CITY https://www.gothamgazette.com/city Tue, 19 Nov 2019 17:58:15 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Council Considers New Office to Aid Non-Profits https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8933-city-council-considers-new-office-to-aid-non-profits https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8933-city-council-considers-new-office-to-aid-non-profits cm farah louis

Council Member Farah Louis (photo: New York City Council)


The New York City Council is considering legislation that would create a new office to assist non-profit organizations in navigating regulations and applying for city contracts and funding.

Council Member Farah Louis, a recently elected Brooklyn Democrat, has proposed legislation that would mandate that the mayor institute an Office of Not-For-Profit Services. The bill is set to be examined by the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations at a hearing on Tuesday.

The legislation, which is thus far co-sponsored by Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Ben Kallos, and Justin Brannan, intends to create a resource center that can help nonprofits tackle the bureaucratic challenges presented by city government. Nonprofit human service providers are a crucial resource for the city, with more than 200,000 employees contracted out to deliver a range of services including housing, mental health care, job training, and care for the elderly, children, people living in poverty, and those experiencing homelessness.

“Across New York City, nonprofits are on the ground, doing vitally important work in schools, senior centers, libraries, and other public spaces, and providing services that our constituents rely on every day,” Louis said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

But the city’s nonprofit sector has long been in crisis and is headed towards a fiscal cliff. Across the city, nonprofits suffer from perennial delays in the payment of contracts by the city and nonprofit leaders say Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has been slow to respond to their calls for more funding to cover the costs of and related to their services.

A January report from Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office noted that 89% of human services contracts in the 2018 fiscal year were sent to the comptroller for certification after the contract start date. “This is a higher retroactivity rate than the city-wide average, suggesting that non-profit organizations wait longer for their contracts to be submitted for registration than vendors that do business with the City overall,” a summary of the report stated.

A separate study published in April by Seachange Capital Partners, a nonprofit merchant bank, found that contract delays in the 2018 fiscal year became “slightly worse” than the previous year. It found that social service contracts were registered an average of 221 days after their start date, up from 210 days in the 2017 fiscal year; only 11% were on time, slightly better than the 9% in 2017; and 20% continued to be unregistered after one year, marginally worse than the 19% in 2017. The report estimated that the fiscal burden on nonprofits from registration delays was as much as $744 million, up from $675 million in 2017.

“A nonprofit delivering services under an unregistered contract faces a growing cash flow burden associated with the unreimbursed expenses. It must also pay interest and fees on the debt it uses to finance this cash flow need – if it can be financed at all,” the study reads.

Council Members Rosenthal and Kallos cited that study in a July joint op-ed, criticizing the city’s “broken procurement system” and how delays affect nonprofits. “New Yorkers deserve the best services, and the CBOs providing those services deserve to be paid fairly and on time by a city government they can hold accountable. Overhauling the procurement system may be bureaucratic and slow in nature, but it is necessary if we are to properly serve the New Yorkers who are most in need,” they wrote, citing separate legislation they introduced to achieve that goal.

Though leaders in the nonprofit sector credit the mayor for creating the Nonprofit Resiliency Committee in 2016, they say more must be done to ensure the survival of essential partners in city services. Earlier this year, when the City Council and mayor came to an agreement over the $92.8 billion budget for the 2020 fiscal year, they did not include a $106-million funding request from nonprofit service providers.  

Louis’ bill seems intended to address some of the needs of nonprofits, while creating a general structure to ensure more city accountability for support of the sector. She said it would “provide guaranteed resources to anyone seeking to incorporate and successfully maintain a non-profit.”

The proposed Office of Not-For-Profit Services, which per the bill the mayor could choose to house under the executive office or as a separate office, would be charged with analyzing the problems plaguing the nonprofit sector and proposing solutions to them. It would act as a one-stop-shop to conduct outreach and give nonprofits advice and assistance, while also coordinating with other city agencies to refer organizations to services related to obtaining exemptions, waivers, permits, registrations, or approvals. It’s aim would be to simplify application processes and regulatory mechanisms.

“This office will function as a liaison between nonprofits and any city agencies, work to devise solutions to any problems that organizations might have with incorporation, financing, or administration, and keep the Council updated on issues affecting local non-profits,” Louis said.

But the bill does not solve the core issues facing the sector, said Allison Sesso, executive director of the Human Services Council of New York, which represents 170 nonprofits that provide 90% of human services in the city.

“The main issue facing New York City's human services nonprofit sector is not a lack of understanding of the City's policies and contracting processes, it's chronic underfunding,” Sesso said in an email. “While providing nonprofits with educational resources and assistance is a positive goal, it falls flat in a system that is setting those same organizations up for failure. One out of five providers in New York City are technically insolvent and organizations across the City are being forced to scale back services or consolidate just to survive. We need fundamental change to address the underfunded contacts and unfunded mandates that impact services across the City and stifle the wages of the human services workforce.”

Three other bills related to services for nonprofit providers are also being discussed at Tuesday’s hearing. Council Member Antonio Reynoso has proposed creating a nonprofit ombudsperson within the Department of Finance (DOF), and exempting in certain cases the lien sale of property owned by a nonprofit organization.

A bill from Council Member Diana Ayala would require the DOF and Department of Environmental Protection to create a single application form for the nonprofit real property tax exemption and exemptions from water and sewer charges. The third, introduced by Council Member Carlina Rivera, would require DOF to create an informational guide on relevant taxes and exemptions for nonprofits.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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samarkhurshid@gmail.com (Samar Khurshid) City Mon, 18 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Facing Criticism, NYPD Reps Tell City Council Body Camera Program 'A Work in Progress' https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8935-nypd-reps-tell-city-council-body-camera-program-a-work-in-progress https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8935-nypd-reps-tell-city-council-body-camera-program-a-work-in-progress finance comm hearing

(photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


The NYPD’s body-worn camera policies are a “work in progress,” a police official said at a hearing of the New York City Council’s public safety committee on Monday, seeking to allay concerns expressed by Council members about the program that now includes more than 20,000 uniformed officers. At the hearing, Council members had questions and criticisms about transparency and accountability taking a back seat to surveillance and police authority, particularly with regard to the NYPD’s control over body camera footage.

The NYPD rolled out cameras to every uniformed patrol officer by March of this year and more recently completed equipping 4,000 specialized team officers with cameras as well. It’s a major potential step towards transparency and accountability for a department that has not had a reputation for either. But the implementation of the program has been accompanied by a slew of questions about the footage collected and when, and in what manner, it is released to the public, press, prosecutors, and external watchdogs.

The department only published its “operations order” on public release of footage last month, and that too without a public announcement (Gotham Gazette first reported the order’s existence after repeatedly checking in with the NYPD until a link was provided). The order shows how much sway over the footage the NYPD is retaining, providing several sources of criticism for Council members and other stakeholders.

The policy also makes no reference to releasing footage to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates police misconduct and abuse of power complaints. CCRB requests for footage are often delayed, some for months at a time. Meanwhile, the department turns unedited footage of all arrests over to district attorney offices almost immediately.

“Basic transparency requires someone other than the NYPD to be the gatekeeper of this footage when a member of the public makes a complaint,” said Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the public safety committee, in his opening statement. “When an oversight agency is dependent on the discretion of the very agency it is overseeing, what you end up with is the wolf guarding the henhouse. We need to do better.”

Richards, a Queens Democrat, is also troubled by the amount of discretion built into the policy on public release, which allows the police commissioner to decide within 30 days to release footage of “critical incidents” when an individual may be killed or severely injured by a police officer, or other incidents of intense public interest.

“The policy reads as a series of vague considerations, not a standard for the commissioner to follow,” he said. “The result is that many people are rightly concerned that the department can decide to release footage only when it looks good for them, and that body worn cameras are in fact being used as another surveillance tool, rather than for the purpose they were intended: for accountability, transparency, and to encourage civil interactions between officers and members of the public.”

Richards’ worries were echoed by several Council members as they peppered NYPD Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters Oleg Chernyavsky and Assistant Chief Matthew Pontillo to clarify and improve the department’s body-worn camera policies.

“It's a work in progress,” Chernyavsky said. “We're always learning. I mean, the idea here is to be transparent, and to give the public this vital information with as little delay as possible. If there's ways to do it better, we're certainly open to that.”

Pontillo said body camera policies have been routinely adjusted since the first pilot program in 2015, and they continue to change. “We anticipate in the near future, we will revise the policy again. We’ll probably add a couple of more categories of events that police officers get involved in, like responding to disputes,” he said. “Department policies are always under review. No policy is ever written with the idea that it will exist in perpetuity, but rather, it's an evolution and this whole thing has been an evolution since early 2014 when we began the research.”

Chernyavsky detailed the department’s efforts to balance transparency with privacy as it faces a deluge of requests for footage. Since the launch of body cameras, the department has collected about 8 million videos, he said. On average, each video is about 8 minutes long and 130,000 new videos are uploaded to the department’s cloud video storage each week. These are then accessible to prosecutors automatically.

For the CCRB’s disciplinary investigations, however, the department edits and redacts videos as it deems necessary under state laws. This year, the CCRB has made about 3,700 requests, which generated almost 14,500 responsive videos, Chernyavsky said, up from 2,080 requests in 2018, which led to 6,134 responsive videos. Another 870 request for footage were made this year under the Freedom of Information Law, with roughly 3,000 videos provided in response.

He also emphasized the department’s internal quality control and random auditing process, and said the most recent 28-day audit showed 92% compliance by officers with guidelines in the NYPD Patrol Guide, which include when to turn the cameras on and off.

