Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1380 Wed, 14 Nov 2018 21:59:20 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Council Begins New Focus on Capital Budget, with Eye Toward Transparency http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7554-city-council-examines-capital-budget-with-eye-on-transparency http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7554-city-council-examines-capital-budget-with-eye-on-transparency vanessa gibson

Council Member Gibson (photo: William Alatriste)


As the New York City Council continues to examine Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $88.67 billion preliminary budget for 2019, a newly created committee under Council Speaker Corey Johnson is paying extra attention to the ‘other’ budget - the capital plan - the administration’s proposed spending on schools, parks, jails and other long-term infrastructure projects.

Over the last few weeks, the new Subcommittee on the Capital Budget chaired by Council Member Vanessa Gibson, under the purview of the Committee on Finance, has been conducting oversight of agency-specific capital spending and, on Tuesday, the committee turned its eyes to the administration’s overall $45.9 billion preliminary capital budget for 2019-2022.

That capital budget proposes authorizing $11 billion in new spending for the 2019 fiscal year alone. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1.

Separate from the proposed capital budget is the capital commitment plan. While the budget is set aside for all capital needs not previously allocated, the commitment plan accounts for the money the city actually intends on spending on capital projects in sum. At Tuesday’s hearing, Council Members analyzed the $79.6 billion capital commitment plan for 2018-2022, including $19.3 billion that would be spent for fiscal year 2019 (including funds rolled over from previous years).

“For too long, the majority of our attention, the public’s attention, and the advocates’ attentions has been on the expense portion of the budget,” said Speaker Johnson, in his opening statement at the hearing, referring to the city’s annual spending on operations, typically simply referenced as the city budget. “This has left mayoral administration after administration to manage the capital budget process largely without the rigorous review it deserves,” Johnson said, giving indication to why he created the new subcommittee. This is the first budget process since Johnson was elected speaker by his 50 Council colleagues.

Johnson, and several of his colleagues after him, criticized successive administrations for allocating a majority of funds in the early phases of years-long projects, rolling over unused funds, and lumping in dozens, if not hundreds, of projects under broad budget lines.

Gibson pointed out the glaring discrepancy between how much the city was appropriating for capital projects and how much was being spent each year. “This is certainly not a new phenomenon, this is not a new concept,” Gibson said, noting that between fiscal years 2012-2017, the city had on average appropriated $36.7 billion annually, planned to spend $15.3 billion on average, and spent only $8.5 billion.

“As always, we will approach the capital budget process with caution,” said Melanie Hartzog, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in her opening remarks Tuesday, emphasizing that the city was being careful about its spending on debt from infrastructure projects. Hartzog, recently promoted to the position by de Blasio, noted in her testimony before the Council the impact of the federal and state budgets on New York City, including proposed cost shifts for MTA capital to the city -- a proposal from Governor Andrew Cuomo that is being debated in Albany -- and the devaluing of a federal tax credit that incentivizes the creation of affordable housing. She also reiterated many of the new and ongoing investments made by the administration in traffic safety, flood mitigation, transit infrastructure, schools, affordable housing, economic development and public housing.

Hartzog said the administration has taken steps to provide more accurate assessments of capital needs, by investing at least $50 million for agencies to plan and review projects before funding is put toward them. The administration has also increased staffing at agencies with large capital needs to focus on project planning and management, she said.

A key factor in possibly speeding up capital projects, Hartzog said, is design-build, a streamlined process that would allow the city to solicit combined design and construction bids for infrastructure projects. To use design-build, the city requires approval from the state, where passage has been elusive thus far, though there is the possibility this year of authorization for specific projects. It’s one of many key issues that the de Blasio administration has been pushing in Albany as Cuomo and the state Legislature negotiate the state budget.

“Applying the design-build approach would shave hundreds of millions of dollars from the cost of projects and reduce completion times by 18 months on average,” Hartzog said at the hearing. The city wants design-build for projects like rebuilding a portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, major NYCHA repairs, and building out jail capacity to replace Rikers Island facilities, among others.

The hearing was by-and-large amicable and Hartzog repeatedly promised to work with the Council on improving its capital process, having ongoing discussions with Council Members about proposed projects in their communities and conducting more regular reviews of capital spending. But the Council could not extract concrete commitments on reforms they hoped to see.

Johnson pushed for a 15 percent cap on the difference between excess appropriated funds and the capital commitment plan, using an industry-standard ratio for budgeting capital projects. “Basically, the Council is annually presented with a capital budget to adopt that gives twice the authority to spend over what is planned...It’s my opinion that it is time for a new status quo,” he said.

Hartzog, however, said the administration has increased the level of spending in the commitment plan “significantly” and reiterated that they are working to “rightsize” agency-specific capital plans. She noted that the 15 percent contingency funding applies to projects and cannot be used as a standard for appropriations. OMB Deputy Director Charles Brisky also emphasized that contingency funding allows needed flexibility for projects and that examining the difference between appropriations and commitments could be misleading.

“If you think that there’s more to be done, we’re open to working with you and your staff to get that done,” Hartzog added.

Council Member Daniel Dromm, chair of the finance committee, focused his attention on how the city plans to raise funds for capital projects, and the debt it incurs in the process. He noted that though the city’s borrowing has largely hewed close to expectations, the administration continues to overestimate the debt it will incur down the line.

“This overestimation skews the picture of the city’s debt affordability over the plan and provides the administration a convenient source of savings for subsequent citywide savings plans,” Dromm said in his opening statement, referring to the administration’s voluntary savings program for city agencies, which the Council has criticized for an inadequate focus on creating actual efficiencies.

Hartzog pushed back, calling it a “little bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison.” Her colleague, Brisky, explained that city borrowing was for projects that are years into construction or had already been completed, while the commitments were for future projects. “That’s a little bit harder to project,” he said.

When Gibson pushed for more detail on individual capital projects, yet again the budget officials demurred. “Are you willing to commit with us to looking at...how we can itemize some of those budget lines to look at specific projects and delineate a little bit of the large, overly-broad general budget lines the Council has typically received?” Gibson asked.

Hartzog agreed, but added, “I will say that, and I’m sure you agree with me, what we don’t want to do is cause any delay in any projects getting done.” She cited the Department of Environmental Protection which has large pots of capital funding set aside for emergencies that are hard to predict.

Although fiscal monitors have generally praised the de Blasio administration’s handling of the city’s finances, the Council’s criticism tracks with reports by independent watchdogs that the city’s capital planning needs to be more efficient.

“Rightsizing and right timing the capital plan is necessary for a more effective and more transparent capital planning process,” stated a recent report by Citizens Budget Commission. “Reducing planned commitments in the early years of the plan to a more attainable level would require the City to clearly articulate its capital priorities and immediate needs. It would also facilitate improved tracking of capital projects and allow for more accurate projections of City borrowing.”

[Read: Under 'Threat' from D.C. and Albany, De Blasio Presents $88.67 Billion Preliminary Budget]

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
City Council Begins New Focus on Capital Budget, with Eye Toward Transparency Tue, 20 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Bronx Rezoning Moves to City Council as Negotiations Enter Final Stages http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7446-bronx-rezoning-moves-to-city-council-as-negotiations-enter-final-stages http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7446-bronx-rezoning-moves-to-city-council-as-negotiations-enter-final-stages

Jerome Ave corridor rezoning, via City Planning


The City Planning Commission voted January 17 to approve a comprehensive rezoning plan for the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, putting the proposal before the City Council for scrutiny in the final stretch of the lengthy land use review process. The rezoning would follow four others ushered through by the de Blasio administration as it somewhat controversially seeks to add housing density, including thousands of new affordable units, and make other investments in mostly low-income communities across the five boroughs.

The Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan put forth by the administration with local input envisions changing land use regulations in a 92-block area along Jerome Avenue, from East 165th Street to 184th Street, which currently comprises a mix of commercial, industrial, and residential space. The proposed plan would allow mixed-use development along the corridor with the intent of creating more affordable housing, while also funding new infrastructure, quality-of-life improvements, job creation, and economic development initiatives for the community.  

While a deal appears imminent and the clock is ticking, negotiations are ongoing between the administration and City Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera, whose districts span the proposed rezoning and who will have the final say in whether the rezoning is approved. Gibson, Cabrera, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. met recently to discuss the changes to the plan that they want to see before it is passed by the Council.

The City Planning Commission’s approval of the plan started the 50-day clock for the Council to accept or reject the proposal. The entire body typically votes with the local Council member(s) on land use issues and has rarely overridden a member’s position. The Council’s subcommittee on zoning and franchises is expected to hold a public hearing on the rezoning on Wednesday, February 7.  

