City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) announced that she would back a bill sponsored by Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) that would add penalties to certain crimes committed in parts of the city under mandatory evacuations during emergencies like Hurricane Sandy, a development that may bring the bill closer to passage.
“Crimes committed during and in the aftermath of Sandy and in any other time of crisis are crimes of opportunity carried out against vulnerable people and communities struggling to rebuild,” Quinn said. “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 bill would add a $50,000 fine for those convicted of crimes, such as looting and fraud, committed against people in areas under mandatory evacuation orders. After Sandy, there were scattered reports of looting in the Rockaways and in parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island. Some residents in Howard Beach and other neighborhoods reported that people disguised as relief or construction workers attempted to defraud or successfully defrauded storm victims.
Ulrich said the bill’s intention is to target people who take advantage of situations like Sandy for their own gain.
“This bill would punish those who capitalize on others’ misfortune and act as a deterrent for anyone who thinks they can get away with breaking the law,” he said.
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, also threw his support behind the bill.
“It is disgusting to think that anyone would scam or loot during an emergency, but this law will help make sure these crooks think twice before they act and are punished more severely if they do,” he said. In addition to criminal penalties, the legislation also authorizes the City’s Corporation Counsel to pursue civil actions against perpetrators.