Another topic of discussion at the hearing was a bill proposed by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams that would place detailed reporting requirements for the NYPD’s body-camera program. Though Chernyavsky said the department was open to collaborating with the City Council to create some form of reporting mechanism, he said Williams’ bill as written was far too onerous.

“The bill would require us to report on data which could not be captured without a trained analyst watching and listening to every recording in its entirety, then conducting an investigation to gather additional data points,” he said in his testimony, noting that the department would need to hire and train about 800 new analysts and investigators to meet that need.

Richards pointed out, as Gotham Gazette has reported, that the CCRB experiences delays in receiving footage, which can be heavily edited, and sometimes has its requests denied outright. “Why do you have to be the gatekeeper? Can't you just give access to the CCRB so they can look for the footage they need to investigate their cases?” he asked.

But Chernyavsky argued that the CCRB does not have the same authority as district attorneys and so is subject to certain restrictions that stem from state laws on privacy. He did say the department is trying to reduce delays as far as possible. “We've been working collaboratively with [the CCRB] to streamline the process even further, and to reduce the turnaround times even more, and we're anticipating that will be able to do that, especially in the near future to hopefully almost eliminate any kind of delay and turnaround time,” he said.

That explanation wasn’t adequate for Council Member Rory Lancman, another Queens Democrat and a longtime critic of certain NYPD practices, who questioned why the operations order on public release did not include a time-bound mechanism for releasing footage to the CCRB. “It's very disturbing to me that this order lacks a clear mechanism for getting BWC footage to the CCRB in a timely manner,” he said.

He also pointed out, as did Council Member Brad Lander after him, that the operation order merely says the commissioner will decide within 30 days whether to release footage of a critical incident to the public. It does not seem to mandate the release, Lancman said. He also questioned whether the policy’s stated guidelines on releasing representative samples of footage would allow the NYPD to create a narrative of incidents that would protect its officers rather than reveal the truth.

Pontillo and Chernyavsky, however, sought to reassure him. “This procedure creates a presumption of release,” Pontillo said. Chernyavsky said representative samples are part of a common sense policy. “What we are striving to do is to give this type of sample, where possible to attach a more comprehensive video to it, when you have a situation where there is just so much video footage that it's not feasible to turn it around that quickly,” he said. “You may have a situation where we're putting out something of great public interest rather than simply being silent for an extended amount of time.”

Several Council members also pushed the police officials to commit to ensuring that body camera footage is released immediately or is at least allowed to be reviewed by the family members of individuals killed in police-involved shootings. They cited two recent examples: the fatal police shooting of Kawaski Trawick in the Bronx in April and the September incident where officers shot one of their own, Brian Mulkeen, and a civilian, Antonio Williams, in a hail of bullets. In both cases, neither Trawick’s nor Williams’ families have been allowed access to footage from officers on the scene. “I do think just families should have access sooner than everybody else,” Public Advocate Williams said. “That seems to make sense to me.”

But the operations order notes that families of those involved would be notified and shown footage only before it is publicly released, as has been the department’s practice. Families do not receive immediate access when they demand it. 

Civil rights and police reform advocates who spoke at the hearing in support of Williams’ bill expressed additional criticisms of the overall body-camera program. 

Jacqueline Caruana, senior trial attorney at the criminal defense practice at Brooklyn Defender Services, said the program is currently being used to the NYPD’s advantage rather than for transparency. “Any legislation that establishes reporting requirements for body-worn camera usage will likely be ineffectual if it does not also impose a consequence for failure to follow them, and if the department itself remains generally unwilling to penalize offices for misconduct,” she said.

Michael Sisitzky of the New York Civil Liberties Union said the NYPD’s total control over cameras and footage undermines the goals of the program. “If it becomes apparent that these cameras are primarily focused on surveillance and tool for prosecution, New York City must be open to reconsidering whether the substantial sums currently spent on this NYPD program could be better invested in our communities,” he said in written testimony.

Lenora Easter, team leader of the early defense team at the criminal defense practice of The Bronx Defenders, urged the Council to close a loophole that allows officers discretion to not turn on their cameras in exigent circumstances. She also pushed for increasing the “buffering period” on officer cameras – the two types of cameras currently used will save 30 seconds and 1 minute of footage prior to a camera being turned on. That extra buffer provides added context to an incident but recorded without audio.

Laura Hecht-Felella, legal fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, said Williams’ bill should be passed alongside the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, a bill introduced by Council Member Vanessa Gibson to mandate the NYPD disclose information about the surveillance tools it uses. The NYPD has vehemently opposed that bill over the course of two Council sessions.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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samarkhurshid@gmail.com (Samar Khurshid) City Tue, 19 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
East Harlem Community Board to Vote on Resolution Condemning Subway Policing Plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8936-east-harlem-manhattan-community-board-to-vote-on-resolution-condemning-subway-policing-plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8936-east-harlem-manhattan-community-board-to-vote-on-resolution-condemning-subway-policing-plan cops subways nypdnews

(photo: NYPD)


The MTA’s crackdown on fare evasion and homelessness in the city’s subway system, at the behest of Governor Andrew Cuomo and with support from Mayor Bill de Blasio, is facing a chorus of criticism over the criminalization of poverty and targeting largely of New Yorkers of color. Rather than a police response, these issues can be better handled by stronger safety net programs, including discounted Metrocards, and outreach from social workers, some critics say, while others also point out the MTA is in no fiscal position to hire the planned 500 new transit police officers ordered by the governor.

On Tuesday, Community Board 11 in Manhattan is expected to express its displeasure with the plan by voting on a resolution calling for the subway policing plan to be scrapped and for funds to be redirected to communities in need, including $40 million pledged toward hiring police officers by District Attorney Cyrus Vance.

In September, Cuomo pushed the MTA to hire 500 more police officers to address so-called quality of life issues that he said were plaguing the subways. The governor, who has not ridden the subway since December 2016, and only then in a ceremonial journey to open the new Second Avenue line stops, repeatedly insisted that major crime was up on the subway, despite NYPD data showing the opposite, and said more officers were necessary to deal with increasing numbers of individuals experiencing homelessness and finding refuge underground.

Those 500 officers, estimated to cost $56 million in the first year and about $260 million annually by 2023, were in addition to 500 officers that had already been diverted by the governor and mayor to reduce fare evasion, supported with the $40-million infusion from Vance, whose policy of not prosecuting most fare-evaders had come under scrutiny from Cuomo and others who started to redirect ire over subway performance toward those who evade the fare.

As general criticism was expressed by many, a series of high-profile incidents of aggressive arrests, as well as the handcuffing of two women selling churros in the subway, were captured on video and led to additional public outcry. Just last week in East Harlem, a young black man was tackled to the ground by four police officers for illegally selling candy on a subway platform. The arrest was criticized by State Senator Brian Benjamin and Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez on Twitter.

East Harlem, along with Randall’s Island and Ward’s Island, makes of the core of Manhattan’s Community Board 11. This past Thursday, every member of CB11’s executive committee – except for Jose Altamirano, chair of its public safety and transportation committee – voted to adopt a resolution that calls on Cuomo to claw back the plan to hire the 500 new MTA officers and to reinvest funds into improving public transit. It also calls on DA Vance to divert the $40 million to reentry programs for formerly incarcerated individuals.

“Governor Cuomo’s explicit purpose in hiring 500 additional MTA cops is to police fare evasion, homelessness, and so-called quality of life issues. This is not about public safety,” said Jason Wu, the CB11 member who drafted the resolution, in an email. “When 89% of fare evasion arrests are of people of color and a third of East Harlem residents lives below the federal poverty line, we are talking about a policy that reinforces systemic racism and criminalizing poverty.”

The full community board will vote on the resolution Tuesday evening. Wu said he expects it to pass. The resolution notes that the annual median household income in East Harlem is far lower than the median citywide annual income, that a third of families there live under the federal poverty line and that incarceration rates in the community are among the highest in the city. It’s the kind of neighborhood that would be particularly impacted by the type of crackdown envisioned by Cuomo and the MTA, and in some ways already underway via apparent efforts by the MTA and NYPD. De Blasio has expressed support for the additional 500 MTA police officers, while other top city officials have expressed skepticism or criticism about the plans or the recent subway policing incidents.

“Our elected officials cannot remain silent,” Wu said, promising to push local and state elected officials to similarly reject the governor’s plan. “We need our leaders to defend our community members from police violence and abuse, and if they won't lead on this issue, then the Community Board must.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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samarkhurshid@gmail.com (Samar Khurshid) City Tue, 19 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
City Council to Examine Rollout of NYPD Body Camera Program https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8927-city-council-to-examine-nypd-rollout-of-body-camera-program https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8927-city-council-to-examine-nypd-rollout-of-body-camera-program cm cornegy richards press conference

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


The NYPD’s body-worn camera program is meant to provide transparency and accountability about policing activity in the city, particularly in cases of high-profile incidents of police officers’ use of force against civilians. But more than seven months after body cameras were rolled out to every uniformed patrol officer, there are many questions about how the cameras are used and about the policies that determine the release of the footage to the public and independent watchdogs.

At a hearing on Monday, the New York City Council will examine the rollout of the program and ask some of those key questions, along with discussion of proposed legislation to require the NYPD to regularly publish data on the implementation of the body-worn camera program.  

The Council’s Committee on Public Safety, chaired by Council Member Donovan Richards, is expected to delve into two main issues: the long delays in the release of body camera footage to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), an independent agency that monitors and investigates allegations of abuse of power and misconduct by police officers; and the NYPD’s recently-published policy on releasing footage to members of the public and the news media.

