Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/435 Mon, 19 Nov 2018 20:31:54 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) The Right to Know is Law – Will the NYPD Abide by It? http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8067-the-right-to-know-is-law-will-the-nypd-abide-by-it http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8067-the-right-to-know-is-law-will-the-nypd-abide-by-it NYPD officers

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

New York City recently took an important step toward police reform. The long-anticipated Right To Know Act has officially gone into effect, with important provisions dictating police-civilian encounters. The Act includes critical laws that will help end unconstitutional searches and require that police officers both identify themselves and provide the reason for an encounter – even leaving a business card in certain interactions.

After years of fighting for these reforms, we can start to rebuild the broken trust New Yorkers have in the NYPD by bringing more transparency and accountability to everyday interactions. But to do this, we need full and immediate cooperation from the NYPD and the Mayor’s Office.

The consent to search law will change the way certain police searches are conducted to help end unconstitutional searches. The new law requires that when there is no legal justification for a personal, home, or vehicle search (like a warrant or probable cause), NYPD officers must explain to the person they would like to search that they have a right to refuse the search, and their consent to the search has to be documented.

The NYPD identification law will require officers to provide basic information to the person they’re interacting with in writing, including the officer’s name, rank, command, and a phone number to be able to submit complaints or comments if no arrest is made, as well as a specific reason for the interaction. Interactions that are covered by the law include street stops, home searches, most roadblock and checkpoints, and questioning of crime survivors and witnesses.

Many people reading this might assume that such basic information provision is already a part of our policing system. But these steps were previously absent from law, which has resulted in serious problems.

This legislation is a vital part of restoring accountability and transparency in the NYPD, thus keeping communities, especially communities of color, safe from the harmful and abusive policing they are subjected to on a regular basis.

The Right To Know Act is a milestone not only for its content, but for also for its origins. This legislation started with community members impacted by police abuses and is the result of action from more than 200 organizations involved in Communities United for Police Reform (CPR). The charge in the City Council was led fearlessly by many Council members who also felt that the problem was personal to all New Yorkers.

Our advocacy was inspired by those who have been devastated by the status quo. Mothers like Constance Malcolm and Gwen Carr, who lost their children to police violence, gave us hope in their willingness to demand action. Now, children coming home from school will know that the police are not permitted to scare them, like by forcing them to open their bookbags and display the contents without reason.

But too often our work faced significant pushback from those most critical to our success, including our mayor, who has promised time and again to improve safety and police-community relations, and leaders of the NYPD. The Mayor’s Office scheduled a hearing for the Right To Know Act on the evening that Erica Garner was buried – knowing full well that many critical advocates wouldn’t be able to attend.

agenda19v2 aThe NYPD has missed countless opportunities to engage with CPR on how the Act would be implemented – in fact the department didn’t meet with us until last month, violating the law’s provision that community be consulted in advance of creating guidance and implementation. It has since refused to make any of the necessary changes to its internal guidance to officers that would bring them in compliance with the Right To Know Act and help ensure our communities’ rights are protected. Department leaders then turned around and said that we had “unprecedented” access to materials, and that they had already consulted with the community. This was untrue. And as the bill went into law, a Patrolmen's Benevolent Association spokesperson even referred to reform as a “burden” on officers.

Those kinds of comments undermine the gravity of this law and hardly inspire confidence in the NYPD’s willingness to honor and uphold its effective implementation. NYPD materials still lack clear, coherent language on some of the details required for police to implement the law. And there is mounting evidence that the NYPD is hardly trying to implement the bill in its entirety. It’s crucial that the NYPD and Mayor de Blasio focus on implementing and enforcing the Right to Know Act properly, and provide guidance and materials needed to ensure that NYPD officers follow these new laws. But regardless of their actions, CPR is prepared to educate citizens on their right to know in order to ensure that the NYPD does not violate or obstruct that right.

While the law going into effect is certainly something to celebrate, we clearly have much more work to do. The final version of the police identification bill included numerous carve-outs and exclusions that were universally opposed by the Right to Know Act coalition of more than 200 organizations. This legislation is one step of many in the path to true safety and justice for all New Yorkers. Passing reform-oriented legislation is crucial, but we must also critically examine and abolish harmful and unjust legislation. For instance, laws like ‘50A,’ which continues to protect the officers who killed Eric Garner, need to be repealed to achieve the goal of full transparency.

Today, the Right To Know Act is a symbol of the work we have done, but also of how far we still have to go. We are grateful to the community and the City Council, to New Yorkers for raising their voices, and to those who will continue to speak out against unnecessarily harsh policing. Together, we’ve made history. Let’s continue to do so.

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Monifa Bandele is a member of the steering committee for Communities United for Police Reform. She is also Senior Vice President and Chief Partnership & Equity Officer at MomsRising. On Twitter @monifabandele.

