Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/491 Tue, 20 Feb 2018 00:04:13 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7419:new-city-council-committee-chairs-have-plenty-on-their-plates http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7419:new-city-council-committee-chairs-have-plenty-on-their-plates City Council Speaker Corey Johnson members

Members of th new City Council with Speaker Johnson (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


The new class of the New York City Council took greater shape on Thursday with the appointment of chairs and members to the 40-plus committees and subcommittees that oversee the broad legislative, land use, and oversight roles of the 51-member body. Most returning Council members were reassigned to lead different committees while some remained in the positions they’ve served the past four years. New Speaker Corey Johnson also chose to create a few new committees to boost staff levels in certain areas and to better address specific issues that were subsumed under broader committee purviews.

In their new roles, many of the committee chairs will have to navigate a slate of issues, which in many cases will likely lead them into direct confrontation with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. This holds particularly true for the powerful land use and finance committees, both of which have new Council members at the helm. Speaker Johnson has also pledged broader independence from the mayor than his predecessor, indicating that members will be allowed, and even encouraged, to take the administration to task. He has pledged an enhanced oversight and investigations committee to lead the way in that regard.

Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr. of the Bronx was appointed chair of the land use committee, which is tasked with overseeing and reviewing land use applications, zoning amendment,s and landmark preservation in the city. Since the committee has the final say on any development projects that require city government approval, it plays a prominent role in determining the success of the mayor’s affordable housing program, in particular thus far by approving comprehensive, and controversial, neighborhood rezonings in communities such as East New York and East Harlem.

The city is exploring similar rezonings -- to create more affordable housing while also injecting economic energy and other benefits into neighborhoods -- in the Bay Street corridor on Staten Island, Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, and Flushing, Queens, among other communities. “Our city is at a crossroads, including my community in the South Bronx,” Salamanca said in a statement Thursday. The City Council, he said, “should be on the front lines on shaping the planning, development and all other land use actions in a way that listens to and addresses the concerns of all New Yorkers.” Freshman Council Member Francisco Moya is heading up the subcommittee on zoning and franchises which falls under Salamanca’s purview.

The finance committee, led by its new chair Council Member Daniel Dromm of Queens, also has a tough task ahead as it heads into budget season. Dromm will lead the Council’s negotiations with the administration over the $86 billion-plus city budget. The mayor is expected to release his fiscal year 2019 preliminary budget proposal later this month and the administration has been bracing for cuts in federal funding, threatened by the Trump administration, and a widely expected economic slowdown after years of continuous growth.

Last year, the Council advocated for increased savings and reduced agency inefficiencies even as they called for new funding for Council priorities. “I intend to use this position to move a progressive budget forward working closely with Speaker Corey Johnson who I thank for giving me this opportunity to serve,” Dromm said in a statement.

The Council’s budget hearings will no doubt also touch on the city’s $96 billion capital budget. Numerous Council members called last year for increased transparency in how capital projects are funded and managed, insisting that the city needs to reduce financial waste and cut down on project delays.
Johnson has now gone so far as to create an entirely new subcommittee to oversee the capital budget, chaired by Council Member Vanessa Gibson. “Many members, including myself, have been frustrated by the capital process itself,” Gibson told Gotham Gazette outside the Council chambers on Thursday. She said the new committee will allow expanded oversight of capital spending, particularly by individual city agencies. “At the end of the day, we just wanna say to the public, to New Yorkers and to all of my colleagues that we are spending your money wisely,” she said.

The transportation committee continues to be led by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who has been a vocal supporter of the Move New York congestion pricing plan, which would impose tolls on the East River bridges to raise funds for mass transit infrastructure and reduced fare MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, while also lowering tolls on other bridges.

De Blasio has opposed both congestion pricing and the “Fair Fares” campaign, insisting that fair fares should be funded by the state and that congestion pricing is a “regressive tax” that hurts outer borough commuters. He has instead proposed a so-called millionaires tax, which Rodriguez also supports, that would accomplish both goals - subsidized MetroCards and new transit revenue. However, like congestion pricing, the tax would have to be approved by the state Legislature where it has already been rejected by Governor Cuomo and the state Senate, portending perhaps that the fair fares fight will be fought locally yet again. Cuomo appears on the verge of pursuing some version of congestion pricing.

In keeping with Johnson’s promise to stand up to the de Blasio administration, the Council now has an expanded Oversight and Investigations committee, led by Council Member Ritchie Torres of the Bronx. The committee is expected to have a full-time investigation staff made up of professional investigators, former prosecutors, and journalists. In an interview with the New York Times, Torres indicated a number of different issue areas he would approach for added oversight. “The abuse of placards. The use of eminent domain. The disposition of public land. Deed restriction. The disbursement of city subsidies. All of it is on the table,” he said.

On Thursday, Torres told Gotham Gazette that the New York City Housing Authority’s lead contamination issue, which has been a black eye for the de Blasio administration, was a “continuing concern” for him. “I have not set the investigative priorities of the committee just yet, but given my former position as chairman of the public housing committee, given my interest in the subject, NYCHA is going to be figuring prominently in my oversight priorities,” he said.

Torres’ role will crossover with the work of other committees, such as the Committee on Public Housing, which he led last term and will this term be led by Brooklyn Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. The public housing authority needs $25 billion for infrastructure improvements, with few forthcoming state and federal funds this year. The authority’s numerous public failures continue to haunt the administration and invite criticism from the Council and community activists. And although the city has put a NYCHA overhaul plan into motion and seen some successes and promising developments, problems are not likely to abate any time soon.

“As chair, I will ensure that critical issues are addressed, from heat, to lead, to security issues,” Ampry-Samuel said in a statement. “I look forward to visiting every housing development in the city and the opportunity to hear from the residents and the resident leaders.”

Johnson also chose to expand the role the Council plays in scrutinizing the city’s criminal justice system. Council Member Rory Lancman of Queens was chosen to lead the newly formed Committee on the Justice System, which has oversight of city courts, district attorneys, legal service providers and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

Manhattan Council Member Keith Powers will be heading the Committee on Criminal Justice, which has oversight of the Department of Correction and Department of Probation. Both committees will play a prominent part in the plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex, which is contingent on reducing the city’s jail population to less than 5,000 -- it is currently just under 9,000 detainees -- while also creating borough-based jail facilities. Lancman told Gotham Gazette he expects to “aggressively oversee and try to reform” the city’s justice system. “You’ll see a very robust agenda coming out of my committee,” he said.

Lancman and Powers’ committees were carved out of the earlier Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services and the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, which Lancman led last term. Powers, who is new to the Council like Ampry-Samuel and others, said that move “recognizes that Rikers Island and the corrections system is really its own issue that needs to be tackled in the next coming years.”

“There are a lot of thorny issues,” Powers said of the closure of Rikers, “and I think a big part of it is really making sure that we put on the right timeline and that we make sure we manage all the different constituencies that are involved here.”

New York City Health + Hospitals, the cash-strapped municipal hospital system, continues to be a big area of concern for the Council and in particular Johnson, who led the health committee for the last four years. Johnson created a separate Committee on Hospitals to oversee the system, appointing new Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera as chair.

Council Member Mark Levine, chosen to be the new health committee chair, noted a number of issues he will address, including the opioid crisis, racial disparities in health outcomes, animal rights and the threat of bioterrorism. He has promised to push for a single payer healthcare system in the city -- a priority for the speaker -- and told Gotham Gazette he expects “there will be times when the Council and the administration are on different sides of an issue,” and that its incumbent on members to advocate for the Council’s priorities. “That’s the job of a good committee chair,” he said.

See the full list of new Council leadership, committee chairs, and committee members.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates Thu, 11 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Initial Johnson Move Signifies Changing of the Guard at City Council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7414:initial-johnson-move-signifies-changing-of-the-guard-at-the-city-council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7414:initial-johnson-move-signifies-changing-of-the-guard-at-the-city-council Speaker Corey Johnson press conference

Council Speaker Corey Johnson, at podium (photos: William Alatriste)


Just after he was elected Speaker of the City Council on January 3, Corey Johnson had some initial business to take care of: naming a temporary rules committee, including a chairperson. And in this first official decision in his new role, Johnson made a relatively small but important move that is emblematic of the broad shift in the City Council and larger city political dynamics at play in Johnson’s election.

Toward the end of an emotional and intense initial meeting of the new City Council class, at which Johnson, a Democrat, won 48 of 49 votes to lead the 51-seat legislative body for the next four years, the new speaker nominated an interim rules committee, including himself, as is customary, to be led by Queens Council Member Rory Lancman.

Johnson had just been elected speaker with the support of the Bronx County Democratic Party and the Queens County Democratic Party, which is led by Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, whom he thanked profusely from the floor of the Council chambers as Crowley looked down from the balcony. The situation was unlike that of Johnson’s predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito, who became speaker in 2014 after winning the support of a unified Council Progressive Caucus, powerful labor unions, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and members of the Brooklyn Democratic County Party. Four years ago, Mark-Viverito named Brooklyn Council Member and Progressive Caucus co-founder Brad Lander as rules chair.

The shift from Mark-Viverito to Johnson can also be seen in the change from Lander to Lancman, a former member of the state Assembly and stalwart player in the Queens County Party. While all four Democrats share political dispositions and most policy positions, the changing of the guard is evident, and other top committee posts appear likely to go to representatives of the county parties and individual members who backed Johnson’s ascension. It appears this will include the Bronx’s Rafael Salamanca as chair of the land use committee and a Queens Council member, possibly Danny Dromm, as chair of the finance committee, according to sources familiar with the process. Last time around Brooklyn's David Greenfield was named land use chair and Progressive Caucus member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland of Queens became chair of finance.