[Read: NYPD Publishes Long-Sought Body Camera Footage Policy]

Footage from body-worn cameras is crucial evidence in investigations by outside authorities into complaints against NYPD officers. Gotham Gazette recently reported that since March, when body-worn cameras were fully rolled out to 20,000 patrol officers, between 29 and 37% of the CCRB’s open investigations had pending requests for body camera footage, per monthly data from the Board. The delay for releasing footage also varies. The NYPD responded to 43% of requests within 30 days; 35% of requests were fulfilled within 30 and 60 days; in 13% of requests, there was no response for more than 90 days.

Even when footage is provided, it can be edited or censored. The NYPD says the delays can be attributed to the need to edit footage to ensure compliance with state privacy protection laws, but the CCRB has pointed out several other reasons that the department has cited to refuse to provide footage, while also pointing out that there have been many cases where the NYPD says body camera footage doesn’t exist, but it is later discovered that it does. [Read: New NYPD Body Camera Footage Policy Raises Questions About Editing]

Meanwhile, prosecutors in district attorney offices across the city automatically receive unedited body camera footage from the department when it is uploaded after an arrest. [Read: Vast Difference in NYPD Provision of Body Camera Footage to District Attorneys Versus Police Watchdog]

“One of the things that I want to explore the most is the issue around CCRB and obviously prosecutors gaining access to the footage much faster,” said Richards, a Queens Democrat, in a phone interview.

“The Civilian Complaint Review Board plays a very important role, just as we saw in the [Eric] Garner case,” Richards added, citing the CCRB’s investigation into then-NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was recently terminated from the force, five years after he used a banned chokehold during an attempted arrest that led to Garner’s death on Staten Island. “And being that they are the agency that has oversight over the NYPD, they shouldn't have to wait 30 days. They should be able to have a system in place that gives them access right away,” he said.

The NYPD’s policy on public release has been criticized by a number of stakeholders and experts, first for including a 30-day timeline for footage of “critical incidents” and also for an explicit acknowledgement that the NYPD will exercise discretion in editing and omitting certain footage. The department’s recently (and quietly) released “operations order” around release of footage also makes no mention at all of the CCRB.

Richards said the 30-day policy is inadequate.

“One of the things we do also want to ensure is that the NYPD is not just doctoring certain parts of the video that they want the public to see,” he added. “We need to make sure that it's a full transparent process and that the public, who funds the NYPD, has the right to know what these interactions look like between the department and everyday people...which creates a higher standard, which then leads to more accountability and ensuring that there’s checks and balances.”

Besides the oversight aspect of Monday’s hearing, the Council will also discuss a bill proposed by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams that requires the NYPD to publish quarterly public reports on the use of body-worn cameras and an annual report on every incident that requires activation of a body camera.

The quarterly reports would include data on the number of officers with body-worn cameras, and the percentage of officers, disaggregated by borough and precinct; the percentage of total law enforcement activities where body-worn camera footage was recorded, disaggregated by category of law enforcement activity; the percentage of total use-of-force incidents where footage was recorded, disaggregated by use-of-force category; and the percentage of total police-civilian encounters that lead to investigations by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau where footage was recorded; disaggregated by category of alleged misconduct.

The annual report would be far more detailed, requiring data on every incident recorded on body-worn cameras in the previous year including the date, time, and location of the incident; the law enforcement activity that triggered the recording; whether officers on scene were equipped with cameras; whether footage was recorded and the reason if it was not; whether the camera failed to clearly record audio; whether the footage was visually compromised or obstructed in any way; whether an officer told an individual they were being recorded; whether an officer switched off their camera before the incident was concluded; whether someone requested the footage under the state’s Freedom of Information Law; whether a use-of-force incident occurred during the recording, and the category; whether a recording was used for an internal investigation by the department or for an external probe by the CCRB; and the race, gender and age of the individual subject to law enforcement activity that led to the recording.

[Read: New NYPD Body Camera Footage Policy Raises Questions About Editing]

[Read: Vast Difference in NYPD Provision of Body Camera Footage to District Attorneys Versus Police Watchdog]

[Read: Oversight Board Stymied by NYPD Denial of Body Camera Footage Requests]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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samarkhurshid@gmail.com (Samar Khurshid) City Sun, 17 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Oversight Board Stymied by NYPD Denial of Body Camera Footage Requests https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8928-reasons-nypd-wont-provide-body-camera-video-to-oversight-board-ccrb https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8928-reasons-nypd-wont-provide-body-camera-video-to-oversight-board-ccrb police comm confer

(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)


Amid the ongoing conversation about the way the NYPD handles footage recorded by officer-worn body cameras, more details have surfaced about the reasons the department gives for delaying or denying requests made by misconduct investigators for key pieces of video.

Gotham Gazette recently reported that while prosecutors in district attorney offices get full body-worn camera footage directly from the arresting officer following an arrest, police watchdogs often experience significant delays in obtaining video from the NYPD, if the footage is handed over at all.

Over the course of many months running, roughly a third of Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) investigations have outstanding body camera footage requests. More than half of all footage requests made by the CCRB are pending for more than 30 days (some even longer), which CCRB officials say has contributed to a growing backlog that threatens to derail ongoing investigations.

The CCRB is a civilian agency with Board members appointed by the mayor -- some recommended by the police commissioner or City Council -- and jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute allegations of officer misconduct when the claims involve excessive force or abuse of authority, among others.

The police department’s body-worn camera program hit full implementation across the entire force earlier this year, but the NYPD just last month issued its first “operations order” that indicates how camera footage is reviewed and disseminated to the public or prosecutors. The CCRB is not mentioned in the official policy.

NYPD officials have said, for requests made by the public or the CCRB, the department must edit the footage in order to comply with privacy provisions within the state’s public disclosure laws. Tracking down the relevant footage from any police body cameras on the scene of an incident, and ensuring it is edited to prevent depicting legally protected information, can contribute to the delays, department officials say.

Yet in a July memo to the CCRB, recently obtained by Gotham Gazette, CCRB Director of Quality Assurance and Improvement Olas Carayannis describes additional reasons the NYPD has given to outright deny body camera footage requests. The conditions discussed in the memo may also illuminate causes for the consistent delays in releasing footage to the CCRB, which the NYPD says it is working on and the mayor’s office told Gotham Gazette it will review. There is a City Council oversight hearing on the body camera program set for Monday.

Earlier this fall, NYPD spokesperson Al Baker told Gotham Gazette body camera video could be edited to shield the identities of victims and survivors of sex crimes, which he says the state’s civil rights statute protect. He also said footage can be redacted or omitted to remove images of confidential medical treatment, protected under federal law, or “other prisoners in a cell whose arrest may be sealed.” At a CCRB board meeting in September, Board Chair Fred Davie said there are also cases where the NYPD has withheld footage because it captures the face of a minor.

“With all NYPD patrol officers now outfitted with body-worn cameras, the NYPD collaborates closely with the CCRB to provide footage as expeditiously as possible,” Baker wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette in November. In March, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill announced the completed rollout of 20,000 body cameras to rank-and-file officers.

“That practice is constantly being fine-tuned to offer even faster turnarounds considering that a single request from the CCRB, about a single policing encounter, can mean that lengthy videos from dozens of officers must be carefully reviewed and possibly redacted,” Baker said.

The memo from Carayannis goes further, laying out other reasons the NYPD has given to CCRB investigators, some of which outline grounds for completely denying footage requests in addition to pointing to causes for delays.

Between February 2018 and July 2019, the NYPD has reserved the right to withhold body camera recordings when there is an ongoing investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau or another body, Carayannis noted. During that time period 41 cases were denied on that basis, six of which “were being investigated by the Force Investigations Division, which often investigates high-profile media cases involving force allegations that are also the CCRB’s jurisdiction,” the memo reads.

“Waiting for the Force Investigations Division to complete its investigation limits the CCRB’s ability to independently investigate these complaints,” Carayannis wrote. CCRB investigations must be completed within an 18-month statute of limitations.

The memo also states that in March 2018, the NYPD began refusing to provide the CCRB footage of incidents when they involved an arrest that was later sealed (a fact WNYC reported in July). “The NYPD considers the entire incident sealed in these instances, and thus all videos related to that arrest become unavailable to the CCRB,” the memo states.

It says, “The NYPD currently has a blanket policy of denying all BWC [body worn camera] requests that are in any way related to a sealed case,” pursuant to the state’s Criminal Procedure Law. In the memo Carayannis reports 81 CCRB requests that had been altogether denied because they were associated with a sealed arrest between March 2018 and July 2019.

Complaints can be made against officers for conduct that takes place during an arrest later sealed, and body camera footage could be essential in those investigations. Sealing records is meant to protect the reputation of an individual who may have had criminal charges dropped or ones that were very minor to begin with.

In April, the New York Supreme Court determined it was illegal for the police department to “us[e] any documents” connected with a sealed arrest, according to the memo. But Carayannis’s memo raises concerns that NYPD “members of service” (police officers) may continue to view body camera footage related to a sealed arrest, despite the ruling.

Carayannis wrote, “the CCRB is aware of multiple instances where the CCRB was denied access to video footage pursuant to [the Criminal Procedure Law], yet the [officer] was able to view the video prior to his/her CCRB interview.”

Video request denials because of a sealed arrest can compound the effect of other obstacles the CCRB says it faces in receiving and analyzing evidence from BWCs. “The backlog in BWC requests will cause the number of BWC videos unavailable to the CCRB to increase drastically, because the likelihood that an arrest is sealed rises with the length of time since an arrest,” the memo stated.