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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The Right to Know is Law – Will the NYPD Abide by It? Mon, 12 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Questions Linger as Right to Know Act Goes Into Effect http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8004-questions-linger-as-right-to-know-act-goes-into-effect http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8004-questions-linger-as-right-to-know-act-goes-into-effect mayorsoffice gradu

(Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


The Right to Know Act, a significant piece of police reform legislation passed by the City Council last December, is set to go into effect Friday and advocates who hoped it would transform street interactions between New Yorkers and police officers are worried that the NYPD may not fully comply with the new law.

The Right to Know Act comprises two laws with requirements for how officers conduct themselves in street stops. The first, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat, mandates that officers identify themselves when questioning individuals, provide a valid reason for doing so, and provide a business card with their name and rank to the individual. The second law, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, a Brooklyn Democrat, requires officers with no probable cause to obtain verbal consent before searching an individual or their property while informing people of their right to refuse a search. The police department will also have to compile and report data on the number of such encounters.

Developed as a response to the NYPD’s controversial use of stop-and-frisk policing, the Right to Know legislation travelled a bumpy years-long road to passage. In 2016, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito refused to allow the bills to come to a vote and instead struck a deal with the NYPD to implement certain provisions administratively. The move was protested by criminal justice advocates who believed Mark-Viverito had kowtowed to opposition by the police department and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Then, in 2017, when the two bills were on the verge of being approved, Torres’ bill was amended in ways that police reform advocates said diluted and betrayed its original intent by removing certain categories of interactions from its jurisdiction. The CPR coalition pulled its support for that bill before it passed, as did some of the Council Members who co-sponsored it. Nonetheless, the enactment of the legislative package was mostly celebrated as a victory for criminal justice reform efforts in the city.

Advocates and the bill sponsors have since been eagerly awaiting and preparing for the two laws to go into effect on Friday, though there have been questions raised about the NYPD’s readiness to change its ways -- concerns the NYPD is pushing back against, promising full compliance with the new laws and asserting its outreach efforts as “unprecedented.”

“We’re gearing up to see how the NYPD implements the reforms mandated in the law,” said Michael Sisitzky, lead policy counsel in the advocacy department at the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a phone interview on Tuesday. NYCLU is a member of the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) coalition, which spearheaded advocacy for the Right to Know bills for years. Sisitzky said his organization has been conducting internal education sessions about the two laws as they await its implementation.

But he noted that the NYPD has failed to significantly engage with advocates or solicit enough community input on changing its policies to adhere to the laws, which was explicitly required by Reynoso’s bill.

“That consultation didn’t happen in any meaningful way,” Sisitzky said. “The NYPD really decided to not follow the spirit and requirements of the law and consult with communities despite these communities being involved in this for the last five years.” He said it was a “missed opportunity” to reimagine policing tactics and that more so than other reforms related to greater reporting on enforcement or the creation of outside monitors, its success depends on how it is executed on the ground. “This was an easy chance for them to work with communities to create new policies,” he said.

On Wednesday, Joo-Hyun Kang, director of CPR, told the New York Daily News that the coalition had only one meeting with the NYPD in September and that it’s recommendations were not taken into account in new guidance issued to officers. Drafted guidance in the NYPD patrol guide, which dictates officer conduct and protocols, that was seen by Kang seemed to fall short of the requirements in the law, the News reported, and Kang worried that officers were not being properly trained.

Council Member Reynoso echoed the sentiments of the advocates. On Wednesday morning, Reynoso visited the offices of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which handles complaints of NYPD officer misconduct and abuse of power, to speak with more than 60 CCRB staffers about the Right to Know Act, what inspired it and how it will improve policing, particularly communities of color, where the overuse of stop-and-frisk was damaging to police-community relations and ruled unconstitutional by a judge.

Emphasizing the need for the Right to Know Act, Reynoso recounted his own personal experience with stop-and-frisk from his high school days, when he and his cousins were abruptly stopped and searched by police officers as they walked down the street. “That experience was very life-changing for me. I felt like I lost all dignity,” he said.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, he noted that the NYPD should have been more collaborative as they prepare to adapt to the new laws. “I think the NYPD does want to follow through with the bills,” he said, while conceding that they have “done a very poor job” of communicating with reform advocates. “While I do believe that they haven’t done enough at this moment to engage communities the way they’re supposed to by law, moving forward I do feel comfortable that they’ll be able to engage,” he said. “But, because we’ve lost all this time, without communicating to the advocates, there are some things that they could have done better or might have overlooked that could have been addressed before implementation. Now we have to wait till after implementation to address a lot of these issues.”

Reynoso stressed that the new laws would be a valuable tool in the pockets of public defenders and New Yorkers who feel that their civil rights have been violated, and that the department’s compliance would also be ensured by the full implementation of its body camera program. De Blasio announced in January that all patrol officers would be outfitted with cameras by the end of the year.