“It is and has been very fruitful,” Gibson said of the negotiation process, in a phone interview on Thursday. But there remain a few big ticket items that have yet to be resolved, she said, including preserving more affordable housing and expanding school capacity to deal with the expected increase in population from new housing created under the plan.

jerome ave verticalThe city has promised to create 4,000 new housing units in the rezoned area, which will include affordable units set aside for different income bands under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy. The administration is also planning a Certificate of No Harassment pilot program to prevent tenant harassment and displacement, and will guarantee that half of new housing units created by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will go to existing residents. Additionally, it has committed millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements -- including $4.6 million to revamp Corporal Fischer Park; $4 million to rebuild the Morton Playground; sidewalk lighting; and security upgrades -- and jobs and business development plans through the Department of Small Business Services

As is, the plan will also preserve 1,500 affordable units, a number that Gibson wants to see increased to 2,500 to cope with the gentrification pressures that neighborhoods targeted for rezoning have come to expect. She emphasized that many affordable units currently in those neighborhoods will see their city rent subsidies expire in less than a decade, and that the administration should take preemptive action.

“The city has a very good opportunity to engage those landlords on new programs and tax incentives so they can remain in the affordability program and access some of our resources for the next 30 or 40 years,” she said. “Now if we go over 2,500, I’m not mad. But I think 2,500 should be the floor.”

As with other rezonings that have been approved in the last three years, Gibson expressed larger concerns about displacement of existing residents as zoning changes bring additional density and improvements to the communities along Jerome Avenue. But she maintained that, unlike other areas that have seen luxury developers quickly move in to capitalize on a proposed rezoning, Jerome Avenue will likely not see market-rate housing being built in the short term.

“People are fearful, they have a right to be fearful, but the market in Jerome does not propel luxury housing right now,” she said.

Gibson predicted that recent increases in the minimum wage and residents getting prevailing-wage and union-wage jobs will eventually lead them to be ineligible for deeply affordable housing as they start to earn more than 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), a federal measure that includes surrounding suburban counties and the city. The New York City region’s AMI in 2017 was $85,900 for a family of three. Gibson insisted that the MIH set-asides should therefore include additional moderate and middle-income housing.

“It has to be a diverse mixture of incomes, obviously with the majority of those incomes being on the lower end at 30 and 40 percent of AMI as well as set asides for formerly homeless families coming directly from the shelter,” she said.

Jerome Avenue is the latest proving ground for the administration’s neighborhood rezoning efforts, which are part of achieving the mayor’s target of creating and preserving 300,000 units of affordable housing across the city by 2026. The first such rezoning, in East New York, largely set the tone, with the local Council Member, Rafael Espinal, having extracted a slew of concessions from the administration including a new 1,000-seat school and about $267 million in capital investments. Diaz Jr. and the two Bronx Council members are working off of a similar script, as was the case with rezonings in East Harlem and Far Rockaway.

Diaz Jr. signed off on the city’s plan in November, granted the city meet certain conditions that he laid out in his non-binding formal approval in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a multi-step process that also involves non-binding votes by the affected community boards, which also approved it with conditions.

The borough president said in his response that the city had “acted in good faith” in listening to the community’s concerns. But he maintained, “There is still more work to be done.” He called on the city to put in place a minimum of their monetary commitments before the rezoning is approved, an increase in the number of affordable housing units preserved to at least 2,000, enhanced enforcement of housing codes, the establishment of a new community center in Highbridge, and additional funding for improvement of parks and transit infrastructure.

Jerome Avenue is also home to a large automotive industry, and Diaz Jr. urged the city to identify locations where displaced facilities could relocate as well as fund relocation, training, and certification for those businesses. Gibson has made similar demands. The city’s plan would only retain about 20 percent of the 151 auto businesses in the neighborhood, she recently told Gotham Gazette at City Hall, and she is pushing to retain at least 50 percent.  

Diaz Jr. also insisted that the city must address the school seat shortage in the district -- roughly 3,248 seats -- by identifying potential sites for new facilities. That is one of the biggest priorities for Gibson and Cabrera as well. Gibson said she and her Council colleague are pushing for two new elementary schools in school districts 9 and 10.

“The challenge we face is we don’t have large parcels of city-owned land,” she said, emphasizing that the administration will have to work with private landowners to find suitable locations for new schools, while also expanding capacity at existing facilities that can bear it.

“A school that we build of 500 seats is going to help us now but it wont help us in the future if we’re looking at potentially 4,000 units of housing,” she said. “So there has to be some give and take.”

Gibson is confident about securing that pledge from the city before the Council votes on the project. “We’ve been very consistent on what our priorities are and, at the end of the day, we are working as hard as we can to achieve that. I do know that the admin in the past typically waits until the very end to make all of their commitments and announcements and to the best extent that I can, I’m trying to avoid that because I don’t like to operate last minute.”

Asked about the final stages of negotiations, a spokesperson for the Department of City Planning said in a statement, "We continue to work hand-in-hand with local elected officials and community leaders to build and protect affordable housing while also boosting economic vitality along the Jerome corridor."

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Bronx Rezoning Moves to City Council as Negotiations Enter Final Stages Sun, 28 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
New York City Now Has Its Own Legal Parameters for ‘Disorderly Conduct’ http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7350-new-york-city-now-has-its-own-legal-parameters-for-disorderly-conduct http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7350-new-york-city-now-has-its-own-legal-parameters-for-disorderly-conduct vanessa gibson city council john mccarten

Council Member Vanessa Gibson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


A City Council bill that creates an alternative to the state’s “disorderly conduct” statute, and mandates lower punishment for the infraction, became law on Friday along with numerous other bills relating to protecting undocumented immigrant New Yorkers. The bill, sponsored by City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, also adds another plank to the Council’s broad agendas of criminal justice reform and immigrant protections.

The new city law prohibits “disorderly behavior” much in the same way the existing state law currently does -- for incidents involving public altercations, unreasonable noise, obscene gestures in public, obstruction of traffic and other similar offenses --  but it provides for a maximum sentence of five days in prison or a $200 fine, and also includes a civil (as opposed to criminal) penalty option in the form of a $75 fine.

Under the state law, in which punishment can reach up to 15 days in prison or a $250 fine, there were roughly 54,000 convictions in 2016 in New York City criminal courts.

The rationale behind the new city law is simple, but controversial: lowering punishment can prevent the involvement of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, which is often triggered when undocumented immigrants interact or are pulled into the criminal justice system. A punishment longer than five days can also make immigrants ineligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections.

“It’s an option for district attorneys, for judges and for police to use in instances of disorderly conduct, and obviously for non-violent and low-level cases,” said Council Member Gibson, in a phone interview on Monday, during which she warned of dangers undocumented immigrants face from an openly hostile federal administration.

Since before he took office, Donald Trump has been aggressively attacking undocumented immigrants with rhetoric, and, under his presidency federal immigration authorities have followed through with action, stepping up their enforcement efforts. They have taken particular aim at so-called “sanctuary cities” such as New York, which are home to massive populations of undocumented immigrants and relatively friendly local laws.

The New York City Council has responded to the federal administration in kind, by passing a slew of measures aimed at limiting cooperation with ICE and protecting the city’s immigrant population. “We did it so it wouldn’t propel a negative consequence,” Gibson said of her bill. “We wanted to give DAs additional tools to employ. For us, while it applies to everyone, there’s obviously a very intentional focus on immigrants.”

In April, then-Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez (who has since been elected to the position) announced that his office would try to avoid prosecution strategies that could result in deportation proceedings for immigrants. “I am committed to equal and fair justice for all Brooklyn residents – citizens, lawful residents and undocumented immigrants alike,” he said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Now more than ever, we must ensure that a conviction, especially for a minor offense, does not lead to unintended and severe consequences like deportation, which can be unfair, tear families apart and destabilize our communities and businesses.”

As Gibson noted, the Council has moved to reduce penalties and create civil fines for numerous low-level offenses, most significantly through the Criminal Justice Reform Act passed last year. Those efforts have taken on increased importance under Trump. In the last few months, ICE agents have begun to stake out courthouses to nab immigrants showing up to court appearances, even in cases involving nonviolent crimes.

Initial data has shown drastic reductions in criminal court summonses issued under the offenses that were included in the Criminal Justice Reform Act. Between when the act took effect on June 13 and October 1, 2017, there were 4,370 criminal summonses issued under those offenses, compared to 55,224 in the same period in 2016. The NYPD issued 26,154 civil summonses for the covered offenses.

Gibson said her bill was just another part of that larger agenda to ensure “proportional penalties” that match the crimes committed. The efforts don’t necessarily mean an easing of enforcement or so-called broken windows policing of low-level crimes in an effort to prevent larger ones, but it relates to how violations like disorderly conduct are classified and punished. “It falls in line with work we’ve done on criminal justice reform,” she said. “It’s absolutely critical. In light of the current climate, it’s really important for the City Council to advance progressive legislation that protects all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status.”

Murad Awawdeh, vice president of advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition, said the organization was glad to see the Council take proactive measures to protect immigrants from the “nexus of the criminal justice system and the immigration system,” which can often endanger their status in the country.

“By lowering the maximum punishment for this offense, the city is ensuring that immigrants aren’t unnecessarily detained or possibly deported,” he said of the new disorderly conduct law. “I think it’s timely and also long overdue.”

