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Max & Murphy Podcast: Criminal Justice Reform in New York

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Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette

June 5, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Criminal Justice Reform in New York

fortune society reps for 277

The Fortune Society is on the front lines in the fight to keep people out of jail, help those leaving jail successfully reenter larger society, advocate for criminal justice reforms, and make sure that housing, jobs, and social services are available to all. JoAnne Page, president and CEO of the Fortune Society, and Stanley Richards, Fortune's executive vice president and a formerly incarcerated person, joined the podcast to discuss a wide range of topics related to the work they do, criminal justice policy, and next steps in New York for a fairer justice system.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Investigation Commissioner on Examining NYPD, NYCHA and Correction

Mark Peters DOI Cy Vance

Commissioner Peters at a press conference (photo: @NYC_DOI)

It took Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Police Department two years to accept what the city’s Department of Investigation had uncovered in 2015, DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said recently: that quality-of-life crime enforcement, like marijuana arrests, does little to reduce violent crime and that these arrests disproportionately affect people of color.

When the DOI came out with the report detailing these findings, it experienced pushback from the mayor, who publicly questioned the accuracy and methodology behind the data, as well as from then-NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. But, at a City Council hearing last month, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, who succeeded Bratton, not only agreed that marijuana arrests had little bearing on the reduction of violent crime but also acknowledged the need for a comprehensive study on why these arrests disproportionately affect communities of color -- something DOI’s 2015 report recommended.

“Would it be better if everybody agreed on that two years earlier?,” asked Peters, the DOI commissioner since 2014, on a recent episode of the What’s The [Data] Point podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission. “Sure. But the point is, two years later, the NYPD in fact has accepted the basic premise of our report [and] has agreed to do the thing we think needs to be done.”

Since Peters took over DOI after being nominated by de Blasio and confirmed by the City Council, the department’s work – including investigations into the NYPD, the city’s public housing authority (NYCHA), the Department of Correction, and other city agencies – has made many waves, including by frustrating de Blasio on several occasions as it has uncovered waste, fraud and abuse in city government. It is a testimony to the agency’s cherished independence, according to Peters, which is critical to earning and increasing the public’s trust in government and its ability to tackle serious problems.

Establishing a clear sense of independence at the department, however, was something Peters had to work early on to establish given that, as treasurer, he had been a key part of de Blasio’s mayoral campaign in 2013. But as DOI has released both incremental and bombshell reports over the past four-plus years, Peters has earned praise from skeptics. He has also overseen the doubling of personnel at DOI, in large part due to building out the new office of the Inspector General of the NYPD, which has produced some of the most controversial work of the Peters-de Blasio era, after its creation was enshrined into law by the City Council in 2013 over a veto by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The Role of DOI and its Commissioner
“DOI’s role is to provide transparency,” Peters said, and, when necessary, “to demonstrate ‘what we have now is not working.’”

His department is one of the oldest law enforcement entities in New York. It has jurisdiction to root out corruption, waste, and abuse throughout city government, as well as in companies that do business with or are regulated by the city, such as the construction industry. DOI has a unique ability and mandate, and looks at both specific instances of wrongdoing and larger systems that may be ineffective or corrupt.

DOI is designed in the city charter to be largely independent from the mayor, though the mayor does nominate the commissioner, who must also be approved by the City Council.

“I’d like to think that the mayor picked me because I’ve spent really the 20-odd years before in law enforcement and, in particular, doing both law enforcement and anti-corruption work,” said Peters, whose resumé includes titles like Chief of the Public Corruption Unit and Deputy Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau for the office of the New York State Attorney General. He also previously worked at various civil rights organizations, such as serving as the Senior Staff Attorney at Children’s Inc., a national organization helping abused children.

Doubts about Peters’ potential independence dominated public discourse around the time of his confirmation hearings in 2014. Since then, however, contention among DOI, the mayor, and the agencies that DOI investigates – such as the aforementioned tension over the DOI’s 2015 report regarding quality-of-life, AKA broken windows, policing – have laid those doubts to rest. Of his progress so far, Peters said, “I’d like to believe that, four years on, people are reasonably comfortable that we’ve been independent and that we will continue to be independent.”

One of the first things that Peters did as the newly appointed DOI commissioner, he said on the podcast, was talk to the mayor about increasing the department’s funding in order to acquire the appropriate amount of staff, especially in regards to overseeing the NYPD.

Subsequently, since 2013 the headcount of personnel at DOI has doubled and its budget has similarly increased by 58 percent, rising from $30.6 million in 2013 to $48.2 million today.

