Candidly, Camera Project is Nothing But a Boondoggle

NY Daily News
August 17, 2012

In the aftermath of the murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, state Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind trumpeted a $1 million grant to install 150 security cameras in Borough Park and Midwood, Brooklyn.

But what they touted as a safety boost turns out to be a case study in slush fund spending, backdoor borrowing, poor planning and irresponsible handling of taxpayer money. In other words, it’s a classic Albany boondoggle.

The Daily News reported last week that the project has stalled over concerns about who will control the cameras and NYPD access to them. But the program’s flaws go much deeper.

Leiby was walking home from camp last summer when he was lured off the street by predator Levi Aron, who killed the boy and cut up his body. Aron — who was tracked down in part through private security cameras — pleaded guilty this month and faces 40 years to life in prison.

At a press conference in May, Hikind, Skelos and other pols promised a surveillance network for Leiby’s mostly Orthodox Jewish area.

Featured at the event was one of the state-of-the-art cameras supposedly to be used and a map with red dots marking where the devices would be placed. Skelos committed the $1 million.

Turns out neither Hikind nor anyone else had determined how much 150 cameras would cost, or who would install, maintain and operate them.

Eager to please a Republican-friendly community, Skelos okayed the outlay without a proposal in hand, tapping a GOP-controlled slush fund.

The Legislature has supposedly sworn off this kind of political spending, but a pot sits in custody of the state Dormitory Authority, which sells bonds to borrow money for construction and economic development projects. Skelos grabbed $1 million of the money, never mind that a rule of fiscal management says borrowed money should be used only for long-term projects like road building .

Plus, Skelos directed the grant to Agudath Israel, an Orthodox Jewish organization that, like the Dormitory Authority, has no expertise in security.

Three months later, the project is predictably confused. Shomrim, a volunteer patrol, declined a role, citing a lack of resources. And an Agudath official said he couldn’t supply details because the group is awaiting instructions from the state.

Meanwhile, some question whether Agudath — representing a community that often resists involving law enforcement in matters considered internal — is the right group to manage cameras that must be accessible to police.

Hikind insists Agudath will merely oversee the project while delegating the nuts and bolts to a qualified security company. In fact, he said he has interviewed several such companies and settled on a favorite, which he declined to name.

“We’re going to let the professionals handle this,” he said. If only.