There are concerns, however, about how closely officers will follow the new laws. “Unfortunately, the NYPD doesn’t have the best track record complying with legal mandates,” NYCLU’s Sisitzky said. The NYPD has in recent months come under fire for refusing to abide by a City Council law mandating disclosure of data on subway fare evasion arrests. And de Blasio has repeatedly chosen to defer to the department’s leadership, which cited public safety concerns, instead of ordering compliance.

Asked if the NYPD could be trusted to follow the Right to Know, which the department fought, and if the mayor could be relied upon to enforce it, Reynoso seemed to harbor some doubts. “I absolutely believe that the mayor should be on the front lines...but the mayor has shown that he cares deeply about his relationship with the NYPD.” Even when certain pieces of police reform legislation are justified, Reynoso said, “[The mayor] would err on the side of the police [rather] than the people of the City of New York.”

A spokesperson for the mayor did not respond to a request for comment. An NYPD spokesperson, asked about the concerns expressed by advocates, said in a statement, “The NYPD will fully comply with the Right to Know Act when it takes effect this Friday. As the Department developed its policies, it heard numerous recommendations from the advocacy community through discussions with the Federal Monitor. The Department also provided advocates unprecedented access to NYPD policies, forms, and trainings prior to the law taking effect. And the NYPD will of course continue to talk to advocates to fine tune the policy as it is implemented and we can assess what’s working and what might be improved.”

Advocates and the City Council say they will be keeping an eagle eye on the police adherence. “The City Council is proud of its efforts in this area and we will be watching the roll out to ensure the Right To Know is being followed,” said Jennifer Fermino, City Council communications director, in a statement.

On Thursday afternoon, the CPR coalition rallied with several City Council Members outside City Hall, celebrating the Right to Know Act but also airing their complaints about the NYPD's lacklustre engagement and promising to hold the department and the de Blasio administration accountable. "And, on Friday morning, Reynoso and members of the CCRB will hit the streets of Brooklyn and the Bronx to inform New Yorkers about their new rights under the Act.

“I think [the new laws] offer New Yorkers a real sense of control and knowledge over their encounters with the police department,” said Jonathan Darche, CCRB executive director, in a phone interview. “And we’ve been working hard with the department in order to make sure that we’re on the same page with them about how they are training members of service so that we can hold members accountable to the standard that is being demanded of them by the department.”

“I’m excited that it’s coming to fruition,” Council Member Torres said outside City Hall on Wednesday as he rushed to attend a Wednesday meeting of the full Council.

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Questions Linger as Right to Know Act Goes Into Effect Thu, 18 Oct 2018 17:21:15 +0000
At ‘Museum of Broken Windows,’ NYCLU Exhibits Case for Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7952-at-museum-of-broken-windows-nyclu-exhibits-case-for-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7952-at-museum-of-broken-windows-nyclu-exhibits-case-for-reform broken windows museum

(photo: @NYCLU)


The windshield of the NYPD car is shattered, with glass debris all over the ground. The inside of the patrol vehicle is full of greenery, indicating it’s been there a while. Still intact is the side door that reads “Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect.”

This is the centerpiece of the Museum of Broken Windows, a new pop-up exhibit on West 8th Street hosted by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and open for one week beginning this past Saturday through Sunday, September 30. The museum, which features work by roughly 25 artists and will host several evening discussion events over the course of the week, “showcases the ineffectiveness of broken windows policing, which criminalizes our most vulnerable communities,” according to its website. “The strategy of broken windows policing is outdated and has never been proven to be effective at reducing crime,” it continues. “For decades, communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by broken windows policing.”

Artwork at the museum is by people who have felt the effects of broken windows policing, about topics ranging from police shootings of civilians to the use of stop-and-frisk to the War on Drugs. Forms include interactive pieces, photographs of significant historical civil rights events, and paintings.

lr convo broken windows museum

One piece, done by formerly-incarcerated Russell Craig, uses papers the artist received throughout his seven-year journey throughout the criminal justice system — halfway house notes, bail receipts, processing papers — to create his own self portrait. By painting his portrait onto these papers, Craig says that he is sending a message that the system that tried to define him did not succeed in doing so.

The layout of the museum starts with a small hallway containing art on either side, eventually leading to a wider space. This is where the NYCLU will host discussion events on broken windows, police accountability, and the “school to prison pipeline.” Throughout the exhibit, interactive prompts encourage visitors to think about and answer questions while consuming the art on display.

The NYCLU has long-decried the policing approach made popular in New York City in the 1990s by former two-time police commissioner Bill Bratton, which is centered on strict enforcement of low-level crimes such as turnstile jumping or drinking alcohol in public in the belief that such law-breaking and “disorder” erodes quality of life and leads to more serious and violent crimes.

