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City Council to Pass Reforms Aimed at Broken Windows Policing

MMV BdB Bratton

City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alariste)

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has a year and a half left on the job and is clearly focused on making criminal justice reform a centerpiece of her legacy. While a commission formed by the speaker explores other changes to the city’s criminal justice system and the idea of closing the notorious Rikers Island jail complex, the City Council on Wednesday will vote on a package of bills that will in large part establish civil rather than criminal punishment for low-level nonviolent offenses and provide alternatives to monetary penalties.

The package of legislation that the Council will pass and Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign takes direct aim at reforming the enforcement of Broken Windows policing, a controversial trademark of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton whereby low-level offenses are aggressively policed in an effort to protect quality of life and prevent more serious crimes.

In her State of the City address on Feb. 11, 2015 Mark-Viverito promised a more fair criminal justice system by reducing penalties for low-level quality-of-life offenses that disproportionately affect young men of color. What followed was the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), eight bills heard by the City Council in January and set to be voted through this week, with a few modifications.

The CJRA, which would take effect over the next year, creates guidelines for the police department to follow regarding littering, noise violations, public urination, open alcohol container violations, and breaking park rules. Barring repeated violations or nonpayment of fines, officers would be encouraged to give out tickets instead of criminal summonses. In effect, the reforms do not decriminalize these behaviors but mandate alternative punishments, largely civil penalties as opposed to criminal.

“For too long, New York’s Criminal Justice System has been broken - it’s time we fix it,” said Mark-Viverito in a statement accompanying news that the package of bills will pass this week. The CJRA, she said, will create “a more fair and just system that will ensure the penalties fit the crime.”

The Council did not arrive at the final solution alone. The mayor and the NYPD, initially holding several reservations, negotiated with the Council before and after the legislative package was introduced. Mayor Bill de Blasio said in an April 2015 interview with NY1’s Errol Louis, “I think Speaker Mark-Viverito put forward some very heartfelt proposals. I don’t agree with them in the first instance, but they’re certainly going to get an honest discussion from us. I know Commissioner [Bill] Bratton feels the same way.”

On Monday, he was no longer reticent about the reforms. “We pledged to reduce unnecessary arrests while protecting the quality of life of all our residents, and this legislation is an important step toward this essential goal,” de Blasio said in a statement. One key for having de Blasio and Bratton on board is that the package does not remove the criminal codes involved, leaving the NYPD leeway, including in demanding identification from and running background checks on those they stop for violations.

Some of the amendments to the bills added civil penalties where there were none proposed earlier, maintained criminal enforcement for particular violations, and included a mechanism to track police criteria for determining the nature of the violation as civil or criminal. The Council estimates that CJRA changes will divert about 100,000 cases from the criminal court system, save 10,000 people annually from having a permanent criminal record for these low-level offenses, and drastically reduce by tens of thousands the number of summons warrants issued - the city currently has a backlog of warrants well over one million.

“We have worked closely with the Mayor, the Speaker and the Council on this legislation,” said Peter Donald, NYPD director of communications, in an email. “The new legislation allows the NYPD to use the full range of enforcement tools that we currently have to address these offenses while providing us with the additional option to issue a civil summons instead of a criminal summons or arrest in appropriate circumstances. This legislation advances the many steps the NYPD has taken to implement precision policing in all communities throughout the City.”

Commissioner Bratton has recently touted his use of a “peace dividend,” which is the reduction in unnecessary negative interactions between NYPD officers and New Yorkers that is allowable by continuing drops in crime. Arrest numbers have indeed been dropping.

One of the CJRA bills would allow people to participate in community service offered by the Office of Administrative Tribunals and Hearings instead of paying a fine. OATH will also track these offenses and evaluate how they are imposed.

Another bill changes the $25 criminal penalty for an open alcohol container to a civil fine for the same amount. Like others, this change is aimed at avoiding criminal records for individuals committing low-level nonviolent offenses.

The first bill to go partially into effect reduces misdemeanors for breaking parks rules to violations. In 30 days after the bill is signed into law, it will no longer be a misdemeanor to be in a park at night or fail to comply with park signs. Other elements of the bill would apply after a year.

Another month after that (60 days from signing), the law establishing civil instead of criminal penalties for littering and public urination would apply. The original legislation was amended to allow criminal enforcement and additional civil penalties.

