Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/435 Wed, 20 Jun 2018 15:02:19 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Investigation Commissioner on Examining NYPD, NYCHA and Correction http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7710:investigation-commissioner-on-examining-nypd-nycha-and-correction http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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/?id=7697:while-waiting-on-the-state-steps-on-marijuana-for-the-mayor-and-nypd http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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/?id=7676:what-s-the-data-point-402-with-mark-peters http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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]

mark peters podcast 277px

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/?id=7622:city-council-progressive-caucus-calls-for-crisis-intervention-reforms http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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
NYPD Pushes Back Against Calls to Reform Special Victims Division http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7602:nypd-pushes-back-against-calls-to-reform-special-victims-division http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7602:nypd-pushes-back-against-calls-to-reform-special-victims-division nypd council hearing rape

NYPD reps at Monday's hearing (photo: @NYCCouncil)


At a tense oversight hearing examining the NYPD's response to sex crimes on Monday, the NYPD opposed all four bills introduced by the City Council in response to a Department of Investigation report released two weeks earlier.

The bills seek to require evidence-based models to determine staffing levels for the Special Victims Division, more training for sex crimes detectives, and a digital, searchable case management system for the SVD.

On March 27, following a year-long investigation, the DOI released a report stating that the NYPD's Special Victims Division has been chronically understaffed for years, with only 67 detectives available to investigate roughly 5,600 sex crimes per year (ranging from rape to groping).

As a result, “a full exhaustive work effort [for every sex crime investigation] has not been possible," wrote Michael Osgood, Deputy Chief of the Special Victims Division, in one of the many internal correspondences Osgood sent to NYPD higher-ups asking for more investigators and included in the DOI report.

Osgood did not testify at the hearing.

Advocates, sexual assault survivors, a former Special Victims sergeant, and other members of the NYPD testified before the City Council regarding the NYPD's handling of sex crimes. While survivors, advocates, and the former Special Victims sergeant say the NYPD needs to act to improve the experience of victims who report their assaults, the NYPD claims no need for improvement.

The hearing was led by Council Members Donovan Richards, chair of the Committee on Public Safety, and Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Committee on Women.

Officially, the NYPD has 90 days to respond to the DOI's findings, which NYPD officials repeated several times at the hearing when asked specific questions.

But in an informal response issued on its website, the NYPD rebutted the DOI's findings, calling its report "an investigation in name only" and stating there are 85 detectives available to investigate adult sex crimes, not 67.

"The number of detectives assigned to actively investigate adult sex crimes is 67 (not 85) and the NYPD did not dispute that number last Friday when we discussed the report with NYPD officials," the DOI said in a statement issued in response.

By Monday morning, the NYPD had added another 20 detectives to the Special Victims Division, 15 from patrol, five from detectives squads. Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said that brought the total number of detectives assigned to investigate adult sex crimes to 100 (but did not account for the 100 being less than the 20 he said they added and the 85 the NYPD previously asserted).

Boyce’s testimony indicates the city now has 100 detectives to investigate 5,600 sex crimes annually.

For comparison, homicide investigations are similar in length and complexity to sexual assault investigations, and the city's homicide squads had 101 detectives to investigate 282 homicides in 2017, according to the DOI report.

The DOI made 12 recommendations, including that the NYPD hire 73 additional detectives "to meet the minimum investigative capacity required by an evidence-backed and nationally-accepted staffing analysis model" known as the Prummel model.

The DOI also said the NYPD should increase training for adult sex crimes detectives, invest in a new case management system, and renovate or relocate the facilities of all the special victims units that handle adult sex crimes.

"Investigators are not properly trained, facilities are not suitable, and wait times are extensive. It is no wonder that victims don’t report more often," said Council Member Richards at Monday’s hearing. "And it seems that NYPD leadership is just fine with victims of sex crimes being ignored."

Chief of Patrol Terrence Monahan, Deputy Commissioner of Collaborative Policing Susan Herman, and Director of Legislative Affairs Oleg Chernyavsky testified before the Council. Chief of Detectives Boyce, who is on the verge of retirement from the NYPD, was also seated at the table and fielded questions. Though Council members said they wanted to hear from Chief Osgood as head of the Special Victims Division, the four NYPD officials seated at the table took virtually all of the questions, along with some terse interjections from Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters Larry Byrne.