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
New York City Now Has Its Own Legal Parameters for ‘Disorderly Conduct’ Mon, 04 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
As Deaths Mount, Scrutiny of NYPD Response to ‘Emotionally Disturbed Persons’ http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7216-as-deaths-mount-scrutiny-of-nypd-response-to-emotionally-disturbed-persons http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7216-as-deaths-mount-scrutiny-of-nypd-response-to-emotionally-disturbed-persons NYPD de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio & law enforcement officials (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor’s Office)


At a recent hearing, New York City Council members discussed the effectiveness of NYPD responses to “emotionally disturbed person” (EDP) calls, the slow pace of implementation for new NYPD crisis intervention training, and the tragic outcomes of several recent interactions between NYPD officers and emotionally disturbed individuals.

At the hearing, held Sept. 6 jointly by the Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services, members called for clarity on recent interactions ending in lethal force and stressed their support for the proposed mayoral working group to assess the city’s overall response to individuals in crisis.

The hearing, which received little attention at the time given the city’s primary elections were occurring just six days later, on September 12, occurred in the wake of the deaths of six mentally ill individuals killed by NYPD officers responding to EDP calls over the past 11 months, and just before another such incident would unfold.

The introduction of crisis intervention training at the NYPD in the summer of 2015, a program designed to help officers respond to individuals in the midst of such crises, was intended to better equip officers to handle such circumstances without use of force, but has been rolled out slowly due to class size requirements and competing training demands. Of the department’s approximately 34,000 officers, fewer than 6,400 had been trained at the time of the hearing, according to NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Collaborative Policing Susan Herman.

While there is increased scrutiny of how the NYPD handles EDP calls and its deadly encounters with individuals in crisis, some also believe that reforms must be put into place whereby NYPD officers are not the first ones at such scenes; that unarmed counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals are better suited to diffuse EDP situations.

In the July shooting of Dwayne Jeune, an emotionally disturbed Brooklyn man, Jeune charged cops with a bread knife and was shot after a Taser shock appeared to have little effect. Three of the four patrol officers on the scene had participated in CIT while the fourth, the only one lacking a CIT background, was the one to fire, according to the department.  In instances of EDP calls, supervisors must make the decision to call the Emergency Service Unit (ESU), whose members complete Emergency Psychological Technician’s training and are equipped to identify and interact with those suffering from mental illnesses. Jeune’s situation was characterized as nonviolent and ESU was not brought in.

Council members and a family member of Jeune questioned whether CIT officers should be given control when responding to EDP calls.

Herman pointed to a department preference for an officer who develops rapport with an individual to take control of the response. “It’s great to have a CIT trained officer and we want to train everyone, but we’re not at the point where we’re saying whoever is CIT trained commands the situation,” she said.

Council members also stressed a desire to see officers trained at a faster clip. The NYPD is presently training 90 officers a week; dividing training into classes of lieutenants, supervisors, and patrol officers. Based loosely on a model developed by the Memphis Police Department and in conjunction with the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the program requires a class maximum of 30, which plays a primary role in the department’s delayed implementation. The department expects to train all supervisors and lieutenants by 2018, at which point it will return to training recruits.

Herman also noted the Memphis model’s stipulation that training 25 to 30 percent of the force will allow other patrol officers to learn through experience and observation. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, interjected, reiterating the city’s desire to move beyond the Memphis baseline. “In a city of such great diversity and challenge, that’s a bare minimum for us,” Gibson said.

The officer who shot and killed Jeune was involved in a similar shooting in October of last year, when a bipolar man lunged at officers with a knife, according to the NYPD. Council members grilled Herman on the department’s policy for re-evaluating the training needs of officers with a history of force used during EDP calls. “It seems to me if there is an officer who was involved in an EDP that ended in deadly force, that might be a prompt to get them CIT training so that won’t happen again,” said Council Member Jumaane Williams.

Herman pointed to the overall low number of use of force instances, citing a 1 percent rate for use of any level of force during the 150,000 EDP calls the NYPD receives each year. This total of 15,000 instances includes use of force cases ranging from wrestling the individual to the ground to the use of a Taser, as well as shootings. The deputy commissioner cited the NYPD’s general policy for reviewing use of force, but did not specifically reference department policy in cases specific to EDP calls. “After any use of lethal force or shooting, there’s a very comprehensive review,” said Herman. “When an officer needs instruction on tactics, they get that.”

The New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), the union representing more than 20,000 patrol officers, declined to comment on the hearing when Gotham Gazette inquired. The Lieutenant’s Benevolent Association and Sergeant’s Benevolent Association did not respond to requests for comment. None of the unions sent representatives to testify at the hearing.

For some advocates, the discussion of how to improve NYPD responses to mental health crises has ignored the larger issue at hand. “I don’t want to try to fine tune a police response, I want to end it,” said Alex Vitale, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and senior adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), in an interview. “The city has to be willing to pay for mental health services instead of police services.”

To this end, City Council members sought answers on how to assist individuals displaying escalating levels of violence before reaching a situation in which an EDP call is necessary.

One such answer are the co-response teams established under the mayor’s “NYC Safe” program, intended to reach mentally ill individuals and those with substance abuse issues before they enter a mental health crisis. The program provides ongoing treatment and support to individuals identified as displaying increasing levels of violence by a number of sources including government agencies, community-based health care providers, and precinct commanding officers.

“This is somebody who’s on someone’s radar because their actions were calling out to us. It’s not just somebody who’s off their meds, it’s somebody who’s maybe in a shelter, who one week has loudly cursed at someone and another week has thrown a chair,” said Deputy Commissioner Herman.

Critics have pointed out that there are still far too many individuals on the streets of the city in mental health or substance abuse crises who are not getting the help they need or being moved into care facilities, which often necessitates the use of Kendra’s Law, legislation that provides court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment for those whose mental illnesses.

A critical component of the city’s ongoing partnership between law enforcement officers and health care providers are two diversion centers, offering stabilizing services for those with mental illnesses and substance abuse issues that otherwise would have been arrested on low-level charges. Two such centers will likely be operating by the end of 2018 and will house 2,500 individuals per year, according to Dr. Gary Belkin, executive deputy commissioner of mental hygiene at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), who testified at the Council hearing.

For advocates, however, this timeline falls short of addressing the city’s needs. “When we hear that the drop-in centers are not going to be available until the end of 2018, that’s not an acceptable response for the City of New York,” said Joshua Goldfein, an attorney for The Legal Aid Society, which often represents individuals unable to afford attorneys, at the hearing.

Hours after the City Council Hearing concluded on September 6, officers fatally shot a mentally ill Bronx man when responding to a call for a “wellness check” from the landlord. The man, Miguel Richards, ignored orders to drop a knife and gun, later found to be a toy gun. The ESU unit had arrived by the time of the shooting, but had not yet entered the apartment.

In the eyes of Carla Rabinowitz, advocacy coordinator for Community Access, the officers’ repeated shouts of “Put that knife down” and “What’s in your other hand?” pointed to a failure to engage on the part of officers not trained in CIT. “The incident is just calling out for more CIT officers,” said Rabinowitz. “You can’t shout commands at a person in emotional distress, you need other solutions.”

***
by Grace Dixon for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

]]>
As Deaths Mount, Scrutiny of NYPD Response to ‘Emotionally Disturbed Persons’ Tue, 26 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Passes 'Right to Counsel' For Low-Income Tenants in Housing Court http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7076-city-council-passes-right-to-counsel-for-low-income-tenants-in-housing-court http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7076-city-council-passes-right-to-counsel-for-low-income-tenants-in-housing-court 13074969465 bc6edd8dfa z

Council Member Levine and Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)


The New York City Council passed a bill on Thursday to guarantee free legal services to low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court. The bill codifies an agreement, announced in February this year, between the Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio to fully fund anti-eviction legal services in the next five years.

The “Right to Counsel” legislation, Intro. 214, was sponsored by Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, who have consistently advocated for the bill since introducing it three years ago. Under the new law, the first of its kind in the country, the city’s Office of Civil Justice Coordinator will provide low-income tenants -- those with household incomes below $49,200, or 200 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four -- with legal representation free of cost, phased in by zip codes over five years. The law will also provide legal consultations to those whose income is higher than the bill’s threshold and establish a legal services program by October this year for New York City Housing Authority tenants facing administrative proceedings to terminate their tenancy. The city has allocated $15 million to implement the new provisions in fiscal year 2018, increasing that to $93 million by 2022 by when it is expected to serve 400,000 New Yorkers.

The mood in the Council chambers before Thursday’s vote was celebratory as Council members expressed their support for the bill and congratulated their colleagues on achieving a key priority of the dominantly progressive body. At one point, the chamber filled with whoops and cheers from tenant advocates who had fought for the legislation and were there to see its passage. The bill passed with an overwhelming majority, with 42 Council members voting for it and one abstention. Only the three Republican members of the body voted against the bill.

“This is an incredibly historic moment for this Council,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, before the vote. “This attention to the needs of our most vulnerable residents will keep families together and in their homes, and that importance cannot be overstated.”

Celebrations began even earlier on Wednesday at a morning rally held at the New York County Lawyers’ Association. Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., Speaker Mark-Viverito, and Council Members Gibson, Deborah Rose, Mathieu Eugene and Margaret Chin were all in attendance.