Another reason given by the NYPD to the CCRB for denying certain video requests is the presence of a minor in the sought-after recording. Baker has noted that the depiction of juveniles is a consideration in processing footage requests, writing in a November email, “Our policy for release is guided by State law and ensures that sensitive information involving juveniles or sex crime victims, among other things, is protected.”

Carayannis’ memo expands upon that description, explicitly citing it as a reason given, not only for potential delays in delivering footage, but for wholly refusing requests. Between March 2018 and July 2019, 82 video requests made by the CCRB were denied because of the presence of minors under the age of 18, which the police department said was required under the state’s Family Court Act, according to the memo.

“If you’re really interested in protecting young New Yorkers, if you’re really interested in improving relationships between the NYPD and those young people...then the best way to do that is by ensuring that we hold members of the police department in this city accountable,” CCRB Chair Davie said at the September board meeting.

“Ensuring the city’s police oversight agency has the tools it needs to investigate this misconduct is the best way to protect” young people captured in body camera video, he added.

Despite repeated attempts, NYPD representatives did not provide comment specifically for this story, particularly with regard to questions about denying video footage records requests because of ongoing IAB investigations, sealed arrests, or the presence of a minor.

[READ: New NYPD Body Camera Footage Policy Raises Questions About Editing]

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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ethangs@gothamgazette.com (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) City Sun, 17 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
New NYPD Body Camera Footage Policy Raises Questions About Editing https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8923-nypd-editing-body-camera-footage-policy-unit https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8923-nypd-editing-body-camera-footage-policy-unit cm vanessa gibson

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


The New York City Police Department recently issued the first protocols for the public release of footage from officers’ body-worn cameras, and with them the first explicit mention in departmental policy that the footage may be subject to editing and redaction prior to release.

The policy raises new and recurring questions on the controversial topics of who controls the video and how it is handled, some of which the NYPD has responded to with information about its internal footage-review unit.

On October 18, seven months after Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill announced the completed roll-out of the city’s body-worn camera (BWC) program to more than 20,000 uniformed officers, the department published an “operations order” outlining the parameters for reviewing and releasing video of so-called “critical incidents” -- interactions with the public where police force ends in death or serious injury​.​

Critical incidents can also include events that have captured “vast public attention, or concern,” the release of which “will help enforce the law, preserve peace, and/or maintain public order.”

It gives the police commissioner broad authority in determining whether footage should be made public and the extent to which it is censored or redacted in compliance with federal, state, and local law. In multiple instances the new policy makes reference to public safety and privacy concerns, some of which department officials say are protected by state law.

Through the new policy, the NYPD reserves the right to delay or completely forego releasing footage based on considerations like protecting confidential sources, the identity of victims and survivors of sex crimes and domestic violence, or the privacy, life, or safety of an individual -- among many others. In all instances the document leaves the discretion to edit or redact footage within the police department.

After review and possible editing, “the Department will release representative samples of the BWC video(s) depicting the critical incident, as well as, any salient events leading up to the event. Extraneous and/or redundant material may be omitted,” the order reads. “The footage will be redacted (e.g., faces of involved individuals will be blurred, etc.), as appropriate, prior to being released to the public.”

The policy says the NYPD will make a decision about when to release footage within 30 days of a critical incident, but makes no guarantees about the release.

In recent interviews with Gotham Gazette, police officials cited footage editing as one of the reasons for delaying the release of body-worn camera video to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which often requests the footage to assist in its investigations of alleged police misconduct.

Representatives of the CCRB, a civilian agency with jurisdiction over excessive force claims and other types of officer wrongdoing, say it relies on BWC video to substantiate misconduct allegations. Gotham Gazette recently reported that while roughly a third of CCRB investigations have BWC footage requests pending with the NYPD, the department releases unedited footage of arrests directly to prosecutors in district attorney offices almost immediately upon completing a tour.

Al Baker, an NYPD spokesperson, gave the examples of the state’s Civil Rights Law Section 50-b -- which he says requires the department to edit videos involving sex crimes -- and legal restrictions to publicly depicting confidential medical treatment, as reasons for the delay in responding to the CCRB.

“The CCRB disagrees with the NYPD’s interpretation of the law. We are working with the Department on a solution to these issues that satisfies all parties,” wrote Ethan Teicher, CCRB press secretary, in an email. The CCRB believes that unless there is “significant change” in the police department’s practices with respect to the agency’s video requests, the backog will continue to build and further impair misconduct investigations, according to a September tweet.

While listing the broad privacy and legal considerations the NYPD makes in determining whether a body camera video will be edited prior to release to the public, the new policy does not provide details about who makes the decisions to edit footage, what the full editing and release process looks like, and what ultimately gets redacted, omitted, or censored.

According to Baker of the NYPD, that is done by a centralized Body-Worn Camera Unit within the department’s Legal Bureau, housed at police headquarters in lower Manhattan. (Baker says the unit processes footage for both the CCRB and for public release. The public release policy makes no reference to the CCRB.) The BWC Unit is headed by James Conroy, Director of Litigation, Support and Transparency, a civilian member of the police department, and is made up of a combination of civilian and uniformed members, Baker said in a Wednesday phone interview.

Those details and the new operations order around public release of footage raise questions about potential conflicts of interest in editing body camera footage, including for officers under investigation for misconduct.

Asked whether the procedure to process video requests by the public, media, or CCRB involves the officer who wore the camera or others from the officer’s precinct, Baker told Gotham Gazette, “the answer to that is no. The officers who own the footage are not the people editing it. It’s edited in the centralized unit or it’s redacted in the centralized unit.”

An original copy of the footage is kept saved in an NYPD database for one year, according to the department’s patrol guide, regardless of any editing to fulfill a public or CCRB request. The new public release policy states, “Unedited footage of a critical incident will be maintained, and released, to an appropriate investigating authority upon request.”

In January 2018, NY1 reported receiving more than 300 BWC videos through a Freedom of Information Law request from the city’s pilot program recorded during 2014 and 2015, which were “heavily redacted, blacking out interactions between the public and police.” 

Baker did not respond to questions about whether there is a process of approval or feedback from people outside the BWC Unit, like the police commissioner or another top department official, before video is released to the public or to the CCRB.

He also did not immediately provide more information on the BWC Unit, like the size of its staff, the breakdown of its civilian and uniformed membership, and how many lawyers have been assigned to process the footage. It remains unclear whether a legal expert is assigned to each video request where footage must be censored or redacted pursuant to the law, and if there are written guidelines for that type of editing.

“The NYPD has assigned additional personnel to the body-worn camera unit to address the backlog of requests,” Baker wrote in an October email, referring to both CCRB requests and ones made by members of the public under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

A memo from Olas Carayannis, CCRB Director of Quality Assurance, to the CCRB board in July stated, “While the Department indicated that it allocated four additional people to review BWC requests, the CCRB is not confident that this will address the backlog in a way that will allow the Agency to complete its investigations in a timely manner.”

The CCRB solicits evidence from the NYPD exclusively through the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, according to the department’s patrol guide. How the BWC Unit works with Internal Affairs does not appear to be described in any NYPD protocols.

“As of June 26, 2019, the CCRB had 788 unfulfilled requests for BWC footage from IAB, some of which had been made months earlier,” wrote Carayannis.

On Monday, the City Council Committee on Public Safety, chaired by Queens Democrat Donovan Richards, will hold an oversight hearing to examine the body camera program after its first months of full implementation. Along with providing new information about the CCRB backlog and the NYPD footage-editing process, the hearing may illuminate other questions like how officers are adapting to turning on cameras during interactions with the public, as required by departmental policy, and what the department is doing to ensure officer compliance with protocols related to the new technology.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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ethangs@gothamgazette.com (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) City Fri, 15 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Department of Investigation to Publicly Track City Agency Compliance with Recommended Reforms https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8922-department-of-investigation-to-publicly-track-city-agency-compliance-with-recommended-reforms https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8922-department-of-investigation-to-publicly-track-city-agency-compliance-with-recommended-reforms cm ritchie oversight

DOI Commissioner Margaret Garnett (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


The Department of Investigation, a watchdog agency tasked with rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in city government, issues hundreds of recommendations each year, urging other city agencies to reform their procedures and enhance the services they provide. It’s not always apparent to the general public, or even elected officials, whether agencies comply with those suggestions, which are typically based on extensive investigations.

But the department has now promised a new database next year that will provide a window into the agencies that are willing and able to improve and those that are resistant or incapable to do so. At the same time, the City Council may codify that database into law.    

Council Member Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat who chairs the Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations, is pursuing legislation that would mandate that DOI create an online, public-facing database to track the various Policy and Procedure Recommendations (PPRs) that it makes every year and how agencies are or aren’t implementing them. The legislation has three other sponsors and was the subject of a Council committee hearing on Wednesday chaired by Torres. 

DOI’s recommendations are just that, recommendations, and agencies are not beholden to them. An agency can choose to “accept” or “reject” recommendations and, even when they are accepted, there is no guarantee they will be implemented.

“Without systematic tracking by DOI, agencies have no incentive to implement reforms, and the public has no means of knowing whether agencies are implementing reforms as promised,” Torres said in his opening remarks at the hearing. “An investigation is only as good as the real-world result it produces. It is only as good as the follow-up and the follow-through. As a city, we cannot afford a hit-and-run approach to investigations. We cannot content ourselves to issue reports and then move on to the next order of business.”