By and large, NYPD officials asserted that the department takes rape seriously, that both staffing and training are adequate, and that their electronic case management system is sufficient.

Chernyavsky said that the bills requiring additional training would "dilute the police commissioner’s authority by dictating a particular method and duration of training."

In response to Council Member Debi Rose's bill requiring the NYPD to use evidence-based models to determine appropriate staffing levels for the Special Victims Division, Chernyavsky said, "The requirements of this bill, however, erode and encroach upon the most basic responsibilities of the police commissioner to manage this agency and its personnel."

However, Chernyavsky's response ignores the fact that the head of the Special Victims Division requested additional staffing from multiple commissioners over the course of years. The DOI report includes dozens of pages of internal NYPD communications wherein Osgood repeatedly requests additional investigators to be added to the division.

As the DOI report notes, the caseload of the city's adult sex crimes detectives has increased by 65.3 percent since 2009, when there were 72 detectives.

"I cannot understand how anyone can argue with these recommendations," said retired Special Victims Sergeant Michael Bock, who worked with the division for years. "None will be detrimental to investigations. What are we afraid of?"

Bock appeared before the Council after the NYPD representatives, none of whom stayed to hear his testimony. The department left behind two people to monitor the rest of the hearing.

Despite assurances from the NYPD that the SVD is adequately staffed, that training is sufficient, and that the division's electronic case management system is adequate, the testimonies of many sexual assault victims and advocates indicate otherwise.

As one woman, Desdemona Meck, testified, "Two months after moving to New York City, two men attempted to rape me in the Bronx." A few hours after the assault, she received a rape kit and reported the rape to the precinct.

"The detective told me I have to learn to be smarter in New York City, that I should toughen up, and in the future not be so nice to strangers. She went on to ask me if I was positive I hadn't somehow made it seem as though the sex was something I had wanted."

Meck said the detective's reaction made her feel "shameful." Meck went on to identify both of the assailants through mugshots. The detective deterred Meck from bringing the case to trial. "She seemed confident in her belief that spending more time on the case would be a waste."

Advocates who testified at the hearing like Mary Haviland, Jane Manning, Christopher Bromson, and Angela Fernandez have worked very closely with both the NYPD and sexual assault victims for years. Some attend private meetings with NYPD officials, have attended trainings for Special Victims detectives and have likewise had those detectives attend their advocate trainings.

Haviland, executive director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, is currently involved in an audit of closed sex crimes cases. Bromson, the executive director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center, and Manning, head of Women's Justice NOW, have assisted many sexual assault victims who have come to their organizations for help, often after reporting their rape to the NYPD goes awry.

"The fact that Chief Boyce could sit without a smile on his face and say that the SVD could follow up with victims is just not the reality," Haviland said. "They are not able to follow up with victims who come in. They are not able to give explanations for dropped cases or the results of rape kits."

"This issue of inadequate staff and inadequate training is something that advocates have been bringing up to the NYPD for years, we've been pleading for those things for years," said Manning.

Fernandez represents a different group of advocates who were largely not present at the hearing -- ones who work in hospitals running programs for sexual assault survivors. As the DOI report notes, sexual assault victims often have to wait hours to see a detective after reporting their assault and getting a rape kit done in a hospital. Detectives are supposed to come to the victim in the hospital, but that doesn't always happen.

"One service provider described how a client spent the entire night at a hospital waiting for an SVD detective to arrive," DOI investigators wrote in their report. "When no detective showed up, the victim, thoroughly discouraged, decided against reporting the crime to the police and went home."

Over the weekend, the NYPD rolled out a public awareness campaign aimed at increasing reporting of sex crimes.

Yet without more detectives assigned to investigate reported sex crimes, some victims who report their assaults will continue to suffer in the ways advocates and victims described at the hearing.

Both Council Members Rosenthal and Rose expressed concern over the NYPD's mixed messages -- at the same time they have put out a public awareness campaign to get more people to report their sexual assault, they have also been reluctant to add more staff to the division responsible for investigating those sexual assaults.

"With the increase in reporting, will there be enough personnel to handle these cases?" Rose asked. "It is imperative that they have enough staff to investigate these cases, to avoid the re-victimization of the people who step forward."

