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What it takes to get security cameras in NYCHA buildings

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BROOKLYN (PIX11) — At the Boulevard Houses in the East New York section of Brooklyn, parents are holding their children a little tighter these days.

That is where police say a violent ex-con fatally stabbed 6-year-old P.J. Avitto and seriously wounded his best friend, 7-year-old Mikayla Capers, with more than a dozen stab wounds inside their building elevator.

In the days since the attack, an intense manhunt for the attacker and his arrest four days later, the New York City Housing Authority has come under fire for the long-delayed installation of a surveillance camera system at the housing development.

Currently, just one of the development’s 18 buildings has a surveillance camera. And even though more than a dozen cameras have been approved for the complex, they won’t be up and running until at least October.

Tenant association president Inez Rodriguez now wonders if there had been an electronic eye installed in that small metal box, or even in the lobby of the building, maybe residents wouldn’t be left paying their respects at a memorial garden created in young Avitto’s honor.

Rodriguez said she’s furious Mayor Bill de Blasio and city Housing Authority officials are just now committing to streamlining the bureaucratic process involved in getting an effective security system up and running at a housing development in desperate need of it.

“We’ve been going through this since 2009 fighting over cameras, not before. We’ve been fighting. I’m so frustrated. Because every time they say they’re going to get the cameras done, the papers are delayed, there’s a process, there’s another process. We’re now in 2014,” Rodriguez said.

In the week following the fatal stabbing, PIX11 immediately zeroed in with a series of reports on the bureaucracy that delayed the security camera installation at the Boulevard Houses.

de Blasio eventually acknowledged the problem, and demanded the Housing Authority streamline its process. NYCHA pledged to make that happen.

But the agency’s challenge is clear: how to trim down that bureaucratic process in the future without the media glare from two stabbed children dominating the headlines.

Under the existing protocol, after a law maker secures the funding for security cameras, as former councilman Charles Barron did for Boulevard Houses back in July 2013, NYCHA consults with the NYPD, and secures signatures from community leaders.

At Boulevard, that wait took three months.

NYCHA then delivers its suggested plan to a contractor, who heads out to the development to spec out the system.

The contractor then needs to submit its expert recommendations back to NYCHA. Housing officials said this stage alone can take weeks, if not months.

With an approved plan in hand, NYCHA must then send the contract to the city Office of Management and Budget – or OMB – in order to get what’s called a “Certificate to Proceed.”

After OMB sends back that “Certificate,” NYCHA must then send out that same contract to the city Comptroller’s office to get it registered.

Only after that registration can residents celebrate, as a contractor actually begins working.

After the stabbing and the mayor’s involvement, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said  Housing officials miraculously sent his office 60 contracts in bulk for registration.

Stringer worries about NYCHA’s ability to get the job done moving forward.

“The problem is that the New York City housing authority needs to come in to the 21st century, and needs to understand that the last minute, slapstick resolution of these issues does not end up helping the tenants,” he said.

“It’s outrageous. Why an agency that’s in charge of hundreds of thousands of people can’t get their act together. And quite frankly, it discriminates against people who live in their own housing, and it puts our children at risk.”

P.J. Avitto, Mikayla Capers, and the glaring absence of a security cameras at Boulevard Houses were on Rodriguez’s mind as she walked us into her building’s small elevator, which is identical to the elevator in which those two children suffered such a brutal attack.

Standing in that small space, thinking about what happened, had a profound effect on this tenant association president.