“We know that the worst of the landlords have been using housing court as a weapon,” said Council Member Levine at the rally. “They called tenants in the court on the flimsiest of grounds because they knew in the vast majority of cases, the tenant would not have a lawyer.”

Public Advocate James, whose office has placed a particular focus on tenant protection and advocacy, said, “We are bringing power to the people. Tenants with a child on their hip and a pen in their pocket -- that’s all that they had. Tenants who came into housing court crying to the judge, and the judge would say ‘Shut up and sit down, I don’t recognize you...’ Those days are over.”

According to the Office of Civil Justice's 2016 annual report, 99 percent of landlords in eviction proceedings in 2013 were represented by an attorney, compared to one percent of tenants. The de Blasio administration’s focus on anti-eviction programs and funding -- a key component of the mayor’s plan to control and reduce homelessness in the city -- has already increased the number of tenants in housing court with legal representation to 27 percent. The new law aims to make that access universal.

“You know they said it couldn’t be done,” said Council Member Levine. “Again, again, and again, we were told that Right to Counsel for tenants was never gonna happen anywhere in America… But they do not know us. They do not know New Yorkers. They do not know the countless thousands of tenants who for years, for decades, have been in the trenches, fighting to save their buildings, fighting to turn around their blocks, fighting to improve their parks, to start local community nonprofits, to start local small businesses. We know those New Yorkers. We are those New Yorkers.”

]]>
City Council Passes 'Right to Counsel' For Low-Income Tenants in Housing Court Fri, 21 Jul 2017 16:27:33 +0000
Three More State Legislators Seek City Council Seats http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6948-three-more-state-legislators-seek-city-council-seats http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6948-three-more-state-legislators-seek-city-council-seats diaz sr and gjonaj crop

Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., left, & AM Mark Gjonaj (photo: @RevRubenDiaz)


There are only a handful of City Council seats opening up this year due to term limits. Of the seven “open” races in the 51-seat Council, all of which are up for election this fall, several feature state legislators seeking to make the jump to the city’s legislative body.

Seeking to stay closer to home for work, legislators who now have to commute to Albany several days a week for half the year have declared their candidacies. Entering City Council races to succeed a term-limited officeholder, the state legislators immediately became favorites to win, first in the September Democratic primaries, then the November general election. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, all Democrats, are seeking “open” seats in the City Council. (One former Democratic legislator, Hiram Monserrate, is even attempting a comeback after having been expelled from the state Senate in 2010 following his conviction on misdemeanor assault charges.)

Current and former state legislators vying for seats in the City Council is nothing new. A number of sitting Council members themselves were state representatives, many of them just prior to joining the Council. For instance, Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Joe Borelli, Rafael Espinal, Inez Barron, and Alan Maisel have all served in the state Assembly. Council Member Vincent Gentile was formerly a state Senator, as was Bill Perkins, who just recently won a special election in Council District 9 in February.

The advantages to being in the Council are plain to see: Council members receive a much higher pay than state legislators and, after receiving recommendations from a special commission, just recently voted to give themselves a pay raise from $112,500 to $148,500. State lawmakers’ salaries are $79,500 annually, plus stipends for chairing issue committees or house leadership posts (a pay commission convened to explore pay hikes ended its work late last year without any recommendations). There is also the obvious ease of commuting to City Hall and offices in the five boroughs rather than constant trips to Albany. And, for some legislators, being in the Council offers a chance to have a greater say over local policy and the ability to more directly address community concerns. This was true for Perkins, who said when he ran in February that, as a Democrat in the minority in the state Senate, he was less able to affect legislation than he could in the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council.

Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez only recently announced that he is running for the Council District 8 seat that will be vacated by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the end of the year. The district covers East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. Mark-Viverito has endorsed her deputy chief of staff, Diana Ayala, for the seat, and the Bronx Democratic machinery has split its support for the two candidates. Rodriguez received endorsements last week from Bronx Democratic Party Chair Marcos Crespo, Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright, former U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, and Council Member Bill Perkins. Ayala on the other hand has the support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

“There’s work to be done and I think there’s ways to translate priorities from the Legislature into the district,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview. He said the open seat was a unique opportunity that “literally comes along every eight years, sometimes 12.” “An opportunity too good to turn down,” he said. Rodriguez has already raised $78,647 for his run and spent $22,620, leaving him a balance of $56,017. (He is still currently listed as “undeclared” with the Campaign Finance Board in terms of which office he’ll seek.)

Rodriguez acknowledged the potential advantages of working in the City Council with like-minded lawmakers, unlike Albany where any single piece of legislation must navigate two chambers. “It’s a smaller body and decisions are made differently,” he said of the unicameral and heavily Democratic Council, “there’s less institutional interplay.” And he’s confident that he’ll bring a “sense of experience and confidence” into the race that will sway voters.

As a member of the Assembly for six years, Rodriguez said he’s also seen a lot of turnover and brushes aside any criticism that could be levelled against him for running for the Council just six months after being reelected to the Assembly. “ He also expects that in 2021, when more City Council seats are up for grabs, that many colleagues will make similar moves.

Diana Ayala finds the timing of Rodriguez’s entry into the race puzzling. “Why certain members chose this year to run, I find it questionable,” she told Gotham Gazette. “Public service should be about people, not personal gain. So that concerns me.”

For Ayala, facing off against a sitting state legislator presents an uphill battle, but she said she’s not worried. “Our campaign is picking up steam,” she said. “I’m not gonna dispute that [Rodriguez] has name recognition and establishment support. But I have a lot of community support. I’m pretty confident I can stand on my feet.” Ayala is also participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which she says will be instrumental to running a competitive race. She has $52,089 in campaign cash, as of May 11, before factoring in any matching funds.

City Council Member Ben Kallos, who won his seat in 2013 after beating then-Assemblymember Micah Kellner in the Democratic primary, expressed apprehension last month in an interview with Gotham Gazette about the trend of Albany insiders running for local office. “I am growing concerned with the specter of Senate and Assembly members coming from a broken Albany down to the City Council and bringing back dysfunction with them,” he said outside the Council chambers. “I think it is imperative for democracy for there to be candidates who will run against members of the Assembly or Senate...and I hope that voters evaluate candidates regardless of whether or not they’ve served in Albany.”

“I would actually hope,” he added, “that if somebody is coming down from Albany as a career politician, folks might hold that against them and support a citizen legislator.”

In District 13, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj is running to replace outgoing Council Member James Vacca. Gjonaj has a massive fundraising lead over his opponents already, with $212,684 on hand for his campaign. He was also endorsed by the Bronx Democratic County Committee last week. “I’m looking to continue the work that I began in the Assembly and delivering for my constituents, being more accessible to them and being in the district,” Gjonaj said in a brief phone interview. He was confident that he brings the most experience to the race, insisting that he was proud to be in the state Legislature although it’s a “complicated institution.”

John Doyle, a former staffer for State Senator Jeff Klein is one of seven other candidates in the race with Gjonaj. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with someone looking to change their position,” Doyle said of Gjonaj’s campaign, “but I think there’s something disingenuous when somebody’s running for reelection saying they’ll be a voice for two years and after their reelection, they announced for a new position.” Gjonaj was reelected to the Assembly last year.

Doyle criticized Gjonaj’s campaign fundraising, much of which comes from outside the city, and also broadly stressed that many of the systemic corruption issues in Albany stemmed from the way lawmakers raise funds. He noted that Gjonaj had voted for campaign finance reform in 2014, but has chosen not to participate in the public matching funds system.

In response to Doyle's comments, a spokesperson for Gjonaj said, "Mr. Doyle's platform seems to be 'I'm not the other guy.' As for Assemblyman Gjonaj he is committed, above all, to representing the best interests of his constituency. He is at work passing progressive legislation and meeting voters." Spokesperson Jennifer Blatus went on to say that Gjonaj has widespread support and that "Doyle is desperate for attention. He doesn't have a clue on how to pass legislation or attract capital projects." She also indicated that Gjonaj is not participating in the city's campaign finance program because he "prefers tax payers dollars be used for after school programs for youth, senior programs, and libraries - not political campaigns."

State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr.’s run in Council District 18 may be the most controversial of the state legislators’ this cycle. Diaz Sr., although a Democrat, is conservative on social issues, such as LGBT rights, and running for a seat on a body that is heavily progressive. (There are only three Republicans in the Council, one of whom is pro-choice.) But Diaz Sr. has been able to raise significant funds in a short period, and has $93,901 in his campaign account, surpassing candidates who have been in the race for months.

All of the state legislators running start the race with community ties and significant advantage in name recognition, especially among those who vote.

Council Member Gibson, a former Assembly member, admits that moving from Albany to the city is not an easy move but it comes with advantages, both for the member and the legislative body. “Although it was a transition,” she said, “I think being a state elected official gave me a lot of understanding of how Albany works and navigating the state Legislature, and really about the City Council relying so heavily on state funds.”