The NYPD's refusal to allocate adequate resources to the Special Victims Division has far-reaching consequences for victims of sexual assault and discourages victims of sexual assault from coming forward to report what happened to them. NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill did say recently that when he names a replacement for the retiring Boyce as chief of detectives, that person will do a full review of the SVD.

While the NYPD currently maintains that they have an adequate number of investigators staffing the SVD, Bock, the recently retired Special Victims sergeant, says otherwise.

"I really believe the DOI report nailed it. The NYPD's denial is upsetting," Bock said. "For a long time, the running joke in the [Special Victims] office was, 'Can I have another cinder block as I'm swimming in the pool?'...Having 20 open cases on your screen doesn't feel good."

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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NYPD Pushes Back Against Calls to Reform Special Victims Division Mon, 09 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Council Members Renew Call for Task Force on NYPD Response to Emotionally Disturbed Persons http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7603:council-members-renew-call-for-task-force-on-nypd-response-to-emotionally-disturbed-persons http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7603:council-members-renew-call-for-task-force-on-nypd-response-to-emotionally-disturbed-persons de Blasio NYPD

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


In August of last year, shortly after NYPD officers shot to death an emotionally disturbed man in his apartment, City Council Member Jumaane Williams led an effort calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to set up a task force to conduct a wholesale review of the police department’s protocols in dealing with “emotionally disturbed persons,” or EDPs. Almost eight months later, with many in the city again reeling from the fatal shooting of an emotionally disturbed man at the hands of the NYPD, the mayor has continued to vacillate on the request.

“It seems to me that there’s systemic failure there,” said Williams in a phone interview. The initial request was made in a letter dated August 11 and co-signed by Council Members Ritchie Torres and Robert Cornegy representing the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Ben Kallos representing the Progressive Caucus, and Council Member Andrew Cohen, who was then chair of the Council’s mental health committee.

The letter was sent shortly after the shooting death of Dwayne Jeune, a 32-year-old resident of East Flatbush, Brooklyn, in Williams’ district. Jeune was tazed and then shot by officers, who responded to a 911 call from his mother, when he advanced on them with a knife. Jeune’s mother had told a 911 caller that her son was mentally ill and was not acting violently. In January, the Jeune family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, seeking $20 million in damages.

Since then, even though police officials have signaled support for the task force proposal, there has been little action.

The letter called for a task force to be convened and for it to complete its work within 60 days, conducting a top-to-bottom review of NYPD protocols; the department’s implementation of recommendations made last year by the NYPD Inspector General; and a look at how the administration’s much-touted Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) can be integrated with the 911 system. The Council members insisted that the task force include the chairs of the Council’s Committees on Mental Health and on Public Safety, mental health and police reform advocates, and people directly affected by officer-involved shootings.

“We keep having people who simply need help end up dead because they reached out in times of emergency,” the letter reads. “The natural consequence of this will be those New Yorkers suffering from episodes of poor mental health, as well as their loved ones, hesitating to ask for help from emergency services.”

The mayor himself showed initial reluctance to agree to the proposal. At an unrelated news conference on August 3, after Williams had first floated the idea, de Blasio said, “I don’t personally see the need for a specific task force because I think it’s an area of tremendous concern right now both at City Hall and at the NYPD to continue to improve the NYPD’s ability to address situations involving emotionally disturbed people.”

The number of 911 calls regarding EDPs, de Blasio noted, were “staggering,” about 150,000 the prior year. “[I] would say given the intense concern at City Hall related to mental health and the focus the NYPD has put on it, the right ideas are in place. We now have to just continue to deepen our implementation of those ideas,” he said, touting the ThriveNYC mental health program and the NYPD’s Crisis Intervention Training for officers to handle situations involving people with mental illness.

But the city hasn’t gone far enough, say the Council members who signed the August letter and who, in the aftermath of the shooting death of Saheed Vassell in Crown Heights, Brooklyn last week, are renewing their push for the task force. “It’s seven months later and nothing’s happened,” said Williams. “It’s concerning. The NYPD is ready and willing but now it’s on City Hall.”

“You have to look at what’s happening from a bird’s-eye view,” he added, “because we can’t just keep going along with the status quo where people in crisis, who need mental health treatment, are being killed.”

The Daily News recently reported that only about 8,200 of the NYPD's 36,000-member force have gone through the CIT training.