Bratton first began implementing the strategy, which focuses on prevention of as opposed to only reaction to major crimes, under Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani. It remained in place in the city as Bratton moved elsewhere, only to resume his NYPD command in 2014 under Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who has repeatedly called broken windows policing “the right approach.”

Though its effectiveness has been extolled regularly by some and questioned repeatedly by others, namely around causation between its use and the drop in major crimes that has occurred over decades, but also in terms of the racial disparities in enforcement, it has remained the guiding NYPD strategy. Implementation has changed over time and the city has in recent years under de Blasio, Bratton, and Bratton’s successor, Commissioner James O’Neill, significantly reduced arrests for low-level crimes, though racial disparities persist. Legislation pushed by former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito created a framework for enforcing low-level offenses as civil, not criminal, violations. Bratton has called the relaxing of some aspects of broken windows a “peace dividend” possible due to the dropping numbers of major crimes like murder. He has compared the use of stricter enforcement to medicine given by a doctor to a very sick patient.

Activists and advocates like those at the NYCLU have seen things very differently. “People of color report being surveilled, harassed, abused and punished by police all over New York City,” the NYCLU reports in its most recent survey. “This is felt most intensely in particular neighborhoods, most of which are home to disproportionate numbers of black New Yorkers.”

“It is time for a change,” the new pop-up museum’s website states. “New Yorkers are coming together for important conversations on policing and what it means to feel and be safe. Using art and creativity, the Museum of Broken Windows will provide a powerful and emotional experience that critically looks at the system of policing in New York.”

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, described the principles of broken windows theory as a being instrumental in the creation of policies that began the War on Drugs and increased police presence in schools.

“The ideology of broken windows policing quite logically and devastatingly morphed into the school-to-prison pipeline,” Lieberman said. “It went hand-in-hand with a dramatic increase in suspensions, kicking kids out of school instead of helping them figure out how to solve problems related to this behavior.”

Proponents of broken windows often cite the steady decrease in serious crime rates New York City has seen over the years as evidence that it is working, but the NYCLU claims that these crime rates, and their drops, have been the same in areas where broken windows policing is really employed, namely communities of color, and in areas where it is not.

“It’s 16 for 100,000 and 18 for 100,000,” said Johanna Miller, advocacy director of the NYCLU. “So rates of serious crime are exactly the same if there’s broken windows policing happening or not happening. Which for us is evidence that even if there was more urgent crime-fighting strategy in the 90s, that doesn’t exist anymore, we’re living in a different New York.”

In addition to ending broken windows policing, the NYCLU is pressing for the passage of the Police-STAT Act, which would override section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law and allow public release of police personnel records. Though Mayor de Blasio has been outspoken about his belief that it is problematic, he has supported the NYPD’s relatively recent change to adhering to it, which errs to the side of secrecy. De Blasio and NYPD officials have said they have no choice and want to see a state law change, though the department had revealed much more information for many years, a court decision resulting from a suit by the NYCLU has allowed to the city to shield the records.

In 2016, the NYCLU brought a suit against the city after its Freedom of Information Act request for 10 years of NYPD personnel records had been denied. In the past, the redaction process offered by the FOIA was seen as enough to allow the city to balance an officer’s privacy and a citizen’s right to information. This may be why a lower court ruled in favor of the NYCLU, a decision that was overturned by the First Judicial Department appeals court. Ruling that the request would pose a violation of section 50-a, a precedent was set.

chokehold broken windows museumThe Museum of Broken Windows may help move public sentiment behind what the NYCLU is advocating. Daveen Trentman, co-founder of the Soze Agency and executive producer of the museum, hopes the art will compel New Yorkers to rally to their side.

“What the art can do is open our hearts, make us think more compassionately, and really draw a connection to the statistics and to the policy,” Trentman said.

Using artists who have gone through the criminal justice system, the museum is designed to help others empathize with the cause and be spurred to action.

“[The artists] are experts of their own experience, and that makes their work tremendously authentic,” Trentman said, going on to emphasize that she sees the work as saying, “We’re not hopeless. We aren’t stuck in this set of policies and we don’t have to accept it. What we can do is end broken windows policing.”

“Ultimately, whether or not the NYPD continues on the path of broken windows policing is up to the mayor,” said Miller. “Our mayor has done so much great work to end stop-and-frisk, to change police practices and to invest in neighborhood policing, but he continues to say publicly that he believes in and adheres to the principles of broken windows. It’s time to let that go.”

The mayor’s press office declined to comment for this story.

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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At ‘Museum of Broken Windows,’ NYCLU Exhibits Case for Reform Mon, 24 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
New Approach to Low-Level Offenses is Working http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7911-new-approach-to-low-level-offenses-is-working http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7911-new-approach-to-low-level-offenses-is-working mayorsoffice police

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


How should police respond when someone is drinking a beer in the street, dropping litter, or engaging in other minor offenses? Up until a year ago, a criminal summons was the only answer, and if the person didn’t show up in court, he or she could be arrested on a warrant.

