Gotham Gazette Wed, 26 Sep 2018 14:55:52 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) A Public Safety Agenda for 2017 in Albany nypd family cropped

An NYPD family (photo: @NYPDnews)

As we continue to dissect the election that just occurred and look ahead to the Trump presidency, there is also business close to home to consider for 2017. New Yorkers must contemplate the grotesque failures of leadership exposed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, while the Brennan Center for Justice has repeatedly told us that New York’s in the most dysfunctional state government in the nation.

Still, there are substantive matters that deserve our attention, and we must push state lawmakers, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, to move ahead on important reforms in a variety of issue areas. Since law enforcement and criminal justice is my area of expertise, that is where I focus my attention.

As we head toward the new legislative year, here are three public safety objectives for 2017.

First, as the crisis in police-community relations continues, the Legislature should create a new program to address it head on. New York needs a bill that would appropriate funding to the Government Law Center at Albany Law School to bring together community activists, law enforcement executives, and academics from across the state to develop a unified and coherent agenda of criminal justice reform to bring to the state's Executive and Legislature. It's high time we invited the community into the discussion and hosted real dialogue with a shared goal of agreeing upon concrete policy plans.

This agenda will promote community policing and confront the crisis in police-community relations head-on. The bill will also give the Division of Criminal Justice Services responsibility for managing a new local assistance program offering technical assistance and small grants to support the creation of community councils dedicated to creating a relationship of partnership between community stakeholders and law enforcement agencies. We have a groundbreaking model that has been developed in Albany in recent years that offers a way forward to all municipalities.

The kind of nominees President-elect Donald Trump is offering or floating for top public safety posts in his administration are unlikely to be sympathetic to our cause. If Governor Cuomo and his allies in the Legislature are sincere in their commitment to keeping New York a bastion of progressive public safety policy, they should back this proposal.

Second, we succeeded this year in having legislation introduced that will create a center for the study of transnational organized crime at SUNY. The Centennial of the New York State Police will be marked in 2017 -- in 1957, that agency made history with the exposure of the existence of the mafia, leading to decades of engagement by law enforcement agencies all over the nation in the face of the growing threat of organized crime.

In 1985, under the leadership of the late Tom Constantine, the New York State Police initiated an investigation that, six years later, saw the exposure of the operations of Colombia's Cali Cartel in our state, bringing to light the fact that we had been invaded and occupied by a powerful, wealthy, well-armed, ruthless foreign criminal power with tentacles throughout New York.

Constantine took over the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1994 and oversaw the defeat and dismantling of the cartel, the largest and most powerful criminal conspiracy in history. Organized crime gets little press today, preoccupied as we are with the war on terror. But terrorist organizations have symbiotic relationships with criminal enterprises in many nations. Long after the political, ethnic, and religious impetuses for the terror movements we know today dissipate, organized crime will still be with us.

The 2017 centennial of the state police and the respect and affection that many prominent law enforcement leaders around the world still hold for Constantine provide an auspicious moment and opportunity for launching a new institute that, in years to come, will organize and host annual conferences in Albany bringing together the best minds to develop advice to the world's governments on how to face down the threat of global organized crime. Our bill designates this institute The Thomas A. Constantine Institute for the Study of Transnational Organized Crime.

Third, New York and the entire nation have been going through an historic sea change in attitudes toward drug addiction as the result of the heroin/opioid epidemic. The past two years have seen positive results in New York. There is, however, an important gap in our panoply of prevention programs that we must urgently address.

There has been no generally accepted prevention program that targets the key demographic of high school-aged kids. It is in high school that most kids are first exposed to the opportunity to obtain and experiment with drugs. It is in high school that kids often stop listening to adults and become more receptive to the opinions of their peers for good or ill. A peer-to-peer approach is the sound approach.

In recent years, I was introduced to Mentor International, an internationally respected youth drug abuse prevention program founded by Queen Silvia of Sweden in 1994. We debuted Mentor in Columbia County last year. I have been working with Gunilla Girardo, CEO of Mentor Foundation USA, the U.S. affiliate set up in 2010, to introduce the program to policymakers at the state level. Mentor has made New York a priority.

Successful introduction of the program here will have national influence. It is supported by the private sector and recruits community leaders in business, government, and the nonprofit sectors to serve as mentors to youth and to create mentoring opportunities for kids in a variety of workplaces. The hallmark of the program is its reliance on the peer-to-peer approach in getting kids to take up the cause of influencing their friends to make positive and healthy choices in life.

There is, of course, a role that the Legislature and the Governor can, and should, play in promoting Mentor.

The crisis in police-community relations, the challenge of global organized crime, and the heroin/opioid epidemic are national problems that were little discussed in the recent election. They require urgent, but thoughtful responses. The program outlined here offers a dynamic response to all three. As the political dust settles and we move forward, let's join together to assert New York's historic leadership in confronting the true issues of the day.

Terry O'Neill is Director of the Constantine Institute in Albany, an organization that promotes constitutional, legal and ethical standards in law enforcement and advises state and local governments on police issues. He is a lawyer and served as a criminal justice adviser to the administration of Governor Mario Cuomo from 1988 to 1994.

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A Public Safety Agenda for 2017 in Albany Mon, 05 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Even with Crime Low, De Blasio and Police Union 'Worlds Apart' de blasio NYPD graduation 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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