Torres has a willing partner in DOI. At the hearing, Commissioner Margaret Garnett said the department has been working for the last year to create a database along the lines of Torres’ bill. It will report on recommendations made, those that are accepted, rejected, and implemented (all of which is required by the bill) and would record agency explanations on implementation, if provided. 

“The idea is significant,” she said, “providing a window for the public into DOI’s compelling work in a way that goes beyond our press releases on arrests or our public reports, and reflects the wide-reaching impact our investigations have on the city.” 

Garnett noted that DOI already publishes some information about PPRs in the annual Mayor’s Management Report. Between the 2015 and 2019 fiscal years, the department issued a total of 4,669 recommendations to agencies. Currently, DOI only reports on the percentage of recommendations accepted by agencies in sum, and that does not get at how many have been implemented. For instance, in fiscal year 2018, DOI issued 2,538 recommendations, 56% of which were accepted. In previous years, there were far fewer recommendations but they were accepted at a much higher rate. (The report does not show how many of the 549 recommendations from fiscal year 2019 were accepted.)

Garnett said DOI will provide that new information, about the percentage of reforms accepted and implemented, in the MMR for the 2020 Fiscal Year. The larger database will be made public by the summer of 2020 or potentially earlier, she said. 

Garnett acknowledged that DOI has not had an effective centralized method so far to track how its recommendations have been implemented. “In the past, that had been a process that had been located more with individual [Inspectors General] for the agencies, and different inspectors general at DOI had different methods for keeping track and for following up with agencies,” she said. The new database will provide both the public and the department internally with a tool that “would show all of the PPRs and an accurate and up-to-date assessment of where the agencies are in both agreement and implementation,” she added.

Garnett did caution the committee against mandating a ranking of the reform recommendations in any public database or using it to grade individual agencies for compliance. “All PPRs are not created alike,” she said in her opening statement. “Some address relatively minor issues while some address significant systemic changes. Some are more costly or difficult to implement while others may require the approval or cooperation of other entities.”

As Garnett pointed out, PPRs span across city agencies. For instance, a 2015 report on the NYPD’s use-of-force policies included 15 recommendations on policy, training, discipline and documentation procedures. A 2016 investigation of the Administration for Children’s Services yielded five recommendations on case management and employee discipline. A 2017 report on the New York City Housing Authority’s failure to conduct mandatory lead paint safety inspections made five broad recommendations on compliance and reporting. 

One notable exception from the database will be the Department of Education, which falls under the purview of the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District. Garnett’s predecessor, Mark Peters, infamously tried to wrest control of SCI and was fired by the mayor for overstepping his authority (though Peters and others have also claimed that de Blasio was unhappy with how aggressively Peters had approached his work holding city agencies accountable, and a possible investigation into the mayor’s office over a stalled DOE examination of yeshiva education that some believe de Blasio himself has slow-walked). SCI is independent of DOI but must report certain information to it. 

“A dashboard that fails to include one-third of city government is deeply deficient,” Torres said, referring to the massive DOE. “And that might be a major point of disagreement between DOI and the Council. And this is a point on which I'm going to push very hard. But it feels like it would be odd not to include the largest city agency, or city entity, in the dashboard.”

Garnett was open to the idea. “I think that's certainly something that we can explore,” she said.

Garnett did reject an idea put forward by Torres that the online dashboard allow comments from the public. 

“Is there going to be some mechanism by which the opinions of external stakeholders are going to be included in the dashboard as DOI envisions it?,” Torres asked. “Is that something you're open to?”

“That, for a variety of reasons, is a challenge that I think is beyond our ability to implement,” Garnett responded. “The information that is currently going to be in this PPR tracking database is all information that is sort of in the possession and control of DOI.” She noted that simply making the information available to the public would allow individuals, elected officials, community groups and advocates to hold agencies to account. 

“Personally, I don't know how much time you spend on the internet, Chairman Torres, but I'm not sure that a publicly open comment field is useful,” she joked.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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samarkhurshid@gmail.com (Samar Khurshid) City Thu, 14 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Christine Quinn on Homelessness, Making Government Work, & Her Future https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8924-max-murphy-podcast-christine-quinn-on-homelessness https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8924-max-murphy-podcast-christine-quinn-on-homelessness christine quinn wbai600

(photo: @WINNYC_ORG)


November 13, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Christine Quinn on Homelessness, Making Government Work, & Her Future

christine quinn 150pxFormer City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, now the CEO of Win, one of the city's largest homeless shelter providers, joined the show to discuss the city's homelessness crisis, Win's work, broader government issues, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's likely entrance into the presidential race, and her own political future.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) City Thu, 14 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
After Ballot Proposal Spending, Council Member Eyes Expansion of Independent Expenditure Disclosure https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8918-city-council-expand-law-requiring-independent-expenditure-disclosures https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8918-city-council-expand-law-requiring-independent-expenditure-disclosures 107 123 c3560 1

One PBA IE on 2019 ballot question 2 (photo via Campaign Finance Board filing)


Just after an election where the issue became especially apparent, a New York City lawmaker is planning to introduce legislation to close a loophole that has allowed independent expenditure committees to shield donors when they spend money to sway voters on ballot proposals. The potential change in city law would bring certain donor disclosure rules in line with state regulations and extend other city regulations to what is already required for political spending on candidates by groups outside the candidate campaign.

The move by Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander comes five years after the city enacted disclosure regulations on independent expenditures for candidates and following two consecutive general elections where city charter revision referenda went before voters.

In the most recent election, just completed, three groups -- each with its own independent expenditure committee registered with the state -- spent over $1 million either in support of or in opposition to ballot proposals. None of those entities had to disclose their contributors to the city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB), forcing members of the public to navigate a labyrinth of city and state databases in order to get the most complete picture of the influence of large political spenders. Nor did the independent expenditure committees have to follow a city law mandating such groups disclose their top three donors on communications with voters, a regulation in place for promoting or disparaging candidates.

“In 2014, we created a great law to provide disclosure for independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, and there is already evidence that it is working,” Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette. “This year, the first significant expenditure on behalf of a ballot measure revealed to us the need to expand our disclosure rules, already among the strongest in the nation for candidates, to cover spending for ballot measures as well.”

“I am working on introducing legislation to do just that, to ensure that the same level of transparency applies across the ballot,” he said. Lander was the lead sponsor on the 2014 legislation that created the new independent expenditure transparency requirements. It came just after the city’s raucous 2013 election cycle when IEs played a significant role in the first mayoral race following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, among other local elections where such spenders sought influence.

Lander’s stated plan comes days after the CFB issued a recommendation to the City Council suggesting lawmakers close gaps in the city’s campaign finance laws. Those gaps became more evident as spending around the ballot questions picked up in the days leading up to the general election this fall. Following the CFB recommendation, the Daily News Editorial Board endorsed the idea of closing the loophole.

In a press release issued Thursday, the CFB asked the Council to consider legislation that would amend the campaign finance laws in the City Charter to require independent expenditure committees to disclose their contributors to the CFB via its online portal; and publish “paid-for-by” notices on electioneering materials -- both of which are already required for spending on behalf of candidates under the 2014 law.

The City Charter also requires organizations making contributions of $50,000 or more to independent spenders on behalf of candidates to disclose all donors who gave more than $25,000 in the preceding 12 months.

Under the CFB recommendation, the paid-for-by notices would include a list of the independent spender’s top three donors as well as a weblink to the agency’s online portal, where the public can view detailed information on political spending. The aptly-titled “Follow the Money” portal presently contains details on how much was spent on political campaigns by independent expenditure committees, including what the spending went to and when it was spent, with images and videos of each ad posted or aired.

But that is the extent to which the public can follow the money through the CFB’s relatively user-friendly online resource. To find out who is bankrolling the independent expenditure committees, interested parties must visit the State Board of Elections’ cumbersome financial disclosure webpage where the information is largely decentralized.

“New York City has the country’s strongest disclosure requirements and resources for independent expenditures. Unfortunately, when it comes to ballot proposals, our law has a blind spot,” said CFB Executive Director Amy Loprest in the Thursday press release.

“Bringing the disclosure for ballot proposals in line with the requirements for independent expenditures about candidates will provide voters with important information that will help them cast informed votes, and we urge the Council to take action,” the statement reads.

For the past two general elections, New York City voters have had the opportunity to approve or reject City Charter amendments proposed by successive Charter Revision Commissions. Charter commissions can be empanelled by the mayor or through City Council legislation to examine the city’s central body of laws, take public testimony, and make recommendations for reform.

This year, the Charter Revision Commission was created by the City Council in conjunction with then-Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. The commission put five questions on the ballot, together containing 19 distinct amendments, dealing with a range of city election and governance issues.

In the weeks leading up to the start of the nine-day early voting period in late October, and Election Day on November 5, three independent expenditure committees together spent roughly $1.15 million urging voters to cast ballots either for or against one or more of the proposals. All five questions were overwhelmingly approved by voters citywide.

The vast majority of independent spending was around Question 1, which contained an amendment that would bring ranked-choice voting to certain New York City elections. The voting method, which allows voters to list candidates in order of preference rather than making a single all-or-nothing choice, was backed by a coalition of good government reformers and elected officials under an independent expenditure committee called “Committee for Ranked Choice Voting NYC.” The committee spent a total of $986,017 on digital, TV, and direct mail advertising between mid-September and Election Day, according to the CFB portal.

But, while the principals of the committee are required to be reported to the CFB, the committee’s funders are not. According to the Daily News editorial, which analyzed data from the State Board of Elections, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting had received a total of $1,996,948.33, of which 90 percent is from just four large contributors.