As a result, New Yorkers had as much contact with the system for low-level offenses as for serious crimes.

Consider that in the first half of 2017, there were 112,000 criminal summonses compared to 98,000 misdemeanor arrests and 50,000 felony arrests. The summonses practice had a snowballing effect on the justice system: over its history of this practice, many people failed to take a day off of work or find the time to settle the criminal summons.

More than a million warrants accumulated.

Last year, that all changed.

In city legislation called the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA)—passed by the City Council under then-Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio—police now have the option to issue a civil summons instead of a criminal summons, which can be handled like a ticket in the city’s administrative law court, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, known as OATH.

Under the CJRA, if the summons is filed at OATH for the hearing, the punishment is a fine. If a court date is missed, it does not result in a warrant and arrest like it could in criminal court.

And if found in violation after a hearing, the option is available to pay the fine or do community service. Community service at OATH is instructive and aimed at preventing future offenses instead of solely requiring the performance of menial tasks.

The effect of the law has been dramatic.

Since June 2017, criminal summonses and warrants for CJRA-eligible offenses are down 89 and 94 percent, respectively. Over the same period, serious crime fell 13 percent.

Warrants issued for failure to appear in court for a small set of low-level offenses—for example, drinking in public, entering a park after dark, unreasonable noise, and public urination—could reach as high as 5,000 in a single month. Now they are around a few hundred.

During this time, the Mayor's Office and the City Council also worked with the NYPD, district attorneys, the courts and other partners to clear more than 644,000 warrants for minor, non-violent offenses that were 10 years old or older.

There are, of course, exceptions to the new enforcement option for low-level offenses. Someone may still be directed to criminal court if he or she has two or more felony arrests in the past two years, has three or more unanswered OATH summonses in the past eight years, is on probation or parole, or if there is another legitimate law enforcement reason.

The success of CJRA is not just that police now have more options. Nor is it just that there is more proportionality in how we enforce the laws, though that is important. It is also that more people are attending to their summonses.

In May of 2017 appearance rates on criminal summonses were at 64 percent. In April of 2018 that number had risen to 71 percent—which is also a credit to the multiple partners, courts, police, district attorneys, and others who helped develop a redesigned summons form, to make directions more clear, and sending text message reminders that alert people of their upcoming court dates.

Enhanced appearance rates are not happenstance. One thing we know well, both from research and from everyday experience, is that people are more likely to obey the law when they believe that they are treated fairly and that the system is responding appropriately. When the punishment for low-level offenses is out of step with the seriousness of the offense, New Yorkers lose confidence in the fairness of the system as a whole and are less likely to comply.

It is one reason why the NYPD had already been issuing fewer criminal summonses even before the CJRA, considering new approaches to low-level offenses, and has expanded neighborhood policing, which emphasizes building partnerships with the community.

We do not know for sure whether this is the dynamic that is changing behavior but we have asked the Misdemeanor Justice Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice to do an evaluation of the effects of the CJRA and hope to learn more in the year ahead.

We know this will not fix everything. Racial disparity still persists and we have work to do. However, this dramatically lightens the volume and weight of the system’s touches on New Yorkers who commit low-level offenses.

We are hopeful that this approach that relies on residents to live cooperatively with their neighbors while ensuring compliance through proportionate measures will create a virtuous cycle in which rules are followed because they are fair and just.

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Elizabeth Glazer is the Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. On Twitter @CrimJusticeNYC.

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New Approach to Low-Level Offenses is Working Tue, 04 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
NYPD Watchdog Seeks Sharper Teeth Through Charter Revision http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7835-nypd-watchdog-seeks-sharper-teeth-through-charter-revision http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7835-nypd-watchdog-seeks-sharper-teeth-through-charter-revision ccrb exec director twiter2

CCRB reps, including Jonathan Darche, middle (photo: @CCRB_NYC)


When the NYPD decided earlier this month to move ahead with its departmental trial against two officers involved in the 2014 death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, it tasked the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent watchdog agency, with prosecuting the charges. But that prosecutorial authority has yet to be codified into the City Charter, the city’s central governing document, a change that CCRB officials are seeking through Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision commission.

In testimony last week before the charter revision commission, which will propose charter amendments to voters on the November Election Day ballot, the CCRB’s executive director, Jonathan Darche, urged commission members to consider expanding the board’s powers and solidifying its place in the city’s constitution.

A 13-member body composed entirely of civilians, the CCRB investigates, and prosecutes, allegations of police misconduct, including complaints about use of force and abuse of power. The current iteration of the agency dates back to 1993 when the body was given subpoena power and the ability to make disciplinary recommendations after substantiating complaints against police officers.

