNapoli in bringing this issue to the attention of the State Legislature and many thanks to the Port Washington Police Department for their efforts in helping to make Port Washington a safer place for everyone."
Detective Corey Alleyne of the Special Investigations Squad of the NCPD says that police efforts in dealing with gangs are not just about enforcement, but also include intervention and prevention tactics. "Gang violence requires a number of solutions," said Detective Alleyne. "The first step is to acknowledge that gangs are in our communities and in our schools. We must use every resource at our disposal to deter their activities, to prevent kids from joining the gangs and to keep parents and teachers informed about signs of gang activity in their neighborhoods. The sooner we acknowledge the problem of gangs, the faster we will get results."
One of the difficulties for law enforcement in tracking gang activity is that gang members operate under multiple aliases and move frequently. Although there are several gang databases available for use by local, state and federal law enforcement officers, the systems are often incompatible with one another. With the aid of a $100,000 grant from Balboni, Nassau County has implemented a gang-tracking database called GangNet. Once fully operational, GangNet will assist local police officers in identifying, tracking and prosecuting gang members.
"It is apparent that no community is safe from gang violence, but by working together, we can minimize their influence in our neighborhoods," concluded Balboni and DiNapoli.