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The Constantine Institute

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The Spinal Cord Injury Research Program.  
On February 13, 2013, under the auspices of the New York Neural Stem Cell Research Institute of Rensselaer, New York, a gathering of top neurological researchers convenened in Albany, NY to report on the progress that has been made in paralysis research since the state enacted the historic Spinal Cord Injury Research Program Act in July, 1998. 




The Constantine Institute, Inc.

102 Willett Street

Albany, New York 12210








13 FEBRUARY 2013

Welcome to Albany where, as the Manhattan-based think tank the Brennan Center famously declared in 2004, all is dysfunctional. The Brennan report singled out the Legislature as the fount of all dysfunction. I’m one of the people in town who knows otherwise. Over a career of nearly three decades, I have worked through our legislative process to accomplish some remarkable things. The Spinal Cord Injury Research Program is one of them.

The Constantine Institute, Inc., of which I am Director, has been organized to promote the highest constitutional, legal, ethical and professional standards in law enforcement; to encourage innovation in public safety strategy, tactics, training and education and to foster a seamless continuum of cooperation, support and mutual respect among public safety agencies and organizations.

You may ask why an organization that was formed to promote public safety has so much invested in a medical research program. Simple. Our purpose is to promote “outside-the-box” thinking.

High on any list of progressive and positive concepts in the field of public safety is that of Restorative Justice. Simply stated, restorative justice is an approach to community public safety that emphasizes undoing the harm caused by crime. It often takes the form of restitution or reconciliation between victim and offender. With vision and imagination, far more sweeping measures can be taken to address the damage caused by misconduct we normally rely on retributive justice to address.

The Spinal Cord Injury Research Program (SCIRP) Act of 1998 is one of those measures. It is the achievement of former New York state trooper Paul Richter. It was also the crowning career achievement of former Assemblyman Edward Griffith.

For nearly 30 years, Griffith represented the people of the 40th Assembly District, the East New York section of Brooklyn. East New York was so plagued by drugs, poverty and gun violence that it was known as “the murder capital of New York City.” As a consequence of the crack epidemic of the closing decades of the 20th century, it has had way more than its share of innocent victims paralyzed by gunshot wounds.

Paul Richter sustained a spinal cord injury when he was shot by a man he had pulled over outside of Lake Placid who had just stolen a trunk-load of handguns from a sporting goods store. Had Paul not stopped him, those guns would have ended up on the streets in criminal hands. What happened to Paul should remind us of the terrible cost of controlling commerce in illegal guns.

I had the good fortune of bringing Richter and Griffith together in the spring of 1998 when Griffith agreed to sponsor Richter’s bill. There was something compelling about this partnership between the state trooper who was gunned down on a country road in the Adirondacks and the politician who represented an inner city neighborhood where criminal gun violence was almost a daily occurrence. For both of them, and for all the people who will benefit in years to come as a result of the research program they created, this was a truly great achievement.

This was an extraordinary moment of possibility in tackling a medical problem that since the days of the pharaohs doctors have told patients and families there is simply no hope. Dr. Wise Young of Rutgers University was telling the national media that we were on the verge of major breakthroughs. The late Christopher Reeve, himself a victim of spinal cord injury paralysis, helped get the attention this issue demanded.

In April that year, a bill was introduced in both Houses of the Legislature. Governor George E. Pataki signed it into law on July 13 as Chapter 338 of the Laws of 1998. In the years since, the landmark Spinal Cord Injury Research Program (SCIRP) has, through a small surcharge on fines for moving violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, raised and invested nearly $70 million toward research on paralysis and other medical issues affecting the central nervous system, including the traumatic brain injury that is at epidemic levels among our service members coming home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. New York has, as a result, taken a national, if not international, leadership role in this area of medical research and innovation. The surcharge has also generated new revenue to the state’s general fund in the neighborhood of $150 million a year -- money that would not be coming in without the hard work that Mr. Richter and his supporters put into getting Chapter 338 enacted.

At the outset, let me just say that the leading cause of spinal cord injury in the nation is motor vehicle accidents, all too often caused by reckless and drunken driving. With Chapter 338, we effectively put New York’s first responders to work generating the revenue that will advance research toward a cure for the paralysis and TBI those victims live with. That is a stunning example of restorative justice.

Governor David Paterson, in his first budget proposal (2010-11) to the Legislature, proposed terminating SCIRP and appropriating the program’s tiny fraction of the revenue derived from the surcharge to paying the state’s ordinary bills. Since that time, the portion of the revenue from this program that by law should be going to SCIRP has not been forthcoming. The budget proposal that Governor Andrew Cuomo has sent to the Legislature continues this neglect. I can assure you that we are doing all that we can to persuade the governor and the Legislature to restore SCIRP funding before this budget is adopted. We could sure use your help.

That this may happen is most unfortunate and undercuts a decision the state and people of New York made in 1998 to make a long-term and sustained investment in advanced neurological research, not only toward a cure, but to the generation of valuable patents, advances in pharmaceutical science, leveraging of research dollars from the National Institutes of Health and private sources, attraction of talented people to live and work in our state and our state’s prestige and leadership in this field -- an investment in jobs and prosperity that will benefit all New Yorkers.

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