tv Eyewitness News Upclose ABC January 17, 2016 11:00am-11:30am EST
>> this is "eyewitness news upclose with diana williams." >> call it the ground zero of the criminal justice system in the biggest city in the country. new york city jails' rikers island -- it is rough, it is violent, and it's expensive, the cost to house a prisoner more than twice the price of the median family income in new york. the correction commissioner now trying to change things, especially to make it less violent. but some correctional officers claim the reforms he's making are making their jobs more dangerous. are they? this morning, we ask correction commissioner joseph ponte. but first, another commissioner with us this morning -- fire commissioner dan nigro. a record number of emergency calls for his department last year, but civilian fire deaths are way down.
fire-safe? turns out it is not that hard. good morning, everyone. diana williams. fire deaths are now at near record low level. 59 people died in fires in new york city last year. that's down 17% and just one more than the record-low deaths set in 2012. but as we enter the coldest part of the winter, the risk of fires and of carbon-monoxide poisonings increase as we close warm. joining us this morning, fire commissioner dan nigro. and full disclosure -- and we say it proudly -- the fdny a partner with wabc tv in our annual "operation 7 save a life" campaign, which is under way right now. we pass out tens of thousands of kidde smoke detector every year. commissioner, thank you for joining us. >> well, it's my pleasure and a pleasure to be partnered with abc. >> oh, and for 17 years here in new york city. you are not the dan nigro from new york city who is the former lead singer and guitarist of the indie rock band as tall as lions. just want to clear that up. >> i am not, and i've never met
>> maybe we can arrange it here on "upclose" sometime. we'll have like a little reunion between the nigros. is it that hard to be fire-safe? >> no, it really isn't. first of all, you need a working smoke alarm. you need more than one in your home. and we found last year 80% of the folks who died in their homes had no working smoke alarm. it's a tragic number. >> that means either no smoke alarm or a smoke alarm that's up there that's either too old and lost its life or doesn't have a battery. that's the most common. >> that's correct. even the latest, even the best smoke alarms now are 10 years. they don't last forever -- 10 years sealed. you don't have to change the battery. but all of them have a life, and they have to be checked regularly. >> i've often -- i've wanted to ask you this question. and i haven't, and i don't know why i haven't, but i'll ask it now. the 10 years are really great because people don't have to worry about it. on the other hand, there is something, every time you change the clocks, change your batteries, and that ensures that some people -- at least some -- will do that. you're gonna disagree with this.
>> well, certainly we like the idea of 10 years, of not having to change the battery, but maybe we need to change the slogan to say, "change the battery or test the alarm to make sure it works." doesn't mean -- things can always go wrong, but i think it's a great idea, this 10-year sealed battery. >> 'cause you don't have to worry about it. the testing is important, too. most of us don't think about that thing up there and pushing a button, but that's really the way to tell. >> you should test it quite regularly. >> because so many times, you see tragedies. as you said, it's a huge percent when just a single smoke detector would have saved a life. >> exactly. i mean, the worst fire we hadr,he tragedy in this city where we lost seven young children in the same family in a beautiful home with no working smoke alarms. it was very sad. >> yeah, and they had the smoke alarm that wasn't working in the basement. >> they had it in the basement. >> and the bedrooms were upstairs on the second floor. that's useless. >> yes, absolutely. >> the other simple thing, it seems to me -- and we just don't seem to say it enough -- is your
a fireproof building? if it's old, if it's new, how do you tell? >> well, fireproof buildings prevent fire from moving from one floor to another or one apartment to another, but it doesn't prevent fires within the apartment. and basically, if you're not careful with smoking -- and careless smoking is still a cause of fire deaths -- if you're not careful with space heaters and electric blankets and extension cords, you can cause a fire. so it's certainly something that people could get better at. and one fire death in the city would be too much for the new york city fire department. >> right. you had 59 last year. one is too much, as you said. before we get into some of the weeds of the department and stuff and get into policy, i want to keep going on this retail level of fire safety. you mentioned portable heaters. the fire department view on this -- in your house, do you have a portable heater? >> i do not. >> and you know a lot of people do. so, you just said, "be safe with them," but if you had your way, no one would have it, i assume. >> well, some heaters are