But she also said that elected experience is far from necessary to run for the Council. “There is no manual on how to do this well,” she said. “You have to be a team player, you have to be someone that can build a coalition around you. You have to be someone who has leadership and management skills...and you really have to have an ability to work with all people.”

Gibson also pushed back against the idea that state legislators would bring Albany dysfunction with them. “I think when you talk about dysfunction and a culture, I don’t think you can define it to one individual legislator or even a few legislators. I think it’s almost the system that’s been in place. And it’s really the entire body of government.”

[Related: The May Money Race in 'Open' City Council Seats]

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Three More State Legislators Seek City Council Seats Mon, 22 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
City Council to Examine NYPD Oversight Board http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6584-city-council-to-examine-nypd-oversight-board http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6584-city-council-to-examine-nypd-oversight-board maya wiley mayor de blasio appointment

CCRB Chair Maya Wiley & Mayor de Blasio in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)


The Civilian Complaint Review Board, a key provider of oversight of police conduct in New York City will be subject to oversight itself at a Friday hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety. It will be the first of its kind during the current administration wherein the CCRB is evaluated by the Council outside of the annual budget process. The hearing comes amid controversy over NYPD transparency with regard to officer discipline records, alongside the perpetual scrutiny of policing in the city, and three months after Mayor Bill de Blasio named a new CCRB chair, Maya Wiley, who is expected to testify.

The CCRB is an independent agency of civilians, as the name suggests, tasked with investigating complaints against police officers and recommending disciplinary action to the commissioner of the police department. It’s composed of 13 members - one each from the five boroughs, chosen by the City Council; five members, including the chair, chosen by the mayor; and three members selected by the police commissioner. Each member serves a three-year term and can be reappointed to the position.

Wiley, the current chair, was recently appointed after leaving her post as counsel to de Blasio in July. Her appointment was met with skepticism from certain quarters, with Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch calling it a “politically-motivated” tactic used by the administration that undercut the agency’s independence. Wiley’s predecessor, Richard Emery, who resigned amid scandal, was also seen by some as a political appointment and criticized for his close relationship with former police commissioner Bill Bratton.

De Blasio has had a contentious relationship with Lynch and the PBA, which is locked in negotiations with the city as one of a small number of municipal unions not under contract. Still, de Blasio and Bratton instituted new training protocols for police officers and while crime has continued to decline, so have arrests and complaints to the CCRB.

Friday’s hearing will examine the current CCRB’s overall functioning, looking at its case processing times, procedures that have been put in place under the current administration and outreach efforts made by the board to communities on the ground. Undoubtedly, it will touch upon larger issues as well, coming at a time when the administration is besieged by criticism over its refusal to disclose police officer disciplinary records and within the same week that an officer shot and killed an elderly, mentally ill Bronx woman in her home.

With new leadership at the CCRB as well as the NYPD, where Commissioner James O’Neill took over from Bratton six weeks ago, City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, said this is the “critical and right time to have this hearing.”

Besides the usual questions about procedures and agency efficiency, Gibson said, “We also wanted to look at the future of the CCRB. It’s critical that, as CCRB continues to grow...I want to find out how the relationship with the police department is going to be.” Looking ahead to next year’s budget season, Gibson said the hearing would also help the Council determine how to help the CCRB to more effectively do its job.

CCRB Chair Wiley said she looks forward to being able to show the committee the improvements and impact the agency has made in handling cases and in building community relationships. “We’re in a situation where we’re consolidating the improvements made in the past two years,” she said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. Just last month, the agency released a new website and made data on police misconduct allegations easier to access and understand as part of a larger Data Transparency Initiative.

The CCRB compiles four main categories of data - complaints, allegations, victims, and alleged victims - and demographic data on NYPD personnel, and issues monthly, annual, and semi-annual statistical reports. It also examines issues of police misconduct and releases reports with recommendations for improving policies and procedures.

Wiley said she is also looking for ways to increase discussions about policing in communities and awareness among people about CCRB’s role. “It’s certainly an area of growth opportunity for the agency,” she said. But she won’t be surprised if she’s asked about the controversy over section 50-A of the Civil Rights Law. That provision has given the mayor and the NYPD legal justification, they say, to shield from disclosure the personnel records, including disciplinary proceedings of the CCRB, of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner. During a time where several entities were seeking Pantaleo’s CCRB record, the NYPD stopped publicly posting promotions and disciplinary actions at One Police Plaza after decades of doing so.

Last Friday, the mayor proposed changes to the law that would allow for more transparency and disclosure of officer disciplinary records. Even though the de Blasio administration is appealing a court ruling that said the city could release Pantaleo’s record, de Blasio has said he favors disclosure. Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocates, said the mayor’s proposal was a red herring that doesn’t in fact create substantive reform. A number of groups and experts have said that the city could continue to post NYPD personnel records and have questioned the city’s appeal.

Josmar Trujillo, an organizer with the Coalition to End Broken Windows, a police reform organization, said it would be interesting to see the Council do “oversight of an oversight agency,” but he questioned whether it would be substantial. “From my experience, the CCRB kinda just limps along and tweaks a few things, and the City Council isn’t really involved,” he said. He criticized the CCRB as an “ornamental agency” that has limited capacity to hold police officers accountable, a critique that has been echoed by other advocates of police reform in the past. Earlier this year, government reform group Citizens Union proposed solutions to that issue, calling for structurally and legally empowering the CCRB as part of a larger position on police accountability. Citizens Union also wants more public information from the police commissioner when he or she disagrees with a CCRB recommendation for officer discipline.

Although reform may not be on the committee’s stated agenda for Friday, Trujillo hopes the Council will show how they can act as an outside check on the relationship between the mayor and the CCRB, and look at how the new chair of the board is handling her role.

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
City Council to Examine NYPD Oversight Board Thu, 20 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Next Steps for City Council Member's Alleged Ticket Fix http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6484-next-steps-for-city-council-member-s-alleged-ticket-fix http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6484-next-steps-for-city-council-member-s-alleged-ticket-fix gibson nypd

Council Member Gibson (photo: William Alatriste)


In trying to avoid a traffic ticket more than two years ago, City Council Member Vanessa Gibson might have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The New York Daily News reported on Monday that Gibson, chair of the Council’s public safety committee, used her influence to get out of trouble when she was pulled over in March 2014 for talking on her cell phone while driving. The details emerged from an unrelated lawsuit filed last week by an NYPD officer, Michele Hernandez, against the city for $75 million.

According to the report, when Gibson was pulled over, she called Hernandez’s superiors, who then asked Hernandez to void the ticket. Gibson has not denied that the incident took place although she told the Daily News that she could not recollect it. If she had received the ticket, she could have been subject to a $200 fine or received five points on her license. Instead, she now faces the prospect of an official investigation and possibly greater monetary penalties.

“In trying to avoid a penalty, she’s made a minor infraction that much worse, that has now called into question her integrity,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government watchdog group.

At a Tuesday news conference, in response to reporters’ questions, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said that the incident involving Gibson would have to be probed by the relevant authorities. “There are agencies and entities that exist to deal with those issues,” she said, citing the Conflicts of Interest Board when pressed for examples.

Mark-Viverito also stressed that Gibson would not face any immediate action. "Vanessa has been a great public safety chair, and she has the respect of a lot, of all her colleagues in that role she has played in that position,” Mark-Viverito said. “Overall, she's a respected Council member. So any kind of concerns about having used her position, that has to be taken up by the proper entities in order to look at that. But right now, she's a respected individual and a respected member of this body, and she will continue to serve as public safety chair at the moment."

Gibson was not made available to comment for this article. The next steps around the incident are not immediately clear, but it is unlikely to go away without an investigation.

The city’s Conflicts of Interest Board usually begins a probe based on a complaint but in the absence of one it can initiate an investigation based on other sources such as news reports, and it has done so in the past.

“We can’t confirm or deny whether we did, are doing or might do anything on this matter because the law requires confidentiality,” said Wayne Hawley, COIB deputy executive director and general counsel, in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. Hawley did not comment at all on the Gibson incident and would not say how the possible violation would be characterized or the potential penalties.

The city’s Conflicts of Interest Law prohibits a public servant from using his or her position “to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant or any person or firm associated with the public servant.” A violation can lead to a civil fine of up to $25,000. Typically, instances which are probed by the COIB lead to negotiated settlements if a violation is found. This holds true for City Council members as well. However, COIB cannot enforce a fine on a City Council member even if it finds a violation. It can inform the Speaker’s office and the Council, which would then refer the case to the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics.

Council Member Alan Maisel, chair of Standards and Ethics, said that the committee could “conceivably” look into the Gibson incident, “but it has to be presented to me.”

“The Speaker’s office or the Council would have to refer it,” he said. “I’m assuming that it’s being investigated as we speak.”

On a report by the standards and ethics committee, the City Council can impose a number of sanctions against an erring member including removal from the position of chair or membership of a committee, a reprimand, a censure, fine or expulsion. Any sanction would require a majority of the ethics committee and then a two-thirds vote of the full 51-member Council.