As far back as September, the NYPD expressed support for the task force. At a hearing of the public safety committee last month, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Susan Herman reiterated that support, for either a new working group or reconstituting the mayor’s 2014 Task Force on Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice. “[W]e have been continuing to work even as that hasn’t yet happened,” Herman said. “We did a pretty substantial review within the police department of our response to people who are mentally ill quite recently and are in the process of implementing several recommendations. So the work has continued.”

When could they expect to hear news of the task force, Williams asked.  

“It’s really a City Hall conversation,” Herman responded.  

Mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.

“Obviously the most recent tragedies kind of highlight the fact that we need that task force,” said Council Member Cornegy, at City Hall on Monday, saying he would directly reach out to the mayor’s office to see if there has been movement on the request. He did say that he had “heard through the grapevine” that the NYPD is in the process of setting up the unit but that there had been no official word of how far along it was.

Cornegy said he is proposing a bill that would create a separate crisis hotline for EDPs, similar to 911 and 311. “NYPD should not necessarily be required to come out and be the first line of defense when you have mental health situations, whether they are egregious or whether they’re mid-level,” he said, noting that Saheed Vassell had past encounters with the police because of the lack of an alternate system. “I believe and the [Vassell] family believes that if that step had been available to them early on then they may have had a better treatment plan for his success as a person living with mental illness in the community.”

Council Member Cohen, similarly, introduced a number of bills late last year (which were reintroduced this year) that would require the NYPD to provide more data regarding interactions with people suffering from mental illness.

[Read: Bills Seek to Examine NYPD Interactions with ‘Emotionally Disturbed Persons,’ Prevent Tragedies]

“I think that there’s more information needed about EDP calls,” Cohen said outside the Council chambers on Monday. “It seems to me...the people who are getting shot by the NYPD seem to be disproportionately EDPs…These tragedies are mounting so time is of the essence. I’m not sure why it’s taken so long to get a response. That’s something you’re going to have ask the other side of the building.”

Police reform advocates have long criticized the mayor and his administration for not acting urgently enough, particularly at a time when a national conversation is happening around the killing of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers and the lack of accountability by police departments. “I think absolutely the mayor has show he’s not giving real credit to these calls from the Council members for a task force,” said Yul-san Liem, a representative of Communities United for Police Reform and co-director of the Justice Committee. “At the same time, people in distress, people who are mentally ill, are still being brutalized and killed...We need a complete overhaul of how we treat people in emotional distress or with psychological disabilities.

Liem noted that after each incident in the recent past involving use of force against mentally ill people, the administration has fallen back on the argument that they are continually training and retraining officers to handle such situations. “But that’s really rhetoric to shield the police force from accountability and making substantial changes.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Council Members Renew Call for Task Force on NYPD Response to Emotionally Disturbed Persons Mon, 09 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Savino Asks De Blasio for Help Passing ‘Subway Grinder’ Bill He Once Supported http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7468:savino-asks-de-blasio-for-help-passing-subway-grinder-bill-he-once-supported http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7468:savino-asks-de-blasio-for-help-passing-subway-grinder-bill-he-once-supported Savino and de Blasio

Senator Savino and Mayor de Blasio at lunch (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office)


As a debate rages over the appropriate law enforcement response to subway fare evasion, in Albany, a bill steepening the penalty for certain subway sex offenses is getting another look.

During Mayor Bill de Blasio’s testimony at a joint legislative budget hearing on Monday, Senator Diane Savino asked the mayor to put pressure on the Assembly to consider her legislation that would make certain lewd subway behavior a class B felony, resulting in up to a year in prison.

Savino recalled that in 2012, de Blasio, then public advocate, stood with her and Assemblymember Michael Cusick at a Staten Island subway station to unveil the “subway grinding” bill, which would target unwanted sexually-motivated touching of someone who is “physically helpless or unable to move on public transit.”

“We passed the legislation -- that you helped me draft -- in the Senate five times,” said Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) who represents Staten Island’s North Shore and southern Brooklyn, at Monday’s hearing. “If you could use your considerable influence with the Assembly to try to get it out of the Assembly. It’s critically important to safety in the subways,” she said, before continuing on to other topics.