but when you use them -- i mean, people want to stay warm, so they keep moving them closer and closer and closer, whether it's to their bed, whether it's to the chair that they fall asleep in. and blankets fall on them. and they wake up with their house in flames. so, certainly they're useful, there's a place for them, but we must be cautious with them. >> one of my colleagues at "eyewitness news" just saw at costco this huge, powerful fan that blows very hot air. have you seen this? >> i have not. >> i haven't, either, but i wanted to get your take on what you think of that. >> i see them outside. people use them in garages or outside, but indoors -- i don't know. but most of them that are safe to be used indoors are not of that type. >> exactly. okay. let me talk a little bit about the department. the department made news this last fall -- the most diverse class, in many ways, that you've ever had, the graduating class. >> that's right. >> you were under court order to make it more diverse, the
that happen. 49 female firefighters -- that's the most in history. >> yeah. >> why so few women? what is about the new york fire department that women haven't either applied or haven't been accepted? >> i think, historically, the fire departments, not just in new york, but in the united states and the world, have been seen as men's worlds, not a job for women. certainly, women here in new york have proved that's not the truth. women can do the job, can do it well. there are thousands of women here in new york who can do this job. it's our job now to attract those women to a great career in the fire department. and we have a test coming up, and we will do that. >> and obviously a lot of women are in very good shape. historically, it's been, can you carry this 75- to 100-pound pack up a 40-story building, right? that's been the test. >> there's a lot of different tests of fitness, but certainly it's not a job for the unfit. but as you said, there are many thousands of women who are fit enough to do the job of a
>> and minorities, as well. you're making gains, not what you want, but it's better than it was. what is the challenge in attracting minorities? 'cause the police department has done it. >> in the last two years, we've become 30% more diverse. we're up to 20% now of women and people of color -- an improvement, but we're still not there. we're far from being -- this is a very diverse city, and our department should reflect the diversity of the city. so, going forward, we begin in march recruiting for our next test. we will do a better job, continue to do better with each test, in recruiting folks onto this job, and we will become more diverse. >> just last month, congress passed, as part of another bill, after much lobbying by people here in new york, an extension of the zadroga act, which gives benefits, healthcare benefits especially, medical benefits, to first responders, many in your department. and 9/11 was a horrible day for the new york fire department. 343 members were killed, many of your very good friends and
and i know it's still hard for you to talk about. but the extension of the zadroga act for 75 years -- what did that mean for you? >> well, just yesterday alone, we buried someone who became ill following 9/11. we have over 120 that have died since then. they continue to die each month. >> these are quiet deaths. they're not getting much publicity. >> they're not. there was a small article today in the paper about the funeral up in the bronx, but it goes on for the police department, the fire department, for all those that worked at ground zero. we were so happy that that was passed because it's so necessary for the medical care. we have over 1,000 members, active and retired, with cancer, being treated for cancer right now, just in the fire department. >> and it's hard to talk about still, right? >> it's very hard to talk about it. we thought the 343 was devastating enough, and little did we know that 14 years later we'd still be talking about deaths. >> 120 so far. >> and climbing.
have a lot more to talk to you about. will you stick around for another segment? >> sure. thank you. >> thank you, commissioner. when we come back, we'll have more of our discussion with commissioner nigro and also the remarkable and emotional story of a young man who recently joined the fdny. he's a new recruit, but to his fellow firefighters, well, his name is legendary, his father killed at ground zero on september 11th.