It was the CCRB last year that substantiated the complaints against Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who held Eric Garner in a banned chokehold that led to his death. The CCRB recommended the highest possible penalty it can against Pantaleo -- charges and specifications, which are then prosecuted by CCRB lawyers in an administrative trial. Ultimately, the CCRB issues its recommendations to the police commissioner, who makes the final determination on a disciplinary proceeding.

With the mayor’s charter revision commission close to concluding its work and announcing its proposals in early September, Darche testified at one of the commission’s hearings across the boroughs, on July 26 in Queens. Darche’s testimony follows on a letter sent by the CCRB to the charter commission in May, which enumerated the four proposed changes, which include codifying the Board’s Administrative Prosecution Unit (APU), which is handling the Pantaleo trial; enabling the board to give subpoena signatory power to the agency’s highest ranking staff; clarifying and expanding the NYPD’s duty to cooperate with CCRB requests for documentation and data; and amending the agency’s budget to equal one percent of the NYPD’s budget.

Eric Phillips, a spokesperson for the mayor, declined to comment for this article. The NYPD did not respond to emails seeking comment. When Mayor de Blasio announced the charter revision commission in February he said he wanted it to focus on election and campaign finance reform, but it has heard testimony on a wide range of matters and is considering, as is its right, focus areas beyond the mayoral mandate.

The most significant proposal put forward by the CCRB relates to the Administrative Prosecution Unit, which was created in 2012 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the NYPD. As is the case with Pantaleo, the APU handles prosecutions in cases with the strongest disciplinary recommendation. According to the CCRB, the unit has prosecuted officers in 367 trials since its creation. 

“As evidenced by the APU’s prosecution in the Garner case, the APU is a vital part of the disciplinary process for officers who commit misconduct,” Darche said during his testimony. “Amending the City Charter to codify the APU will ensure that this independent and effective tool for civilian oversight will continue.”

Carolyn Martinez-Class, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a broad coalition of police reform advocates, welcomed the CCRB recommendations as “important initial proposals to improve police accountability and transparency generally,” in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “In order to be effective, the proposed change to codify the Administrative Prosecution Unit must also codify the original MOU's intent to make transparent instances when the Police Commissioner disagrees with CCRB recommendations so that those instances and rationale are made public as originally intended,” she added.

Though the commission members asked no questions of Darche at the hearing in Queens, and police oversight has not been one of the main issues the commission is exploring, Darche will have another opportunity to push those proposals.

The mayor’s commission is expected to put out its final report within weeks and will propose ballot measures for the November general election, but the New York City Council has created a separate charter revision commission, which convened for the first time earlier this month. That second commission -- which includes commissioners appointed by the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, City Council, and borough presidents -- is working with a longer timeline, aiming to put its proposals on the ballot in November 2019, allowing it ample time for a more holistic review of the charter.

City Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the public safety committee, said in a statement that he was “absolutely in support” of the CCRB’s proposals to the charter commission. “Increased transparency and accountability are essential to improving police-community relations and the CCRB should absolutely have a stronger presence in that process moving forward,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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NYPD Watchdog Seeks Sharper Teeth Through Charter Revision Mon, 30 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Leaders Say They Stand with Muslims & Immigrants, But Do They Mean it? http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7786-city-leaders-say-they-stand-with-muslims-immigrants-but-do-they-mean-it http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7786-city-leaders-say-they-stand-with-muslims-immigrants-but-do-they-mean-it cojo pablo

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


New York City’s leaders have recently been protesting with Muslim and immigrant New Yorkers, but these same leaders are often missing once the cameras are gone. After last week’s stunning Supreme Court setback, the time finally has come for these same leaders to ditch New York City’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant police policies.

We clearly say we’re a sanctuary city, but the facts on the ground are unclear. No, city workers can’t ask about immigration status, but NYPD officers continue to use dragnet surveillance on immigrant communities. Most importantly, they continue to share that data with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which the Trump administration is using to intensify its deportation efforts.

Every day, license plate readers all across New York City monitor cars in real-time. These cameras create a massive database of our movements across the city. But instead of using this database just to do police work, the NYPD shares the data with private, for-profit firms like Vigilant Solutions, a company that struck a deal to share New York data with ICE earlier this year.

But the license plate readers aren’t even the worst part. At least the City told us about them. All-too-often, we only find out about spy tools after they’ve been used for years. Tools like stingrays, fake cell towers that can suck-up all the phone data for miles around. To target one suspect, stingrays often need to track thousands of phones. Worst of all, the NYPD has even used these devices without a warrant. Wondering if your texts or calls were copied before? There’s no way to tell.

The City Council knows about the problem now – we told them about it – but for years this spying went on in secret. How? The NYPD has a slush fund: millions in federal and private dollars that can be spent without any oversight by the City Council. The mayor could end this tomorrow; Mr. de Blasio could require the NYPD to disclose how its spy data is shared with ICE with the stroke of a pen. But I’m not holding my breath.

