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NY DAILY NEWS: Daily News report spurs state to investigate if city has correctly reported homeless shelter crime

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From New York Daily News:

State officials have launched an investigation into whether Mayor de Blasio’s administration has been properly disclosing criminal activity in homeless shelters as required by law, the Daily News has learned.

The state Office of Temporary & Disability Assistance (OTDA) “has begun a formal investigation into New York City’s conduct and demands that they immediately provide all information required under the regulations,” agency spokesman Tim Ruffinen said Wednesday.

The probe comes in response to The News’ revelation Wednesday that the city has been hiding from the public hundreds of arrests at shelters citywide.

The city Department of Homeless Services (DHS) must by law report a long list of incidents at shelters, including most arrests, to OTDA.

DHS claimed that in December 2016, the state had agreed to their decision to reclassify and reduce the number of categories of “critical incidents” they’re required to report.

But the state said Wednesday that is simply not true.

“New York City’s claim that OTDA agreed to reduce reporting is false,” Ruffinen said. “OTDA never agreed that NYC could reduce its reporting under regulations. It is also illogical that OTDA would do so, given that the latest OTDA regulations are expressly designed to increase reporting and enhance the protections and security of shelter residents.”

In fact after the News revealed in February DHS’ reclassification move, OTDA warned the agency that it was still required to report all the incidents listed by state regulation “regardless of what DHS classifies them,” according to a Feb. 20 email reviewed by the News.

In response, DHS said they continued to report “all serious incidents that impact on the safety and well-being of clients and staff.”

On Wednesday the News revealed that DHS’ public reports on shelter safety last year made no reference to hundreds of arrests at shelters that were cataloged by the DHS police.

For example at the Atlantic Armory Men’s Shelter in Brooklyn, the city claimed there were zero incidents of clients using, possessing or selling drugs.

But DHS police reports obtained by the News show there were 113 narcotics-related incidents, including 51 drug-related arrests there last year.

The mayor disputed the News’ findings at an unrelated press conference and insisted the city was meeting all its reporting requirements on shelter incidents.

“We are very comfortable being transparent about arrests in shelter,” he said.

The questions about hiding shelter arrest data come as de Blasio is vowing to build 90 new shelters across the city. To date he’s built 11, and in several neighborhoods plans to place homeless in hotels or open new shelters have met loud resistance from neighborhood residents.

Other elected officials had a different response to the News’ findings.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson called the hiding of shelter arrests “unacceptable. We need transparency on those figures.”

And Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), chair of the council’s oversight & investigations committee, asked the city Department of Investigation to review how the city reports on shelter safety.

“Is the city reporting in the precise manner required by state regulators?” Torres asked in a letter to DOI Commissioner Mark Peters. A DOI spokeswoman declined comment.

On Wednesday dozens of neighbors held a Midtown press conference citing The News investigation to question the city’s recently announced plans to open a 140-bed men’s shelter in a hotel on W. 58th St.

Standing outside the Park Savoy Hotel members of the West 58th Street coalition said the News expose proves that the city’s homeless statistics can’t be trusted.

“This does not make me feel very safe, seeing all these statistics that were hidden from the public,” said resident Helen Kim. “Really, the city has lost the community’s trust. I’m deeply concerned about the safety of my family.”

She said she dreads strolling down the block with her 3-year-old girl with homeless men roaming around.

“I have a small child that I walk up and down the street every single day in a stroller and can barely pass everyday with traffic,” she said.

With Edgar Sandoval, Chelsia Marcus, Erin Durkin

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