Johnson, himself a member of the Progressive Caucus, has been meeting with his 50 Council member constituents and hearing from other stakeholders like the county party leaders, and is expected to outline committee chair and member nominations within the next ten days.

The rules committee will then take up those nominations, approving the chairs and committee members of all of the Council’s 40-plus committees and subcommittees, including the permanent rules committee, before the full Council gives it approval. It is unclear if Lancman will remain rules chair, or whether he requested the position even on a temporary basis. A request to speak with the Council member was declined by a spokesperson.

City Council Rory LancmanAfter approving committee assignments, the rules committee will then be responsible for considering and passing any changes to the Council’s internal rules -- there is a long proposed rules reform agenda that 33 members, including Johnson and Lancman (pictured), signed on to last month -- and vetting and approving nominees to about a dozen city boards and commissions, like the Board of Corrections and the City Planning Commission.

"The Speaker has already met with almost all of his colleagues and is in active conversations with Council Members, stakeholders, city leaders and advocates to ensure the committee chairs best reflect the priorities of this Council and the diversity of our City," said City Council spokesperson Robin Levine, in an emailed statement. Levine did not directly respond to the question of how Lancman was selected as the initial rules chair. During the prior term Lancman, an attorney and regular critic of Mayor de Blasio, chaired the newly created Committee on Courts and Legal Services.

Four years ago, Lander and Mark-Viverito ushered through landmark rules reforms that significantly altered how the Council functions, including how discretionary funding is allocated to individual members, bringing equity and transparency to a system that had been used by prior speakers to reward and punish.

As he ran for speaker and since being elected, Johnson has championed additional reforms, including to the Council’s bill-drafting protocols. He wants to see changes so that members can no longer put indefinite holds on certain legislation and so that there is more information and awareness around who is working on what bills.

The rules reform package that has the backing of 33 members includes changes to the bill-drafting process but also a beefing up of the Council’s Oversight and Investigation Committee, “with dedicated investigative staff and a willingness to use the Council’s subpoena power when necessary.” It also includes increasing the Council’s budget and staff and staff salaries; and beefing up the land use division specifically, something Johnson has talked about a good deal during his bid for speaker and since being elected.

At one speaker candidate forum Johnson said that he thinks there is room for possibly eliminating some Council committees while also possibly creating new ones -- he said, for example, that the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee should be broken into two. He did not give any examples of committees that should be eliminated. The Council did delete one committee last term, the Committee on Community Development, when its chair resigned from the Council, but most Council members, including Lander, said at the time that there were no plans to look at eliminating any others.

Along with Lancman as chair and Johnson, the other members of the initial rules committee are Council Members Adrienne Adams, Margaret Chin, Robert Cornegy, Jr., Rafael Espinal, Karen Koslowitz, Steven Matteo, Ritchie Torres, and Mark Treyger.

The package of reforms says toward the end that "A hearing should be held in the Rules Committee on these reforms – as well as any others proposed by good government groups or members of the public – in the first quarter of 2018. The reforms should then be converted into a Rules Resolution, and adopted by the Council by March 2018, but no later than June 2018."

[Related: City Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency]

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Initial Johnson Move Signifies Changing of the Guard at City Council Tue, 09 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Corey Johnson Elected Speaker of the City Council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7401:corey-johnson-elected-speaker-of-the-city-council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7401:corey-johnson-elected-speaker-of-the-city-council corey johnson moments after being elected speaker of the city council cfredit william alatriste

Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


City Council Member Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, was elected speaker of the New York City Council with near unanimous support on Wednesday, becoming the first leader of the 51-member legislative body who is an openly gay man and openly HIV-positive.

Johnson took the helm at the first charter meeting of the new Council class, after a vote that saw little drama and 48 votes in his favor. Council members, including those who had attempted to run for speaker themselves, took their turns singing Johnson’s praises as prominent elected officials and political influencers from across the five boroughs looked on from the balcony of the Council chambers. Johnson’s mother was there, too, having driven from Massachusetts to see him rise to the Council’s top leadership position.

In an emotional acceptance speech, Johnson spoke about the importance of his mother in his life and some of the tough times they had faced. He spoke fondly of his predecessors and the city’s progress in the last four years under Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. But he warned of challenges of “historic proportions” that lay ahead: an affordability crisis that is pushing out residents of the city, an “overflowing” shelter system with thousands of homeless families, struggling mom and pop businesses, a mass transit crisis owing from years of government neglect, continued racial disparities across the city, and potential funding cuts from the state and federal governments. “These problems are incredibly complex and entrenched,” he said. “But the future of our city depends on our ability to confront them. And confront them we will.”

In alluding to the many thorny issues that plagued the first term of the de Blasio administration, he promised to tackle them with increased independence from the mayor. “There has never been a more important time to ensure that our city has a strong, unified and independent Council to take on these challenges,” he said, with an emphasis on the word independent. He pledged unending support to his 50 constituents and promised to lead by consensus.

Johnson emerged at the top of a crowded field of candidates who had sought the speakership but all of whom dropped out of the race and conceded to Johnson in the days leading up to the vote, after it emerged that he had the support of the Queens and Bronx Democratic county organizations, led by Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley and Assembly Member Marcos Crespo, respectively. But, in a city where people of color make a majority and that is already led by a white male mayor, there was some criticism around Johnson’s selection to what is considered the second-most powerful position in city government.

Numerous Council members representing the Black, Asian and Latino Caucus had insisted that the next speaker should be a person of color. That included Council Member Inez Barron, who attempted a last-minute protest candidacy and voted for herself on Wednesday. “It’s time for a paradigm shift and that’s what I’m here to call for,” Barron had said at a news conference on the steps of City Hall shortly before the vote. “We’ve gotta put an end to the system that has deals that arrange for the speaker to be selected on behalf of what it is that county bosses and district leaders and other powerful players and other rich developers want to see happen here.” Her husband, Assembly Member (and former Council Member) Charles Barron, said, “The process is fraudulent, the process is racist, and the process is corrupt and its been that way for a long time.”

Another speaker candidate, Council Member Jumaane Williams, who only conceded the race Wednesday morning, opted for skipping the vote entirely and instead attended Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address in Albany, which was scheduled for around the same time (Williams is toying with a bid for governor or lieutenant governor, saying that Cuomo is not a true progressive). Williams had held out longer than most of the other speaker candidates, saying that the next speaker should be a person of color.

In a Wednesday statement, Williams criticized the lack of diversity in leadership positions in city government even as he looked forward to working with Johnson. “Equity must be an issue of highest priority to the next Speaker of the City Council,” he said. “Having spoken at length with Council Member Johnson, he is acutely aware of those concerns, and has agreed, in a tangible and accountable way, to work alongside me on issues of equity, both in government and citywide, for people of diverse backgrounds across race, gender, sexual orientation, and more.”

Williams and Council Member Debi Rose were the only two absences on Wednesday, meaning Johnson received 48 of the 49 votes cast. In his first remarks from the speaker’s podium on the Council chambers floor, Johnson also nominated members and a chair of the rules committee, which will help establish the new Council’s rules and the chairs and members of the other 40-plus issue committees. Johnson named Council Member Rory Lancman to chair the committee, and the speaker himself will be a member of it, as is customary. Johnson is one of 33 members who had signed on to a draft package of rules reforms that are expected to move ahead in some form.

The newly elected speaker has not expressed any particular legislative priorities yet, though he has had a focus on public health as a Council member who chaired the health committee. He’s focused more of his public comments on bolstering the Council and how he would lead the body. He again said on Wednesday that he wants to add to the Council’s land use staff, recreate an investigations division, and offer Council members the opportunity to pursue their interests and priorities.

Speaking with members of the media during a brief press conference after the formal proceedings, Johnson said he will seek a diverse staff, and said that Council Chief of Staff Ramon Martinez has been asked to stay on. He also said that he will look to female members and members of color to speak and lead on issues that he may not have direct experience with. Johnson said he will be talking with each member to see which committees they are interested in chairing or joining and would do his best to make as much of it work as possible. He is sure to also be guided by Crowley and Crespo, as well as other political heavyweights that helped him win the post, like the leaders of the hotel workers union and the firefighters union.

And though many expect him to adopt a more top-down style of leadership than Mark-Viverito, he has insisted that he will sit down with individual members to gauge the needs of their district while formulating a larger agenda for the Council. On the Council floor, he named each member individually, telling them, “I want you to know that in good times and in bad, through thick and thin, I will always have your back. Those of you who supported me, those who didn’t support me, those who ran for speaker and those who have been here in this body and those who are new, I will have your back.”

[Related: Corey Johnson’s Record and Promises]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Corey Johnson Elected Speaker of the City Council Wed, 03 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Mayor-Made Speaker, Sought a Member-Driven Legacy http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7394:melissa-mark-viverito-a-mayor-made-speaker-who-sought-a-member-driven-legacy http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7394:melissa-mark-viverito-a-mayor-made-speaker-who-sought-a-member-driven-legacy Mayor de Blasio Speaker Mark-Viverito

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


Melissa Mark-Viverito, the first Latina to preside over the 51-member New York City Council, leaves office having shepherded a progressive shift in the city’s direction, in conjunction with fellow Democrat Mayor Bill de Blasio, a philosophically aligned partner in government who was the deciding factor in her winning the powerful speaker position four years ago.