Ballot Question 2, which dealt with police oversight, also saw significant spending, but to vote down the proposal. That campaign was waged by the city’s largest police officer union.

While there were independent expenditures made for and against ballot proposals in the 2018 general election, the total independent spending on those campaigns was a much smaller $125,659, according to the CFB portal.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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ethangs@gothamgazette.com (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) City Wed, 13 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Vast Difference in NYPD Provision of Body Camera Footage to District Attorneys Versus Police Watchdog https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8880-nypd-body-camera-footage-district-attorneys-ccrb https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8880-nypd-body-camera-footage-district-attorneys-ccrb first comm holds

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


One of the most visible changes to American policing in the wake of the controversial 2014 killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men, by law enforcement, is the proliferation of body-worn cameras. But as the cameras become a larger part of the police oversight constellation in New York City, the NYPD has been slow to release footage to the very agency meant to investigate alleged officer misconduct, including excessive, even deadly, force.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the launch of phase one of the body-worn camera (BWC) program in 2017, it was billed as a transparency measure aimed at reducing “mistrust between police and community.” But the purported effort to improve police accountability has been more focused on producing evidence in criminal cases — where discovery laws now require it — and less on supporting misconduct investigations by the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), the main agency tasked with carrying them out.

When an arrest is made, the arresting officer sends complete BWC footage of the event to prosecutors almost immediately and in raw, unedited form, according to spokespeople from several New York City district attorneys’ offices. But the NYPD has been delayed or completely delinquent in providing footage to the CCRB in roughly a third of the Board’s open cases — cases raised by civilians against police officers, including ones that may not have involved an arrest.

The CCRB is a civilian body separate from the police department and district attorneys, with jurisdiction over claims of excessive force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, and offensive language. Its Board members are appointed by the mayor in conjunction with the City Council and police commissioner, and it is led by an executive director supervising roughly 180 employees. Under a 2012 agreement with the NYPD, the Board can prosecute allegations it substantiates in an administrative trial setting. Such a trial led outgoing Police Commissioner James O’Neill to fire Daniel Pantaleo this summer for misconduct during Garner’s fatal arrest.

The de Blasio administration announced the completed roll-out of roughly 20,000 BWCs to all uniformed police officers in March, after two years piloting the program. Another 4,000 cameras have since been deployed to members of specialized NYPD units.

Month-to-month data published by the CCRB in October shows that since the full implementation of body cameras was announced, between 29 and 37 percent of its open investigations have footage requests pending with the NYPD. Prosecutors, on the other hand, have received hundreds of thousands of BWC videos since the technology was adopted, and in most cases the footage is transmitted automatically following an arrest.

Police officers are required to turn body cameras on during arrests, incidents where force is used, as well as certain stops and searches, patrols, and interactions with the public. The NYPD Patrol Guide also requires cameras be turned on during “potential crime-in-progress assignments,” including investigations into a “suspicious person” and any incident involving a weapon.

As body cameras have proliferated across New York, they have become increasingly essential to the work of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, according to officials who say the evidence is “crucial” in investigating alleged misconduct -- the CCRB can only open a case when a civilian complaint is lodged.

They are also used by prosecutors in nearly every criminal case and the footage now falls under the state’s discovery laws, which lawmakers overhauled this year.

According to the communications director for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Oren Yaniv, Gonzalez’s office has accessed over 140,000 body worn camera videos since 2018. Other district attorney offices also reported receiving thousands of BWC videos.

Spokespeople for New York City district attorneys described a proprietary management system used by the NYPD that automatically transmits footage once an officer plugs their camera into a docking station and registers an arrest. “The NYPD system does not allow deleting, editing or altering the videos,” Yaniv wrote in an email.

Cooperating with the CCRB
The CCRB’s requests are handled differently. The results can mean censored and incomplete footage and significant delays in responding to investigators, who are operating under a statute of limitations.

Video footage, whether from a body-worn device, cell phone, or security camera, has become instrumental to CCRB investigations. In September, the CCRB substantiated 38 percent of misconduct allegations where video of the incident was available, compared with just 11 percent of cases where no video was available, according to an analysis released by the agency.

“The reality of policing in New York City is that Eric Garner’s death in 2014 is not the only instance of police misconduct captured on video,” said CCRB Chair Fred Davie, at the agency’s September Board meeting.

Body-worn cameras help the CCRB make conclusive determinations, “but we can do so only if we receive that body-worn camera footage and receive it from the NYPD in a timely fashion,” Davie said.

Under the City Charter, the police department has a legal obligation to provide BWC video and other evidence to the CCRB, according to a CCRB representative. But, unlike prosecutors collecting evidence related to an arrest, the CCRB’s requests are subject to redaction and censorship, as well as delay.

Before sending footage to the CCRB, the NYPD is legally required to “pixelate-out” people’s faces under certain circumstances captured on film, according to Al Baker, director of media relations at the police department. “For example, potential medical treatment (protected under federal law) or other prisoners in a cell whose arrest may be sealed,” he wrote in an email.

“Also, we withhold the sex-crimes videos in their entirety, pursuant to CRL 50-b [part of the state’s civil rights statute], unless a waiver is provided by the victim of the sex crime. This is a meticulous process that is necessary before release,” he added.

Baker said the department has a dedicated body-worn camera unit for processing requests, which he says has received additional personnel to address the “backlog.”

CCRB officials are indeed concerned that “unless there is a significant change, the backlog of CCRB requests for video evidence will continue to increase and impair the CCRB’s ability to complete investigations within the 18-month statute of limitations,” according to a September tweet from the Board’s account.

“With all of its resources and technical expertise, the NYPD can and must produce body-camera footage much more quickly,” wrote Christopher Dunn, Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in an email to Gotham Gazette.

From January 2018 to November 7, 2019, the CCRB requested body camera footage in 5,149 investigations, according to data shared with Gotham Gazette. Throughout 2019, the number of requests has been between 300 and 400 per month, with two exceptions. The first month that the number of active body camera-involved cases reached 300 was in October 2018, five months before City Hall announced the full rollout of the cameras.

But it wasn’t until the complete implementation in March of this year that the NYPD’s response rate precipitously fell. Between January 2018 and February 2019, the portion of CCRB cases awaiting NYPD body camera footage hovered between just 1 and 17 percent. Since March, that range has lept to between 29 and 37 percent.

Footage in about 43 percent of requests is turned over by the NYPD to the CCRB within 30 days, and another 35 percent take between 30 and 60 days. In about 13 percent of footage requests by the CCRB — 79 cases as of the end of September — the calls have gone unanswered by the NYPD for more than 90 days.

“Even now, there is one case in particular — an allegation of excessive force and a civilian experiencing several broken bones and brain hemorrhaging — for which our investigators per the NYPD cannot access the body-worn camera footage related to that case,” Davie said at the September Board meeting. The police department, he said, had denied the request in order to protect the privacy of a minor who was present in the relevant footage.

Asked about the CCRB's trouble getting police body camera footage, the mayor's office said it is under review. “We are reviewing these reports, and we will work with PD and CCRB on next steps,” wrote Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, in an October email to Gotham Gazette.

The City Council Committee on Public Safety plans to hold an oversight hearing on Monday, November 18 to examine the police department’s implementation of the cameras. The committee will discuss a bill introduced by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams that would require the NYPD to report information on the BWC program, including each incident where an officer uses their camera.

Baker noted that the NYPD this year has the largest deployment of body cameras in the nation, “therefore, we need to locate all BWC footage from any responding officer to a particular scene and make sure it goes through that rigorous process before being released.”

Even the process of releasing footage to the CCRB and the public has been opaque since the city’s rollout of BWCs, and remains so for the CCRB.

The police department recently published a two-page policy, an “operations order” within the department, for release of body camera footage of what it calls “critical incidents” —  cases of death or serious injury because of police force — to the public, seven months since full implementation of the cameras was announced.

But while it discusses release of body camera footage to prosecutors and the public, the policy makes no explicit mention of footage capturing other potential misconduct that would fall under the CCRB’s jurisdiction. An NYPD spokesperson confirmed by phone that dealing with CCRB requests falls outside the newly-published policy.

When asked if any written procedure exists, Baker wrote in an email, “That practice is constantly being fine-tuned to offer even faster turnarounds considering that a single request from the CCRB, about a single policing encounter, can mean that lengthy videos from dozens of officers must be carefully reviewed and possibly redacted.”

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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ethangs@gothamgazette.com (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) City Tue, 12 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
How the City's New Jails Plan Accounts for Those with Serious Mental Illness https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8910-how-city-close-rikers-jails-plan-serious-mental-illness https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8910-how-city-close-rikers-jails-plan-serious-mental-illness Rikers Island inmate detainee

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


In an historic vote last month, the New York City Council approved the plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex and replace it with four borough-based jails by 2026. When the Council voted through the plan, estimated at $8.7 billion in new construction costs, it also announced, with Mayor Bill de Blasio, a $391-million package of citywide and community investments in criminal justice reforms and initiatives to responsibly accelerate the reduction of the city’s jail population.

For city officials, one of the most complex issues they face is ensuring that the new system is less punitive and more rehabilitative, particularly for the 43% of incarcerated individuals who suffer from some form of mental illness. Experts and advocates say the plan is taking an appropriate approach to that issue but also insist that it provides a novel opportunity to rethink how the criminal justice system deals with the mentally ill, especially those suffering from more acute problems.