While Savino’s bill has repeatedly passed the Senate, where Savino’s conference forms a ruling coalition with Senate Republicans, it has stalled in the downstate Democrat-dominated Assembly. De Blasio typically works closely with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to represent New York City’s interests in the legislative process.

De Blasio did not specifically address the legislation during Monday’s hearing. When Gotham Gazette followed up with the mayor’s office, a spokesperson said that Savino’s bill is currently under review.

“We support the spirit of the legislation and look forward to working with Senator Savino to ensure it’s the most effective that it can be for New Yorkers,” said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein.

A compromise bill passed by both houses in 2015 -- sponsored by Republican Senator Marty Golden of Brooklyn and Democratic Queens Assemblymember Aravella Simotas -- adds unwanted rubbing against bus or subway riders to the penal law definition of “forcible touching,” a class A misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

Savino maintains that the 2015 bill has had no effect, since forcible touching is already a misdemeanor, though subway and bus offenses have not necessary been treated that way by the courts. Her legislation was motivated in part by a case dating back to 2002, in which a “very large” man surreptitiously masturbated and ejaculated on the clothing of a teen girl while she was immobilized on a crowded train. An appeals court ruled that this was not forcible touching, since the offender did not use physical force, but only a “stealth” action.

When de Blasio backed the Savino-Cusick bill in 2012, he said in a statement, “When the laws on the books aren’t enough to protect people, we have to make them tougher. ‘Grinding’ is a deeply personal and deeply offensive violation that no woman or straphanger should have to suffer. We need laws that match the seriousness of this crime.”

In the Assembly, some question whether the reclassification is effective at deterring crime, since maximum sentences are rarely meted out.

Brooklyn Assembly Member Joe Lentol, a Democrat who chairs the Assembly codes committee, said that an increased awareness around sexual harassment this year might spur the passage of Savino’s bill this year, but said it was worth investigating whether judges are enforcing the 2015 statute, and whether it has translated into actual jail sentences for offenders.

“In this day and age, this might be baseline behavior that we want to go after -- maybe she’s right. I don’t know if a class B felony is appropriate, but maybe we should make it a felony,” said Lentol.

“We have made it a crime; it was never a crime before,” added Lentol.

In the meantime, reported “grinding” cases have jumped more than 50 percent in the last three years, according to an NYPD data report compiled by Savino last year, though she acknowledges this inflated figure could be a result of more riders reporting the crimes rather than an increase in incidents.

"I’m confident that we don’t have more sex crimes happening. We have more women who know that we care, who trust the system, and are willing to make that report," said NYPD Transit Chief Joseph Fox on CBS New York in 2016.

When asked for a comment on the outlook for her bill this year, Savino said, "For years, I have worked to elevate penalties on serial 'subway grinders' who prey on women commuting on our subways, and I have no doubt the Senate will pass my bill again. A felony penalty is necessary for egregious offenders who continue to violate women on mass transit and walk away with a slap on the wrist."

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Savino Asks De Blasio for Help Passing ‘Subway Grinder’ Bill He Once Supported Thu, 08 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Oversight Hearing on Policing Protests Dominated by Disputes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7466:city-council-oversight-hearing-on-policing-protests-dominated-by-disputes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7466:city-council-oversight-hearing-on-policing-protests-dominated-by-disputes Ydanis NYPD

City Council Member Rodriguez (photo: William Alatriste)


The City Council Committee on Public Safety held an oversight hearing on Wednesday to examine the NYPD’s tactics and procedures regarding protests and crowd control. The perpetually controversial issue has come to the fore once again in the wake of immigrant activist Ravi Ragbir’s detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the NYPD’s subsequent aggressive handling of protesters, culminating in the arrests of two City Council members and 16 others on January 11.

Both Council members who were arrested, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams, Democrats of Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively, sit on the public safety committee and questioned NYPD officials at Wednesday’s hearing, which was led by committee Chair Donovan Richards, a Queens Democrat.

Williams was released by the NYPD with a desk appearance ticket but Rodriguez was arraigned in court on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, and obstructing emergency medical services. Rodriguez, on the day of the protest, tweeted a picture of what he claimed to be an NYPD officer holding him in a chokehold.