family when we come back. in new york state, we believe tomorrow starts today. all across the state the economy is growing, with creative new business incentives, the lowest taxes in decades, and university partnerships, attracting the talent and companies of tomorrow. like in utica, where a new kind of workforce is being trained. and in albany, the nanotechnology capital of the world. let us help grow your company's tomorrow, today at business.ny.gov meet the moore's! we're the moore family, and as you can see, we need an internet that can do more. we do more games, and more streaming. so we need more speed. that's why we switched to time warner cable. you can too. call now. now we can connect more devices,
the wifi in this house is amazing. so is my guacamole. hi grandma and grandpa! ha, look at that! [laughs] time warner cable even has an internet plan for us. get the internet speed that's right for you. from 3 megs to ultra fast 300 megs they even made it easy to switch with a one-hour arrival window. why settle for less, when you can get more! get 50 meg internet for $39.99 per month. call now. you could get free installation, no data cap, and access to over 400,000 twc wifi hotspots with select plans. call now. >> welcome back to "upclose." this morning, we're gonna take an up-close look at one of the newest fdny firefighters. his name is brendan stackpole and following in the footsteps
firefighter we at "eyewitness news" knew well, not just because of how he fought fires, but also because of how he fought back. he nearly died battling a house fire. years later, one day after he returned to the job, september 11th. tim was one of the victims. now his son brendan is stepping into his boots. >> ...firefighter brendan stackpole! [ cheers and applause ] >> brendan is the son of captain timothy stackpole, whose story of courage and determination epitomizes the fdny. in 1998, tim stackpole was one of 200 firefighters answering the call of a five-alarm fire in east new york, brooklyn. two of his fellow firefighters died battling the blaze, and tim was badly hurt. three years of painful rehab followed, and he was back on the job and promoted to captain on september 10, 2001. >> please, please send somebody! >> the following day, he rushed in again to save lives, this
tim left behind his wife, tara, and four children, including 9-year-old brendan. so, what's it like coming here, knowing your dad started here? name's on a plaque there. what's it feel like? >> it's a great honor, you know? i've been waiting my whole life for this. since i was kid, you know, it was highly influenced on me. i knew no other way. there was no other job i wanted or thought of. as a kid, the joy it gave my father and then he influenced on his children -- it was not a forced-upon thing. it was pure happiness for him, that then came into us. so we never grew up in a way of, like, "ah, i want to do something else, go another way." it's just -- we saw the love he had for it, and it affected all of us. >> the other stackpole brothers are also considering going into the family business. meanwhile, brendan's sister, a nurse, recently married, and she had an important reminder with her of her dad.
to fill, but he says it's a challenge that he's ready for. >> i'm my own person, and i need to, you know, become my own person and work just as hard, try to figure out the right way to get to, you know, where he'd want me to be. >> i think he's where his dad wants him to be. i get teary when i see it and when i talked to him i got teary-eyed and you're teary-eyed. >> absolutely. >> you were there. you knew tim. >> sure, his father was a hero of this department. the fact that he came back amazed all of us. came back from that injury from the atlantic avenue fire. and the irony of him being his first tour as captain, seeing him that morning, which i did on 9/11, and having him walk away from the command post. and it's the last any of us saw of him. so, now his son being on the job is a great tribute. >> you were chief of operations at the department that morning, and by that night... >> that night, i was chief of department because, tragically,
>> who was a friend of yours, a friend of so many's. >> absolutely. >> and i know it's painful. and we talk about 343. we talk about the number of civilian deaths, now at 59. there was a time -- 1970 -- when it was over 300. so, we have come down a lot, 9/11 notwithstanding. down a lot. >> that was my first full year in the department, 1970. and it seemed as if every day you had a fire death. you just got used to it, and you expected it. and thank god we're in a different world today. >> why is it so different? i mean, i like to think that, you know, the public campaigns we have help, the public-service announcements you guys all put out, we put out about smoke detectors. but what do you think is the real difference? >> i think when you make that large a difference, many factors go into play. the great work that the fire department does, that channel 7 does with educating the public, the fact that fewer people smoke, that people are more concerned, the fact that the
service in the city is so much better than it was in 1970. and people that we can bring out of the buildings are cared for right there on the scene and transported. so, so many factors have made it safer, and we'd like 2016 to be the safest ever. is the department in a position that you'd like it to be? if you could be mayor for a day and say, "i'm gonna give that department whatever it wants." you got $1.8 billion, which is just slightly more than the powerball this last week. it's 2% of the city budget. ideally, if you could have your wish list, how much more would you want? >> i think -- you know, i think we have a mayor today that has given this fire department what we need, and he stands behind us 100%. we've added to ems the largest increase, actually, in ems last year, in any year since the merger. it's been almost 20 years. >> enough firefighters? do you have enough firefighters? >> we have enough firefighters. we're gonna add some more emts.
continues to grow very hard. but we are evaluating whether, in the future, as this city grows, the number of firefighters and fire stations might need to grow. there's 8.6 million people here, living here, never mind the people that visit and work here. so, we're studying that very carefully. >> will you let us know if you get more firefighters? >> we will. >> [ laughs ] i think we'll find out pretty quickly about it. dan nigro, always a pleasure to see you. >> thank you. >> all right. good luck. i said we were partners with the fdny and the campaign for fire safety, and one of our projects -- and i'm so honored to have done this for 17 years -- our fire special, "operation 7 save a life" -- it airs this saturday night at 7:00, and we hope you'll watch it and join us. we'll have a version of it online, as well, in case you miss any of it. just ahead on "eyewitness news upclose," we're gonna switch topics, talk to another commish, this time new york city's correction commissioner talking about his reforms at rikers island. are they working? he says they are, but he's also running into criticism by correction officers.