Maisel said this incident could be “the first potential case” to come before his committee since he took office in 2014, though the committee did examine a case involving Council Member Ruben Wills, who is under indictment, and decided not to proceed until the criminal case is through. “I haven’t been very busy with this kind of issue,” he said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

]]>
Next Steps for City Council Member's Alleged Ticket Fix Wed, 17 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Procedural Move Could Lead to Vote on Right to Know Act http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6478-procedural-move-could-lead-to-vote-on-right-to-know-act http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6478-procedural-move-could-lead-to-vote-on-right-to-know-act right to know protest city hall

A Right to Know Act rally


Last week, City Council Members Ritchie Torres and Antonio Reynoso sent out a joint statement in which they addressed the ramifications of the impending retirement of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. “With the departure of William Bratton,” the statement reads, “we are reminded that administrative agreements are every bit as short-lived as commissioners themselves, coming and going in the moments we least expect.”

The Council members were referring to an agreement between Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Bratton on the police department internally implementing certain provisions of the Right to Know Act, a proposed package of bills regulating police officer conduct during street stops of civilians. The bills, sponsored by Torres and Reynoso, have majority support in the Council but the speaker chose not to give them a vote and instead struck a compromise with Bratton - one that his replacement, now Chief of Department Jimmy O’Neill has pledged to uphold. That deal didn’t sit well with Torres and Reynoso (or other reform advocates, both in and outside the Council) and the two vowed to move forward without the speaker’s blessing.

“As the sole legislature in New York City, ‎the City Council exists to hold agencies accountable through oversight and legislation,” the statement says. “Passing the Right to Know Act to advance accountability and transparency in policing, is an extension of what we were elected to do. ‎Let us honor the legislative role to which the public, through their votes, has assigned us – it’s beyond time for the Council to pass the Right to Know Act and we will seek to do just that without any further delay.”

For the two Right to Know Act bills to get a vote before the full Council, they would typically have to first be voted through the Committee on Public Safety, chaired by Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who is a co-sponsor on Torres’ bill. But committee hearings are scheduled by the Speaker’s Office, which can deny a hearing, and in this case is clearly opposed to these bills receiving a vote.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Torres and Reynoso have no options to push the bills through. Under the Council rules, a bill sponsor can get seven other members to co-sign a motion to discharge the bill from committee. That motion would have to be submitted to the Speaker and the relevant committee chair at least a week before a Stated Meeting of the full Council. The motion then gets voted on by the Council, and if passed with a simple majority, the bill then gets a vote at the next Stated.

Council Member Gibson said it was too soon to consider that tactic. "The conversation on the Right to Know Act is not over, so I think it's premature to talk about a vote without the Speaker's support that might fracture good working relationships in the Council,” she told Gotham Gazette in an email. “I respect the Speaker's decision and I look forward to continuing to work with her, the rest of my colleagues, and incoming Police Commissioner Chief O'Neill as we see these administrative changes come to fruition."

A spokesperson for Council Member Torres said that a discharge motion had not been filed as of Wednesday afternoon. Torres declined to provide any comment for this story. The Council’s next stated meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 16. After that, the next Stated is set for September 14.

Torres’ bill, Intro. 182, would require police officers to identify themselves by name, rank and command when a street stop does not end in an arrest. The bill has 33 sponsors. Reynoso’s bill, Intro. 541, requires officers to obtain consent when searching a person, vehicle or home and also to inform a person of their right to refuse consent. That bill has 28 sponsors.

The compromise between Mark-Viverito and Bratton incorporates certain aspects of the two bills, but not all. Under the agreement, the NYPD will make changes to its patrol guide, requiring officers to obtain a clear "yes" or "no" response after asking to conduct a consent search - meaning a search where there is no probable cause. Officers will also be required to give out business cards when they search a person, property, vehicle or home or at checkpoint stops and the search does not result in a punitive action.

Council Member Jumaane Williams, an ally on both Right to Know bills and an outspoken critic of the deal between the speaker and commissioner, said he was glad Torres and Reynoso had decided to forge ahead with the bills. “I’ll follow their leadership,” he told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. Williams agrees that the provisions of the bills need to be codified in law to be effective.

“The Speaker has said the legislative door isn’t closed,” he added, referring to Mark-Viverito’s pledge to re-evaluate as they see implementation of the administrative changes, which will include adjustments to the NYPD patrol guide and new training of officers. “Hopefully there’s some common ground that we can reach to move [the Right to Know Act] forward,” Williams said, adding that Bratton’s retirement provides an opportunity “to take a new look at where we are with this act.”

On Thursday, a number of prominent advocacy organizations that have been pushing the Right to Know Act and criticizing Mark-Viverito over her compromise with Bratton held a Twitter rally calling for passage of the two bills with the hashtag #RightToKnowAct. Leading the call was Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition group of dozens of nonprofits. Organizations that lent their voices to the effort on Twitter include the Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the New York Working Families Party, Justice League NYC, and Color of Change, among others.

So far, the speaker has not responded to the indications that Torres and Reynoso would seek a vote without her express approval. She has time and again reiterated that the agreement with Bratton is an effective reform measure and one that goes into effect faster than legislation could. “This is yet another set of critical police reforms that will continue to keep New Yorkers safe while also ensuring better interactions with the communities they serve,” the speaker said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This agreement is about more than talk, it is about action. These reforms serve as a model for how we can work collaboratively to achieve lasting change.”

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Procedural Move Could Lead to Vote on Right to Know Act Thu, 11 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Nearly Six Years After Landmark Street Harassment Hearing, No Measurable Progress http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6468-nearly-six-years-after-landmark-street-harassment-hearing-no-measureable-progress http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6468-nearly-six-years-after-landmark-street-harassment-hearing-no-measureable-progress street harassment mural1

Anti-street harassment mural in Bed-Stuy, led by Groundswell


Street harassment is a pervasive and public form of sexual harassment that most women face at some point in their lives. Overwhelmingly, it is experienced for the first time before the age of 17, can force those who experience such harassment to alter their behavior to avoid being harassed, and comes with serious psychological consequences.

“The majority of women have been catcalled while walking the streets of NYC,” said Eona John, a youth artist who contributed to a Groundswell mural calling attention to the issue. “Women are harassed to the point of fear being imprinted in their skin."

Many courses of action to reduce street harassment and to help victims of harassment exist, yet in New York City, options like enforcing existing laws against verbal harassment or providing educational programming in schools are largely underutilized, advocates say.

In 2010, New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, then chair of the Council’s Committee on Women’s Issues, held the first-ever hearing on street harassment, prompted by a visit to a high school in her Queens district during which she learned that a group of female students were being sexually harassed verbally on a daily basis by local mechanics on their way to and from school.

Street harassment, which can include catcalling, unwanted sexual comments, and gestures, “limits the rights and freedoms of women and girls to enjoy a simple walk around. It conditions their every move and forces them to adopt a veil of caution as they walk in public,” Ferreras-Copeland said at the time. “The environment that allows for this type of behavior has roots in the same attitudes that say it’s OK to treat women…as nothing more than sexual objects. It has roots in the same belief system that allows for women to be battered, abused, and even sometimes raped.”

That “belief system” in which women are perceived as “nothing more than sexual objects” that men are entitled to allows the sexual harassment of women in public spaces to be seen as an acceptable occurrence, even a “compliment.” Should a woman ignore or reject this “compliment,” the situation can quickly escalate.

Escalated harassment can become even more discomforting, damaging, and dangerous. Some incidents result in violence. For example, in May, a man spit on a woman who ignored his advances at the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall subway stop in Manhattan. She laughed, and he responded by slashing her arm and running away, sending her to the hospital. Around this time last year, a New York City man hit at least four Asian women in the face with a heavy object over the course of a week after they rejected his advances while on the streets of Manhattan,sending them all to the hospital. In October 2014, a woman in Queens was slashed in the throat after she rebuffed a man who had followed her into her apartment building.

At the 2010 City Council hearing, leaders from organizations like Stop Street Harassment, Hollaback, the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, and the Center for Anti-Violence Education, among others, all recommended that the city take action to reduce street harassment. Recommendations included conducting a citywide survey to gather data on the effects and the scope of street harassment in New York City and investing in educational efforts like public awareness campaigns, curricula designed to teach students about street harassment (as well as consent, respect, gender issues, and healthy relationships), and bystander intervention training.

“Your suggestions are definitely going to be followed up on,” Ferreras-Copeland said at the end of the hearing, in a familiar City Council refrain. “We’re trying to identify which agency to do [PSAs and/or surveys] through, the Department of Health or the Department of Education, or maybe both.”

Five-and-a-half years later, no citywide survey has been conducted, and only the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has run PSAs, doing so on subways, reminding riders that sexual harassment on the train is a crime and encouraging victims to report unwanted sexual conduct to an MTA officer or to the police. The MTA is a state-run agency.

The city Department of Education has not been involved in any targeted anti-street harassment educational efforts, according to a spokesperson (the DOE has other, more general anti-bullying programs in place), and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene did not respond to multiple inquiries regarding the agency’s involvement or lack thereof in anti-street harassment efforts.

