Gotham Gazette Tue, 20 Mar 2018 15:41:50 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Why Does Crime Keep Falling in New York City? de Blasio Bratton O'Neill NYPD

James O'Neill, Bill Bratton, Bill de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York Police Department have much cause for celebration. Last year was undoubtedly the safest year on record in decades, setting new benchmarks for crime reduction across most major categories, according to the latest crime data released by the NYPD on Friday.

The total number of major felony crimes fell below 100,000 for the first time ever, no small feat for a city now home to more than 8.5 million residents. The city also set a record for fewest murders in the modern data-tracking era, and fewest since the early 1950s, when the city had far fewer residents, and fewest shooting incidents.

The mayor and police commissioner, James O’Neill, are proudly touting the success of the department’s practices, especially reforms of the last few years, with numerous initiatives that they say have shown immense success. The neighborhood policing program is rebuilding trust with communities, targeted policing of gangs in trouble spots across the city is nipping crime in the bud, and preventative programs are reducing gun violence, they say. Officers are being re-trained in new policing tactics, especially de-escalation, while also being equipped with improved technology and safety gear. Complaints about police officers are also at new lows, while the number of arrests has plummeted, and a body camera program is being rolled out.

Meanwhile, the mayor and police officials still believe that broken windows policing, with its acute attention to keeping social order and enforcing low-level crimes in an effort to prevent larger ones, and its use, however evolved, is still seen as essential.

Though it may be easy, and tempting, to draw the simple conclusion that crime is at historic lows because of the work of the NYPD and this mayor’s administration, experts say that would be a mistake. Crime has been falling for decades across the nation and even the entire world, and New York City, the “safest big city in America,” is not unique.

“None of this happened by accident,” said Commissioner O’Neill, at a news conference on Friday with other top NYPD brass, Mayor de Blasio, the newly elected City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “I’d call it incredible were it not for the very credible reasons why it’s all happening,” O’Neill said as de Blasio nodded in agreement.

Neighborhood policing, now in 56 of 77 precincts and in nine Housing Bureau areas, is a “game changer,” O’Neill insisted, creating a greater sense of shared responsibility towards public safety between police and communities. Coordination with state and federal law enforcement in “precision policing” is helping build stronger cases against the “real drivers of crime,” he said, and community partners are playing a strong role. “As far as violence being reduced in society, that’s a little bit above my pay grade,” he conceded, when asked about broader trends. “But I know what’s happening in the NYPD, I know what’s happening in the city, and I know it’s happening with the way we are working with communities around the city and it’s all playing a big part in reducing crime.”

“This is a new day in New York City, a different reality, and it’s working,” said de Blasio subsequently, also crediting the Cure Violence program, which is led by local leaders, including former gang members, and seeks to prevent and diffuse conflicts at the community level, preempting crime before it is carried out. De Blasio insisted that stop-and-frisk policing had been “holding us back” and that it’s reduction had made the city safer.

“I think when you see this kind of intensive, fast reduction, I think it does come back to neighborhood policing, precision policing, stronger ties to the community, community allies making a big impact, and different strategies right down to the example of taking something as difficult and painful as domestic violence and treating it as a moment for intensified engagement,” the mayor said. “Not just answer the call and that’s it, but constantly coming back. That’s a very hands-on, proactive approach that is newer to the NYPD. I think that makes a big impact.”

Two areas of serious crime that the city has not seen significant reductions in of late are domestic violence and rape reports, which NYPD officials attribute to more reporting, not more actual incidences, the willingness of victims to come forward, a changing culture, and victims’ belief that they will be heard and helped by the police department. Domestic violence reports were down about 6 percent in 2017 compared to 2016; the number of rape reports were nearly the same.

There were 290 murders in 2017, down from 335 in 2013, the year before de Blasio took office (the prior record low was 333 in 2014). In that same time, the number of “index” crimes -- seven major felony offenses -- fell to 96,517 from 111,335. It’s part of a larger trend that has continued for decades, said Alex Vitale, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College. “The drop can’t possibly correlate with any policy changes in New York City. It began in the Dinkins administration,” Vitale said. “Our best minds have tried to figure out what’s causing this long-term international phenomenon and we just don’t understand.”

The overall body of research on crime reduction is inconclusive and often rife with partisan interpretations, which is why Vitale cautioned against broadly crediting the NYPD for the drop in crime, which runs the risk that, when issues arise, the city will simply throw more officers at the problem. “When all you have is hammers, everything looks like a nail,” he said, of the assumption that policing is the only solution to public safety. Rather, the city should be guided by considerations of “justice, racial politics and democracy,” said Vitale, who is a liberal.

“What I would say to the mayor is that he needs to continue to aggressively pursue ways of improving quality of life that don’t rely on the criminal justice system,” Vitale said. He did acknowledge the steps the city has taken -- reducing stop-and-frisk policing, targeted enforcement and anti-violence prevention programs -- but, at the same time, he said the city must also better address issues such as gentrification, homelessness, and lack of access to healthcare for low-income New Yorkers.

Among the major steps the city has taken was the addition of 1,300 more officers to the force in 2015, at the behest of the City Council under former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Corey Johnson’s predecessor. In recent days, Johnson has also floated the idea of adding more police officers to bolster community policing and give officers more time on the beat than responding to radio calls. It’s what Vitale warns against. “We start with the premise that because it’s a community problem, we need the police to figure it out,” he said. “But where’s their expertise?”

Vitale has long advocated for more city investment in social services to deal with community issues, rather than the overuse of policing, which he believes should be focused on the most serious crimes.

The neighborhood policing program that the administration swears by has slowly evolved from other paradigms of broken windows policing. This philosophy and practice have the mayor’s support and broken windows is the mantra of former police commissioner Bill Bratton, who continues to defend the practice as the key driver of crime reduction even as police reform advocates criticize its adverse impact on communities of color.

“Beginning in 1990, the New York City police department returned to a mission that was focused on not only dealing with serious crime, but also began to focus on disorder, which had not been addressed at all in the '70s and '80s,” Bratton said in a recent interview with National Public Radio, on the causes for dropping crime, “and disorder is described as broken windows, quality of life, minor offenses. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.”

As Bratton explains it, broken windows policing has taken different forms in different eras, responding to conditions at the time. For example, intense law enforcement in the subway system in the 1990s, a decade that saw Bratton's first stint as NYPD commissioner and the implementation of strict, proactive policing by Mayor Rudy Giuliani's police department. The more recent iteration was in the overuse of stop-and-frisk policing, which increased significantly under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly as they sought to take guns off the streets, triggering massive protests and a federal lawsuit.