As arguably the second most powerful elected official in the city, Mark-Viverito oversaw an agenda of progressivism that significantly moved the needle for causes of social justice, especially related to immigrants, workers, and the criminal justice system, many of which were close to her heart and supported by a Council dominated by progressive members. But when the needle didn’t move fast enough, there were those that said Mark-Viverito too often carried the mayor’s water. It’s a charge she disputes, as do numerous Council members that served under her as they look back at her four years at the helm.

Members broadly agree that she followed through on a promise to give rank-and-file Council members the freedom to pursue their priorities while standing firm against the mayoral administration when it mattered, and that some capitulation to the administration’s priorities was part of the high-wire balancing act that defines the speakership. While they worked together far more often than they were in opposition, it was not always clear to what extent Mark-Viverito and her members, on one hand, and de Blasio, on the other, disagreed, given that the Council speaker often kept negotiations close to the vest and declined to comment in detail as the legislative process unfolded.

Mark-Viverito and her members also rarely aired internal conflict publicly, while members appeared to know that their speaker would support them, even as she very much pursued her own policy priorities and kept a tight grip on what legislation made its way to the Council floor for a vote.

The outgoing speaker made careful decisions about when and how to criticize the mayor, preferring to hold oversight hearings than to make splashy headlines with a sharp quote. She regularly declined to comment about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency problems, instead pursuing legislation to address certain issues or allowing others more willing to be oppositional to fill the space. She mostly stayed out of de Blasio’s feud with Governor Andrew Cuomo, another fellow Democrat, though she herself has been part of some tense intra-party political battles with officials like former Assemblymember and current Manhattan Democratic Party leader Keith Wright.

Mark-Viverito assumed the speakership in January 2014 with support from an ascendant mayor, strong labor unions, and a newly empowered Progressive Caucus, bucking the traditional county party-dominated process for selecting a new speaker. The new dynamic led some to be wary of whether Mark-Viverito would be a speaker for the members of the Council or for the mayor, whose politics so closely resembled her own. After taking office, she quickly advanced internal changes at the Council that were meant to empower members, particularly the chairs of the 40-odd committees, while also maintaining sufficient control within the speaker’s office.

“The considerable thing about my leadership is that I made it a member-focused legislative body,” Mark-Viverito said, in a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast hosted by Gotham Gazette and City Limits. “It wasn’t about me centralizing the power, just pushing what my agenda was…[it was about] having the members really have much more of a functional role and ownership for this institution. It belongs to all of us, it doesn’t just belong to the speaker.”

Mark-Viverito beefed up the Council staff to support members’ legislative priorities, she said, which led to greater output. Over the four years, the Council passed 714 bills under her leadership, more than any Council class before it. “I was being respectful to member priorities and the vision that they had and working with them on that...and I think that’s the way a legislative body should function,” she said.

[Listen: Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito]

The first two years of Mark-Viverito’s speakership proceeded amicably with the mayor for the most part. The Council played its part in supporting the mayor’s agenda that included universal pre-kindergarten and expanding the paid sick leave law. City spending ramped up with little opposition from the Council, which also advocated for increased spending on its own policy priorities.

“I think that from the start the speaker was a forward thinking, independent leader,” said outgoing Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, a Queens Democrat. “She brought real fairness and transparency to the Council and made the Council a better place to work, from someone who had been in the Council for five years prior to her leadership.”

An early area of disagreement was Mark-Viverito’s call for an increase in the NYPD’s headcount, which struck many as peculiar given her criticisms of police practices and the larger criminal justice system. She unsuccessfully pressed the issue in 2014, and then renewed her efforts in 2015, eventually convincing a hesitant de Blasio to back the expensive idea. The department ended up adding 1,300 new officers, a compromise among the Council, the mayor, and the NYPD.

Also in 2015, in the city’s fight against the ride-hailing service Uber, Mark-Viverito publicly chastised the mayor for presuming that the Council would do his bidding. The mayor, after giving up his effort to cap the number of new cars run by Uber and its competitors, threatened that a cap was still a tool available to him, even though it would have to be approved by the Council first. “I’m not going to allow anyone to attempt to save face at the expense of this Council,” she said at a news conference at City Hall, raising many eyebrows. “This Council decides what bills we need to discuss, what debates we will have, what will be taken off the table, what will be put on the table. No one else leads that discussion, no one else influences that discussion.”

Higher profile battles would occur later still, as de Blasio’s first term wore on towards a potential second and as the speaker’s final term wound to a close. (Mark-Viverito was early to endorse de Blasio for reelection, but, over the following months, she seemed to show more willingness to resist his politics and policies.)    

“I think first and foremost, she’s been her speaker,” said Council Member Brad Lander, in a phone interview, on whether Mark-Viverito had been the members’ speaker or the mayor’s. “She’s got a strong vision for the city and for the Council and that’s what I think has guided her. I think it’s been a really productive and fair and highly consequential and progressive speakership.”

De Blasio Mark-Viverito City Hall handshake Ed Reed Mayor's OfficeLander, who was a leading proponent for Mark-Viverito to become the speaker and was named chair of the Council’s rules committee by her, praised the internal reforms that Mark-Viverito implemented early on, which he helped write. The reforms made the Council “a more equal and inclusive body in which every member can zealously represent their community and their values, even when those are different, without fear or favor,” Lander said. Perhaps most notably, Mark-Viverito and her colleagues changed the system by which members are provided discretionary funds to disperse to nonprofits, rationalizing a process that had often been used by previous speakers to reward and punish members.

On particular issues, Lander said, Mark-Viverito facilitated legislation championed by members, such as the right to counsel for tenants in housing court, fair work-week legislation, and certain freelancer protections. The most impactful, in Lander’s view, was her successful advocacy for the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. Mark-Viverito convened an independent commission to recommend a raft of criminal justice reforms and particularly to look at Rikers. De Blasio, who did not support the closure at first, seemed to begrudgingly accept the inevitable and announced his support just before the commission issued its report. “I believe Rikers is on a path to closure,” Lander said, “and I don’t think that would be true if [Mark-Viverito] had not been elected speaker four years ago.”

Lander noted that while the speaker often agreed and collaborated with the mayor, she was not hesitant to oppose him or break with him when her members dictated she should. For instance, when she pulled a bill she supported from consideration by the full Council that would have curbed the city’s horse carriage industry. It was a prominent campaign issue in the 2013 mayoral race and de Blasio had advocated for and promised a complete ban. But, amid discontent from members on potential compromise legislation in early 2016, the speaker stood with her colleagues.

“I think she’s been independent,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal critic of the de Blasio administration, in a November interview at City Hall. “Each speaker, just like each member, has their own political relationship with the other side of the building here. And no speaker’s going to be completely independent from the mayor or the governor or any other political actor that has influence.”

As the process to select the next speaker of the City Council has played out in the final months and weeks of 2017, de Blasio has repeatedly said how well he thinks his involvement in Mark-Viverito’s victory turned out. De Blasio captured his overall feelings in June, when announcing a final budget deal with Mark-Viverito, saying of the speaker:

“[S]he has been an extraordinary partner over the last four years. We knew each other well before we each assumed these roles. We knew that we had a lot of respect and trust for each other. We knew that we shared values. We didn’t know what it would be like to play these roles. We didn’t know what the times ahead would be or what the issues we’d face would be. But there was a core belief that if you share values, a lot of good things can happen. And many, many conversations over many years – mostly in agreement, sometimes not, but we always found a way to get to a good outcome, and with great support from all our colleagues. So from me, I can tell you I’ll be sorry when these four years are over because it has been such a great and positive partnership. As a progressive, I want to thank Melissa Mark-Viverito for helping to move this city in a new progressive direction. And the things she has championed are going to have a huge impact on this city for many years to come.”

A former Council member, who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely, served under both Mark-Viverito and former speaker Christine Quinn and said the process of Mark-Viverito’s election as speaker hampered her ability to distance herself from de Blasio. “Melissa started at a very great disadvantage, the fact that the mayor picked her to be the speaker and only because of him,” the former member said. “He made her. That hurt the whole body and it hurt her ability to really appear to be independent...because people perceived that the City Council is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the mayor. Right off the bat, that’s a bad start.”

This former member did credit Mark-Viverito for giving more leeway than Quinn to Council members to push legislation and pursue their individual agendas, while also breaking with the mayor on controversial items. But even then, the member said, there was a degree of deference. “I think Melissa did check with the mayor on everything, and even when they broke, I think they probably checked with the mayor before they broke. So I think it was a real problem,” the former member said.

On no other issue has that dynamic played out more strongly than criminal justice reform and the Council’s attempts to legislate, and regulate, the city’s police force. Two police reform bills to regulate officers’ interactions with people, collectively named The Right to Know Act, progressed slowly through the legislative process over the years despite having overwhelming support from Council members and progressive advocates. Tensions reached a head in mid-2016 when Mark-Viverito reached a compromise on administrative implementation by the NYPD of partial measures, in lieu of a full Council vote to codify the provisions into law. Advocates saw it as a backroom deal while Council members fumed over the concession to the administration and the police department.

Amended versions of the bills would ultimately pass in a divisive vote at the final full meeting of the Council on December 19, 2017, with numerous Council members and hundreds of community groups coming out in opposition to one bill sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres that had been, in their view, diluted to appease the NYPD and the mayor, who said he’d sign the bill given it had struck the right balance despite his skepticism about too much legislating of NYPD protocols.