>> welcome back to "upclose." no one ever said working in a jail is a cushy job. it is hard and it's tough and, yes, it can be dangerous. you've heard a lot in the past few months about violence at rikers island, new york's primary jail here in the city, and the dangers facing correction officers. they were on this broadcast a few weeks ago. this morning, the man in charge of new york jails, commissioner joseph ponte. aboard. >> thank you. >> so, what's rikers really like? how tough is it? you've been a commissioner of other -- a warden and a commissioner of other jails. >> i mean, jails are difficult. i mean, they're difficult everywhere. here in new york city, we have about 10,000 prisoners, 9 jail
boroughs and rikers island. so, one of the things we always talked about is rikers island -- you know, we have jails and court processing outside of rikers island. so, it's more than just the jails that are on the island. >> you were -- you've been commissioner since 2014. when you first came here, what did you think, and what were the challenges facing you? >> i think when we looked at the agency, there were so many broken pieces, things that just didn't work, from the hiring and selection to the training to the on-boarding -- how did we bring people and take them into our facilities? -- to our security practices to our sources. so, there were so many pieces that just had to get -- we had to get better at quickly and we had to make -- you know, we were making changes, responding to the department of justice investigation that was taking place at rndc. so, there was a lot of things that we had to look at, and that really allowed us to develop the 14-point plan which took into all the things that we saw as issues and problems in the agency and have a pretty
with them. >> so, 14-point plan. less than two years later after you took the job, where do things stand now? >> well, we made a lot of progress. we couldn't fix everything at once. we couldn't -- you know, as we fixed one thing, we created other pieces. so, the recruitment and hiring -- we now have a recruitment. we're doing much better -- >> you're talking about for officers. >> for officers. much better at recruiting, much better at hiring. and then we need to hire more people. so now, rather than running classes of 300, we're running classes of 600. that puts stresses on our academy. so, all the things that we're trying to resolve in the short term are putting other stresses on the organization that have to get fixed. so, one of the things that staff complain about all the time is overtime, meaning people are working two or three doubles a week, in some cases into triples, actually working into the third shift. we know we have to fix that in order for anything to get better. >> how many more people do you want? >> well, we're gonna add about 1,800 in 2016, which is
time in the history of the agency. and it's not just the people. it's the quality of the staff, the training of the staff, the support of the staff as we put them in these facilities, are the pieces that i think we're getting much better at. >> i want to talk about some of the numbers 'cause your office sent me the numbers that you have. use of force, serious injury to inmate, down 23%, last year versus 14%. inmate assaults on staff, injury to staff, down 11%. inmate assaults on staff, b-level, minor injury, down 3%. >> right. >> and yet the city report says -- unless i'm reading the numbers wrong -- says that inmate on staff incidents are up 8.6% for the fiscal year, 8.6% per 1,000. >> right. >> so, why is there a discrepancy? >> well, i mean, it's the same information and how it's classified. so, we classify assaults in "a," "b," and "c" categories -- so, serious assaults, assaults with some injury, and then uses of force with no injury. so, it's the classification
the serious incidents are down. overall, incidents are up. so, it's not -- you know, it's just how -- it's where do you put the measurements, too. >> it's all confusing to the layperson. department... >> a little bit. >> ...when the crime levels in new york city are up, but they're down, and shootings are up, but they're really down. >> but, no, we have very defined definitions and what fits into each category. so, it's not a play on numbers. so, a's are here. this is an "a" category. those assaults on staff are down. >> okay, so, why would the corrections officers then say and the city say that it's more dangerous? >> i'm not sure if the city's saying that. >> the city says the numbers are up, according to the ones i saw. the corrections officers say it's more dangerous. >> right. so, in response to, "is it more dangerous?" -- now, we've had great success in facilities that we've spent a lot of time and attention to. grvc, one of our most violent jails, is having some of the best outcomes it's ever had in its history with the reforms that we've put in place.
