At a time when city and state agencies are struggling with budget constraints, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has a windfall of $808 million from criminal penalties against three international banks accused of violating U.S. sanctions: HSBC, Standard Chartered and BNP Paribas, says the New York Times. The money must be spent on criminal justice projects. Vance is giving grants to agencies across the U.S. to test piles of rape kits that had been collecting dust in storage. He pledged millions to start an international center to monitor cyberattacks and has provided seed money for a new institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice to educate the nation's 2,700 prosecutors. Some good-government advocates say the grand-making prompts questions about transparency and oversight. “Cy has always been a big fish, but now he's even a bigger fish,” said an official with a nonprofit criminal justice group, who spoke anonymously because his organization is seeking grants. Asked if he had found he suddenly had lots of new friends now that he must give away close to a billion dollars, Vance said, “No … We have tried not to be showy. We haven't invested in anything crazy.”
Vance has sunk large sums into equipment and capital improvements aimed at reducing crime in New York City. He earmarked $90 million to the police department to buy smartphones and tablets for officers, and $101 million to the city's housing projects to improve lighting and upgrade locks and security cameras. About $459 million has been allocated so far. Vance sees the windfall as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pay for new programs and technologies that could have a lasting impact on crime. “I call them transformative investments,” he said. Whether the purchases he is underwriting are, in the long run, “transformative,” or merely one-shot gifts to strapped agencies, remains to be seen.