Under two other bills, the NYPD would have to report the number of summonses and Desk Appearance Tickets (issued in the case of misdemeanors) every three months, with demographic data. The first summons report would be due October 2017 while the DAT report is due by this July.

City Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo, a Republican from Staten Island, calls the bills "unnecessary." In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Matteo said, "The NYPD should - and does - have the flexibility to enforce quality-of-life crimes appropriately and judiciously. But that enforcement should be dictated by policies tailored to specific community problems and trends, not overarching legislation. In my view, most of these bills are unnecessary and send the wrong message about our public safety priorities.”

Calling it a "balanced approach," City Council Public Safety Committee Chair Vanessa Gibson said in a statement, “The Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2016 gives our police force tools to address low-level offenses for what they are: infractions to be taken seriously, but not ones that should yield life altering consequences."

While some conservative critics worry about a reduction in safety and quality of life, for criminal justice advocates outside of government, the bills are not all they want to see, but certainly a significant step forward for the city.

“This act makes important progress away from the crippling effects of ‘broken windows’ policing and toward policing practices that are smarter, fairer and safer for all New Yorkers,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a statement.

The reforms move the city’s system “closer to actual justice and away from an overreliance on arrests, prosecution and jail for low-level offenses,” said Tina Luongo, attorney in charge, criminal defense practice, the New York Legal Aid Society, while pointing out that the existing system disproportionately penalizes communities of color and low income New Yorkers.

“We are pleased City Council has acknowledged that jail time and criminal penalties – with all of the attendant civil consequences such as job loss, eviction or deportation – are inappropriate punishments for things like littering or holding an open beer can on the street,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services.

“Civil adjudication is a more appropriate response to these issues,” Schreibersdorf added, “and we look forward to continuing to work with the City Council on the implementation of the new law.”

Not all advocates are satisfied, however. Many want low-level offenses to be completely decriminalized as opposed to finding alternative punishments. Alex Vitale, associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, finds it encouraging that the Council is recognizing the effect of what he calls over-policing. “But my concern is that they are still relying heavily on punitive responses to the city’s problems,” Vitale said in a phone interview. “Rather than debate whether or not people should be getting arrested or [getting] a ticket for public urination, the city should be installing public bathrooms.”

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid     @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

District Attorneys, City Council Agree Mayor is Underfunding DAs

district attorneys city council hearing

The five District Attorneys at a March hearing (photo: William Alatriste)

The district attorneys of the five boroughs reasserted their need for increased funding in the 2017 fiscal year at a City Council executive budget hearing Monday at City Hall. Council members—opting to forego heavy questioning of the necessity of this funding—framed fulfilling the district attorney requests as a crucial step towards criminal justice reform.

The public safety committee hearing was the penultimate executive budget hearing, with the finance committee set to finish the proceedings Tuesday before closed-door negotiations lead to a budget deal between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council before the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

De Blasio’s preliminary budget, released Jan. 21, estimated $94 million would be allocated to the King’s County (Brooklyn) DA office, $57 million to Queens County, $10 million to Richmond County (Staten Island), $101 million to New York County (Manhattan), and $59 million to Bronx County.

The five DAs presented additional funding requests during a preliminary budget hearing in March, after which the Council called on de Blasio to fully fund those budget needs in its response to his preliminary budget and listed public safety among its top eight priorities. Of the five offices, New York County requested an additional $600,000, Bronx County $11.5 million, Kings County $1 million, Queens County $4.9 million, and Richmond $3.6 million. The Bronx request was so large because new DA Darcel Clark plans to open a new bureau on Rikers Island, as well as several other significant initiatives.

None of the additional funding requests were included in de Blasio’s $82.2 executive budget, released April 27—a decision Council Member and Public Safety Committee Chair Vanessa Gibson said on Monday she was “very disappointed to see.”

“The City Council is making significant impacts to criminal justice reform, but none of this will matter if the city does not support our District Attorneys,” Gibson said. “Though I applaud the efforts that the administration’s [making] to fund other law enforcement agencies such as the NYPD, it is irresponsible not to include funding for our city’s prosecutors.”

At Monday’s executive budget hearing, representatives from the DA offices, including three DAs themselves, said increased funding would be the only solution to severe problems facing each county, and Council Member and Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland said the Council was “on the same page.” Ferreras-Copeland criticized de Blasio’s executive budget earlier in May when she said it did not “ensure that the shared priorities of both the Administration and the Council are included.”