Given that one of de Blasio’s signature programs as mayor is the ThriveNYC mental health “roadmap” spearheaded by his wife, Chirlane McCray, the mayor’s approach to services for those with severe mental illness, particularly those who wind up involved in the criminal justice system, has been the source of intense scrutiny, again heightened as the new jails plan was crafted.

With most major crimes at or near record lows in the city and recent shifts in law enforcement and prosecutorial policies, particularly around non-violent offenses, the number of people incarcerated in city jails has been consistently declining. That drop has been so sharp that the de Blasio administration projects the average daily jail population to fall to 3,300 by 2026, when Rikers is set to close, down from about 7,000 this year and aided by state bail reform that will go into effect in January.

The Rikers closure plan will involve building four new facilities in every borough except Staten Island, with roughly 885 beds each. The facilities are meant to be fairer and safer than the dilapidated jails on Rikers. Another 250 new beds will be created in existing public hospital facilities for those individuals who require continuing access to specialized medical services.

Mayor Bill de Blasio himself has acknowledged that the city has its work cut out for it when it comes to individuals with mental illness who are locked up in jails. The day after the Council’s vote, the mayor made his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show and a caller named Winston who was formerly incarcerated on Rikers prodded him on improving access to mental health services. De Blasio emphasized the decarceral aspects of the plan, which include greater investments in alternatives to incarceration, supervised release programs, and mental health initiatives.

“This thing is not in isolation. Six years of changing the approach to criminal justice and it’s all been consistent with reducing crime at the same time and I’m very convinced that this is the right approach,” said the second-term Democrat. “But you’re right, it will take some important adjustments and investments and getting people more access to mental health services, which is the whole concept behind the Thrive[NYC] initiative, is absolutely necessary going forward, and providing better and more consistent mental health for those who do happen to be incarcerated, which is also in this plan.”

One of the key elements of how things unfold will be the dichotomy of mental health services for those with serious mental illness who need treatment while serving jail time versus those who can be removed from or kept out of jail given appropriate treatment options and enrollment in such programming.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette, said, “The time of locking people up because they're mentally ill has to come to an end. This is why we are creating new Intensive Mobile Treatment (IMT) teams to provide intensive treatment to adults with recent and frequent contact with the mental health, substance use, criminal justice, and homeless services systems. It is time to eliminate an unjust system that has criminalized mental illness and destroyed so many of our communities.” 

In a background briefing, an official from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, which took point on the jails plan, laid out the various pillars of the city’s approach. The official reemphasized what de Blasio said on the radio: that the administration’s focus is to minimize the number of people in jail with behavioral health, mental health, and substance misuse problems, and to prevent reincarceration by providing services that address their needs.

Correctional Health Services, an arm of NYC Health+Hospitals, is charged with providing medical services to the city’s jail system, from pre-arraignment through reentry. According to a H+H spokesperson, roughly one-third of the 43% of detainees who receive a mental illness diagnosis have severe mental illness – schizophrenia, bipolar or depressive disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder – making up about 16% of the total jail population. For a population of about 7,000 detainees, that means just over 1,100 people with serious mental illnesses at any given time.

Currently, each jail has what H+H says is the equivalent of an outpatient clinic. For detainees with serious mental illness, intellectual disabilities, or who might be more vulnerable in the general jail population, there are 18 so-called mental observation (MO) units across the 10 jails and Horizon Juvenile Center. There are also inpatient psychiatric beds at Bellevue Hospital for men and at Elmhurst Hospital for women, all of whom are considered part of the city’s jail population while being treated.

The community investments package that the City Council and mayor agreed to includes an expansion by Correctional Health Services of two programs that provide discharge and reentry services to the formerly incarcerated, the Community Reentry Assistance Network (CRAN) and Point of Reentry and Transition (PORT) programs.

Though the city is hoping for the best, it is planning for the worst. About 40% of the beds in the new borough jails will be therapeutic housing units to account for the percentage of the jail population that suffers at least some kind of mental illness.

The city plans to reduce the population through various efforts, including implementing recommendations from the city’s Crisis Prevention and Response Task Force announced last month, which will change how police respond to people experiencing mental health crises. The city is putting $23 million in total towards those recommendations by 2023, which includes adding four Health Engagement and Assessment (HEAT) teams of clinicians and peers who have experienced mental illness to handle non-emergency responses, and six more mobile crisis teams (mental health professionals who respond to calls to the NYC-WELL hotline) to conduct home visits and respond to urgent situations.

These programs aim to ensure that people suffering from mental illness do not wind up in jail, or back in jail as the case may be.

Additionally, the city is investing $11.2 million to add 380 beds of “justice-involved supporting housing,” for a total of 500 across the city, and is increasing the number of post-release transitional beds for those with mental health needs and a history of homelessness to 500 with a $25 million investment.

About $27 million in new funding will go to mental health services (for a total of $37 million) through various programs. And the Council also passed the Get Well And Get Out Act, which will allow those with serious mental illness to push for their release from custody if they improve with treatment.

But the official from MOCJ conceded that there will inevitably be individuals with serious mental illnesses in jails, despite the city’s best efforts to reduce that population, which has stubbornly hovered in the 10-15% range even as the overall numbers of detainees have fallen. Almost all of the people held in city jails are either awaiting trial, locked up due to a parole violation, or serving sentences of under one year.

The new borough facilities and the Rikers plan account for the fact that some detainees will suffer from serious mental illnesses by expanding two key programs that address this population: Clinical Alternative to Punitive Segregation (CAPS) and Program to Accelerate Clinical Effectiveness (PACE).

The Council’s agreement with the mayor includes $12.8 million to double the number of existing PACE units by the end of the current fiscal year. The city has yet to decide the breakdown of those units in the borough facilities, the MOCJ official said.

The 250 new Outposted Therapeutic Units outside the jail system, however, will be dedicated to those individuals who have some form of substance abuse disorder, mental health or behavioral health issue as well as a complex need for medical care. The MOCJ official said they had identified a gap in the current continuum of care for these detainees, who don’t necessarily require inpatient hospitalization but benefit from proximity to specialized care. They can spend hours going to and from hospitals for even the shortest of check ups with specialists. 

The city is currently in the process of identifying vacant sites for those units and has contracted Lothrop Associates to conduct a feasibility study that is expected to be concluded by the end of the year, the MOCJ official said. The study will help determine the costs and needs of the new facilities and the city will then put out solicitations for redesigning the new spaces to accommodate incarcerated individuals. The project is separate from the borough-based jails plan and the official said it would likely move much faster since it would not require approval through the city’s land use process.

Insha Rahman, director of Strategy and New Initiatives at the Vera Institute, said a larger goal of the Rikers closure plan should be to minimize the harm that jails do to inmates, not just those with mental illness.

“If we're going to say, ‘We are still going to have incarceration in this city,’ which we are, for the foreseeable future, 5, 10, maybe even 20, 30 years from now, we should be constructing these new facilities as buildings first, and then outfitting them to be places of incarceration so that they're not built with just incarceration and jail design front and center,” she said in a phone interview. 

She cited the example of jails in countries like Germany and Norway. “To the extent that we're thinking about how do we address people's underlying needs and how do we provide therapeutic care and counseling for those who are in custody, anything that looks fundamentally like a jail is going to inflict some amount of harm and trauma,” she added, insisting that the city should look not to prison architects but to behavioral and mental health experts for ideas for the new jails.

Rahman also urged the administration and Council to invest further at the community level in permanent affordable housing, community-based treatment and counselling that can preempt interactions with the criminal justice system.

A stark reality that the city faces is dealing with those individuals with serious mental illness who pose a threat to themselves and others, a concern that was brought to the fore last month when a mentally ill homeless man killed four men sleeping on the street in Chinatown. It prompted the city to review how it implements Kendra’s Law, which allows courts to mandate involuntary “assisted outpatient treatment” for such individuals. That review is meant to be completed by next week. The number of individuals ordered into treatment under the law was 2,476 in fiscal year 2018, down from 2,517 in fiscal year 2017 but up from 2,368 in fiscal year 2016 and 2,176 in fiscal year 2015, according to data provided by the de Blasio administration.

Rahman warned against harsher enforcement of the law. “I think enforcing Kendra's Law more strongly is not necessarily going to get us fewer people in our jails that have serious mental health needs,” she said. “I think the most important initial response is more community-based treatments and figuring out how can we actually resource families and neighbors.”

There is some disagreement on that front, however. D.J. Jaffe, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org, criticized the city’s ThriveNYC mental health initiative and called for an expansion of Kendra’s Law in an op-ed in the New York Daily News following the Chinatown murders.

Jaffe argues the City Council should require “the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to start evaluating all seriously mentally ill people being discharged from Rikers; all seriously mentally ill leaving shelters; and all mentally ill patients being discharged from city hospitals after an involuntary commitment. Those are the three highest risk groups; evaluate them all to see if they are eligible for Kendra’s Law and get them into it if they are.”

Minister, Dr. Victoria A. Phillips of the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project echoed Rahman’s view, but also stressed that the new jails should prioritize interactions between detainees and health care workers, rather than with corrections officers.

“Behind correctional walls, it’s never the health staff that takes the lead, and I think the Department of Corrections has shown itself to be unable to change its culture of violence,” she said, pointing to the most recent report by a federal monitor with oversight of the city’s Department of Correction, which showed that use of force by corrections officers has risen dramatically while the jail population has dropped.

Former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who led the independent commission that proposed the leading Rikers closure plan, praised the approach the city is taking, while acknowledging that the overarching objective is to keep people with mental illness out of jails. “If you have people who the system decides to incarcerate, then you have to deal with that,” he said in a phone interview. “In an ideal world...people who have serious problems with mental health should get help and not be incarcerated. But, you know, we don't live in the ideal world.”

