Graffiti taggers are not the worst offenders in the spectrum of cases Queens County prosecutors deal with every day, but the district attorney's office knows vandalism may lead to greater mistakes.
This is where the Second Chance program comes into play, Assistant District Attorney Gail Giordano told last week's 110th Precinct Community Council meeting.
Second Chance, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, deals with roughly 600 offenders annually, Giordano said. She said only 4 percent become repeat offenders.
The program starts when a prosecutor or judge recommends a defendant for an in-depth interview with Second Chance representatives. If the interview goes well, he or she appears with a parent before a panel of community leaders who scrutinize the defendant's background and decide whether he or she needs special counseling, treatment or just community service.
Giordano said the 110th Precinct is among the city's best in terms of graffiti cleanup and crackdowns, hailing Corona resident Frank Pacific as a key reason for the program's success in the neighborhood.
Pacific, who interviews Second Chance candidates and goes on clean-up runs with them, said store owners often thank the offenders for their work, giving them crucial recognition.
"We feel we are in a special position where we can help," he said. "It's when you make that human connection that they start opening up. I tell them, 'You already went in front of the judge. I am not your judge.' "
The program is not limited to minors. Offenders who enter the program range from teenagers to people in their 60s, Giordano said.
Giordano said around 20 percent of young people brought into the program because of graffiti have Attention Deficit Disorder.
"They're easily led," she said. "It gives us something to work with."
Deputy Inspector Richard Napolitano, the 110th Precinct commander, hailed the program but said police also try to cut off graffiti at the source with sting operations at shops that sell supplies to taggers.
"We send in underage persons to buy markers and then summons the owner of the store," he said.
Those who are not in the Second Chance program can also get in on graffiti clean-up efforts. The 110th Community Council is planning a graffiti cleanup day June 7 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 104th Street and 43rd Avenue. For more information, call 718-558-0228.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@tim
©2008 Community News Group
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