Despite this, the hearing focused less on the allegedly brutal tactics employed by the NYPD in protests and focused more on the department’s alleged coordination with ICE. There was some discussion of the department’s approach to crowd control, though, part of a history that includes the NYPD having been accused of inappropriate suppression or brutal tactics against protesters involved with Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, antiwar demonstrations, and opposition outside the 2004 Republican National Convention.

But the hearing largely devolved into exasperated quibbles between Council members and NYPD representatives over the basic facts of what happened on January 11, including whether the department was coordinating with ICE it its detainment efforts.

The hearing is the first public safety hearing to be chaired by Richards, who was named to the post by new Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who was part of the January 11 demonstrations but was not arrested. Johnson did have a tense exchange with one officer, who he pursued and reported to NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill for aggressive conduct. Johnson and O’Neill discussed the totality of the day, Johnson said soon after, and the NYPD is continuing its internal investigation of officer conduct.

From the moment it began, the hearing was heated, as Council members and the NYPD officials testifying engaged in several disputes of the facts related to January 11 and to policy areas where Council members deemed the NYPD to be inadequately performing their duties.

It was noted that the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group, a unit of nearly 700 officers that is deployed to maintain crowd control at demonstrations, has under its purview counterterrorism, a combination that worried Council members who feared that empowering officers trained in combating terrorism with monitoring protests would result in overly aggressive policing of the latter.

The department noted that the unit was created, under the direction of former Commissioner Bill Bratton, in response to large-scale terror incidents in places such as Paris and Mumbai. Bratton’s pitch at the time: “Safe from crime, safe from terrorists, safe from disorder.

When Richards asked if the NYPD views peaceful protesters and terrorists as posing similar threats to public safety and order, the NYPD representatives were evasive, saying that the department required a reserve of officers able to respond to terror incidents, trained in disparate areas of policing like making mass arrests and handling hazardous substances.

Stephen Hughes, Commanding Officer of Patrol Borough Manhattan South, stated that in 2017, SRG had made 322 arrests at 109 demonstrations. The NYPD’s legislative director, Oleg Chernyavsky, stated that those are just arrests made by SRG, and that other patrol units can make arrests that are not counted toward that total.

Several Council members all but accused the NYPD representatives of lying under oath in saying they had not been coordinating with ICE during the January 11 incident. The officers repeatedly asserted that they had not been deputized as immigration officers and were not coordinating in any way with ICE, as per department policy. Williams attempted to refute this narrative by showing a picture of NYPD and federal Department of Homeland Security officers appearing in the immediate vicinity of each other.

“I’m hoping that what happened wasn’t intentional,” Williams said. “And I want to prevent it from happening again.”

Chernyavsky rebutted the notion that being in the same vicinity meant the two agencies were coordinating.

“I think the fact that we were physically present standing next to a federal officer who was outside of, I would assume, his or her place of employment, was an unintentional consequence,” Chernyavsky said. He also asserted that NYPD had become more active in crowd control and making arrests when its task became escorting an ambulance, with Ragbir in it, out of the crowded streets near the downtown federal building where he had had a check-in with immigration officials (there is some dispute about whether Ragbir was actually suffering from any ill feelings and in need of an ambulance). Chernyavsky said NYPD officers were unaware initially that the person in the ambulance was in ICE detention, and claimed that they even went to the wrong hospital at first, a point he thought would bolster the notion that the NYPD was not coordinating with ICE.

“What happened that day was some kind of coordination, period,” Williams said, growing increasingly frustrated with the NYPD reps as Chernyavsky asserted that it’s “irresponsible to allege that we coordinated with immigration enforcement.” They instead repeatedly asserted that they were simply enforcing existing local laws related to protest and crowd control management. They said that the events had unfolded quickly and in chaotic fashion.

The Council members signaled that they had hoped to have a more constructive dialogue about the NYPD’s policies and rules of engagement but were instead having a debate over what the facts were.

Council Member Brad Lander, a Democrat from Brooklyn, also grew increasingly frustrated with the NYPD officials as his line of questioning went on. Lander was incredulous towards the NYPD claim that it was not coordinating with immigration enforcement despite having provided ICE, which was transporting Ragbir, with a police escort from Bellevue Hospital to the Holland Tunnel, which occurred after Ragbir had briefly been at the hospital.