“Without that,” said Peters, “all the laws in the world saying ‘You’ve got the authority to do it’ are meaningless if you don’t have the troops to actually get the work done.”

Investigating the NYPD
The city charter has always granted DOI the jurisdiction to create an inspector general for the NYPD, along with the rest of the city government, but while DOI serves as inspector general for all city government and launched specific inspectors for other agencies, one never materialized for the NYPD. “Institutions are governed by a series of laws, but they are also governed by a series of practices and traditions,” Peters said when asked why there hadn’t been an NYPD IG before the City Council legislation. “That’s just true.”

The law passed by the Council in 2013 “essentially said, ‘You’ve always had the power to do this, now we are directing you that you must do this,’” Peters said.

As a result, the DOI hired about 50 new staff members, including Philip K. Eure, the first and current Inspector General for the NYPD. Along with the 2015 report on broken windows policing, a philosophy and resulting practice supported by Bratton, O’Neill, and de Blasio, DOI has released other NYPD reports, including one this year that shed light on the NYPD’s handling of sexual assault cases.

According to Peters, the report showed that while the number of sexual assault cases have increased by 65 percent in the last decade, staffing for the special victims division remained flat, with only 67 detectives assigned to work adult sex crimes. As a result of the understaffing, a policy relegated ‘acquaintance rape’ (as opposed to ‘stranger rape’) to be sent out from the investigation units to the precincts, where many officers may be unequipped to deal with such cases. The facilities in which the police interview sexual assault victims were additionally deemed inadequate given the sensitivity of the cases. And, perhaps most importantly, DOI obtained documents that revealed that even the top ranks of the NYPD knew about these problems and were not taking sufficient measures to remedy them.

NYPD officials pushed back on the report and attacked DOI for not interviewing the then-chief of detectives. They, along with the mayor, urged caution about believing the findings of the report and said that it was being further examined and that the new chief of detectives would be reevaluating everything under his purview anyway.

At a City Council hearing last month, NYPD officials acknowledged the poor state of interview facilities for the victims of sexual assault and said they would invest in fixing them. While the NYPD’s formal response to the report is expected at the end of June, Peters sees progress in how much attention and potential change is resulting from the DOI report.

“I think what’s happened is you’ve seen we’ve sped up the process of getting at this problem without people having to go to court and use litigation,” Peters said, referring to the lawsuits brought against the NYPD in response to the high rates of stop-and-frisk, a practice deemed unconstitutional in terms of how the NYPD targeted people of color. “As an old civil rights lawyer, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with litigation, but it’s not the most efficient way of changing things.”

Peters stressed the value of DOI’s work in terms of transparency. “The only way for the City Council to hold really good, thoughtful hearings is for them to have something like our reports,” said Peters. “Because that’s the baseline material that allows you to then ask questions of the NYPD. If you wanna have the NYPD come in and testify and you wanna ask them the hard questions...the first thing you need is all of DOI’s work telling you what’s going on.”

The Department of Correction and Closing Rikers
Last summer, the de Blasio administration announced plans to lower the city’s incarcerated population and shut down the Rikers Island jails, while creating additional jail space in four borough-based facilities. While public policy is under the jurisdiction of the mayor and the City Council, it is the DOI’s job to make sure that policy and programs work.

“Part of making it successful is pointing out that, in and of itself, taking Rikers and moving it to borough facilities...is not gonna solve the problems of violence and contraband smuggling that we’re seeing,” Peters said, discussing work DOI has done to examine problems at city jails, including those on Rikers.

A report that the DOI issued earlier this year found that the problems of violence and contraband smuggling, which are rampant at Rikers, are happening at similar levels at the jail facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Peters estimated that about 50 correction officers and facility staff have been arrested so far for involvement in contraband schemes, such as accepting bribes in exchange for smuggling. Additionally, undercover officers were also able to smuggle weapons and drugs into the borough-based jail facilities.

“I don’t see any reason to believe that that level of arrests is necessarily gonna go down over the next year or so,” Peters said. “So we still have a huge amount of work that needs to be done to get at those problems.”

As a result, Peters doesn’t see the plan to shutter Rikers as a silver bullet solution to the city’s jail problems. “As we plan for this, we need to continue planning for how do we deal with security and mental health and contraband smuggling,” he said.

Safety Violations at NYCHA
When DOI investigated the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) late last year, it found that the public housing authority not only violated lead paint, smoke detector, and elevator safety procedures, but also falsified documents to the federal government that said it was complying with safety protocols.