things that we have in place in new york city -- once we roll them out across the agency, then we'll see the kinds of outcomes that we're getting in one particular facility with the highest-custody inmates. >> let me play you something. last month we interviewed the head of the correction officers union, norm seabrook, who you know, and a young officer named ray calderon, who you know as well, viciously slashed by two inmates this past fall. they claim the new guidelines dangerous. i want you to listen to what reaction to it. >> absolutely. >> it's dangerous. it's out of control. and it's not safe. it's just not safe to return to work in those conditions. >> there is no -- there's no law and order inside the city's jail system. there's law and order when you commit a crime on the streets of new york. you get arrested, you come to rikers, but then inside rikers island, you can commit any crime you want and not be re-arrested for it and/or put in punitive segregation. >> what's your reaction to that? >> so, there is punitive segregation. you know, it has not been eliminated.
segregation, and we need to find ways to safely manage this population -- also, the use of punitive seg, but other alternatives. the thing that norman seabrook and others talk about is, how do you manage inmates safely? so, punitive seg is a piece of that. we do arrest inmates when they commit crimes in the jail. our arrests are higher than any other prior year. so, we are doing the criminal prosecutions. but "how do you manage inmates safely?" is an umbrella of focus in the sense of punitive seg, other alternatives to punitive seg, programming. "how do you make an inmate less dangerous?" i guess would be a good conversation. >> but you do have no punitive segregation anymore for teenagers, for 16- and 17-year-olds, juveniles. >> we have no punitive seg for 16- and 17-year-olds, which is a national model. if you went to other juvenile systems across the country, they stopped using punitive seg 10 years ago. >> the relationship between -- you don't seem like a confrontational kind of guy.
or why can't it sort of all be settled? i know the contract is one of the issues, but why can't it be settled? >> i think it can. i mean, we don't go anywhere without the union and our staff. i mean, we can't make people do things, per se, so we need to buy into our programs. where we've accomplished that -- rndc with the adolescents. we had good buy-in from staff. they bought into the change. they've managed those populations without punitive seg now for over a year very successfully. so, we believe -- i believe -- i know we have a good plan. it's comprehensive. it's not just one thing. it's a lot of pieces. >> we have about a minute left. i do want to talk to you about the philosophy of the criminal justice system and jailing. there are a lot of people like you and a lot of other wardens and corrections commissioners around the country who are analyzing why we have the biggest population of prisoners in the world -- 2.2 million. china only has 1.4 million. $70 billion or $80 billion a year it costs, $112,000 or something it costs to house a prisoner there, $61,000 in
it is amazingly expensive, and there is very little rehab doing. what are you doing to analyze this and maybe get some of these people out into programs, for instance? >> i mean, the easiest thing is, don't put them in. so, some of the bad events we've experienced on rikers island were people, you know, from the community that probably should never come into jail. so, off-boarding or stopping those -- closing those doors and getting alternatives in the community is really where the money is best spent, before you ever incarcerate them 'cause once you incarcerate them, there's a criminal process. to get them out into any program, there's a core process. so, the city is now working on, how do we then stop, close that door for those citizens who really don't need incarceration? they have a need. they may have an addiction need. they may have mental-health needs. they may have a whole host of needs. >> for the nonviolent offender, you're talking about. >> even violent offenders that have mental illness. >> mm-hmm. >> you know, they don't need jail. they need treatment. they're violent, yeah, and you
jail's not the answer. we're the largest mental-health hospital on the east coast. and l.a. county jail's the largest mental-health hospital on the west coast. >> and i'm taking it you don't think that's the right thing. >> it is not the right thing to do. >> well, there is a sea change, and you're one of the people leading it. commissioner, thank you for joining us. >> thank you very much. >> joe ponte, with the commissioner of correction for new york city commission -- correction -- commission -- commissioner of correction. i'll get your title right. thanks, joe. that's gonna do it for this edition of "upclose," before i stop learning how to talk. if you missed any of today's program, you can catch it again on our website, abc7ny. i'm bill ritter. thank you for watching, and for all of us here at channel 7,