After beating and strangling a 73-year-old woman to death in a Wagner Houses apartment three weeks ago, Gregory Velez was videotaped lugging a flat screen television out of the victim's East Harlem building. This image, captured by security cameras, helped police arrest Velez and appease a community shaken by yet another public housing crime.

Around the clock, surveillance cameras monitor the entrances, elevators and fluorescent-lit hallways of East Harlem's two largest public housing developments, an extra set of eyes in the NYPD and New York City Public Housing Authority's joint effort to curb crime. But the cameras haven't deterred criminals, as ongoing illegal activity in the Robert F. Wagner and Thomas Jefferson houses have made them recurring crime scenes.

Drug, gun and gang cases permeate the two affordable housing projects, home to nearly 10,000 low-income residents combined. Though the NYPD says overall East Harlem public housing crime is down, communities surrounding these projects find themselves grappling with safety and crime concerns.

"At 3 o'clock you hear gunshots, it's kind of scary," said Yvonne Esquilin, parent coordinator at P.S. 102, located directly across the street from a Jefferson Houses building on 113th Street. "The kids get out at 3 o'clock and they have to run home, all the parents are worried," she said, adding that increased safety patrols could help calm fears.

Shootings remain atop East Harlem's public housing crime list, according to Captain Chris Morello of the NYPD's Police Service Area 5, responsible for overseeing all public housing in the neighborhood. There are 23,028 public housing apartments in East Harlem's Community District 11, the most in any of the city's districts.

There have been 24 shootings in PSA5 this year, three less than this time last year. Major felonies are also down 7 percent, from 406 to 378. The drop can be attributed to security cameras, high-tech building locks and the Trespass Affidavit Program, which allows NYPD officers to patrol projects daily in search of trespassers or criminal activity.

But the measures have faced various hurdles. Nearly 48 percent of NYCHA residents reported broken building locks and 78 percent said they were still afraid of crime in their buildings, according to NYCHA's Resident Safety and Security Survey. Also, some residents have resented the TAP initiative, saying it promotes racial profiling. Often, in buildings were the locks function properly, lobby doors are deliberately left open.

"There's people that walk in the building that are just crazy," said Tre Special, who has lived at the Wagner Houses, stretching from 120th to 124th streets, for over 25 years. "The exit is left open and that gives the opportunity for anybody to walk in there," he said.

Several local shops say the criminal activity within the developments has had no affect on business. Jesus Martinez has owned a grocery store on the same block as some Wagner buildings for seven years and says he's never had a problem with crime stemming from the development. However, some local realtors of luxury condominiums are suffering due to their proximity to the projects.

"It's turning people off," said Simon Simantov, a real-estate specialist whose condo on East 112th Street near the Jefferson Houses has been on the market for six months. He adds that when potential buyers see the towering project buildings and adjacent Thomas Jefferson Park, they lose their interest. "It definitely affects the sales," he said.

Even with increased measures meant to deter crime, locals say the plight of many low-income residents in the housing projects steers them towards illegal activity.

A Pratt Center for Community Development report says about half of NYCHA's residents live below the poverty line, marked at $22,000 for a family of four. NYCHA's stats show the average income for its families is just over $23,000, and 11 percent of them receive public assistance.

Financial struggles are directly linked to higher crime rates in public housing, according to Dr. Walter DeKeseredy, a sociology professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology who penned a book addressing the link.

"They're told to pursue the American dream, but not everyone can get it through legitimate means," he said, "So crime is a means of dealing with these contradictions."

DeKeseredy adds that young people living in these conditions are often lured into drug activity or gang violence. PSA5 officials say youth gang crews from different developments, like the Wagner and Jefferson houses, are constantly battling.

"We've had an increase in requests for safety transfers from kids saying 'I've got problems with kids at the Wagner projects,'" said Assistant Principal Bill Costello of the Coalition School for Social Change, adjacent to Wagner. In February, the school building, home to two other schools, had to be locked down when two suspects ran inside after shooting a 14-year-old boy outside of the projects. The school has promoted after-school and youth employment programs to give students an alternative to the streets.

At the Jefferson Houses, visible gang activity in hallways and lobbies sometimes makes walking out of the building difficult, said Armando Reyes, who has lived in the projects for over 30 years.

"It's scary because you go out and you don't know if they're going to start a fight with another gang member, and then you're in the middle," he said, adding that crime in the development is a reflection of poor parental supervision.

The NYPD says there are 13 open cases at the Jefferson Houses and five at Wagner. Crime prevention efforts are mainstays on NYCHA's agenda, even as it deals with budget cuts. Elected officials have dedicated about $41 million to installing more security cameras and revamping building entrances with new technology. Installation in selected developments will begin in 2012.