[READ: 'No One Should Enter the Criminal Justice System for Something Related to Mental Illness']

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - This article has been updated. 

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samarkhurshid@gmail.com (Samar Khurshid) City Fri, 08 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
First Deputy Mayor on Next Steps for Voter-Approved 'Rainy Day Fund' https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8905-first-deputy-mayor-on-next-steps-for-voter-approved-rainy-day-fund https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8905-first-deputy-mayor-on-next-steps-for-voter-approved-rainy-day-fund control board bdb

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photo Office)


With voter approval of a city charter amendment to pursue the creation of a budgetary “rainy day fund” in New York City, de Blasio administration officials are now looking to change state laws so that the city can actually start one.

“We’re going to have to work together to make this happen,” said First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan at a breakfast event hosted by the Citizens Budget Commission Wednesday morning, just a few hours after polls closed on Tuesday night.

Voters had overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the city charter that would allow the city to set aside revenue in a savings account meant to cushion the impact of a future economic downturn and city revenue dip — the inevitable rainy day. Until the charter amendment passed this week, provisions in both city and state law required the city to balance its budget every year, meaning savings cannot be carried over from one fiscal year to another. Now, only state law requires a balanced city budget.

While the city continues to enjoy a period of economic prosperity since the 2008-2009 fiscal crisis, economists say it must brace for potential dips, whether slowing growth or recession. In the last two national recessions, the city economy contracted significantly and took years to rebound, according to a Citizens Budget Commission report, “To Weather A Storm: Create a Rainy Day Fund.” According to the CBC analysis, the gross city product (GCP) fell 7.6 percent from 2000 to 2002 and took another three years to reach its pre-recession size; from 2007 to 2009 GCP fell 9 percent and did not reach its previous peak until 2013.

In situations like these, the city can quickly exhaust any reserves that may be available, and, in the absence of a rainy day fund, must cut services, raise taxes, and/or fall on short-term borrowing, all of which have consequences that are exacerbated in a recession.

Currently, the city is able to put public funds into “reserves,” which are created through budgetary maneuvers that, among other things, allow the city to prepay for certain resources, debt service, and retiree health benefits costs. But fiscal watchdogs say the reserves would not be sufficient to combat a serious dip in the economy or an emergency crisis, and are a fraction of what a rainy day fund could cover.

The city budget has grown tremendously since the last recession in 2008-2009. Since the beginning of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure in 2014, it has risen nearly $20 billion to $92.8 billion in the current fiscal year. About $6 billion of the total is currently in year-of reserves.

“It’s a historic level of reserves,” which the city has not previously achieved, said Fuleihan, a former director of the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget and a veteran fiscal policy advisor in the State Assembly. “But it is not a rainy day fund. It’s not a traditional way of doing that, and now we have the opportunity to do that.”

The rainy day fund amendment was one of 19 proposed changes to the city charter, which voters in New York City had an opportunity to approve or reject this fall based on the work of the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, to which the mayor had several appointees along with other citywide and boroughwide officials. The proposals came in the form of five questions covering elections, police oversight, ethics and governance, city budget, and land use. All five questions passed by wide margins.

The laws requiring New York City to balance its budget each year came out of the city’s 1975 fiscal crisis, in which the city’s debt obligations brought it close to bankruptcy. In response, the state enacted the Financial Emergency Act, which required a balanced budget and the use of generally accepted accounting principles as a way to ensure the city’s fiduciary obligations do not exceed its revenue. In 2005, those requirements were incorporated in the city charter.

With the charter amendments that remove those requirements, state laws are the only remaining statutes preventing New York City from adopting a rainy day fund. State Senator Brian Benjamin, a Manhattan Democrat who is considering a run for city comptroller, has introduced a bill that would authorize the city to create a rainy day fund (the fund is described in the bill as a “municipal contingency and tax stabilization reserve fund”). 

For the de Blasio administration, the issue at hand now is not simply a matter of changing the state law. Fuleihan says he hopes to work with the state to devise a partnership that gives the city ultimate control over its budget and rainy day funds. Budget watchdogs are also hoping state lawmakers include statutory restrictions on when the rainy day funds may be spent to ensure that they are used as intended during periods of economic hardship.

“The first step occurred [Tuesday] and now we need to talk about what that looks like,” Fuleihan told the CBC audience Wednesday, “and to make sure that the city is the determining factor in what this rainy day fund looks like.”

“I think we do have to be careful about that,” he added.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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ethangs@gothamgazette.com (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) City Thu, 07 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Williams Remains Public Advocate; Katz Next Queens DA; Ranked-Choice Voting on Its Way; & More: Election Results 2019 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8901-williams-remains-public-advocate-katz-next-queens-da-ranked-choice-voting-on-its-way-more-election-results-2019 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8901-williams-remains-public-advocate-katz-next-queens-da-ranked-choice-voting-on-its-way-more-election-results-2019 37538369094 848cd1720a c

(photo: Gotham Gazette)


After about 60,000 New York City voters took advantage of the first early voting period in city history, albeit during an especially quiet electoral year, more than 650,000 others went to the polls on Election Day 2019, providing mostly expected results and approving multiple controversial ballot proposals to change city elections and governance. This year provided a helpful initial test run for early voting and all that goes with it, such as electronic poll books and a lot of poll-worker training, before what is expected to be an incredibly tense and busy 2020 election year, with especially high turnout for the presidential election, as well as those for Congress and the State Legislature.

After winning a special election earlier this year, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat, was reelected Tuesday to serve the rest of the term through the end of 2021. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, also a Democrat, was elected Tuesday to become the next Queens District Attorney, a four-year term beginning at the start of 2020. Council Member Farah Louis, who replaced Williams in the City Council after winning her own prior special election, also retained her seat and can serve through at least 2021.

And the relatively small number of New York City voters who turned out this fall (about 15% of the city's 4.8 million active registered voters) -- from the inaugural early voting period and on Election Day -- also approved 19 specific changes to city elections and governance with overall “yes” votes on five ballot proposals. Those changes include instituting ranked-choice voting for party primary and special elections; bolstering the agency that investigates and prosecutes certain allegations of police officer misconduct; and making several tweaks to ethics, budgeting, and land use laws.

Along with those candidate races, there were a variety of judicial elections around the city, and some candidates with regularly-scheduled elections -- namely Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark and Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon -- ran unopposed. It was a slightly more exciting election year than expected given the special elections for Public Advocate and City Council, and the Queens District Attorney Democratic primary that ended with Katz winning in a recount.

Adding to the intrigue was the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, which put the 19 proposals in five questions on the ballot. With all the questions approved by voters, the following changes are among those that will be instituted (some of the language is directly from the charter commission’s materials):

-Ranked-choice voting for party primary and special elections for the offices of Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and City Council Member. This will begin on or after January 1, 2021.

-The time to hold a special election after a city office is left vacant is extended to 80 days.

-Alters the structure of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) by adding two members, one from the Public Advocate and a joint appointment by the Mayor and the City Council, who would also serve as chair.

-Provides that the Council directly appoints its members to the CCRB.

-Requires the Police Commissioner provides a detailed explanation to the CCRB when deciding to impose discipline on an officer that differs from the level of discipline recommended by either the CCRB or the NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials.

-Allows the CCRB Board to delegate its subpoena power to its Executive Director.

-Allows the CCRB to investigate potentially false official statements made by an officer it is investigating and to recommend discipline, if appropriate.

-Provides a minimum budget to the CCRB sufficient to fund CCRB staff equal to 0.65% of the number of uniformed police officers, unless the Mayor determines that fiscal necessity requires a lower budget.

-Extends the post-employment appearance ban for elected officials and certain senior appointed officials from one year to two years for employees/officials who leave city service on or after January 1, 2022.

-Amends the structure of the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) by replacing two members now appointed by the Mayor with one member appointed by the Comptroller and one appointed by the Public Advocate.

-Limits the political activity of COIB Board members by prohibiting participation in campaigns for local elected offices, and reducing the maximum amount of money that they can contribute to the amounts that candidates can receive from those doing business with the city ($400 or less, depending on the office).

-Requires that the Citywide M/WBE Director report directly to the Mayor and be supported by a mayoral office of M/WBEs.

-Requires advice and consent by the City Council for the Mayor’s appointment of the Corporation Counsel.

-Allows the city to use a “rainy day fund” to save money for use in future years, such as for addressing unexpected financial hardships. (Changes to state law will also be needed for this rainy day fund to be usable.)

-Sets guaranteed minimum budgets for the Public Advocate and Borough Presidents at or above their respective Fiscal Year 2020 budgets, adjusted in future fiscal years by the lower of inflation or the percentage change in the city’s total expense budget (excluding certain components), unless the Mayor determines that fiscal necessity requires a lower budget.

-Requires the Mayor to submit the revenue estimate to the City Council by April 26 (instead of June 5).

-Requires the Mayor to submit budget modifications to the Council within 30 days after the submission of any periodic update the city’s financial plan during the year.

-Provides a ULURP Pre-Certification Notice Period by requiring the Department of City Planning to transmit a detailed project summary of ULURP applications to the affected Community Board, Borough President, and Borough Board at least 30 days before the application is certified for public review, and to post that summary on its website.

-Provides Community Boards with additional time to review ULURP applications certified for public review by the Department of City Planning between June 1 and July 15, from the current 60-day review period to 90 days for applications certified in June, and to 75 days for applications certified between July 1 and July 15.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) City Tue, 05 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000