Monifa Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, an advocacy coalition, said in a statement that it was “disappointing,” particularly given Mark-Viverito’s progressive credentials on police reform and accountability. “While [Mark-Viverito] was a champion on Closing Rikers, she did not show the same willingness to fight for front-end police reforms that hold the NYPD accountable and systemically change racial disparities in policing and what feeds the criminal justice system,” Bandele said. “She spent three to four years blocking the Right to Know Act, and then helped the de Blasio administration undermine the half of the legislative package of which Council Member Torres was lead sponsor.” Bandele also criticized the speaker’s push to increase the headcount of the NYPD, which Mark-Viverito had argued would help with reforms and implementation of community policing.

Council Member Torres also criticized the administrative compromise in 2016 and he told Gotham Gazette in November that Mark-Viverito had not been sufficiently independent of the mayor in that case. In a separate interview after a November 1 Crain’s New York Business breakfast forum, Torres indicated, amid praise, some dissatisfaction with the speaker’s record. “I support Melissa, I love Melissa as a person and as a speaker. I thought she has struck the right balance between decentralizing greater power to the members while at the same time maintaining the power of the speaker’s office,” he said. “There are a few moments when I felt we were excessively deferential to the mayor and I said so at the time of those controversies.”

Torres had said at the Crain’s forum -- part of his bid to become Mark-Viverito’s successor as speaker -- that the Council was prone to sideshow distractions. “Oscar Lopez, Christopher Columbus, what’s the latest sensation of the week,” he elaborated in the interview afterward. “The Health and Hospitals Corporation could disappear within the next five years. NYCHA has $17 billion worth of capital needs. Those are the things that matter, those are the things that we should be discussing.”

Torres later changed his tune somewhat, perhaps showcasing some of the mixed feelings Council members have about Mark-Viverito’s tenure and her relationships with de Blasio and her members. “She has been responsive to the needs of the members, there’s no question about it. As a member, I could not be more satisfied with the leadership that she’s given me,” Torres recently told Gotham Gazette at City Hall.

As to his earlier comments on her independence, Torres said, “I think it’s a matter of degree. We could always be more effective, we could always be more independent. But has she fundamentally been representative of the needs of the members of the institution? The answer is yes. Not perfect, but fundamentally.” When the Right to Know Act headed to a vote and many of Torres’ colleagues criticized his bill, Mark-Viverito was one of his fiercest defenders, though a number of Council members felt that Torres and Mark-Viverito had capitulated too much to the de Blasio administration. Torres’ bill did pass.

On the Max & Murphy podcast, Mark-Viverito addressed working with de Blasio, and the Council negotiating hundreds of bills with the administration, along with land use deals, budgets, and more. “I can safely say that we’ve had a good partnership and I think that there are a lot of things that I was able to move them on and they had conversations with us and maybe there’s things that they [moved] us on,” she said December 20. “But definitely it was a very productive relationship in that way. And I think that in areas where they may have had concerns about pieces of legislation, really engaging with them and talking to them and exerting ourselves, we were able to get some reconsideration on those items. And that’s in consultation with colleagues...I’m not regretful of anything.”

Mark-Viverito is leaving office proud of the way she led the Council, and not ruling out her own run for mayor down the line. It’s no surprise that even though she is term-limited she did not challenge a sitting mayor of her own party who she is largely aligned with and who helped her reach the height of her power. She’s leaving office having not only ushered in significant changes to city law, but having altered the way the Council functions and how members expect to be treated by their leader.

“Anyone that has to deal with a thousand bills over the course of a tenure is going to have to work to be tremendously balanced when you’re leading a legislative body against, at times, or in conjunction with the mayor’s administration,” said Staten Island Council Member Joe Borelli, one of only three Republicans on the City Council who, more often than not, vote against the types of progressive legislation championed by Mark-Viverito.

“I don’t think you can box her in as being either/or [the members’ speaker or the mayor’s speaker]. I’m sure her critics will say that she’s both at times when it suits their narrative,” Borelli continued. “She’s someone who wore her progressive banner very proudly and that’s certainly going to be her legacy and I think people over the next few years will view her as someone who carried the football for progressive causes a bit further, and people like me and those I represent will see her tenure in the speakership as slightly different.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

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Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Mayor-Made Speaker, Sought a Member-Driven Legacy Fri, 29 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Examines Effectiveness of Domestic Violence Courts http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7204:city-council-examines-effectiveness-of-domestic-violence-courts http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7204:city-council-examines-effectiveness-of-domestic-violence-courts lancman rally council

Council Member Lancman (photo: @NYCCouncil)


The City Council’s Courts and Legal Services Committee held an oversight hearing on Monday dedicated to New York’s Integrated Domestic Violence Courts, a program designed to increase accountability and responsiveness to domestic violence victims in the legal system by combining the different courts one might interact with in a domestic violence dispute into a single court, with a single judge handling a couple’s or family’s multiple cases, including criminal, custody, and visitation cases.

Integrated domestic violence courts, or IDVs, aim to lessen the burden of the legal system on victims of domestic violence, as well as their families. IDVs were introduced into the New York criminal justice system in 2003; the New York City Criminal Justice Agency, a nonprofit service provider, found that, between 2007 and 2009, domestic violence convictions in IDV courts were considerably higher than in criminal courts. Domestic violence cases in regular criminal courts usually do not end in convictions, leaving victims without at least some semblance of justice.

These courts are a piece of the larger picture of efforts to fight, prevent, and punish domestic violence in New York City.

As noted at the hearing, even as crime has fallen substantially in New York City, reports of incidences of domestic violence have risen, “both in total number and as a percentage of total crime,” according to a briefing paper for the hearing prepared by the City Council. The Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence reports that the NYPD responded to 91,600 domestic violence calls involving intimate partners in 2016, a 22.6% increase over 2015.

Some attribute increases in reports to encouragement of such reporting and steps taken to educate people, especially women, about their opportunities to report abuse and resources available to victims. While it is still a challenge, the stigma around reporting domestic violence has been reduced.

City Council Member Rory Lancman, the chair of the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, led the hearing and was at several points the only elected official in the room.

“Every act of domestic violence ripples out to affect our city -- it leads to homelessness, health problems and hospital visits, police interventions, lost jobs or missed time, not to mention its effect on children’s wellbeing and education,” Lancman said. “How our City manages the legal proceedings associated with domestic violence cases plays a major role in determining the services victims receive and how we are able to hold perpetrators accountable.

Lancman also specifically noted the importance of the IDV courts in his remarks.

“For the better part of two decades now, New York’s Court system has been on the forefront of the movement to provide specialty courts to handle domestic violence cases. It is our responsibility to ensure the operations of DV and IDV courts, and the services they provide, are excellent no matter what the charge or court families end up in.”

In November 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a task force on domestic violence, co-chaired by his wife, Chirlane McCray, and Police Commissioner James O’Neill, to develop recommendations for how to comprehensively deal with domestic violence in the city. The Task Force submitted its initial report to the mayor in May, with a host of recommendations encompassed within four main areas: expand child and youth prevention and intervention; enhance criminal justice responses; strengthen New York City communities; and improve citywide coordination to maximize results.

The de Blasio administration had two officials testify Monday, discussing IDVs in the larger context of the city’s efforts to fight domestic violence.

At the hearing, the ways in which IDVs benefit the system were discussed several times, but much of the focus was on reforms that could be made to the IDV system. For instance, despite increased attention upon individual cases across multiple legal disciplines, a 2010 Harvard study, cited by the committee, found that “protective orders took longer to process and issue in IDV courts, and were not significantly more likely to be granted compared to those filed in Criminal Domestic Violence Courts.”

Further, IDVs suffer from a chronic lack of resources, according to experts who testified to the committee. Lindsey Wallace, of Sanctuary for Families, testified regarding the poor resource allocation negatively impacting IDVs, despite casting Brooklyn’s IDV system as a “national model.”

“Many of the critical services IDVC judges wish to order for these families are not available, or there are lengthy waiting lists,” Wallace said. “Of the most critical importance is the need for institutional providers of supervised visitation.”

Supervised visitation refers to allowing parents involved in a domestic violence dispute the opportunity to see their children, who may have been taken away from them, under close supervision. This is one of the most sensitive areas in domestic violence policy, as parents will often be desperate to see their children, but a lack of services to facilitate these visits can cause a backlog in supervisors.

Supervised visitation emerged as possibly the most prominent of the resource problems according to those testifying before the Council committee on Monday. Esther Morgenstern, a Kings County Supreme Court judge who presides over Brooklyn’s IDV court, gave a similar diagnosis to Wallace’s.

“When it comes to supervised visitation, there’s a real lacking of services,” Morgenstern said. “And when you’re at the end of the case, two years have gone by, the criminal cases have resolved, and matrimonial has resolved, the children, we still want them to reconnect with the noncustodial parent. And very often I sign 722c orders, which allows the court to use city and state funds to have those visitations occur. But there’s a real need for additional funds for supervised visitation.” She went on to request a grant for supervised visitation services from the City Council.

Other areas of potential IDV reform were also touched upon. Kathleen Daniel, a domestic violence survivor and advocate, noted that there is a “lack of integration for DV families outside of criminal court,” referring to the degree to which relevant information is shared between entities like courts and legal services. IDV is, according to Daniel, the only integrated step in the court process for domestic violence.