“Up to that point, you guys were responding to a protest,” Lander said, referring to the NYPD’s insistence that they were enforcing local laws. “But at Bellevue, there was no protest.” He also noted that there was no health risk for Ragbir at that point, a justification for Ragbir’s transport by ambulance with ICE on scene. The officers contended that they were not escorting ICE, but rather were simply “present at transport” due to the potential presence of protesters, who ended up not following the ambulance Bellevue or federal officials to the Holland Tunnel. Lander contended that there was no difference between the two.

“Really?” he asked, growing impatient with NYPD testimony.

“I’m more concerned walking out of this hearing than I was walking into it,” Lander said before being interrupted several times. Lander chastised the department for failing to own up to its role in Ragbir’s detention, and for not being apologetic and acknowledging the mishaps.

Local Law 228, which forbids city law enforcement officials from cooperating with ICE by being deputized as federal immigration officers, and requires the NYPD to report the number of federal detainer requests it receives, recently went into effect. An NYPD rep noted that the department did not comply with a single detainer request from ICE out of the 1,526 it received in 2017, as President Donald Trump ramped up immigration enforcement. In 2016, Barack Obama’s last full year as president, the NYPD received 80 detainer requests and complied with two.

Law 228 was passed in November but went into effect on January 30, 19 days after the Ragbir detention and subsequent protests. Williams called this “quite a coincidence,” but the NYPD reps assured the Council members that their prior internal department policy was to not coordinate or comply with ICE. They reiterated several times that they had not complied with a single detainer request of the 1,526 that were submitted by federal authorities to the NYPD, and that the only instances where the NYPD actively works with ICE are on task forces that are related to a different policy area that both NYPD and ICE agents happen to work on, such as human trafficking or the opioid epidemic.

The arrest and detention of Ragbir, who has had a detainer against him since 2006 as a result of a fraud conviction, at a routine check-in with immigration authorities has been extremely controversial among New York’s activist and political community. Ragbir, after a stint in ICE detention in Miami, is back in New York but faces another check-in on Saturday during which he could face deportation. With the Trump administration’s significant uptick in immigration enforcement, particularly against undocumented immigrants who have not committed felonies, ICE has been making sweeps in immigrant neighborhoods and at courthouses with or without the NYPD’s cooperation.

On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio sent a letter to Thomas Decker, the Field Office Director for New York’s ICE office, extolling Ragbir and pleading that he not be deported back to Trinidad, while also making the case that aggressive immigration enforcement in immigrant communities and courthouses is deteriorating trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement. De Blasio did not mention Ragbir’s prior conviction.

“These activities not only create fear in immigrant communities, but undermine public safety,” the letter read. “New York City is the safest big city in America because of the trust between law enforcement and communities, including immigrant New Yorkers. When ICE takes aggressive action against leaders in immigrant communities, it casts a chilling effect on immigrants’ willingness to engage with government and law enforcement generally, undercutting that trust.”

“The safety and interest of New Yorkers should be central to any determination concerning Mr. Ragbir, or other individuals arrested by ICE,” the letter continued. “Therefore, I request that ICE exercise its discretion to permit Mr. Ragbir to remain with his family in New York.”

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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City Council Oversight Hearing on Policing Protests Dominated by Disputes Wed, 07 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Why Does Crime Keep Falling in New York City? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7410:why-does-crime-keep-falling-in-new-york-city http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7410: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.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Why Does Crime Keep Falling in New York City? Sun, 07 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Bills Seek to Examine NYPD Interactions with ‘Emotionally Disturbed Persons,’ Prevent Tragedies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7375:bills-seek-to-examine-nypd-interactions-with-emotionally-disturbed-persons-prevent-tragedies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7375:bills-seek-to-examine-nypd-interactions-with-emotionally-disturbed-persons-prevent-tragedies 24223125478 fee7e18056 z

photo via The Mayor's Office


In September, the City Council called a hearing to scrutinize the New York Police Department’s response in cases involving “emotionally disturbed persons” (EDPs). There had been six instances in the previous 11 months where a mentally ill New Yorker had been killed by police officers. Council Members demanded to know why, and sought ways to prevent those deaths in the future, and NYPD officials gave what answers they could with the information at hand.