In response to Monday's comments from the district attorney offices and Council members, mayoral spokesperson Monica Klein said in an emailed statement, "The administration is committed to appropriately funding the critical needs of our District Attorneys, and we look forward to working with the Council and DAs throughout the budget process. Mayor de Blasio has also invested in numerous initiatives to support our DAs' essential efforts -- including an additional $2 million per year to the Special Narcotics Prosecutor and $10 million to the Anti-Violence Innovation challenge -- and launched expansive initiatives aimed at reducing opioid misuse and overdose deaths across the City, in close partnership with local elected officials."

Manhattan DA Cy Vance said on Monday that additional funding would go toward the creation of an Alternative to Incarceration unit aimed at preventing low-level nonviolent offenders from facing jail time.

Staten Island DA Michael McMahon, a Democrat who succeeded Republican Dan Donovan (now a member of Congress) as DA, said his predecessors “did not aggressively pursue” sufficient funding at City Hall. As a result, McMahon said his office is unequiped to combat Staten Island’s rising heroin overdose epidemic and domestic abuse incidents, and currently unable to finance a case management system. All five DAs are now Democrats, like de Blasio and 48 of the 51 City Council members.

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson, represented at the hearing by his chief of staff Leroy Frazer, and Queens DA Richard Brown, represented by Chief ADA Jack Ryan, both hope to direct additional funding towards increasing personnel and improving facilities.

While Bronx DA Clark said some funding would go towards facilities and retaining more staff within her offices, she also hopes to establish a Rikers bureau that targets the prison complex, where she said corruption currently fosters “criminal business as usual.”

by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, May 23

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

As the week begins we're continuing to look at the various investigations and controversy surrounding Mayor Bill de Blasio. The New York Post reported over the weekend about yet another aspect of inquiry into city action under de Blasio, this over the deal to sell the Brooklyn Heights library, which involves affordable housing, development rights, and donors to de Blasio.

The Mayor spent the weekend in Seattle with family there, celebrating his older brother's retirement. Much of the news around de Blasio at the end of the week and throughout the weekend dealt with the disclosure by the administration that five individuals outside of city government have been given certain status as advisers to the Mayor whereby their correspondence with him is shielded from public records requests. Four of the five are in political consulting and have clients that do business with the city, setting up conflict of interest concerns. De Blasio insists, however, that the four are able to compartmentalize, advising him as friends when they do that and then working with their clients. If any of the four discuss their clients with the Mayor, then those discussions are disclosed publicly and their contents are subject to records requests.

De Blasio is back in New York City Monday with no public events scheduled.

Otherwise, we're continuing to follow the investigation into Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration and associates, especially related to the Buffalo Billion economic development project.

In Albany, there are 12 legislative session days left this year before the mid-June end, if lawmakers even use all of them, including this week’s Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday meetings. Mayoral control of city schools is one of the top issues to be dealt with - last year's one-year extension is due to expire at the end of June. Also to watch: statute of limitations on child sex abuse; daily fantasy sports; any government ethics reforms at all (pension forfeiture, maybe?); a resuscitation of the 421-a real estate tax break for affordable housing; and a few other items. There are a number of big-ticket items like the DREAM Act and raising the age of adult criminal responsibility above 16 that appear to be completely off the table. You never know in Albany, though, so...stay tuned.

Those are some of the high profile topics to watch this week, but as always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday at 9 a.m., City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will speak at the YWCA 3rd Annual Potential to Power Symposium. In the evening, at 8 p.m., Mark-Viverito is scheduled to attend the Hester Street Collaborative Benefit.

Monday at 9 a.m. in the Bronx, “The US Postal Service New York District and Bronx Postmaster Lilliam Rodriguez in collaboration with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz and Senator Jose Serrano will host a dedication ceremony which renames the Morrisania Post Office in honor of the late Congressman Herman Badillo.” Participants will also include U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand; Congressional Reps. José E. Serrano, Charles Rangel and Joseph Crowley; Ray Kelly, former NYPD Commissioner; and others.

On Monday at 10 a.m. in Albany, the Senate Standing Committee on Labor will meet “To examine potential reforms to the construction industry payment system in New York State to ensure that businesses are paid for their services in a timely manner.”