Daniel further recommended that renewing restraining orders should be made easier and pressed for a “mandated mediation program” of one to two years “to ensure co-parenting and the best interests of children are the priority.”

Representing the de Blasio administration Monday were Elizabeth Dank of the Office to Combat Domestic Violence and Nicole Torres of the Office of Criminal Justice. Dank and Torres discussed IDV courts in the context of the administration’s larger push for domestic violence policy reform, such as the large number of families involved in disputes who utilize family justice centers during the legal process, a count of 62,000 in 2016.

Lancman, the chair of the committee, asked Dank about the apparent problems with enough resources for supervised visitations. Dank discussed a program through Safe Horizons, a victim assistance organization, in partnership with the federal government, to provide a grant for supervised visitation in Queens, as well as other programs that she did not specify.

“We agree that this is something that needs additional resources, and so we are looking at that matter through the task force currently,” said Dank. The de Blasio administration is expected to make a series of announcements in October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, as it did last year.

Lancman also asked Dank about why some more serious offenses, in most cases felonies, do not end up in front of IDVs where these cases could receive more individualized attention. In other words, the more serious the case, the more likely it is to have to go through even more judicial bureaucracy, as opposed to non-felony offenses, which more often land in an IDV.

Dank shifted back to resources, stating that the administration’s aim is, regardless of the seriousness of the offense, to ensure that resources are available to families going through the process.

While many areas in need of reform or improvement were noted, the positives of IDVs were not lost on those testifying Monday. A large benefit of IDVs is the streamlining of the legal process for domestic violence victims and their families.

“If you go into family court just to file for custody or for an order of protection,” said Judge Morgenstern, “your return date on proof of service could be three months. In my [court], when there’s an arrest, and a match is made, within two weeks you’ll be before the IDV court. So, IDV, the fact that we’re looking at all of the cases brings the issues before the court much quicker.”

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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City Council Examines Effectiveness of Domestic Violence Courts Mon, 18 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Broken Windows Policing Will Fuel the Trump Deportation Machine http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6774:broken-windows-policing-will-fuel-the-trump-deportation-machine http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6774:broken-windows-policing-will-fuel-the-trump-deportation-machine  rory lancman presser city hall

City Council Member Rory Lancman, the author (photo: @RoryLancman)


We’re now more than 30 days into Donald Trump’s presidency, and it is already crystal clear that the hostile and offensive rhetoric he used toward immigrants on the campaign trail will be put into practice by his administration.

It was just this week that Trump’s Department of Homeland Security issued new rules that make clear Trump’s plan to deport millions of immigrants from our country, while tearing apart families and communities in the process.

With thousands, if not tens of thousands, of immigrant New Yorkers now at risk of deportation, it is urgent that Mayor Bill de Blasio take real action to protect immigrant New Yorkers from possible deportation under Trump.

The mayor has had no problem in recent weeks talking about opposing Trump and his policies, but when it comes down to it, talk is cheap. Real leadership requires bold action, and immigrant New Yorkers deserve action.

But, here is the reality facing New York City today: Mayor de Blasio’s broken windows policing will now be the fuel for Donald Trump’s deportation machine.

Without important and necessary action from the mayor, New Yorkers who are arrested for minor, nonviolent offenses could now be subject to deportation. That is inhumane and completely contrary to our values.

Mayor de Blasio has the authority to take action immediately to protect immigrant New Yorkers -- without having to wait for the City Council, the State Legislature, or Congress. On his own, the mayor can direct the NYPD to stop arresting people, including immigrant New Yorkers, for low-level, nonviolent, quality-of-life crimes where a civil alternative is already readily available.

Take fare evasion, for example. In 2015, more than 100,000 New Yorkers were stopped by the NYPD for fare evasion. Nearly 30,000 New Yorkers were arrested for “theft of services,” a misdemeanor under the state penal law. The remaining individuals were issued a civil summons for violating the MTA rule against fare evasion, which is not subject to any kind of criminal sanction.

The difference between an arrest and a civil violation for fare evasion is monumental. A conviction for fare evasion could result in jail time, appear on an individual’s criminal record, and staggeringly enough, result in deportation for even documented immigrants like legal permanent residents of New York.

On the other hand, a civil violation is heard by the MTA’s Transit Adjudication Bureau, not a criminal court, and cannot result in jail time or deportation.

As Mayor de Blasio’s broken windows policing continues in this city, it is clear who is being targeted -- 92% of the arrests for fare evasion in 2015 were people of color. Oftentimes, too, if an individual cannot immediately produce an ID, the NYPD will choose to make an arrest, instead of issuing a civil violation.

All told the risk of arrest for immigrant New Yorkers for fare evasion is all too real. And for undocumented immigrants, any interaction with the criminal justice system, even for a minor offense like fare evasion, can result in deportation.

With the stakes so high for so many in our city, it is up to the mayor to determine if he is going to use his authority to protect people, or silently feed into Trump’s deportation machine. Talking about standing up to Donald Trump is one thing, but actually taking action is far more important.

New Yorkers are counting on the mayor to do what’s right and take a real, actionable stand for our values against Trump.

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City Council Member Rory Lancman represents parts of Queens and chairs the Council's Committee on Courts and Legal Services. On Twitter @RoryLancman.

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

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Broken Windows Policing Will Fuel the Trump Deportation Machine Thu, 23 Feb 2017 05:00:00 +0000
City Makes Slow Progress in Effort to Prevent Wrongful Convictions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6726:city-makes-slow-progress-in-effort-to-prevent-wrongful-convictions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6726:city-makes-slow-progress-in-effort-to-prevent-wrongful-convictions lancman presser micah institute

City Council Member Rory Lancman (photo: Micah Institute)


In 2016, 159 people were exonerated in the United States after being wrongfully convicted for a crime they did not commit, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Fourteen of those wrongful convictions took place in New York, the third-highest number of wrongful convictions by state in 2016, including several in New York City: five in Brooklyn, two in Manhattan, and one in the Bronx. Those who were exonerated in New York spent more than 17 years in prison on average, with one wrongfully convicted individual serving 52 years behind bars.

When the wrong person is convicted, the actual perpetrator remains free to commit more crimes, while an innocent person is robbed of years, often decades, of their life. Wrongful convictions can undermine public confidence in the justice system, and cost New York tens of millions of dollars in settlements. Upon taking office in 2014 as Brooklyn District Attorney, the late Ken Thompson made creation of a conviction review unit a top priority, and he quickly overturned several wrongful convictions from his predecessor’s era.

False confessions are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. Of the 149 exonerations that occurred in 2015, 18 percent were based on false confessions. Evidence-based policy solutions to minimize the occurrence of false confessions exist, and in 2012 the New York State Justice Task Force recommended reforms.

The task force, established by then Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and comprised of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police chiefs, and other criminal justice experts, recommended that police departments record interrogations in their entirety, rather than just confessions. This helps to protect from false accusations not only the individual being questioned, but also the officers involved.

Videotaping full interrogations makes it easier for prosecutors, judges, and juries to weigh evidence by providing an account of the circumstances that led to a confession. There is widespread support for the practice: in 2013, the New York State Municipal Police Training Council also recommended that law enforcement record interrogations.

In New York City, the NYPD recorded 146 interrogations in 2011. That number jumped to 847 in 2014 as more rooms were equipped with recording software and the focus on recording interrogations increased. But as those numbers continue to climb through 2016, it is unclear whether the NYPD has fully implemented the recording of criminal interrogations, and the department is withholding information about its practices.

Though the NYPD says it is departmental policy to record all interrogations for certain crimes, it is under no obligation to do so by law, and it is unclear whether, and unlikely that, the NYPD has fully implemented the recording of all interrogations for those most serious crimes included in its policy. However, legislation is being drafted in the City Council that would indeed mandate the practice.

Since 2011, the department has recorded approximately 5,000 interrogations, according to the NYPD. However, the department’s unwillingness to share more information regarding its recording practices has made the implementation of the policy difficult to assess. The NYPD refused to appear at a September 23 City Council hearing examining its safeguards against wrongful convictions. The hearing was held jointly by the committee on Courts and Legal Services and the Public Safety committee, chaired by Council Members Rory Lancman and Vanessa Gibson, respectively.

The NYPD began a pilot program to record interrogations in 2011, after former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said advances in digital recording technology had made it possible for the department to afford it. Two precincts participated and a total of 146 interrogations were recorded that year, with only interrogations for felony assaults in the two participating precincts subject to recording. Three additional precincts began recording interrogations for felony assaults in 2012, and 183 interrogations were recorded, according to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), which did testify at the September Council hearing.

The program has since been expanded citywide, according to the NYPD. "Currently, the New York City Police Department has 82 rooms equipped with video recording software. Each detective squad that is assigned to a precinct has a room equipped with this software. All Special Victim Squads are equipped as well," said Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce, in written testimony submitted to the City Council for the September hearing.

Crimes for which interrogations are subject to recording have also expanded since 2011. Since 2015, it has been NYPD policy that "all arrests effected by NYPD detective squads for index felony offenses and attempts...are subject to video recorded interrogations," according to Boyce's testimony. Index felony offenses include murder, rape, robbery, burglary, assault, grand larceny, and grand larceny auto. Certain arrests for gun offenses are also recorded, as well as "certain misdemeanor arrests...most often with misdemeanor sex crimes."

Nothing beyond internal policy is guiding NYPD interrogation recording practice, and the wording of the policy itself, as described by Boyce, seems to give police officers some latitude when it comes to implementation.