On Tuesday, Council Member Andrew Cohen, a Bronx Democrat, will introduce three bills to fill the void in data regarding the NYPD’s interactions with EDPs. Cohen wants to further inform the department’s training protocols for officers, he said, as the NYPD continues its to refine its training practices toward de-escalation under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In the aftermath of deaths of mentally ill people in interactions with police, the de Blasio administration and the NYPD have emphasized the rollout, slow going though it may be, of Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), which was first introduced in 2015. The training is meant to help officer deescalate situations involving EDPs without using force. By the time of the September hearing, officials estimated that fewer than 6,400 officers in the 34,000-member police force had received the new training.  

Cohen’s legislative efforts seeks to examine the effectiveness of the training by tabulating data on its results. One bill would mandate that the NYPD produce quarterly reports on incidents involving EDPs including the number of calls in which dispatchers were aware of the involvement of an EDP; the number of calls where a CIT officer was dispatched, the number of use-of-force incidents involving EDPs, the number of calls involving EDPs in which the specially-trained Emergency Service Unit was dispatched; arrests of EDPs categorized by age, race and gender; and the number of incidents where EDPs are transported to a hospital or mental health facility instead of being arrested. More data, Cohen insisted, would help the Council conduct better oversight and appraise the program.

“The bills themselves are basically trying to make sure that for EDPs, emotionally-disturbed people, who have interactions with the police, we’re trying to get better data on those interactions,” Cohen said in a phone interview. “There have been a few high-profile, tragic cases. I think there are many, many cases that are handled appropriately...but there’s not enough data.”

At the September hearing, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Collaborative Policing Susan Herman estimated that the department receives roughly 150,000 EDP calls every year, and that approximately 1 percent, or 15,000 calls, involved use of force.

A second bill being introduced by Cohen would require the NYPD to issue incident reports on encounters with EDPs, similar to reports currently issued involving domestic violence situations. These could then inform officers should they return to a particular residence from where an EDP was arrested or taken to a health facility. The third bill requires the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to follow up with an EDP within five days of an incident.  

“It’s about trying to make sure there’s good follow up,” Cohen said, noting that officers with access to a history of domestic violence incidents at a particular location are better prepared when responding in repeat instances. “And we think that a similar type of set up could be profoundly useful in dealing with EDPs. So that’s essentially the package of bills, trying to make sure the police are not walking in blind to an EDP situation, trying to get better data.”

cohen via andrewcohennycCohen (pictured) also noted that Tuesday was perhaps his last chance to introduce the bills as chair of the Council’s Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Disability Services. This week marks the end of the current four-year session of the City Council with dozens of bills being voted through on Tuesday, the last full meeting of the legislative body. Cohen said he doesn’t know who will be the chair of the mental health committee when the new speaker is named on January 3 and then assigns leadership and committee posts, adding that the bills represented a “distillation” of work that has been ongoing and he wanted to make sure to get them introduced while he was still chair.

Since the bills would be pending from a returning member, they are more likely to be prioritized, he said, acknowledging that he was open to chairing another committee if given the chance in his last term in the Council. “Bills for returning members are sort of being queued up so that they’ll be ready to hit the ground. So that’s why I wanted to get this in,” he explained.

The Council member does not expect opposition to his bills from the de Blasio administration or NYPD brass and unions, which often oppose legislative interference in NYPD functioning. “Obviously we haven’t tried to negotiate the bills yet, but I think that they’re common sense pieces of legislation,” Cohen said. “Again, the data may show that 99 percent of the incidents are handled appropriately, where people are getting the help they need when they need it, that the police are playing a very useful vital role, or the data may show something else. I don’t know.”

Prior to and at the September hearing, there have been calls to ensure that social workers are more regularly on the front lines of responses to EDPs, thought he NYPD CIT program does aim to bridge that gap, so that officers are better able to talk people through crisis situations.

He insisted he was not attempting to regulate police activity, simply to mandate reporting of it. “So I suspect that they will be open to it,” he added. “I mean, nobody wants to see tragedy, and most of all an officer. An officer forewarned is forearmed. Knowing what they’re going into, that this is an EDP situation, that information alone could very possibly save lives.”

“I don’t envision this as being something adversarial with the NYPD,” Cohen concluded. “I think that if they have data, they would probably be willing to share it.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Bills Seek to Examine NYPD Interactions with ‘Emotionally Disturbed Persons,’ Prevent Tragedies Mon, 18 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000