At the City Council on Monday: 10 a.m., executive budget hearing for the public safety committee.

On Monday at 11 a.m. at City Hall, “Members of the Ending the Epidemic Coalition will rally on the steps of City Hall to praise the success of last year's City Hall and City Council funding, while calling for an increase in funding to build off the success. Long-time AIDS activists and policy-makers who fought for decades with past administrations say that this funding, along with the unprecedented collaboration with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, has been game-changing for combating New York City's HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has claimed the lives of over 100,000 residents.”

At 11 a.m. in Albany, the Assembly Standing Committee on Labor and the Assembly Commission on Skills Development and Career Education will hold a public hearing on “Pre-Apprenticeship and Work Preparation Programs in New York State.”

On Monday at 1:15 p.m. at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan, "Chancellor Fariña will deliver brief remarks at the Arts & Cultural Education Services Fair, an event where DOE educators connect with New York City arts organizations."

Both houses of the state Legislature are in session on Monday in Albany.

On Monday evening, an event on “Use of Force in Prisons” at Brooklyn Historical Society, 6:30 p.m. “Against the backdrop of the Jamal Lightfoot case, Brooklyn Historical Society brings together a panel of thought leaders to discuss the complex issue of the use of force in prisons...Moderated by Ted Conover, author of Newjack, panelists include Brian Fischer, former Commissioner, NYS Department of Corrections, Tom Robbins, who has written about this issue for The New York Times and The Marshall Project, Mary Lynne Werlwasfrom The Legal Aid Society’s Prisoner’s Rights Project, and Mikail DeVeaux, Executive Director of Citizens Against Recidivism.”

Both houses of the state Legislature are in session on Tuesday in Albany.

On Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. in Albany, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) will meet.

On Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., “Second Chance Summit: New York Working to Expand Employment Opportunities for People with Criminal Backgrounds” at The New School. “The Second Chance Summit is a gathering of business, nonprofit and government leaders exploring opportunities and resources for employing people with criminal backgrounds. The Summit will feature compelling speakers, content-rich panel discussions, and ample networking opportunities.” The morning keynote will be given by Glenn E. Martin of JustLeadershipUSA. “Second Chance Employee Panel” moderated by Professor Jeff Smith and more.

On Tuesday beginning at 9:30 a.m., “Parks Without Borders: Ideas for the Next Generation of Urban Parks” will be hosted by the city Parks Department, the Center for New York City Affairs, and the Tishman Environment and Design Center at The New School. Speakers include: Charles Birnbaum, President and CEO, The Cultural Landscape Foundation; Paul Goldberger, Joseph Urban Chair in Design and Architecture, The New School; Fred Kent, Founder and President, Project for Public Spaces; Mike Lydon, Principal, Street Plans; Signe Nielsen, FASLA, Principal, Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects; Mitchell Silver, FAICP, Commissioner, NYC Parks.

On Tuesday at the City Council: the finance committee will wrap up executive budget hearings with a 10 a.m. meeting.

Also Tuesday at 10 a.m., Mayor de Blasio will deliver remarks at the 10th Annual Citywide Procurement Fair.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, Dr. Betty Rose, chancellor of the Board of Regents, will speak at a South Bronx Leadership Forum.

On Tuesday at 6 p.m. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will host “a free “Tenants: Know Your Rights” workshop” at Sunset Park High School. “Tenants will have an opportunity to speak in English or Spanish with advocates and lawyers from Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A (Brooklyn A) about their rights under federal, state, and local laws to protection from unfair practices by landlords.Borough President Adams spoke about the clinic as an extension of his continued efforts to support neighborhoods that are experiencing an increasing risk for tenant harassment.”

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Queens, City & State will launch its Queens special issue featuring op-eds and reporting on the future of politics and policy in the borough. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will be interviewed at the launch event.

On Tuesday evening at the Queens Museum, "New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Hispanic Federation host a citywide PrideProm for individuals of all ages who are currently being denied the opportunity to participate in prom night because of their sexual orientation, who have been shut out from their prom in the past or simply want to experience this rite of passage as their true selves."

Both houses of the state Legislature are in session on Wednesday in Albany.