One issue in ascertaining up-to-date data is that the NYPD is not providing a full accounting of annual numbers even in the 2011-2016 timeframe. The department provided yearly interrogation recording data for 2011 through 2014, then grouped 2015 with 2016 through October.

For January 2015 through October 2016, the NYPD reports recording roughly 3,200 interrogations, according to data shared by MOCJ. It is a number that appears to be far short of the total number of interrogations that occurred.

“What I understand is that right now, the detective squads videotape interviews with people who have been arrested in the seven majors...that’s been the process since I think around mid-2015,” said MOCJ Director Liz Glazer during the September 23 City Council hearing.

Yet, 84,988 arrests were made for the seven major felonies during 2015 and 2016, according to the NYPD’s director of public information, which means a large number of felony arrests did not result in recorded interrogations.

Just this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo voiced his support for mandating the recording of interrogations, among other criminal justice reforms. During his 2017 State of the State speech in New York City, Cuomo said he was there to “propose groundbreaking reforms: we will videotape interrogations, improve fairness in lineups, and raise the age of [adult] criminal liability from 16 to 18.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance released a statement in support of Cuomo’s proposed reforms, noting that his office had partnered with the governor in 2016 “to fund the recording of police interrogations across the state.” The initiative made $500,000 in funding available to local law enforcement agencies outside of New York City to expand their ability to record interrogations.

As Cuomo’s proposal and NYPD reporting make clear, there is no state or city law to require the recording of criminal interrogations, major felony crimes or otherwise.

Due to the NYPD absence from the September 23 City Council hearing, there has been limited public discussion of the department’s efforts to prevent wrongful convictions. Most of that conversation has happened through individual district attorney offices, which vary in their efforts to overturn wrongful convictions, action that is corrective rather than preventative.

Experts who testified at the Council hearing, including judges, representatives of the city’s district attorneys, and a police chief from Massachusetts, say recording interrogations is helpful for everyone involved.

Glazer appeared at the hearing in place of the NYPD as the representative of the de Blasio administration.

In the written words of Chief of Detectives Boyce, “It has been our experience that recording not only aids those who are innocent, but also bolsters the work performed by our officers by preventing disputes about how an officer conducted him/herself while also increasing transparency as to what was said and done during an interrogation.”

Glazer explained that the “NYPD videotapes the interviews of every defendant arrested for index felony offenses and attempts, commonly referred to as the ‘seven major felonies.’”

As Boyce wrote, “NYPD policy mandates that the recording system is activated before the subject enters the interrogation room” and “that the interrogation is recorded in its entirety.”

While Glazer and Boyce say the NYPD records the interviews of every defendant arrested for the seven major felonies, the numbers for January 2015-October 2016 leave roughly 80,000 arrests for the seven major felonies that did not result in recorded interrogations. (It is likely that more interrogations were recorded in the final three months of 2016, but multiple requests for updated information on the number of recordings made by the NYPD went unanswered).

There are some exceptions to the NYPD’s recording policy, such as when the individual being interrogated requests an attorney, invokes their right to silence, requests not to be recorded, or when recording equipment malfunctions. When asked for clarification on the difference between the number of arrests and recordings in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette, NYPD Lieutenant John Grimpel said, “Not everyone arrested for a felony crime has to be interrogated or is interrogated by detectives.”

“Interrogations are recorded,” Grimpel said, “but I don’t have to interrogate everyone I arrest. I have 52 witnesses of a murder, right, I might not even need to talk to [the suspect] in regard to it. If there’s no witnesses, then I’ll interrogate him about a crime.”

Yet, judges who testified at the City Council hearing called the NYPD’s implementation of the policy into question. When Council Member Lancman, chair of the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, asked Judge Daniel Conviser if he was seeing evidence that the NYPD universally records interrogations or confessions, Conviser replied, “I’m seeing it rarely by the NYPD.”

“I have to say, I haven’t seen too many recorded police interrogations,” said Judge Mark Dwyer, a member of the Justice Task Force.

Still, both judges cautioned that what they are seeing from the NYPD might be slightly dated, as it can take anywhere from six months to two years for cases to come to trial.

At the hearing, Marika Meis, legal director at Bronx Defenders, said her office isn't seeing many cases where the interrogation was recorded. "Right now, my office has 800 felony cases that have been pending for over a year,” Meis said. “We have 15 cases in which the interrogation was recorded, and those are largely in homicide and sex cases, and a couple other violent felonies. And in the years preceding the recent past three or four years, we had a total of I think six or seven.”

Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C. mandate the recording of interrogations, and many police departments across the country do so voluntarily. Lancman has put in a request for legislation to be drafted that would do the same in New York City.

A hearing on such legislation to mandate the recording of interrogations could prompt the NYPD to share more information regarding the current state of its recording practices. Though both Glazer and Boyce stated in their testimonies that every detective squad in the city is now equipped to record interrogations, a Patrol Guide issued Feb. 4, 2015 identified only five detective squads participating in the recording of interrogations. When Lancman asked Glazer why this was the case, she could not provide an answer.

“There’s a vast discrepancy between qualifying crimes and the interrogations being recorded that the NYPD has been unable to explain,” Lancman said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Makes Slow Progress in Effort to Prevent Wrongful Convictions Mon, 23 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Much Agreement on Need for Bail Reform, But Little Movement http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6658:much-agreement-on-need-for-bail-reform-but-little-movement http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6658:much-agreement-on-need-for-bail-reform-but-little-movement de Blasio rikers ponte officers

On Rikers Island (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


There is an ongoing conversation in New York about how to fix the bail system that many agree is broken, keeping too many poor people in jail after they are arrested for low-level nonviolent offenses but cannot afford to post bond and, at times, allowing individuals back onto the street who are prone to violence but able to pay bail. Efforts at reform have been full of fits and starts.

About a month ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced measures to make it easier for people to pay bail through an online payment system, as opposed to the insistence that bail is paid in person. More recently, City Council Member Rory Lancman introduced legislation that would require a city service provider to furnish judges setting bail with details of a defendant’s financial situation.

These latest incremental local reform ideas and others are aimed at chipping away at the problems with the system, but many advocates, legal experts, and elected officials agree that there is a need for an expanded statewide conversation around the culture of bail and actual statutory reform, chiefly to ensure that those with limited material resources are not punished simply for their economic status.

Reforming the bail system in New York has been something of a priority at both the city and state levels, though tangible progress has been limited.

In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo included the issue in his policy agenda for this year, although there has been little follow-up through legislation. Cuomo proposed requiring judges to assess risk to public safety when making a bail decision -- something de Blasio and others are in agreement with -- and stronger regulations of bail bondsman practices.

In New York City, the de Blasio administration has implemented a number of initiatives this year to make bail payments less complicated and to provide alternatives to bail that keep people from being incarcerated. There have also been concerted efforts both in policing practice and through legislation to reduce arrests for low-level offenses in the first place, and arrests are down significantly while the city has become safer in terms of major crimes.

The population at Rikers Island jails, where about three-quarters of the city’s jail population is housed, hovers around 7,500 daily, down significantly from peak years over recent decades.

In April, the mayor committed nearly $18 million for a citywide expansion of a supervised release program that will allow as many as 3,000 low-level offenders each year to remain out of jail and work while they await trial. The program cuts down on the use of monetary bail, ensuring that people who are of low risk to public safety but cannot afford bail do not languish in prison.

Last month, the mayor announced the creation of a system that allows cash bail to be paid online, by a phone, or through a courthouse kiosk by family members and friends of defendants. The system, due to be launched citywide by the spring, aims at alleviating the difficulty of having to physically visit a corrections facility to pay bail. “Nobody with the ability to pay bail should sit in jail just because the bail process is an inconvenience,” de Blasio said at the announcement.

The City Council has also been inching closer to establishing a public bail fund, which was first announced by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in her February 2015 State of the City speech. The fund received a license from the state Department of Financial Services in August but cannot begin operations until a pending license application for a bail bond agent is approved. If it becomes operational, the fund will provide bail money for qualifying participants so that they can leave jail between arrest and court appearance.

Bail reform is a key consideration for the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, a body that was set up at the speaker’s behest earlier this year to recommend broad criminal justice reforms, with an eye toward creating a plan for closing the Rikers Island prison complex. The body is being headed by former New York State chief judge Jonathan Lippman, who, when he filled that role, argued vehemently for bail reform.

Lippman believes that bail reform is moving ahead slowly in the city, but he stressed in a phone interview that there needs to be statutory change in law to effect broad change. “The city is doing really good things but they’re nibbling around the edges, not able to get at the heart of it,” he said. “My belief is that we need cooperation from Albany and we need a new bail statute.”

Lippman suggested a two-fold approach to bail: giving judges the authority to assess risk to public safety and the need to “flip the assumption” that someone should be incarcerated instead of being released while waiting for a court date. “Bail doesn’t assure the person coming back and it’s an anachronism,” he said, promising that the commission will directly address the issue when it releases its recommendations sometime in spring 2017.

Last year, when Lippman was serving as chief judge (he was forced to retire due to age restrictions and is now “of counsel” at Latham & Watkins), he announced administrative measures to reform the bail system in the absence of legislative action by the state. His own proposals from 2013 to essentially do away with cash bail have not been taken up by legislators in Albany, where Republicans control the state Senate and are often opposed to what is seen as progressive criminal justice reform.

“I think we got a lot of attention when I proposed the legislation,” Lippman said, rueing that “getting a lot of attention and getting things done are two different things.”