But there’s no clear evidence that broken window policing has caused the drop in crime. The relatively new Office of Inspector General of the NYPD concluded in 2016 that there was “no empirical evidence demonstrating a clear and direct link between an increase in summons and misdemeanor arrest activity and a related drop in felony crime.” The administration and NYPD top brass, including de Blasio and Bratton themselves, pushed back against the report, claiming it was “deeply flawed,” but largely using corollary and experiential takeaways to justify their claims. Meanwhile, crime numbers continue to trend down even as the NYPD has arrested tens of thousands fewer people. Bratton and others would argue that the city has only tweaked the formula, not abandoned broken windows in any discernible way.

A November 2017 report on proactive policing initiatives by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine also found that broken windows has little impact on crime while stop-and-frisk has mixed results. Hot spots policing and problem-oriented tactics lead to short-term reductions, the report found, while focused deterrence has both short- and long-term impacts on crime control.

De Blasio’s NYPD has combined most, if not all, of those measures. Ames Grawert, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, cited the report to illustrate how tough it is to draw concrete conclusions about the city’s crime numbers. “I think [de Blasio’s] right to credit community policing, but that’s a very broad term...any initiative that’s targeted at repairing trust between police and communities fits under that umbrella,” Grawert said, “so it kicks down the road the question of which types are community policing and which aren’t. But I think those are broadly successful anti-crime measures.”

Yet, crime was trending down over decades before de Blasio implemented his neighborhood policing program, which is still in its infancy. Grawert had a simple prescription for the NYPD. “Keep following the data to figure out where police resources are needed and how to apply them, and keep engaging the community to keep and increase their trust in the police,” he said.

The city’s approach goes beyond just responding to crime, seeking to prevent it in the first place. This work has taken different forms over decades. Now, New York City is the largest Cure Violence site in the country, with 18 communities where “violence interrupters,” as they are called, operate to work with high-risk individuals and diffuse conflict. It’s a health-based approach, said Charles Ransford, director of science and policy at Cure Violence, looking at crime as a “problem of contagion.” “When you recognize that, you take those most exposed to violence...and work with them,” he said. “Police can only do so much. Policing matters but it’s something that should be a last resort.”

Ransford said New York City is doing far more than other cities to prevent violence at the front end, and studies bear out the effectiveness of the approach. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation Center found that between 2014 and 2016, there was a 50 percent decrease in gun injuries in East New York, Brooklyn and a 37 percent reduction in the South Bronx, two communities where Cure Violence has been implemented. “We have to make sure that we look at the whole picture,” Ransford said. “This was a very deliberate decision and effort by Mayor de Blasio and the City Council together to take a chance on Cure Violence and fund it to such a level. They deserve a lot of credit for that.”

The administration and the Council together put $22.5 million towards the Cure Violence program in fiscal year 2017 through the newly created Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence, up from $12.7 million in fiscal year 2015.

City Council Member Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn said it was one of the things that New York City was doing differently in reducing crime, and credited the mayor for his support. “I think there are a variety of factors and I think there’s not one answer to this...I think there’s a better understanding that public safety is not just for the police and they can’t be the only people responsible for all of the issues that lead to some of these crimes,” he said. In particular, he praised “how we’re dealing with gun violence and the community approach that we’ve found to work, and actually putting money behind it, real money, that has always been missing...there was a real belief and real resources put behind it.”  

Noting that numerous metrics were trending downwards -- murders, shootings, instances of officers firing their weapons, arrests, complaints against officers -- Williams said, “We need to continue in that direction. We need to make sure that we’re continuing not to see summonses and arrests as the only way to deal with issues in communities.”

Williams did have some criticism for the administration and the police department, arguing that with regards to accountability and transparency, the city has stood still and even fallen behind. He noted, in particular, statute 50-a of the state civil rights code that protects officers’ disciplinary records from public disclosure. The mayor has called for a repeal of the statute and he reiterated, when asked by Gotham Gazette on Friday, that it’s one of his legislative priorities in Albany this year.

There are larger forces at work as well. Shifting demographics and gentrification have changed the face of neighborhoods across the city. The economy is riding a wave of unprecedented prosperity and unemployment is at an all-time low. “The number one thing that cuts violent crime arrests in half is a job,” said Williams, noting that the city has expanded the Summer Youth Employment Program in the past three years from roughly 25,000-30,000 slots to 70,000 slots. “I think [President] Donald Trump and [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions should look at what’s happening in New York City and pay attention to what’s happening here as opposed to pushing cockamamie ideas that take us backwards,” he added.

That crime has decreased as the administration moves towards full implementation of neighborhood policing is correlation without causation, as there is no measurable data on the program. De Blasio himself admits that his proof lies in anecdotal evidence. At a December 29 news conference, when asked how he quantified success, he said, “Because I’ve talked to so many neighborhood policing officers and community leaders who have given me numerous examples of information they’ve gotten that has helped them to fight crime and have made clear this was information they often didn’t get in the past.” He acknowledged that his administration would have to release objective analyses of the program “to help people understand just how big an impact there has been.”

Police reform advocate Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, believes it’s a dubious claim. “Crime was going down before quote-unquote neighborhood policing,” he said. “I don’t see how [de Blasio] starts drawing this direct line between that and the reduction of crime. I don’t believe it passes the smell test.”

Advocates like Griffith were vindicated when the city curtailed the unconstitutional and unchecked use of stop-and-frisk policing, proliferated under Bloomberg and Kelly, and crime continued to fall. De Blasio has also claimed validation, as he ran for mayor on a pledge to scale back stop-and-frisk and repair police-community relationships.

To Griffith and others, the continued drops in crime has been proof that aggressive policing does not work and that more police officers on the street is not the solution. “The police can no longer use this narrative of our neighborhoods being unruly and undisciplined and prone to violence as an excuse to use abusive policing,” Griffith said. “I think this is now the moment to see how we can have both worlds. We can have low crime and we can have an accountable police force that is not abusive, not discriminatory and is not aggressive.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Why Does Crime Keep Falling in New York City? Sun, 07 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Despite Record Low Crime, Massey Attempts to Make Public Safety a Campaign Issue Massey City Hall presser

Paul Massey (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)

Real estate executive Paul Massey, a leading Republican mayoral contender, held a week-long campaign launch earlier this month, concluding with a focus on community policing. Having visited each borough with a daily theme, Massey said in an email blast on March 17, “I’ve heard many concerns in my discussions with city residents this week and one that stands out is that our city feels less safe.”

It wasn’t the first time Massey made the claim, and it wasn’t the last, as he takes to the campaign trail attempting to paint Mayor Bill de Blasio as an ineffectual and corrupt leader who has presided over declining quality of life in the city. Massey has repeatedly pointed to cherry-picked statistics that show certain crimes are up in the city, or in certain geographic areas, contributing, he says, to unease among New Yorkers about their safety. In doing so, Massey is attempting to make a campaign issue out of one of de Blasio’s strongest overall metrics -- in reality, major crime has declined over the last three years and the city continues to hit historic lows in crime rates virtually each month.

