Elected officials advocated Monday for the passage of new legislation that would create criminal and civil penalties for those who target vulnerable New Yorkers during a local state of emergency.
Reports of crime following hurricanes Irene and Sandy include criminals targeting residents of mandatory evacuation zones by posing as city officials and looting abandoned property. The proposed legislation will target the perpetrators of such crimes.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn advocated for such laws, expressing her support for the proposal first presented in legislation sponsored by Council Minority Leader James Oddo and Queens City Councilman Eric Ulrich.
"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 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."
The legislation would 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.
Those who knowingly act in a manner that causes or would likely cause harm to a person or property during a local state of emergency would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. In addition to criminal penalties, the legislation authorizes the City’s Corporation Counsel to pursue civil actions against perpetrators.
"Anyone who takes advantage of a natural disaster to prey on their fellow New Yorkers deserves to be punished harshly," Oddo said. "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."