Instead of funding a study, Council members funded an app developed by Hollaback that allows victims of street harassment to make a record of their experience and report the location of the incident, adding it to a map. The app can also be used to report the incident to the City Council, if users wish to do so. Emily May, executive director of Hollaback, told Gotham Gazette, “we then took those stories, stripped of contact info, and did a content analysis in partnership with Cornell.”

Hollaback used the stories that were submitted for a qualitative study, which examined victims’ emotional reactions to street harassment and the effect a bystander's presence had on the experience, and found that street harassment is an "under-researched, but likely prevalent experience for many New Yorkers."

As Ferreras-Copeland said in a statement sent to Gotham Gazette, “there is much more that needs to be done to improve the attitude around women’s bodies and our behavior in public spaces.” Gotham Gazette spoke with advocates from all four previously mentioned organizations, some of whom were present themselves at the 2010 street harassment hearing, and two other organizations - SAFER NYC and Safe Horizon - all of whom said education is the key to “improv[ing] the attitude around women’s bodies” in a way that would change the culture that allows public sexual harassment to persist.

Hollaback has developed a curriculum, in part thanks to funding from the city, which it has distributed to schools. However, there is no mandate to provide students with education to better equip those who are or may become victims of street harassment, or to deter those who may harass. Some schools have contacted Hollaback requesting workshops in response to the curriculum, Debjani Roy, deputy director of Hollaback, told Gotham Gazette.

Workshops are not something Hollaback is “funded to do,” Roy said, and it would be ideal if the city were to “continue that stream of funding that allows for the whole picture, not just the curriculum - we need the curriculum and workshops and ongoing conversations.” Preventative education must be at the forefront of efforts to curb street harassment, experts like Roy say.

California, meanwhile, became the first state in the nation to mandate lessons on sexual violence prevention and affirmative consent in high schools last October.

Several City Council members appeared in a video made by Hollaback in May to speak out against street harassment. Hearing stories of street harassment, Council Member Brad Lander said, makes him feel “horrified that there’s a set of folks that don’t have the freedom to walk around the streets of the city without getting harassed.”

“What we’ve got to do together is stand up to it and work to get people to not just be bystanders, but to stand up and say we’re not going to tolerate street harassment, everybody’s got to have the right to walk around our city in their own skin,” Lander added. Lander declined to comment for this story when asked for specifics on what he and the Council are doing to “stand up and say we’re not going to tolerate street harassment.” Lander has consistently allocated discretionary funds to Hollaback during his time in office.

A Council member in Washington, D.C., Brianne Nadeau, has introduced legislation to establish a task force to end street harassment. The D.C. City Council held a hearing on street harassment in May, and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities is funding a $40,000 grant for a public art installation to help deter street harassment.

At the 2010 hearing in New York City, a high school student from Ferreras-Copeland’s district, Natalia Aristizabal, testified. She had first brought the issue to the Council member during a visit to Aristizabal’s high school. There was a street with several mechanic shops on the way to school, which 13- to 18-year-old students walked. “It seems like when girls go into the school and outside of the school, it’s a fun time for [the men working there],” Aristizabal said at the hearing.

“Every time that I pass by,” Aristizabal continued, “I’ve gotten a comment.” She began searching for solutions to stop the harassment, and at the hearing, one of Aristizabal’s suggestions was to create a mural in the area - to put art saying that harassment is unacceptable in a place where the harassment is happening in an effort to deter it.

No mural was put up in the area where underage girls faced sexual harassment every day, multiple times a day, from older men on their way to and from school.

A public art organization, Groundswell, has taken it upon itself, though, to install murals to deter harassment around the city, including one titled “Respect is the Strongest Compliment” in Bedford-Stuyvesant that Eona John helped create.

Putting art in places where public sexual harassment is prevalent is one solution, though it is only one part of what experts say is needed to “bring about an end to street harassment,” in the words of Julia Nethero, founder of SAFER NYC. “We can end street harassment through education, through raising awareness, through media campaigns, and things like that. It requires a cultural shift. I think education is really the answer, and starting in school would be the best way to do it.”

Educating young people about street harassment, its effects, and how to prevent it is the number one policy recommendation from all experts who spoke with Gotham Gazette for this story. Getting a “mandatory curriculum around street harassment” in all schools “is number one,” said Roy. “That’s where girls and LGBT folks experience it first, between the ages of 13 and 14. Curriculum that’s engaging, that’s interesting - mandating that I think would be a key piece of it.”

“One of the things that would be most beneficial for our entire city is if we implemented more education around this in our schools,” said Tracy Hobson, executive director of the Center for Anti-Violence Education. “Girls are dealing with this all the time, on their way to school, in the school.”

The City Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette for this story were all open to doing more to prevent and reduce street harassment. “I would love to see there be some anti-street harassment curriculum in our schools, maybe incorporated into ‘Respect for All,’ which is already in our schools,” said Council Member Steve Levin, who is chair of the General Welfare Committee and, like Lander, has consistently allocated discretionary funding to Hollaback during his time in office.

“I think that that’s a fabulous idea because we need to make sure that our young people are learning these issues early and understanding what’s wrong with this type of behavior, what the consequences of it are, and get a good understanding of why it’s not to be tolerated,” Levin added.

“To me, we have to tackle it through education, through outreach, through programs and services,” said Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the Committee on Public Safety, “because we have to show young people something different than what we see.”

Levin also appeared in Hollaback’s video speaking out against street harassment, and told Gotham Gazette, “I’ll be reconnecting with my colleagues to see if we could get the ball rolling again on this…I would be very interested in participating in another hearing,” Levin added. “There’s still a lot more to be done, honestly.”

Like Levin, Gibson expressed an interest in furthering the work of Council members to do more to prevent and reduce street harassment. “I think it would be great for us to have a discussion on an outreach campaign, on a PSA, that’s something that I’m happy to consider and work with my colleagues on,” Gibson said.

Advocates like Holly Kearl, founder of Stop Street Harassment and author of two books on street harassment, would also like the see city and state governments have more of a hand in producing surveys, as most of the existing data on the prevalence and effects of street harassment has been gathered by organizations that work to end street harassment in partnership with universities or research institutes.

What that data reveals is alarming, but unsurprising to advocates like Hobson, who works with victims of all forms of sexual violence and has seen the impact street harassment has on women and girls firsthand.

“We had one woman in our [self defense] program who was harassed on her way to school, and somebody grabbed her - grabbed her butt,” Hobson told Gotham Gazette. “She was so traumatized and upset by it that she actually ended up changing schools. She moved to Brooklyn with her grandmother so she could go to a different school, and she came into our program,” Hobson added, referring to the Center for Anti-Violence Education’s self-defense program. “She uprooted her entire life.”

[See a collection of research on street harassment here]

Providing educational programming in schools; larger public awareness campaigns; and bystander intervention training, which encourages people who witness harassment to find ways to safely intervene (and which organizations like Safe Horizon offer), are three of the top policy solutions available to reduce street harassment.

Other recommendations from experts include sensitivity training to better equip police officers to respond to reports of harassment and community safety audits, which involve community members auditing a location to see how the safety of that area can be improved (by adding more lights or clear visible paths, for example).

“One thing that we’re working on right now is having all police officers go through mandatory sensitivity training when it comes to harassment,” Roy of Hollaback says, “because then when people report they’ll know what to do instead of just dismissing it or brushing people off, which happens a little too often. It’s not all about the report itself, it’s about the experience when reporting, the options made available to people when they experience harassment.”

A few bills have been introduced in the City Council that Council Member Laurie Cumbo, chair of the Committee on Women’s Issues, believes could help address street harassment.

Cumbo has introduced one bill to create an emergency mobile text system that would allow the public to send texts to 911, including videos and photographs, which could be used to capture more evidence of harassers. Another bill introduced by Cumbo would require the NYPD to add sex offenses to its crime status reports, including the total number of crime complaints and listing the types of sex offenses out separately. And in March, Cumbo introduced a bill to require sexual assault awareness and prevention trainings for drivers of vehicles licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Cumbo believes the sexual assault reporting bill could help to reduce street harassment by making it more clear exactly what sort of sex offenses are occurring, and where they are happening. “If we can understand where this harassment is happening, where there are areas and spaces where women feel unsafe, then we can make sure that resources are deployed there so that women will feel safer going into those areas,” Cumbo said. “Because if you’re in an unsafe environment, if you’re being catcalled, if you’re being spoken to in a lewd manner, if the harassment is constantly happening, it can also be a gateway for other forms of sexual assault to be prevalent.”

While there isn’t much hard data to support this claim (in part because the city has not funded such a study and in part because the way that sex crimes are reported doesn’t often make it clear how the crime may have progressed or escalated), advocates like Hobson and Amy Edelstein, director of Staten Island community programs for Safe Horizon, have heard their fair share of anecdotal evidence to support the notion that a society that allows the sexual harassment of women and girls in public spaces to persist without consequences contributes to a culture in which sexual violence against women and girls is accepted.