Instead, we need the City Council to act. For years, CAIR-NY, NYCLU, and other advocates have pushed the POST Act, a commonsense bill that would require the NYPD to tell our lawmakers what military-grade spy gear they’re buying with private and federal dollars and how they’re keeping that information safe. The NYPD could continue surveillance, but the cowboy-era of buying whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted would be over. More importantly, the NYPD would finally enact policies to make sure our city’s resources won’t help ICE deport our neighbors.

But, the bill has stalled.

Our city’s leaders have long promised to make New York a sanctuary for all—a symbol of inclusion at a moment of presidential prejudice. So far, action has fallen short of soaring rhetoric, but that can change. This is the moment for our city to practice what we preach. This is the moment to prove we can do more than just show up for the protest.

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Albert Fox Cahn is the Legal Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, New York, a leading Muslim civil rights organization. On Twitter @CahnLawNY and @CAIRNewYork.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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City Leaders Say They Stand with Muslims & Immigrants, But Do They Mean it? Tue, 03 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Investigation Commissioner on Examining NYPD, NYCHA and Correction http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7710-investigation-commissioner-on-examining-nypd-nycha-and-correction http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7710-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]

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

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Investigation Commissioner on Examining NYPD, NYCHA and Correction Mon, 04 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
While Waiting on the State, Steps on Marijuana for the Mayor and NYPD http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7697-while-waiting-on-the-state-steps-on-marijuana-for-the-mayor-and-nypd http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7697-while-waiting-on-the-state-steps-on-marijuana-for-the-mayor-and-nypd mayorsoffice stats

(Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Smoking marijuana in public will only be legalized if the New York State Assembly and Senate – huffing and puffing – change the penal law.

With no change, the real problem in New York City is the collateral consequences – past, present, and future – arrests for marijuana cause thousands of black and Hispanic New Yorkers disproportionately impacted by the NYPD’s approach. These consequences include issues when applying for a license or job, or leading to deportation proceedings as mandated by President Trump’s onerous immigration executive order.   

These consequences could start to be mitigated if Mayor Bill de Blasio will “tell” – actually order – his police commissioner not to make misdemeanor marijuana arrests and instead directs the NYPD to issue a non-criminal summons when marijuana is smoked publicly. Additionally, de Blasio must enlist all five of the city’s district attorneys to decline criminal marijuana prosecutions – only the Manhattan and Brooklyn D.A.s have taken up this policy.  

If the NYPD submits, a misdemeanor marijuana arrest will virtually be eliminated as a criminal charge, fingerprints will not be taken, nor sent to the FBI. For a non-criminal summons a fine can be paid by mail. This process would in essence decriminalize marijuana.  

The proposed mayoral no-arrest policy – guaranteed to cause consternation at the NYPD’s highest level – will generate a reflex response that not making marijuana misdemeanor arrests is inconsistent with enforcing the law and it is Albany’s responsibility to change the law.   

As he assigned a 30-day review of marijuana enforcement, de Blasio’s hopeful statement, “I respect the NYPD, which has proven the ability to innovate to come up with the how. I have a mandate for them, I’m convinced they will figure out how to act on it,” is unrealistic.

The mayor cannot really believe that the NYPD will voluntarily recommend “innovative” ideas – in 30 days – or significantly change its crime strategies of stopping, frisking, seizing marijuana, and arresting a person for smoking it in public, after 50-plus years of no progressive ideas for how to effectively address this issue.  

The NYPD’s hazy and quick response after de Blasio’s announcement is hardly encouraging, “The (NYPD) 30-day Working Group on marijuana enforcement is underway, and this issue is certainly part of that review.  The Working Group is reviewing possession and public smoking of marijuana to ensure enforcement is consistent with the values of fairness and trust, while also promoting public safety and addressing community concerns.”

There was a sleight of hand NYPD “reform” concerning marijuana arrests to ease the public pressure when stop-and-frisks were at all-time highs.

Since 2013, the NYPD, instead of criminally processing a person arrested, has often given a Desk Appearance Ticket – a misdemeanor criminal summons for public smoking – after a person is arrested, photographed, and fingerprinted, if there is no outstanding warrant for that person’s arrest.  The only real DAT benefit is the person is not incarcerated for 10 or 20 or more hours waiting for a criminal court arraignment.

Annually, more than 15,000 individuals were arrested and charged with a misdemeanor, overwhelmingly receiving a DAT for smoking pot in public, and approximately 30,000 non-criminal summonses were issued for pot possession.  

For these 45,000 New Yorkers and the hundreds of thousands before and after them, the collateral consequences for arrests and even for non-criminal summonses continue.   

While legalization is debated the Legislature and the Governor must immediately enact an exemption to state law that currently mandates fingerprinting a person arrested for criminal possession of marijuana.