On Wednesday in Albany, a key vote related to funding for Gov. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion program, which is the subject of much controversy, criticism, and a federal investigation. From Gannett’s Jon Campbell: “The Public Authorities Control Board, a little-known but powerful board, is set to meet Wednesday at the state Capitol. The board is scheduled to consider whether to approve spending nearly half a billion dollars to fund ongoing construction at a high-tech complex that will house a massive solar-power manufacturing plant in the state’s second-largest city. The plant, which will be occupied by SolarCity, is the marquee item of the Buffalo Billion...”

On Wednesday morning at 9:15 at City Hall, "Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and Councilmember Margaret Chin will unveil legislation to reform the city's practices concerning the modification of deed restrictions, the arcane process at the heart of the controversies surrounding the sale of Rivington House on the Lower East Side and a lot owned by the Dance Theater of Harlem in upper Manhattan. The bill will be introduced at Wednesday's Stated Council Meeting."

On Wednesday at 10 a.m. at City Hall, City Council Member Mark Levine is leading a rally to push for more funding for city parks. He'll be joined by New Yorkers for Parks, The New York League of Conservation Voters, American Society of Landscape Architects, community gardens enthusiasts, and others.

On Wednesday, the City Council is set to vote through the Criminal Justice Reform Act. Read about the package of bills here.

On Wednesday at noon at City Hall, "City Council Member Costa Constantinides, joined by environmental groups and others, will call for a vote on his bill INT. 642. The legislation would ensure more sustainable energy consumption by increasing the use of biodiesel in home heating oil. The bill would increase biodiesel use from the current standard of 2% to a 5% blend, and then raise that blend incrementally until we get to 20%." Constantinides will be joined by New York League of Conservation Voters, Empire Clean Cities, Teamsters Local 553, and others.

On Wednesday at the City Council: the finance committee will meet at 10 a.m. and the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections will meet at 10:30 a.m. At 12:30, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will hold the typical pre-stated meeting press conference, then at 1:30, the full City Council meets.

On Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will host a chairman’s breakfast event led by Chair Ken Biberaj, with special guest Valerie Jarrett, White House Senior Advisor. “The event will focus on a range of topics including the President's nomination to the Supreme Court, criminal justice reform and a variety of other topics of importance to the business community...This event is OPEN PRESS...Infor is the host of the event.”

On Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Bronx, the Assembly Standing Committee on Housing and the Assembly Subcommittee on Mitchell-Lama will hold a public hearing on “The status of Mitchell-Lama housing.”

Thursday is City & State’s “On Urban Development” forum. Keynote Remarks by Carl Weisbrod, Chair of the City Planning Commission at 8:45 a.m. Then a panel on affordable housing with Senators Liz Krueger and Adriano Espaillat, and City Council Member David Greenfield. Then a panel on Real Estate Growth in Outer-Boroughs with Ruben Diaz, Jr., City Council Members Donovan Richards and Rafael L. Espinal. Then a panel on Infrastructure’s Impact on Development with City Council Members Jumaane Williams and Dan Garodnick.

Also Thursday morning, at 8:15 a.m., the Center for New York City Law will hold a CityLaw Breakfast to present the Center’s Civic Fame Awards - recognizing Mark Davies, former executive director of the NYC Conflicts of Interest Board, Kay Murray, former General Counsel of the NYC Department of Juvenile Justice, Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., former NYC Law Department Corporation Counsel, and Claire Shulman, former Queens Borough President. NY1’s Errol Louis will be the featured speaker.

On Thursday at the City Council:

  • 10 a.m., a joint oversight hearing of the Committee on Health, Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services, and the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services ”evaluating recent changes in healthcare in city correctional facilities” and considering several related bills.
  • 1 p.m. the Committee on Courts and Legal Services will hold an oversight hearing “examining the collaboration between the court’s and legal service providers to ensure court record accuracy.”

On Thursday evening in Queens, State Senator James Sanders Jr. will host “an exciting discussion on voter education in NYC” at 6 p.m. at Calvary Baptist Church “to educate and re-engage voters in the Democratic [sic] process.” Featured guests: CUNY Center for Urban Research, Families United For Racial and Economic Equality, Black Lives Matter and NYC Campaign Finance Board.

On Thursday evening, the Annual Joseph S. Murphy Scholarship Reception at the CUNY Graduate Center will feature Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Friday and the weekend
Have a good Memorial Day weekend!

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? e-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Max

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