De Blasio, a first-term Democrat, has already positioned himself to run on declining crime. The mayor has taken to holding monthly press conferences with NYPD leaders to tout new crime numbers, while also arguing that he has reformed the police department to improve police-community relations. The mayor’s campaign often recycles a statement for news stories about the mayoral race that includes “crime is at historic lows” in summarizing de Blasio’s record.

Still, Massey and his team see an opening. The first-time political candidate, who recently moved to the city from Westchester in order to run for mayor, ran a real estate business throughout the five boroughs for decades. While his campaign has been focused on critiquing de Blasio, Massey must first win the Republican primary (though he has already secured the Independence Party line).

In its early stages, Massey’s campaign identified what it saw as a few major areas of failure for de Blasio: housing, jobs, quality of life, and schools. Each issue presents a debate de Blasio and his supporters are seemingly ready to have. Yet, Massey has struck the chord on several points of substantive criticism of the mayor that have more supporting evidence than claiming rising crime -- homelessness, the administration’s top-down approach to rezoning neighborhoods, crumbling infrastructure in public housing, and long-struggling public schools, for instance.

Massey has also decided to take on the mayor’s record on public safety, arguably the most important job for the Mayor of the City of New York.

“We will maintain public safety and fight terrorism by providing the resources, support, and leadership our police officers need and deserve,” Massey’s campaign account said in a tweet on March 17. Another refrain of his campaign is that NYPD members “feel like they can’t do their job because the mayor doesn’t have their back.”

Asked for further explanation of those points, Mollie Fullington, a spokesperson for the campaign, said in an email to Gotham Gazette, “Perhaps it goes without saying that men and women in uniform do not feel [de Blasio] has their backs for a variety of reasons, and we also know our public spaces feel less safe, with random slashing attacks targeting pedestrians, commuters being pushed in front of subway cars, and a 55% increase in hate crimes and bias attacks.”

Fullington also pointed to a 32 percent increase in crime in city parks, a 4 percent increase in crime at public housing, and 14 percent increase in crimes in a South Bronx precinct last year. She added, “The Mayor has failed to maintain the counter terror capabilities of the NYPD, resulting in the first major terror attack in New York since 9/11,” seemingly referring to the bombing in Chelsea last year.

Those numbers are countered by the fact that major felony, or “index,” crimes tracked by the NYPD have decreased overall by about 9 percent between 2013 and 2016 under de Blasio, according to year-end statistics released by the NYPD in January. The number of murders, 335, was the same as three years ago after having seen slight fluctuation each year, and rapes and felony assaults did increase from 2013 to 2016, by 4.2 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively. But, overall, 2016 was the city's safest year on record -- robberies were down 19 percent, burglaries were down by 25.5 percent, grand larceny was down by 2.4 percent. Gun violence also decreased significantly - there were 998 shooting incidents in 2016, the first time that number was below 1,100 in the decades of modern data-tracking.

Massey’s campaign appears to be the first and only entity to attribute the jump in hate crimes, widely seen as having been sparked by forces in and around Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, to a failure by the de Blasio administration, which includes the NYPD.

Massey may have difficulty gaining traction on public safety as a campaign issue, though he will certainly not fall on deaf ears. Voters are divided along demographic and party lines on the mayor’s handling of crime, with the city’s lopsided enrollment tilting things heavily in de Blasio’s favor (Democrats outnumber Republicans six-to-one in New York City voter rolls; there are also over 1 million unaffiliated voters Massey is hoping to woo). At the same time, Massey and other Republicans have pointed largely to the perception that crime is getting worse, even if the numbers look good.

The latest Quinnipiac University Poll from March 1 shows 54 percent of voters approve of the way de Blasio is handling crime while 39 percent disapprove. Along party lines, the difference is stark -- 69 percent of Democrats approved of the mayor’s handling of crime while 17 percent of Republicans felt the same. The polling also shows racial differences -- 73 percent of black voters approve and 56 percent of Hispanics approve, while 44 percent of white New Yorkers gave the mayor a thumbs up on crime.  

“The truth of the matter is, whether [Massey] likes it or not, crime is down,” said Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University. “By saying that crime is up and everything’s violent, he’s trying to tap into the white fear that [former New York City Mayor] Rudy Giuliani and [President] Donald Trump consistently tap into.”

Greer believes that Massey could get some amount of support by hammering home his message on crime. “But the type of people who believe that,” she said, “are people who aren’t interested in looking at the data.”

Before de Blasio came to office and early in his term, there were those who worried about his rhetoric concerning the NYPD and its tactics, and warned that he would oversee a rise in historically low crime from the Bloomberg era. De Blasio stringently opposed the overuse of stop-and-frisk policing, and his opponents pounced on that to paint him as anti-police. Over much of the last three years, he has been at pains to correct that impression, portraying himself as a strong ally of the police department, especially after his mayoralty hit a low point in late 2014 and early 2015 when two police officers were killed and others publicly turned their backs on the mayor.

Many who warned that curtailing the use of stop-and-frisk would lead to a spike in crime citywide were proved wrong, and some admitted so. The New York Daily News Editorial Board, which was strongly critical of de Blasio’s position on the policing tactic, published a mea culpa in August. “We are delighted to say that we were wrong,” the editorial read, admitting that the increase in murders that they foresaw never occurred while crime hit record lows.

Even de Blasio’s harshest critics have conceded that he’s kept the city secure. “Keeping the streets safe is one thing de Blasio has managed fairly well, by avoiding too much political interference with the NYPD, the best police force in America,” wrote the editorial board of the New York Post in December. (The Post and de Blasio are frequent targets of each other’s ire, with de Blasio famously feuding with the tabloid last year, refusing to take questions at a news conference from one of its reporters and calling the paper a “right-wing rag.”)

But crime is an “emotive topic,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and state prosecutor who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “I think that public safety never goes away as an issue,” he said. “It may appear to be taking a holiday, but every mayor knows you’re never more than one day away from public safety catapulting to the top of the list.”

Poll numbers bear this out. The March 1 Quinnipiac poll shows that 82 percent of voters said crime is a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem, compared to 17 percent who said it is “not very serious” or “not a problem at all.” O’Donnell said a single incident -- like the recent terror attack in London or the murder of a black man in midtown by a white supremacist from Maryland -- could easily dominate the conversation. “Emotion can quickly eclipse statistics,” O’Donnell said. “New York City is provably super safe,” he added. “The difference between perception and reality can change quickly.”