The Legislature and the Governor must specifically exclude from disclosure any pending or adjudicated marijuana arrest or non-criminal summons issued or asked about in any employment application for public service, a license or to obtain any public benefit.

While the mayor, the governor, and the Legislature dither about the legalization of marijuana, it is time for the mayor, after four-and-a-half years in office, to lead – and drag the NYPD along – to eliminate marijuana arrests, which will start to end the collateral consequences.  

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Arnold Kriss is a Manhattan attorney who formerly served as a Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney and Deputy Commissioner of Trials in the NYPD.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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While Waiting on the State, Steps on Marijuana for the Mayor and NYPD Tue, 29 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 402, with Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7676-what-s-the-data-point-402-with-mark-peters http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7676-what-s-the-data-point-402-with-mark-peters whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 41 -- 402, with DOI Commissioner Mark Peters [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

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Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters is one of the most feared officials in New York City. The power of his office has few limits as it investigates waste, fraud, and abuse in and around city government. DOI issues reports, makes arrests, and really gets under the hood of city agencies.

Under Peters, who took office in 2014, DOI has issued bombshell reports about the NYPD, NYCHA, the Department of Correction, and other city agencies and entities. Peters joined the podcast to discuss the work of the office, which has grown substantially during his tenure, his relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio, who nominated him to the position but has criticized his work on several occasions, and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 402, with Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters Thu, 17 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Progressive Caucus Calls for Crisis Intervention Reforms http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7622-city-council-progressive-caucus-calls-for-crisis-intervention-reforms http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7622-city-council-progressive-caucus-calls-for-crisis-intervention-reforms mayornyc james o neil

(Credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


The New York City Council Progressive Caucus is stepping up calls for Mayor Bill de Blasio to reconstitute a citywide task force to examine how emergency responders help people suffering from mental illness, and are insisting that the mayor consider creating a parallel response force of social workers and therapists that can answer calls rather than police officers.

In a letter sent to the mayor last Wednesday, the 21 members of the Progressive Caucus said the mayor should act by the end of the month to revive the Mayoral Task Force on Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice, which was set up, and concluded its work, in 2014, or create a similar body.

“As we’ve seen once again in the last week, the tragic costs of not acting in a sustained and focused manner are too high,” the members wrote, referring to the shooting death of Crown Heights resident Shaheed Vassell by NYPD officers who were not trained to respond to situations involving “emotionally disturbed persons.” The letter noted that since the last task force’s recommendations were put in place, in the summer of 2016, ten people in emotional crisis were killed by police.

Late last year, City Council Member Jumaane Williams, a progressive caucus member, had led an effort calling on the mayor to do the same. He was among those who reiterated that request after the death of Vassell. But though the NYPD says it is on board, the mayor continues to drag his feet. “It’s really a City Hall conversation,” NYPD Deputy Commissioner Susan Herman said at a Council hearing last month.

The Progressive Caucus members’ latest request differs slightly from what has been previously sought.

Rather than directing efforts at improving NYPD officer behavior, which they nonetheless hope the task force will do, they are calling for the mayor to support a new system that prioritizes professional mental health providers in emergency situations, where 911 operators can divert calls to social workers or therapists instead of the police and where therapists or trained peers can join police at the scene of an emergency. They also call for an expansion of mobile crisis teams and co-response teams that include mental health professionals paired with officers that have received Crisis Intervention Training. Just over 8,000 officers in the 36,000-strong police force have gone through CIT. 

"Too often, individuals with behavioral and mental health conditions are wrongly introduced to the criminal justice system. In order to improve their safety, we must consider comprehensive strategies that will prioritize preventive care and response tactics by mental health professionals,” said Council Member Diana Ayala, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus and chair of the Council’s Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction, in a statement.

The Progressive Caucus includes nearly half the 51 members of the City Council, and counts Council Speaker Corey Johnson among its ranks. Council Member Ben Kallos is co-chair with Ayala.

Although the Council members praised the administration’s efforts that resulted from the recommendation of the previous task force, they noted that many initiatives stalled and also pointed to the weaknesses in the NYPD’s approach to CIT training as evidenced by a January 2017 report by the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD.

“The deaths of Dwayne Jeune, Saheed Vassell, and too many others have shown that there are fundamental flaws in the way our city handles EDP emergencies,” said Council Member Williams, in a statement.

Steve Coe, CEO of Community Access, decried the “lack of leadership around this issue” despite the action plan put in place based on the 2014 task force’s recommendations. He commended the Progressive Caucus’ efforts, stressing that bringing stakeholders such as district attorneys, the city’s health department, NYPD officials, mental health experts and advocates was necessary “to assess what’s working, what’s not working, and develop diversion and treatment strategies that are effective and sustainable.”

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note- This article has been updated. 

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City Council Progressive Caucus Calls for Crisis Intervention Reforms Wed, 18 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000