The report DOI produced based on NYCHA misconduct led to public discussion over the failings of the agency as well as to City Council hearings, where NYCHA officials committed to making internal changes based on the findings of the report. Peters believes that a recent leadership change at NYCHA is linked to the DOI investigation that outed the safety violations and false paperwork.

“We said, ‘Look, NYCHA is failing to meet the standards that the city and the federal government have already set for lead safety,’” Peters said. “In other words, no, we’re not experts on how much lead exposure is safe, but the city and the federal government have said, ‘Here are the rules.’ What we then do is come along and say, ‘You’re not following the rules.’”

In general, NYCHA is underfunded and lacks the proper resources to fix some major problems, Peters said. To get rid of the mold in NYCHA apartments, for example, the agency would have to fix the roofs, which is difficult to do without the federal funding NYCHA has historically relied upon. According to Peters, the federal government hasn’t paid its fair share to NYCHA over the past decade.

“DOI has not spent a lot of time criticizing NYCHA or investigating issues of NYCHA that are related to that kind of funding,” Peters said, explaining, though, that NYCHA must still be organized, honest, and as efficient as possible, “because telling NYCHA that you need the money is true, but they know that. We all know that. And we do not have oversight authority over the federal government.”

Simultaneously, other areas of NYCHA, such as following the standard safety protocols for lead paint or smoke detectors, are not related to federal government funding. Instead, it is a matter of management doing its job.

Unearthing these problems of mismanagement and malfeasance at NYCHA, and throughout city government and beyond, is the crux of DOI’s mission.

“Part of the reason I think it’s important to have a permanent independent inspector general is we’re not going anywhere,” Peters said. “Our investigations into NYCHA aren’t finished. We are continuing to look at this...so that if NYCHA, having said they’re going to deal with this, doesn’t, we’ll be back in six months and we’ll be able to say to the Council and the public and to journalists and to all of you, ‘Here’s what really happened.’”

[Listen: What's The [Data] Point? 402, with Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters]

by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 4

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

We're about to hit three weeks until congressional primary day in New York, which is Tuesday, June 26. There are several contentious primaries in New York City and more around the state, all of which will help set the stage for extremely important general elections in November, where New York races will be key to which party has control of the House of Representatives in January.

We're also now in the final weeks before a new city budget is due by July 1. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council will continue negotiations and are expected to come to terms well ahead of the deadline for the start of the new fiscal year. [Read: De Blasio and City Council Tangle Over How to Spend $1 Billion]

This week will also feature more analysis and fallout from de Blasio's Sunday announcement of a plan to diversify the city's specialized high schools that currently rely on a single admissions test and enroll low numbers of black and Hispanic students.

This week includes four scheduled days of legislative session in Albany, four of just 11 that remain on the calendar. Last week, the Senate was deadlocked given that the Republican conference is down one member and thus the chamber is even at 31-31. It's unclear whether the Senate will vote on any legislation this week. Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins discused the state of play and much more on the Max & Murphy podcast on Friday.

And, the gubernatorial race will of course continue to be part of the news this week, as Governor Andrew Cuomo, Cynthia Nixon, Marc Molinaro and other candidates campaign, release policy, respond, attack, demur, and more.

Plus, there's a City Council Stated Meeting this week, at which the Council passes legislation that has moved through committee and sees new legislation introduced.

And there are other events to be aware of, including a special panel on sexual harassment in state government - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

“On Monday, Mayor de Blasio will deliver remarks at NYPD's Department of Education active shooter tabletop exercise. This event is closed press.” De Blasio will also his weekly appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall on Monday evening in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

On Monday at noon, "Senators Brian Kavanagh, Michael Gianaris, and Brad Hoylman will join their Democratic colleagues and good government groups at a press conference immediately before a meeting of the Senate Elections Committee to call on Republicans to vote for election and campaign finance reform legislation pending in the Committee. The four bills would enact and fund early voting, close the LLC Loophole, enact the Voter Empowerment Act to reform the voter registration system, and require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns."

At 9:30 a.m. Monday, the Assembly Standing Committees on Insurance and Health will meet jointly in Albany for a public hearing regarding the acquisition of health insurance company Aetna by CVS, and “the potential impacts on the delivery of health care and the health insurance market in New York State.”

At 9:30 a.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will host an “MWBE Letter Grade Briefing with Asian American Stakeholders” at the David Dinkins Municipal Building.