O’Donnell did acknowledge that public safety would resonate as an issue in the mayoral primary, particularly with the Republican base in the city, but it will be “daunting” for Massey to venture beyond that group. It also smacks of the irony in the public safety conversation, as O’Donnell points out. “A lack of safety mostly affects minorities. White New York has generally been safe but they’re the ones that are fearful,” he said.

Former Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, de Blasio’s main general election opponent in 2013, said that crime and quality of life issues “are always high on the agenda.” “Some people are more worried about street cleanliness than they are about crime and vice versa, but crime is an issue because it’s the quality-of-life nature of it,” he said. In 2013, Lhota’s campaign argued that de Blasio was a risk to public safety. (Some of the consultants who worked on that campaign are working for Massey, who has raised and spent about $2 million.)

Although he couldn’t speculate whether public safety will gain traction as the race progresses, and he gives credit to de Blasio and the NYPD for continuing reductions in crime, Lhota echoed O’Donnell’s point that singular events could change that. “Campaigns are a function of things that happen in the city and in the world,” he said. “Events take control of elections, events take control of campaigns.”

But Lhota reiterated that there is indeed anxiety among New Yorkers about crime. “Polling is showing people still have a sense of fear. So another question is, how do you eradicate that fear and is it [eradicable]? I’m not sure.”

He added, “The argument will be, ‘People don’t feel safe’ and the mayor’s argument’s gonna be, ‘But the numbers say that they are safe.’ And so where does that debate go? What’s the next question? What is your policy on homelessness? What are you going to do about reducing the rate of growth in the budget in the city of New York? Those issues could become more important. Homelessness could be, sanitation pickups could be. That’s where I’m saying events can take over. An opponent will talk about the feeling of crime and the mayor will have the ability to stand behind his record on crime.”

Perhaps the one constituency that Massey may be able to spotlight is rank-and-file law enforcement, which has had an adversarial relationship with the mayor since before he took power. Although de Blasio has taken many opportunities to try to repair that dynamic, especially over the past two years, there are few signals that much has changed.

Last year, an internal survey by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents more than 24,000 rank-and-file officers in the NYPD, found that morale among its members had bottomed out under de Blasio. About 96 percent disapproved of the mayor’s policies on public safety and policing, and 95 percent said they felt “less safe” on duty. This has become one of Massey’s consistent talking points.

“Nothing’s changed,” said Albert O’Leary, PBA communications director, of officer sentiment towards de Blasio. “He’s still mayor, he’s still perceived as a supporter of anti-police segments of our society. He’s viewed as anti-police by police.”

O’Leary also indicated that the recent settlement of the PBA contract with the city, which de Blasio and PBA President Patrick Lynch announced in a rare joint appearance, had done little to assuage those sentiments.

Using this relationship as a foil, Massey has emphasized that he will show the NYPD the support he says the mayor has failed to display. “I will always stand with police and work with the police commissioner to fully empower and fund the NYPD’s community policing,” he said in the March 17 statement. It is not clear what additional empowerment or funding the NYPD needs for community policing given what de Blasio has invested in the effort that is one of his hallmarks, including adding 1,300 officers to the force.

De Blasio is now fighting for NYPD funding in terms of $110 million in federal anti-terror funds that are currently under threat from the Trump administration. Greer, from Fordham, said this actually works in the mayor’s favor. “I think that relationship is on the mend,” she said of de Blasio and the police, “and the mayor’s in a good position because Trump’s trying to defund the NYPD.” Greer also said Trump, with his proposed cuts to NYCHA, the NYPD, and elsewhere, has inserted himself into the mayoral race and that any Republican candidate would have to address that. Massey has repeatedly said he will not make the mayoral race a “referendum” on President Trump as he thinks de Blasio is trying to do.

At a November 29 news conference, when asked about morale in the police department, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said, “There are ebbs and flows with morale depending on what goes on around the city and what the sense of appreciation that the police feel from the residents of the city. I think we’re in a good place now. It can always be improved, but we look constantly to make things better for our police officers.”

He continued, “And the number one thing that I do is that I respect that the work that they do, and they know that because I’ve come up through the ranks. So, I think that having a police commissioner that’s come up through the ranks, I think that’s appreciated by the vast majority of the members of the New York City Police Department who continue to do an outstanding job every day.”

De Blasio then added, “There’s tremendous appreciation for how the NYPD protects people from any terror threat. I hear that from the public all the time and I hear it from the officers that I talk to that they get those thank-yous and they appreciate those thank-yous.”

He also said that the department’s new neighborhood policing model is improving relationships between cops and communities. “There’s a lot of mutual respect and a lot of appreciation and it’s stated quite frequently. I know our officers appreciate that. And I agree that having a leader who came up through the ranks means a lot to our officers. I’ve also heard that from many officers that they really appreciate that their leader experienced everything that they experience, and they know that Commissioner O’Neill has their back.”

De Blasio quickly named O’Neill, who had been chief of department, as commissioner after former Commissioner Bill Bratton announced his intended retirement from the NYPD last year. De Blasio has stressed that O’Neill is the architect of neighborhood policing and, in announcing the new PBA contract, focused on the agreement that all officers will wear body cameras within three years. This has become a campaign talking point for the mayor as he seeks to assure his base he is a reformer who is improving accountability at the NYPD. Some see de Blasio as more vulnerable on policing from the left than the right -- activists have questioned the scale of de Blasio's reform of the NYPD, attacked him for a lack of transparency and accountability at the NYPD, and long-time policing reformer Robert Gangi, executive director of Police Reform Organizing Project, has declared his candidacy in the Democratic mayoral primary.

The mayor’s campaign is scarcely worried about Massey’s attacks. A Quinnipiac poll from Feb. 28 showed de Blasio handily beating Massey in a head-to-head contest, winning 59 percent of the vote over Massey’s 25 percent (with about 15 percent undecided). Massey’s campaign has spun the poll as a positive, stating that voters have begun to recognize their previously unknown candidate and winning approval from one-fourth of voters this early in the race is a promising sign.

Massey’s campaign is also set to roll out detailed policy positions over the next few weeks. At his first official news conference in February, Massey had little to say on policy and said he hadn’t “established an answer” yet on stop-and-frisk, the controversial policing tactic that dominated much of the 2013 election cycle. At subsequent events Massey said that the NYPD is “currently using stop-question-and-frisk and I believe it’s one of the necessary tools and that there are many that we need to have for our police.” He stressed the importance of the Mayor supporting the police and said, “They will never turn their back on me because I will never turn my back on them."

Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for de Blasio’s campaign was confident when asked about Massey’s public safety positions. “Mayor de Blasio ended the overuse of stop-and-frisk and brought crime to record lows while improving relations between police and the communities they serve,” Levitan said in an email. “That’s a record we are happy to compare with anyone.”