The challenge to changing the bail statute, he said, is the same that creeps up in any issue of criminal justice reform. “Legislators are elected and get into this soft-on-crime/tough-on-crime syndrome,” he said. “I think we need to be smart on crime.”

A major impetus to the conversation around bail reform was the tragic death of Kalief Browder, a young Bronx resident who spent three years on Rikers Island awaiting trial on charges of stealing a backpack. Browder couldn’t pay bail but was eventually released when the case was dismissed. In jail, he faced physical and mental abuse and was placed in solitary confinement for nearly two years. In June 2015, Browder committed suicide.

The case prompted widespread outrage and besides putting a spotlight on the culture of violence at Rikers, it highlighted the problems in the bail system. Advocates use Browder’s experience as a rallying cry in their push for change.

While there’s a lot of agreement that an update of the legal statutes is necessary, there’s a greater need, many say, for reexamining the purpose of the bail mechanism and reeducation in how it is practiced.

“Bail, by definition, discriminates against the poor,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris, deputy Democratic Conference leader, who proposed a bill last year to scrap cash bail. “There’s no rational basis for continuing this process.”

Gianaris, of Queens, believes that reform is being slowed by a misunderstanding of the issue. “Bail was never intended to keep dangerous people off the street,” he said, pointing out that defendants have a constitutional presumption of innocence and cannot be considered dangerous for the purposes of bail if they haven’t been convicted yet.”

Ezra Ritchin, project director of the Bronx Freedom Fund, one of two charitable bail funds already operating in New York City, commends the mayor and the City Council for the steps they’ve taken and says there is an urgency around bail reform at the state level.

“We’re in an important moment right now where there’s a lot of change happening,” he said. “Since Kalief Browder...there has been momentum for reform.”

But Ritchin warned, “There are things that we are missing in all of this.” The root of the issue, he said, is the high volume of arrests in New York City, and the consideration that a defendant is likely to miss their court date. “It’s often labeled as flight-risk,” he said. “That’s a massive misunderstanding of what’s going on. No one is fleeing.”

“It’s a question of the way that we frame risk,” Ritchin said, referring to the chances that a person might flee or even be a risk to public safety, which is a consideration that both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have proposed as an addition to the bail statute. “What we don’t talk about,” Ritchin said, “is the risk of a person’s life falling apart from being wrenched into the system.”

Therein lies the biggest issue for Ritchin, the way the bail statute is put into practice. The current statute allows nine different forms of bail, including cash bail, that a judge can impose, some of which are less onerous.

“I think the statute, if used correctly, could result in a very different system than the one we see now,” Ritchin said. This “golden question” of how to change the culture of imposing bail, among prosecutors and judges, is one for which Ritchin said he has no clear answer.

City Council Member Lancman echoed that sentiment. As the chair of the Council’s Committee on Courts and Legal Services, Lancman is at the frontline of this issue. “The major obstacle is the unwillingness of judges and prosecutors to accept other forms of assurances for a defendant...than cash bail or bond, as well as the unwillingness to look at each defendant’s financial circumstances,” Lancman told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “The system in every way possible -- from the city side, the judiciary side, the district attorney’s side, and, to a lesser extent, from the defense’s side -- is not focused on eliminating this reality of people being sent to Rikers Island because they’re poor.”

Under the bill Lancman introduced November 29, an arraignment screening organization contracted by the city to provide details about a defendant, including a recommendation on their risk of flight, would also have to include information on a defendant’s ability to pay bail. This is just one of the few ways the city can change how the bail system works, Lancman said, stressing the need for action at multiple levels. “The effort to reform bail requires many stakeholders adopting the new procedures and policies and outlook, which cumulatively would have an effect of greatly reducing the number of people on Rikers Island because they’re poor,” he said. 

The understanding that cash bail is a misguided concept has taken hold in an unprecedented way at the city and state level, according to Insha Rahman, senior planner at the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute of Justice. Less than a decade ago, “it wasn’t a part of the rhetoric and conversation around bail as it is now,” Rahman said. 

She insisted that any legislative proposal, such as one that would consider adding public safety as a consideration, should be informed by data obtained through a statewide survey. “The push needs to be to understand the problems with the use of bail statewide to avoid unintended consequences in places where it’s being used effectively as opposed to ineffectively,” she added, pointing out that different counties employ different practices and that the system is far from a monolith even within New York City’s five boroughs.

There is no cash bail in Washington D.C., where defendants are only detained if they are considered a risk to public safety. It’s considered a model by many advocates of bail reform in New York. But, as Rahman argued, adding risk as a consideration in setting bail could create problems if not studied carefully. “Any change to that is basically change in the sorting mechanism of who stays in and who is released,” she said.

Judge Lippman supports the idea of factoring public risk. So do Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, and they have been criticized for it. The proposal has also held up reform at the state level as different stakeholders struggle to find middle ground. Advocates and legal experts fear that it could deprive defendants of their rights and further institutionalize racism in the judicial system.

Cuomo has not changed his stance since he first included it in his 2016 agenda, according to his office. “The Governor continues to champion comprehensive criminal justice reform, including changes to the state’s antiquated bail system,” said Abbey Fashouer, a spokesperson for the governor, in a statement. “New York is one of only four states in the nation that does not currently take into account public safety risks when making bail and release decisions – and it’s past time to develop a new approach.”

The mayor recently doubled down on his support for the proposal. During a November 7 appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall, de Blasio spoke of the need for bail reform in the context of the fatal shooting of NYPD Sergeant Paul Tuozzolo in the Bronx just three days prior. Tuozzolo was shot and killed by a man who was out on bail and suffered from mental health problems. It was reminiscent of the October 2015 killing of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder, which the mayor referenced in the interview as well. Holder was killed in East Harlem while pursuing an armed suspect who had earlier been sentenced to a treatment program by a drug court rather than being sent to jail.

“This is a reminder that we need bail reform in the State of New York,” de Blasio told NY1 anchor Errol Louis of Tuozzolo’s murder. “We need to include the question of how dangerous a criminal is in the bail decision because there are times when someone is not – a criminal is not a flight risk, but they are a threat to the community, or they have a profound mental health challenge that needs to be addressed. These issues have to be taken into account and we need a state law that recognizes that bail – judges should have the opportunity to consider the dangerousness of the individual when making a bail decision.”

Peter Goldberg, executive director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, said, as others did, that, “The fundamental problem with how bail operates is that it cages presumptively innocent people for their inability to come up with a certain amount of money.” He warns that replacing it with a system that assesses public safety might ignore that presumption as well.

“There’s a risk that  a system that replaces it will exacerbate existing racial and socioeconomic inequalities,” Goldberg said. “And in any system that looks to judge a person’s dangerousness merely based on the accusation of a crime, the data being used to create that system needs to be made available to the public, to be vigorously validated, but the bedrock principle needs to be the presumption of release.”

As 2017 approaches and with it the next budget and legislative agendas for state legislators and the governor, there’s widespread optimism that bail reform will be a priority. Judge Lippman believes the issue has gestated long enough. “That digestive process has already taken place and it’s time to pick it up and run with it,” he said, confident that his commission’s recommendations will be bold and “out of the box” and will not be politically constrained. “Because of the credibility of the commission, because of the depth of the research...no public official is going to be able to fuzz around these issues,” he said. “That releases some of the political pressure.”

Senator Gianaris is bullish on bail reform as well. “We’ve seen enough injustice,” he said, “that the time has come to take a comprehensive look at this and get rid of bail once and for all.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Much Agreement on Need for Bail Reform, But Little Movement Thu, 08 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Drafting Bills to Regulate Political Nonprofits Like Campaign for One New York http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6545:city-council-drafting-bills-to-regulate-political-nonprofits-like-campaign-for-one-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6545:city-council-drafting-bills-to-regulate-political-nonprofits-like-campaign-for-one-new-york Kallos

Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: John McCarten for the City Council)


At least three City Council members have made requests to the Council’s bill drafting unit to formulate legislation that would regulate political participation by and with “social welfare” nonprofit organizations. These are political advocacy, or lobbying, groups, which have been the subject of intense scrutiny in New York City of late due to the Campaign for One New York, a political nonprofit established by allies of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The bills currently being drafted in the Council would increase disclosure requirements for political nonprofits and reclassify the groups under the jurisdiction of the city’s Campaign Finance Board and its rules around donation limits, including by entities with city business.

“Social welfare” or political nonprofits, designated 501(c)(4)s by the Internal Revenue Service, are issue advocacy groups that have been around for decades, but their heavy involvement and influence in electoral politics has been a more recent phenomenon, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in the Citizens United case. In that judgement, the Court recognized unions and corporations as individuals whose political expenditures are a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. That opened the floodgates to massive independent expenditures in political campaigns and also allowed political nonprofits that advocate, or lobby, on issues to use the unlimited fundraising at their disposal for political means, as long as politics is not their main focus. These groups are tax-exempt and are not required to disclose their donors - thus, their expenditures are often referred to as “dark money.”

Separate from promoting or attacking a candidate for office, these groups also lobby government on any number of issues or agendas.

When allies of de Blasio established the Campaign for One New York to push his progressive agenda it did not take long before questions were swirling around the major donations being given to the group by labor unions, real estate developers, and others with city business. The group’s fundraising activities, the mayor’s involvement, and whether government action was offered or given in exchange for donations to the Campaign for One New York are currently under federal and state investigation. Earlier this year, de Blasio announced that the organization was shutting down - he declared that it had done its job given his administration’s successes around pre-kindergarten and affordable housing policy.