At 6 p.m. Monday, The ALT will host a panel discussion on sexual harassment legislation, past, present, and future, at the Renaissance Hotel in Albany. Susan Arbetter of WCNY radio will moderate a panel consisting of State Senator Liz Krueger, attorney Sarah Burger, political strategist Alexis Grenell, and Leah Hebert, former chief of staff for Vito Lopez, a former Assemblymember who resigned in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal.

On Monday at 6 p.m. at Brooklyn Borough Hall, “Borough President Eric L. Adams will kick off Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) Pride Month by presenting awards to trailblazers in the LGBTQ+ community who have advanced the mission of equality and fairness for all. The honorees at his annual LGBTQ+ Pride Celebration include Immigration Equality, a leading immigrant rights organization in the United States that has helped LGBTQ+ and HIV-positive immigrants seek refuge and a new life in Brooklyn and across the country; Park Slope-based New York Times columnist Charles Blow, whose cutting-edge column on current affairs appears on Mondays and Thursdays; Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who became the first HIV-positive person to lead the New York City Council when he was chosen by his peers to serve in January 2018, and activist Abby Stein, who was born and raised in a Hasidic family of rabbinic descent in Williamsburg and came out as a transgender woman in 2015. Borough President Adams will be joined by Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Brooklyn Pride in speaking on the importance of continuing the fight for LGBTQ+ equality, particularly regarding the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) in the New York State Legislature, which proposes to add gender identity and expression as a protected class in the State’s human rights and hate crimes statues; since 2008, GENDA has passed the Assembly ten times, but has yet to come up for a vote in the State Senate.”

On Monday at 7:30 p.m. “First Lady Chirlane McCray will receive the JED Mental Health Visionary Award and deliver remarks at the JED Foundation's Annual Gala 2018.”

At 7:30 p.m. Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James will deliver remarks at HELP USA's HELP Heroes Awards Gala, at The Garage in Manhattan.

Tuesday will mark three weeks until primary day for federal elections in New York, including all of the state’s congressional seats.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 10:30 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 10:45 a.m.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Substance Abuse will meet at noon to pass a package of legislation aimed at preventing drug overdoses.
--The Committee on Health is holding an oversight hearing on animal shelters at 1 p.m.

"Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., a 1998 graduate of LaGuardia Community College, will give the alumni speech" at the college's graduation ceremony on Tuesday.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Board of Standards and Appeals will hold a public hearing at Spector Hall.

At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, state lawmakers, CWA members, and call center workers will rally at the Capitol in Albany to urge support for a bill in the Senate “that would stop tax breaks that ship call center jobs overseas.”

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, State Senator Richard Funke, Assemblymember Latoya Joyner, and physicians Sarah Nosal and Chris Gabriels will hold a rally at the Capitol urging passage of legislation “ensuring physicians are protected against assaults in the workplace as the one year anniversary of the tragic Bronx-Lebanon Hospital shooting approaches.”

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting.

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, the Center for New York City Affairs will host “Dare to Reimagine Integration for New York City’s Public Schools” at the New School.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, City Comptroller Scott Stringer will hold a town hall meeting at the Gouverneur Health center on the Lower East Side. He will be joined by U.S. Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Carolyn Maloney, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senators Brian Kavanagh and Brad Hoylman, Assemblymembers Yuh-Line Niou and Harvey Epstein, and City Council Members Margaret Chin and Carlina Rivera.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Crain’s New York Business will host a breakfast forum with City Council Members Ben Kallos, Francisco Moya, Rafael Salamanca, and Ritchie Torres. The Council Members will discuss topics related to “construction safety, zoning, scaffolding, and housing policy.” The event will take place at the New York Athletic Club on Central Park South.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Assembly Standing Committees on Social Services and Government Operations, and the Senate Standing Committees on Finance and Social Services, will meet jointly in Albany to discuss the state’s Community Services Block Grant program.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Thursday. After Thursday, only seven days will remain in the legislative session.

The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall. Prior to the Stated Meeting, Speaker Corey Johnson will host a press conference.

At 4 p.m. Thursday, City Limits will host "Beyond Parkland: NYC Needs a Different Kind of Conversation About Guns," discussing the state of gun violence in New York, including state and federal laws, the city's "gun courts," and the connection with policing. Panelists include Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Elizabeth Glazer of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, Richard Aborn of the Citizens Crime Commission, Michael Palladino of the Detectives Endowment Association, Nick Suplina of Everytown for Gun Safety, and Heidi Hynes of the Mary Mitchell Center.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday at 10 a.m.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

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