As Lhota also said, “[Crime] won’t be the only issue in the campaign I guarantee you. Will it be an issue? Yes. Will it be the issue that makes the difference? Probably not.”

Note: this article has been updated to provide more specific felony crime data for 2013 to 2016.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Despite Record Low Crime, Massey Attempts to Make Public Safety a Campaign Issue Wed, 29 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Crime Under Mayor De Blasio, The Long View  de blasio crime nypd bratton oneill

Mayor de Blasio & NYPD officials (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

This September was the safest September in the more than two decades that the NYPD has been keeping statistics of the seven major felonies through its CompStat system.

Announcing that fact on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD officials, including new Commissioner James O’Neill, again touted crime numbers largely heading in the right direction.

The press conference came one week after the first Presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, during which public safety in New York City, de Blasio’s record on crime, and the controversial policing practice of stop-and-frisk were focal points.

While Trump’s assertions about the value of stop-and-frisk were largely debunked by real-time fact-checking and news accounts since, his claim about murder being up under de Blasio is also wrong, but has some background in truth. In 2015, murders increased in New York City from the record low of 2014, which was de Blasio’s first year in office. The murder rate is currently down in 2016 from its 2015 pace, however, which - alongside de Blasio’s full record as mayor - led Clinton to assert correctly that murder is not in fact rising under de Blasio.

Crime stats press conferences led by the mayor at 1 Police Plaza have been a monthly ritual as city officials have had more and more good news about safety in the city, especially in long-term trends and this year compared to last. While there are slight increases this year over last in reported rapes and felony assaults, there have been decreases this year in murder, shootings, robbery, burglary, and car theft.

“I’ll note that there are cities in this country – and I say this with sorrow – there are cities in this country that are experiencing increasing crime,” de Blasio said on Monday. “We’re very pleased to be in a city where crime continues to go down through innovative strategies, through exceptional effort by the men and women of the NYPD,” the mayor said, continuing on to explain that not only was this the safest September on record, but that for 2016 thus far, “overall index crimes [are] down 3 percent, murders down 3.7 percent, shootings down 10.9 percent” compared to the first nine months of last year.

In part, this year’s statistics look good because there were slight upticks in some categories last year.

With murder, for example, 2015 saw an increase from the record low of 2014: 352 murders in 2015 after 333 in 2014. Through September of this year, murder is down about 4 percent from the same period last year (262 this year; 272 through September 2015). If there are fewer than 90 murders in October, November, and December, this year will have fewer murders than last year. Meanwhile, there would need to be 71 murders to match 2014’s record.

Worth remembering, of course, is that there were 629 murders in New York City in 1998; 1,927 in 1993; and 2,262 in 1990. While no one wants to see murder or any crime statistic rise from month-to-month or year-to-year, it is almost always best to look at crime data over longer periods of time.

In the discussion about murder in New York City, we again see how tricky crime statistics can be, even if you try to take a “just the facts” approach, as the NYPD often boasts. Commenters of all perspectives can often find some piece of data that suits their preconceptions or fits the argument they want to make. But, because of the statistical evidence from de Blasio’s first 33 months as mayor, it is difficult to argue that crime is on the rise under his leadership.

At this juncture in his mayoralty, we can gain some clarity by looking at the longer term trends, including by comparing the first 33 months of de Blasio’s mayoralty to the final years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure. By taking the averages of de Blasio’s 33 months and comparing them to the averages of the final three years (36 months) under Bloomberg, more valid conclusions can be drawn than by only sticking with year-over-year or month-over-month comparisons.

Under de Blasio, there have been 28 murders per month. For Bloomberg’s final three years in office, there were 35 murders per month. In the larger context of the seven major felonies, or index crimes, under de Blasio there have been 8,675 per month; for 2011, 2012, and 2013 under Bloomberg, there were 9,143 per month. (These numbers can be extrapolated to yearly averages by multiplying by 12, of course; and in three months we’ll have the full data for de Blasio’s first three years.)

Reported rapes show the same monthly average: 118 under de Blasio and over Bloomberg’s final three years in office.

Otherwise, some categories show lower monthly averages under de Blasio than the final three years under Bloomberg (robbery, burglary, car theft) and some the opposite (felony assault and grand larceny have risen).

The long-term trend - under several mayors in a row - is down: major crimes have been decreasing in New York City over decades. Within that larger trend, there have been upticks certain years in certain categories. But, major felonies have been decreasing overall, and for the most part that continues to be true under Mayor de Blasio.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Crime Under Mayor De Blasio, The Long View Tue, 04 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Increase in Rape Reports Given Little Attention Amid Celebration of Crime Drops NYPD BdB presser

Mayor de Blasio at a press briefing (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

“You’re going to hear some numbers that are striking,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio as he began an August 4 press conference on the city’s latest crime statistics. “2016 saw the fewest shootings, the fewest robberies, the fewest burglaries, the fewest auto-thefts of any first-half of a year in a CompStat era. So, when you think about that, the lives of everyday New Yorkers are freer. They’re more peaceful. They’re less disrupted. And people have every reason to feel safer.”

Yet, there are some striking numbers that are less often heard during the mayor’s crime briefings, which have lately had a celebratory tone, like the city’s rising number of reported rapes, increasing reports of misdemeanor sexual assaults, and decline in the percentage of reported rapes that result in arrest.

While violent crimes like murder and shootings are largely declining in New York City, reports of another type of violent crime, rape, have increased over the past two years. Through the middle of August, according to NYPD statistics, there have been 717 shooting victims in the city, a 15.5 percent drop from the same point last year, and 931 reported rapes, a 7.4 percent increase from 2015.

Many in New York City are fixated on gun violence, and for good reason, but the consistent uptick in another violent act that can leave physical and psychological scars remains troubling and under-appreciated by many.

Rape, like all other felonies in New York City, has declined since the NYPD began keeping track of such crimes using CompStat more than two decades ago, yet the recent increase in reported rapes demands attention. It is unclear if that attention is being given, since discussion of rape is largely missing from the mayoral-NYPD press conferences and data from the NYPD shows that the percentage of reported rapes resulting in arrest dropped 16 percent from 2009 to 2015 (from 71 to 55 percent), while the number of reported rapes has increased 19.3 percent during that same time.

To celebrate the crime statistics for the first half of 2016, the NYPD created a six-page pamphlet, “Half Year Crime Report,” that indicates drops in murder, shootings, and overall arrests on the cover. Inside the handout, there are infographics about “precision policing” and “gang takedowns,” as well as a page labeled “The Right Direction,” showing downward arrows labeled “murder,” “shootings,” “robbery,” and “burglary.” There is no mention of the increase in reported rapes on that page or any of the others.