A separate probe by the city’s Campaign Finance Board concluded in July, where the board found that the nonprofit and the mayor had not acted illegally, but criticized the mayor for exploiting loopholes in the campaign finance law. De Blasio has maintained throughout that he and the group followed the letter of the law, while also willingly disclosing donors and expenditures, which is not currently required.

The mayor’s deep connection with the group and its donors, including big moneyed interests with business before the city, have created impressions of a pay-to-play culture at City Hall and led to calls for closer monitoring of such organizations. Certain City Council members are taking up this charge.

Council Members Ben Kallos, Rory Lancman, and Elizabeth Crowley - all Democrats like de Blasio - have each submitted a request that legislation be crafted around regulating 501(c)(4) nonprofits. Kallos’ bill drafting request is “on point” with a recent proposal made by Citizens Union, a government reform group. That proposal would require that 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(3) organizations created at the behest of elected officials to promote their own image or agenda be treated like political committees under the city’s campaign finance laws. This would entail detailed disclosure of contributions and expenditures, limits on contributions similar to those for political candidates, and oversight by the Campaign Finance Board.

“Anytime you’ve got elected officials whose political campaigns are limited in the money they can raise affiliated with 501(c)(4)s that engage in quasi-electoral activities that don’t have the same limits, that is a place we should be paying attention,” Kallos said in a phone interview. Kallos chairs the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, where the bills would likely be introduced and heard.

Council Member Lancman’s request was along similar lines. He has suggested that 501(c)(4)s face contribution restrictions similar to those imposed on political campaigns, which would also limit the amount of money donated by entities that have business before the city. For instance, in a citywide campaign, an individual can currently make a maximum contribution of $4,950 while an individual with business before the city can only give $400. A citywide candidate can also not accept contributions from corporations, partnerships, or Limited Liability Companies. Under Lancman’s proposal, these limits would apply to 501(c)(4)s as well. He called his proposal a “direct response to the mayor distorting the political process and undermining the campaign finance law.”

“The mayor’s transformation of this loophole into a gaping hole in the campaign finance system is probably unique,” Lancman said in an interview. “To the extent that any other elected would think of [skirting] the campaign finance law by setting up an issue advocacy organization that is for all intents and purposes an extension of the CFB-limited campaign committee, this would be a deterrence.”

The third proposal, Council Member Crowley's, would prohibit candidates who participate in the CFB's public matching funds program from fundraising for 501(c)(4)s established for lobbying purposes. "It’s important the city look at multiple approaches to ensure that candidates who participate in the Campaign Finance Board’s matching funds program run a fair race," Crowley said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "This legislation would work to prevent the influence of unregulated money used by an elected official or candidate for office to push their own political agenda and prevent an unfair advantage."

The progress of the Council members’ bill requests is currently unclear. Both Kallos and Lancman separately indicated that their proposals may conflict with others and that they were unsure of who would finally introduce legislation. While the Campaign for One New York is closing down and appears to no longer be soliciting or accepting donations, the 2017 city election cycle is about to truly take off.

Asked about the status of the bill requests and if City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito had comment on the proposals, spokesperson Eric Koch emailed, “We're going through our normal legislative process.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated with comment from Council Member Elizabeth Crowley.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

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City Council Drafting Bills to Regulate Political Nonprofits Like Campaign for One New York Fri, 23 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Council to Hear Bill Mandating Publication of NYPD Patrol Guide http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6515:council-to-hear-bill-mandating-publication-of-nypd-patrol-guide http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6515:council-to-hear-bill-mandating-publication-of-nypd-patrol-guide Garodnick NYPD

City Council Member Garodnick, in NYPD hat, & colleagues (photo: William Alatriste)


A bill introduced by City Council Member Dan Garodnick to require the NYPD to publish its patrol guide online will be heard for the first time by the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety next week. The hearing, set for Thursday, September 15, follows shortly on the recent controversy over the Right to Know Act, a package of police reform legislation that Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito put on the backburner in favor of related changes the NYPD agreed to implement through training and its patrol guide.

The compromise struck between Mark-Viverito and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton upset some Council members and police reform activists, while also drawing renewed scrutiny to the NYPD patrol guide.

While Mark-Viverito has insisted the Right to Know Act bills are not off the table permanently and some call for Council members to push for their passage without her agreement to schedule a vote, Garodnick’s patrol guide bill is moving forward, and appears to have widespread support. After being heard in committee the bill can be amended and then voted through committee and the full Council - if it has enough support.

While police and government reform advocates alike call for more transparency around police officer conduct, publishing the patrol guide online may be one fairly simple measure that most, if not all, stakeholders can agree on.

The NYPD patrol guide lays out procedures and codes of conduct for police officers, including protocols for interactions with the public. Free but outdated versions of the guide are available online. In 2014, Shawn Musgrave, a reporter for MuckRock, obtained a copy through a Freedom of Information Law request, albeit after significant back and forth with the department. (Local writer and political organizer Keegan Stephan also posted the same version on his blog in April this year.) The current guide can also apparently be purchased online, at this officer uniform store and through this publisher, for between $55 and $70. Garodnick’s bill, introduced in March of 2015, would require the police department to make the full patrol guide available on their website free of cost, but would exclude portions on non-routine investigative techniques, confidential information or any information that would compromise an officer’s safety or that of the public. The police department would have to update the guide each time an amendment is made, clearly noting the changes along with their effective dates. The bill would go into effect 90 days after it is signed into law. 

“The Police Commissioner supports posting the Patrol Guide on the Department's website,” said an NYPD spokesperson in a statement to Gotham Gazette, also confirming that department personnel will testify at the Sept. 15 hearing. (Coincidentally, Bratton’s last day at the NYPD is set for Sept. 16; he announced his retirement earlier this summer. Bratton has often clashed with the Council on police reform and oversight.)

Garodnick called his bill an “important transparency initiative” for the police. “This bill will help build the trust that some feel is lacking between the police and communities,” he said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “It will also add accountability because New Yorkers will be able to know what to expect in interactions with the police and be better equipped to speak up” if there are any violations, he said.

It will also help the police department, Garodnick said, in ensuring that the public understands the rules. Mark-Viverito appears to be backing the bill. “This is part of our continued push to reform the NYPD to make it more transparent,” said Eric Koch, spokesperson for the speaker, in a statement.

Publishing the patrol guide is unlikely to quiet those calling for passage of the Right to Know Act, but it would bring more light to the new directives being given to officers for carrying out street stops, among other updates that have recently been agreed upon, such as the use of civil summonses instead of criminal summonses or arrests for a variety of non-violent, low-level offenses.

Incoming Police Commissioner James O’Neill, who will take over the department when Bratton departs, has said he is fully supportive of the Right to Know compromise.

The legislation in the Right to Know Act would require police officers to identify themselves by name, rank, and command if a street stop does not result in an arrest and requires an officer to obtain consent to search a civilian, a vehicle or house and inform a civilian of their right to refuse consent for a search if there is no probable cause. The bills were strongly opposed by Bratton on behalf of the NYPD, and thus the de Blasio administration. Mark-Viverito did not agree to schedule a vote on the bills, which had a committee hearing on June 29, 2015.

Instead, Mark-Viverito struck an administrative compromise with Bratton to implement aspects of the two bills through department training and the patrol guide. In a recent interview with Gotham Gazette, Mark-Viverito defended the compromise as progress, explaining that the Council had moved the NYPD from its strong opposition toward middle ground. Police reform advocates have criticized the agreement, pointing out that the NYPD is particularly opaque when it comes to its patrol guide.

“Editing training and patrol guide language will never deliver real change on the ground to end the police abuses that the Right to Know Act would help end, and the Speaker’s deal to gut and seek delay of the reforms certainly will not,” said Anthonine Pierre, lead community organizer for Brooklyn Movement Center, in a statement.

Brooklyn Movement Center is a part of Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition. “Transparency is needed on a range of fronts with the NYPD and Council Member Garodnick’s efforts to advance that regarding the patrol guide are positive, but it’s troubling that this transparency bill was not provided with a hearing until public scrutiny of Speaker Mark-Viverito’s deal that lacks transparency and deficiently relies on the patrol guide,” Pierre said. There is no evidence that the hearing comes as a result of the Right to Know Act compromise.

Amid the criticism of the deal, Politico New York recently reported that the NYPD was speeding up its estimated timeline for implementing the compromise by six months. According to Politico, NYPD sergeants were to receive training on updated search protocols as early as August 26 and would relay that to officers in the next few weeks. A second “reinforcement” training was planned for September, with the department expecting the patrol guide to be updated by October 15.

At a recent news conference on the steps of City Hall, government reform group Citizens Union pointed to the lack of transparency with the patrol guide. The group released a set of proposals to improve police accountability; among them, making the patrol guide freely accessible to the public.

“I’m surprised that it even takes a law,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal proponent of police reform and a co-sponsor of the bill. “It seems obvious that it should be available to the public except in rare circumstances where that compromises public safety.”

Lancman said making the patrol guide public has been an issue for years, and not just since the Right to Know controversy. “One would have thought that de Blasio, on taking office, would have published it without needing to be forced through legislation three years into his term, to do so.”

Lancman expects the hearing to go smoothly and that the bill will receive overwhelming support. “There’s no reason the NYPD shouldn’t be transparent in this way,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

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Council to Hear Bill Mandating Publication of NYPD Patrol Guide Tue, 06 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000