“It’s all on a continuum,” Hobson said of street harassment and physical forms of sexual violence. “I think that one sort of creates a way of thinking that allows another. If you’re able to objectify someone on the street and not really think of them as human beings, that translates into you can also maybe touch them in a way and it doesn’t matter whether they want it or not.”

“I work with a lot of people who have experienced sexual violence,” Edelstein told Gotham Gazette, “and the people that if affects absolutely have the same reactions as a lot of our trauma survivors.” There have been “situations that have started out as street harassment or unwanted comments or groping,” Edelstein added, “that have absolutely escalated into a full blown sexual assault. We find that street harassment is certainly incredibly pervasive and happens to many many men and women. It shouldn’t be minimized.”

The emotional impacts of street harassment alone should raise concern for city lawmakers. “In a qualitative analysis of self-submitted stories to ihollaback.org, we found that emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, shame, and helplessness were incredibly common,” said Beth Livingston, assistant professor at Cornell University’s ILR School, in a 2014 interview with Stop Street Harassment founder Holly Kearl. “These sorts of emotions - particularly when experienced day after day - can become paralyzing...It is incredibly likely that, as with many other negative emotional experiences, the impact can accumulate over time, leading to behavioral and health outcomes that we all should be concerned about.”

Street harassment can be especially harmful for those who have already experienced escalated forms of gendered violence, like domestic violence or sexual assault, says Edelstein. “I personally know survivors who I have worked with have said that the man who sexually harassed them on the subway or made unwanted comments to them on the street kind of re-traumatized them and made them continue to feel victimized again, continued to perpetuate their lack of trust in the world, the lack of their sense of safety that they have,” said Edelstein.

With one out of every six American women surviving an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (according to the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), helping to make sure that women in New York City do not continue to suffer from a lack “of their sense of safety” ought to be a priority for lawmakers, who advocates say can and should do more to minimize street harassment.

“There are already laws in existence against harassment that would include pretty much all forms of street harassment,” explains Nethero. Yet they are largely unenforced. “New York penal law actually already has a clause about harassment that covers any kind of physical harassment or threat of physical harassment, following in a public space, and then they have a really broad phrase, like engaging in any course of conduct that places others in reasonable fear and also serves no legitimate purpose, that’s considered harassment.”

“I think that the existing laws are probably being underutilized for the more serious crimes [like groping and flashing],” says Kearl. “So helping to publicize those, let people know what their rights are.”

All advocates and lawmakers interviewed for this article expressed a preference for prevention over punishment when it comes to deterring street harassment, citing concerns over the potential uneven application of fines or jail time for harassing. “I don’t think that sticking all these harassers in jail is the answer either,” Kearl said. “I’m more in favor of education. If a street harasser had to go to an education class or something, though, that would be fine, I wouldn’t mind that!”

Many of the organizations mentioned here provide programs aimed at reducing street harassment, like bystander intervention training (SAFER NYC and Safe Horizon), anti-harassment curriculum (Hollaback), self-defense training (Center for Anti-Violence Education). These organizations do work centered on changing the culture that permits street harassment to persist, legitimizing the problem, and giving victims the tools to deal with harassment.

“Legitimizing the problem is the first step,” says Alexis Grenell, Democratic political consultant and City & State columnist (Grenell is also a board member of Hollaback). “Then educating people - I would like to see there be an education curriculum, frankly, and Hollaback has developed one. I’d like to see that mainstreamed, teaching respect for women, but also teaching bystanders the skills to create a safer and more supportive public space.”

In early May, construction workers at the Pacific Park (formerly Atlantic Yards) complex in Prospect Heights were harassing passersby so frequently that they became required to wear different color-coded hard hats in order to make complaints easier to file (New York Magazine reports that four different companies were stationed at the site, and a sign posted at the entrance explained which color helmet belonged to which company).

While making it easier for women to report their harassers is a step in the right direction, an even better response, organizations like Stop Street Harassment suggest, would be to target those who are committing the harassment themselves: to tell the construction workers not to harass, and that there will be consequences for doing so.

Council Member Cumbo echoed this sentiment while speaking about the city’s lack of PSAs against street harassment. Vision Zero, the city’s campaign against traffic fatalities, include PSAs that tell drivers they could end up dead or in jail if they choose to drive drunk. “All these imaginary characters pop up and say things like, ‘if you hit someone, you’re going to see me,’ and ‘I’m going to be your lawyer and cost this amount of money,’” Cumbo said.

“I think the same thing should happen with sexual assault and sexual harassment,” Cumbo continued, adding that to her, the “messaging” around rape is all wrong. The way Cumbo sees it, there are two ways of talking about sexual assault and street harassment that dominate the messaging: if it’s happening to you, here is where you can go for help; or here is how not to get sexually assaulted or sexually harassed.

“But I’ve never seen a campaign that says, ‘do not sexually assault, do not sexually harass, and if you make that decision, here’s what’s going to happen to you, we have zero tolerance for this behavior in our city,’” she said.

When asked if she would be open to making a campaign like that happen, Cumbo said yes, but cautioned that male lawmakers should also be involved in the process.

SAFER NYC actually has already created such a campaign, but lacks the funding to implement it. “Our first project idea was to have subway ads that were targeting men - ‘would you say that to your daughter,’ that kind of thing,” Nethero said. “So we made these ads and we still are hoping to run them. We haven’t gotten enough funds to do that.”

At the end of the day, advocates want to see more support from the city’s lawmakers, both in terms of funding and policy solutions, to help address the city’s street harassment problem. We want “legislators and policymakers to pay attention to the issue,” Roy said, and “put more money forth into education and workshops and trainings and hosting collaborative events with policymakers.”

“I think that an opportunity to bring back a public education campaign and start the conversations again are essential,” Ferreras-Copeland told NY1’s Errol Louis in a November 2015 interview. “We still see groping on our trains, we still see young girls complaining about harassment. It would be great to see if we have an opportunity” to return to that conversation.

It’s unclear what’s stopping city lawmakers like Ferreras-Copeland, Cumbo, Gibson, Levin, Lander and others from creating such opportunity or, in Lander’s words, “stand[ing] up and say[ing] we’re not going to tolerate street harassment, everybody’s got to have the right to walk around our city in their own skin.”

***
by Meg O'Connor, @GothamGazette. More:

RESEARCH shows that:

  • A majority of women experience street harassment at some point in their lives: 65 percent of women reported experiencing at least one type of street harassment in their lifetimes, according to a national 2014 study of about 1,000 men and 1,000 women over 18 conducted by the research institute GfK and commissioned by Stop Street Harassment.
    • An overwhelming majority of women begin to experience street harassment before they turn 17: 84 percent of women are harassed on the street before they turn 17, according to an international study on street harassment conducted by Hollaback in partnership with Cornell University which surveyed over 16,000 women from 21 countries.
  • Many women alter their behavior in order to avoid street harassment: 85.6 percent of women said that they have chosen to take a different route home or to their destination because of street harassment, according to a survey of 4,872 women under forty in the United States conducted by Beth Livingston, assistant professor at Cornell Industrial Labor Relations School, in conjunction with Hollaback.
  • As a result of street harassment, 47 percent of women surveyed report constantly assessing their surroundings, according to a national 2014 study of about 1,000 men and 1,000 women over 18 conducted by the research institute GfK and commissioned by Stop Street Harassment.
  • Street harassment isn’t a one time thing, but a repeated occurrence that often becomes a constant and expected part of women’s lives: 86 percent of women and 79 percent of men who reported being harassed in the GfK study said they had been harassed more than once. Women were more likely than men to say it happened sometimes, often, or daily.
  • Harassment on the street occurs on a continuum, with 41 percent of all women in the GfK study reporting that they had experienced physically aggressive forms of harassment in public places, including sexual touching (23 percent), following (20 percent), flashing (14 percent), and being forced to do something sexual (9 percent).
  • Street harassment instills fear in victims, who are concerned the situation will escalate: According to GfK, two-thirds of the harassed women (68 percent) and half of the harassed men (49 percent) said they were very or somewhat concerned that the incident would escalate into something worse.
  • Even after people are harassed, few report it to the authorities: 63 percent of 1,790 New York City subway riders surveyed by the Manhattan Borough President's office in 2007 said they had been sexually harassed on the subway. Only 4 percent of those people contacted the NYPD or the MTA to inform either authority of the incident.
  • Recently, however, the MTA has redoubled efforts encouraging victims of subway sex crimes to come forward. As a result, there’s been a nearly 57 percent increase in reported sex crimes in the subway this year. The MTA launched a website in 2014 which allows victims to report offenses online, and the NYPD has shifted tactics in recent times, placing more officers on the trains and catching more perpetrators in the act.
  • Men also experience street harassment, to a lesser extent, though more men who identify as LGBT are victims of harassment: 25 percent of men surveyed by GfK experienced street harassment, with more men who identified as LGBT experiencing harassment than men who identified as heterosexual.
  • Street harassment doesn’t just affect women. Members of the LGBT community, especially transgender individuals, also experience a significant amount of street harassment.

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Nearly Six Years After Landmark Street Harassment Hearing, No Measurable Progress Sun, 07 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000