NYPD Right Direction graphic no rape

As of 2015, roughly half of reported rapes result in arrest, and even when arrests are made, charges are not always filed. Tracking the results of these reported rapes (prosecution, conviction, dismissal, etc.) is further obfuscated by the way in which both city and state authorities, from the NYPD and the District Attorneys to the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, keep records of rapes.

Reported rapes in the city declined between 2003 and 2009, dropping from 2,070 in 2003 to the city’s all time low of 1,205 in 2009. The number of reported rapes steadily increased in the three years that followed, with 1,373 in 2010; 1,420 in 2011; and 1,445 in 2012.

Reported rapes dipped slightly for two years (1,378 in 2013 and 1,352 in 2014), before rising once again, to 1,438, in 2015. This year, 2016, is on track to have an even greater number of reported rapes: through mid-August, there were 931 reported rapes, up from 867 this time last year, putting the city on pace to have 1,544 reported rapes by the end of 2016 (about 100 more than last year).

It is possible that the rising number of reported rapes is partially the result of more rapes being reported, rather than more rapes being committed, something which outgoing Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has dubbed the “Cosby Effect,” referring to Bill Cosby and the attention around all of his alleged victims coming forward, some after many years. Heightened awareness about sexual assault and improved social norms about reporting rape could be leading more victims, especially women, to come forward.

“With the rapes that were recorded in New York City this year, one out of four did not occur this year – and that’s fairly consistent with what we see in prior years,” Deputy Commissioner Dermot Shea said during a July press conference at which NYPD officials and Mayor de Blasio celebrated the half-year crime numbers. (At that press conference, Shea did note the increase in rape - “up 7.3 percent,” he said - but he did not discuss efforts to combat the uptick. At the August crime briefing for press Shea said “rape was up” and moved on.)

Of the 1,438 rapes reported in 2015, 235 occurred prior to that year, dating as far back at 1975.

Police departments across the country are reporting a similar trend, and the increase in reported rapes coincides with city and state efforts to encourage more victims of rape to come forward and report the crime.

In the past two years, the NYPD has created new agreements with local colleges to encourage immediate reporting of sexual assault, worked with hospital emergency rooms to encourage reporting, and distributed 48,000 cards and flyers throughout the city explaining sexual violence and encouraging people to report crimes to the Special Victims Division. In 2014, the Metropolitan Transit Authority created an online portal for sexual misconduct complaints, where victims may attach a photo and make an anonymous report.

“I think it would be logical to presume that if there’s an increase in acquaintance rapes being reported, it might in fact be an increase in reporting, because there has been so much focus on this issue of non-stranger rape in the past few years, especially on college campuses,” said Lisa Smith, former chief sex crimes prosecutor for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office and professor at Brooklyn Law School. “I definitely think the publicity is encouraging women to report.”

Still, there are likely far more rapes occurring in New York City than are reported, given that nationally only about 34 percent of rapes result in a police report, according to the Department of Justice, with less than 2 percent of those reports resulting in the rapist’s incarceration. And while the city’s efforts to encourage more victims to come forward are praiseworthy, they should coincide with an increase in the number of rape cases that actually result in some semblance of justice for the victim, and with efforts to prevent such crimes from occurring in the first place.

For example, the NYPD could do more to let New Yorkers know where stranger rapes are occurring. Currently, CompStat 2.0 maps incidents of rape down to the nearest intersection, but does not distinguish which category of rape the crime falls under - stranger, acquaintance, or domestic. While the vast majority of rapes reported in the city are acquaintance or domestic (92 percent, according to the NYPD), rapes committed by strangers also rose from 2014 to 2015 (117 to 166).

Yet, “there is no easy way for a civilian to determine” where stranger rapes are frequently occurring, as New York Times writer Ginia Bellafante pointed out, such as in 2013, when a man raped four women in the span of a week, finding all of his victims along the B12 bus route between Crown Heights and Canarsie.

Reports of misdemeanor sex crimes, including forcible touching, public lewdness, and unlawful surveillance, have also spiked in recent years, particularly on the subways, where reports of such crimes have increased by 56.7 percent (431 crimes through May, 275 by the same time in 2015).

By mid-August 2014, there were 1,595 reported misdemeanor sex crimes in New York City. By the same time in 2015, that number rose to 1,887. This year through mid-August, there have been 2,096 reported misdemeanor sex crimes, an 11.1 percent increase from last year. Again, this increase could be due in part to efforts to encourage victims to report sex offenses, rather than an increase in the number of sex offenses occurring.

Ideally, more reports would lead to more arrests, more prosecutions, and more convictions - more justice for victims who are increasingly willing to put their faith in the system and go through with the onerous and emotionally taxing process of reporting the crime and all that follows. Data from the NYPD shows this is not the case.

reported table sans caption*Arrest data provided by NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information

Even when arrests are made, charges are not necessarily filed. Best-selling memoirist Mary Karr recounted an instance of forcible touching on the streets of Manhattan for The New Yorker earlier this August, culminating in the arrest of a man she dubbed “the crotchgrabber.”

“Nobody ever called me to court, but the cops had cuffed him, dragged him out of the bus station, and booked him,” Karr wrote. “A woman should be able to count on follow-through from the justice system—they’d eventually fail to charge him.”

The picture is incomplete without data on outcomes of these arrests and reports, yet the fact that only half of reported rapes result in arrest, and the number of arrests is declining while the number of reported rapes is increasing is cause for concern.

Because of the way New York City’s Police Department and District Attorney offices keep track of these crimes, it is nearly impossible to determine whether the city’s efforts to encourage more rape victims to report crimes to the police are actually resulting in more justice for the victims, or, ultimately, more trauma, forcing victims relive the event multiple times while relaying their stories to the police, with nothing to show for it but a police report and wasted time.

The NYPD does not keep track of prosecutions or convictions, while the District Attorney offices do not keep numbers of reports or arrests. This disconnect makes it difficult to link the number of reported rapes to the number of prosecutions and convictions that result from those reported rapes. Tracking the outcomes is further complicated by the fact that each of the five District Attorney offices may not maintain records in the same way.

Instead, the State Division of Criminal Justice Services keeps more consistent records of arrests and dispositions across all five boroughs. Yet, data compiled by DCJS presents its own challenge: not only is DCJS unable to link the number of reported rapes to the number of rape arrests made (rather, its data on the outcomes of those arrests begin with the arrest, not with the report), the number of rapes the NYPD reports to DCJS (2,244 in 2015) is far greater than the number of rapes the NYPD reports internally. This is because the NYPD must use the FBI’s definition of rape when reporting the number of rapes that occurred in any given year to the state, which is broader than the NYPD’s definition.

“Rape is a crime of opportunity, so it’s a bit harder to prevent,” NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Lieutenant John Grimpel told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “Once we are made aware of a crime, we investigate all rapes the same. If a violent crime happened to you, we want you to come forward.”

Those who commit sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals, like those who commit robbery or assault. The vast majority of reported rapes in New York City are committed by someone the victim knows, yet, as NYPD Deputy Commissioner Shea said in July, “the unique nature of these cases at times makes it difficult as we move through the criminal justice system.”

While stranger rapes constitute a small percent of the city’s reported rapes, they typically command greater police and media attention, and “there is very good evidence that those cases end up in prosecution or conviction most of the time,” said Smith, formerly of the Brooklyn DA office, now at Brooklyn Law School.

Getting justice for the victims of domestic or acquaintance rape is generally a murkier process, though in the past few years, stories of acquaintance rape - from Bill Cosby to college campuses - have begun to be taken more seriously.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has put some focus on college campus sexual assault in New York, signing legislation requiring all colleges and universities to adopt new measures to prevent and respond to rape in July 2015. In New York City, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Sex Crimes Unit regularly conducts trainings for representatives from local colleges and universities to help individuals better identify and encourage reporting of sexual assault. DA Cy Vance has also dedicated money from his office’s settlements to reducing the backlog of rape kits across the country.

Campus rape in New York City made widespread headlines in 2014 when then-Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz began carrying a mattress around campus to protest the fact that her accused rapist remained on campus. Across the country, shockingly light sentences handed down to convicted rapists in cases of acquaintance rape on college campuses have garnered national attention in recent months. Brock Turner, the Stanford student convicted of three counts of sexual assault, was sentenced to six months in jail in June (he faced a maximum of 14 years in state prison). On August 10, a judge ruled that Austin Wilkerson, a University of Colorado student convicted of sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman, will not have to serve a prison sentence, and instead sentenced him to two years work-release and 20 years probation.

“If more than a quarter of people in this community were killed by a drunk driver, or assaulted or menaced during an invasion of their home, the community would call for a stronger message than a sentence of probation with no punitive sanction to effectuate respect for the law, the deterrence of crime, and the protection of the public,” District Attorney Stanley Garnett wrote in a victim memo to the court.

“Sexual assault should be no different. Murderers go to prison. Armed robbers go to prison. Rapists go to prison. This is what justice requires,” Garnett wrote.

Ultimately, the city should also invest more in efforts to prevent sexually violent crimes from happening in the first place. In order to truly reduce the number of sexual assaults that take place, advocates and the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention alike say “primary prevention” or prevention education is the most effective method.

“So much of prevention for non-stranger rapes has to do with educating young people about consent in middle school and in high school,” Smith said. “There are many different institutions that need to get involved in that, and law enforcement is only one spoke on that wheel.”

Last year, California became the first state in the nation to mandate lessons on sexual violence prevention and affirmative consent in high schools. Yet in New York City, educational programs “shown to prevent sexual violence perpetration,” according to the CDC, are not mandated, but rather, are left up to the discretion of the principal in middle and high schools.

The de Blasio administration and the City Council have demonstrated willingness to fund programs to prevent violence and protect New Yorkers time and again, from investing $12.7 million in gun violence prevention programs in 2014 to allocating $115 million in new capital funds earlier this year to expand the city’s Vision Zero program to reduce traffic fatalities.

Judging by the numbers, the city’s efforts seem to be working. Shooting victims are down 15.6 percent over the past two years. There were 231 traffic fatalities in 2015, 66 fewer than in 2013, the year before Vision Zero began. There were more reported rapes in the first three months of 2016 alone, 310, than traffic fatalities in all of 2015.

“Obviously, we are deeply concerned about the safety of the women in this city, and again, we don’t like some of these trends we see and we want to combat them,” Mayor de Blasio said in response to a question about the rising rape numbers during a January 12 press conference. “We take this very, very seriously and it’s our responsibility, period.”

The mayor’s office declined to comment further for this story, deferring to the NYPD.

by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette

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Increase in Rape Reports Given Little Attention Amid Celebration of Crime Drops Wed, 24 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Even with Crime Low, De Blasio and Police Union 'Worlds Apart' de blasio NYPD graduation 2016

Mayor de Blasio speaks at NYPD graduation (Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Last month, contract negotiations between City Hall and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the union that represents the city’s rank-and-file police officers, again reached a standstill.

On June 28, the PBA filed a Declaration of Impasse with the New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) asking it to appoint a mediator in the negotiations over a contract that goes back to 2012. The union, which represents about 24,000 officers, is the only uniformed service agency without a settled contract with the city -- the other 11,000 members of the NYPD, firefighters, sanitation workers, and corrections officers are all under contract.

After filing the declaration, PBA President Patrick Lynch took the occasion, as he often does, to criticize Mayor Bill de Blasio publicly. “We are hopeful that an independent, third-party mediator can restore a sense of fairness to a process that has been taken over by the Mayor’s insistence on playing politics,” Lynch said, in a statement accompanying the announcement, “and provide our members with a contract that will allow them to provide for themselves and their families.”

It was the latest salvo in a protracted process, accompanied all along with a public campaign by the PBA that, for the most part, has decried what it says are increasingly dangerous conditions faced by police officers without saying much about how cops are performing or the role they have played in bringing crime in the city to historic lows. Instead, the PBA’s message -- backed up by an internal survey of its members -- is that the city is headed in the wrong direction, that there is increasing disorder and police officers on the ground are bearing the brunt of it.

“Everyone else wanted to have productive dialogue and resolve outstanding issues,” said Mayor de Blasio, at an unrelated news conference on Wednesday, referring to other uniformed unions that have settled contracts. “How did we get to the progress on disability with sanitations, with corrections, with the fire fighters? Productive, respectful dialogue…The only one that stands apart consistently is the PBA and I don’t think that’s helping the members.”

Last year, when the PBA and city went into a binding arbitration over their contract and arbitrator Howard Edelman awarded the union 1 percent raises for 2011 and 2012, off-duty officers publicly protested the decision. The current offer on the table, for 2012 through 2015, is for a zero percent raise for the first six months, and 1 percent each year for the following four years. The PBA believes this doesn’t go far enough, that it’s less than the rate of inflation, and that they are paid at least 30 percent less than other uniformed unions at both local and national levels.

On the other side, the city insists it pays police officers nearly 150 percent of the average of large U.S. cities and that it has followed the same pattern as other uniformed unions, offering the PBA 11 percent raises over seven years, which it rejected. A mayoral spokesperson said they are expecting a decision from PERB on the PBA’s request for a mediator perhaps next week. If that mediator cannot resolve the issues in the negotiations, the process moves to a binding arbitration.According to Politico NY, a PERB ruling would apply for 2012 through 2014. The sides would then pick up negotiations again for the subsequent years.

“Since taking office, we have tried again and again to work with the PBA to provide their members with a fair long-term deal with significant raises and benefits – a deal like the ones every other police and uniformed union accepted,” said the spokesperson, Freddi Goldstein, in an email. “The PBA has been unwilling to negotiate, instead choosing to wage a political war and go to arbitration - again.”

PBA BdB billboard indianapolis via PBAThe PBA’s well-funded public effort to influence the negotiations and criticize the mayor, has taken a number of forms: flyering by members (including Lynch) in April; a television ad in May; radio ads calling on the mayor to be fair to police officers; and a full-page newspaper ad accompanied by a billboard truck when the Mayor visited Indianapolis for the U.S. Conference of Mayors (left). Throughout, the message remains the same: police officers increasingly feel unsafe in doing their jobs; unsupported by the de Blasio administration and the City Council; undermined by a slew of new bills and policy initiatives; and unable to support their families on the inadequate pay they receive.

In the overall message being put out by the union, there is little focus on police officers’ performance.

“I would think that any union would want to celebrate the good work of their members,” the mayor said at an unrelated news conference on Wednesday, when Gotham Gazette asked about the PBA’s public campaign and its focus. Emphasizing that crime numbers are at “unbelievable” lows, the mayor added, “They should be celebrating. They should be thanked. So the notion of their own union denigrating what they achieved makes no sense to me and that is not the way to achieve anything in contract negotiations.”

Suffice it to say, the PBA does not agree with the mayor and its representative quickly refuted the argument that the union has not focused on officer performance.

A PBA spokesperson, in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette, said the PBA has clearly and repeatedly stressed that their officers are doing “a terrific job” and that is one of multiple considerations in the negotiations. “That’s actually been an argument and position of the unions going back to the mid ‘90s,” said the spokesperson of the police force’s strong role in reducing crime in the city. “We continue to maintain that position,” the spokesperson added.

But at the same time, the spokesperson said, officers are under duress, understaffed, face more challenges, more paperwork, more oversight and scrutiny, and suffer from rock-bottom morale. The spokesperson also added that the de Blasio administration’s labor policies have been “worse than any other administration” and the city has refused to provide sufficient pay raises to cops at a time when it’s flush with cash - the sides are “worlds apart,” the spokesperson said.

In a statement emailed to Gotham Gazette, PBA President Lynch said, “Our members were instrumental in the historic decline in crime over the past 20 years. Now, with 6,000 fewer officers - who are under heightened scrutiny and have increased responsibilities - we have still been able to keep a lid on crime in New York City."

Former NYPD officer and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice Eugene O’Donnell said the PBA’s public campaign is “really about internal politics” and a sense of anger and disappointment among police officers.

“It’s meant to go after the mayor, who according to [PBA’s] poll is disdained by their membership,” O’Donnell told Gotham Gazette. “If you were having an ordinary negotiation, you would try to project a positive message and build a rapport with the other side. There’s no advantage to that…All that’s left to do is rain down damage on the administration for what they perceive to be making their job unbearable.”

O’Donnell also says that since the police unions don’t have the right to strike, they have to use other means to get their message out.

PBA leadership’s disdain for the mayor has been long in the making. De Blasio came into office on a platform of criticizing the NYPD and promising reform. Some of his close allies, such as Rev. Al Sharpton, have been fervent critics of the police department. His hiring of Rachel Noerdlinger, Sharpton’s former spokesperson, also irked police unions. Noerdlinger’s boyfriend was a convicted killer and made anti-cop statements on social media. De Blasio then went on to defend Noerdlinger from related uproar before she stepped down. The mayor has also publicly stated his concern about racist policing practices and said that he trained his biracial son Dante to be careful when dealing with the police. Eventually, the tensions between the mayor and police boiled over when two officers were shot dead in Brooklyn in Dec. 2014. At the hospital and the funerals, rank-and-file officers turned their backs to the mayor.

Since then, de Blasio has gone out of his way to ease the relationship and show his support for the police. He worked with the City Council to fund 1,300 new officers on the force and has stood by the police even when faced with criticism from his closest allies. He has vehemently supported Commissioner Bill Bratton, who is largely popular with rank-and-file cops, and Bratton’s signature Broken Windows policing strategy, which the unions support.

Dr. Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, said the PBA would gain more sympathy if it focused on a performance-based argument, which is easily measurable by outcomes in the city’s crime rate. “I think if they went with that strategy, it would help in the court of public opinion,” she said, insisting that their current arguments largely fall flat.

Just this week, de Blasio and NYPD officials released new statistics that showed some of these measurable outcomes. Murders and shootings were down in the first half of this year over last, with overall major crimes in the month of June at the lowest they’ve ever been in city history. De Blasio called it the “ultimate team effort” by the NYPD and said the numbers suggest changes in the city that will have long-term effects. “[T]his is a really powerful moment where the NYPD is getting to do things that it’s always wanted to do,” he said at a news conference on Monday where the data was released. “It’s now getting the chance to do them and to change the lives of people in all the neighborhoods of this city.”

Police reform advocate Bob Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project, said PBA President Lynch’s “aggressive public rhetoric is like throwing red meat to the legions in his union. Perhaps his intention is to distract people from his failure as a leader to obtain for his members a new contract.”

Gangi disagrees with the PBA’s claim that a police officer’s job had become more dangerous. Citing the killing of the two officers in 2014, which the PBA has often relied on as a case of the dangers their members face, Gangi called it an “aberrational” incident without any discernible pattern. “If that’s the sole rack that they’re hanging their hat on, I think it’s a weak argument,” he said. Along with Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were killed in Dec. 2014, there have been two other police officers killed in the line of duty since de Blasio took office: Brian Moore in May 2015 and Randolph Holder in Oct. 2015.

The PBA has spent hundreds of thousand of dollars on its effort, but the administration has not budged. De Blasio has 98 percent of the municipal workforce under contract, including all the other uniformed unions. While he can negotiate from a position of power, the police union may also be the most delicate in terms of public relations - no mayor wants to be seen as anti-cop. Still, the mayor has the low crime numbers to boast.

“I think it is a counterproductive strategy,” de Blasio said on Wednesday of the PBA citing increasing disorder instead of strong job performance by officers. “It certainly has not changed the way we comport ourselves. We work with people who want to work with us productively,” he said of negotiations.

But the PBA does not seem like it will back down from taking the mayor to task, whether it be over the contract proposals or police reform initiatives introduced at various levels. “We’re an advocacy group,” said the PBA spokesperson. “That’s our job.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Even with Crime Low, De Blasio and Police Union 'Worlds Apart' Wed, 13 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000