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NYPD recruits (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


February 3, 2021 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The Police Reform Movement's Goals for 2021

Kesi Foster of Communities United for Police Reform Action Fund joined the show to discuss what's next for the police reform movement in New York City, especially the next city budget fight and the 2021 city elections.

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.

Max & Murphy · Episode 275: The Police Reform Movement's Goals For 2021

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: The Police Reform Movement's Goals for 2021 Wed, 03 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Dermot Shea's Rocky First Year as NYPD Commissioner https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9952-dermot-shea-rocky-first-year-nypd-commissioner-de-blasio https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9952-dermot-shea-rocky-first-year-nypd-commissioner-de-blasio 3 cere swearing

Mayo de Blasio & NYPD Commissioner Shea (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


This past Wednesday, December 2, marked one year since Dermot Shea was sworn in as the 44th commissioner of the New York Police Department, the third commissioner to serve in the role under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Shea’s first year in the top-cop job has been tumultuous and punctuated with controversy; a trial by fire in unprecedented times, and he often came up short, as judged by critics on both his left and his right and those simply frustrated by police brutality and rising crime.

During his first year as NYPD commissioner, Shea repeatedly made false and misleading statements and undermined his boss, the mayor; he publicly criticized many other elected officials, at times in unbecoming rants; he led a police force that repeatedly used excessive force against peaceful protestors while failing to stop multiple nights of looting and a surge in gun violence throughout much of the year, and that enforced new pandemic-related rules in such a racially-biased fashion that de Blasio, in a rare move to hold Shea and his department accountable, quickly removed such enforcement from the NYPD. All while Shea was unable to get much of his police force to follow rules for wearing masks to stop the spread of COVID-19, even as many officers got sick and died. Some of de Blasio’s closest, long-time allies openly criticized the mayor for not better managing the police; some members of the mayor’s administration left.

The year was of course dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed dozens of NYPD officers and sickened hundreds of others while disrupting life throughout the city. It also saw a major spike in shootings and murders that began before the covid outbreak. The streets surged with renewed public attention to police misconduct and systemic racism in policing, with accompanying calls to drastically reform and, from some, to “defund” the police. The rift between many New Yorkers, especially Black and Hispanic residents of the city, and the officers meant to serve and protect them has only grown.

Shea and many other members of the NYPD felt unfairly targeted for incidents that happened elsewhere, like the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and resented what they and the mayor see as a lack of acknowledgement for extensive and ongoing reform efforts. Officers were physically attacked, NYPD vehicles were burned out. Shea and others opposed pieces of reform legislation passed at City Hall and in Albany. Questions have been raised about whether officers engaged in their own partial work stoppage.

And while Shea has often sought to address criticism and quell concerns, to establish his devotion to responsible, unbiased policing, stronger accountability, public safety, and the community good, many of his words and the actions of his department have led some to question his commitment, with calls for his firing, and the results are largely to be seen as de Blasio heads toward his final year in office and what is all-but-certain to be Shea's last year atop the NYPD. 

Shea was a controversial pick in certain quarters from the day of his appointment. Like his predecessors under de Blasio, Bill Bratton and James O’Neill, Shea is a white, male Irish-American. His elevation to the department’s top spot came with no dearth of criticism for the mayor, who had passed over an experienced candidate of color for the third time during his tenure. Two of those times, the department’s second-in-command, Benjamin Tucker, who is Black, had been considered and rejected. 

“Everyone has to understand that this particular job, you know when it comes down to it, we're asking one human being to do an extraordinary set of things and...that's a special calling,” Mayor de Blasio said in a November 5, 2019 appearance on Inside City Hall, after Shea’s appointment was first announced.  

A 29-year veteran of the department, Shea was previously the chief of detectives and, before that, he oversaw CompStat, the department’s crime data tracking system, as chief of crime control strategies and the deputy commissioner of operations. He took over at a time when crime was at historic lows, and arrests, fines, and incarceration had all been significantly reduced through new policies pursued by the City Council and the mayor. 

“You gotta say, no matter what side you’re on on this, that he’s had the toughest year out of probably any police commissioner in recent memory,” said City Council Member Bob Holden, a conservative Queens Democrat and a staunch defender of the NYPD, in a phone interview. “He's got his hands full. It's probably the second toughest job in the city of New York at this point other than the mayor’s.” 

Shea has indeed faced several major challenges since he took the helm of the largest police department in the country, now with nearly 35,000 uniformed officers and well over 10,000 civilian employees, an annual operating budget of around $6 billion, with billions more in NYPD-related spending each year. Though several major felony crimes have skyrocketed this year, others have dropped precipitously, and the total number of seven major index crimes was virtually flat through November of this year compared to the same period in 2019.

But the latest data shows ongoing, highly-concerning increases in murders, shootings, burglaries, and car thefts, and both de Blasio and Shea have both made many excuses as to why the police department hasn't been better able to quell the violence, repeatedly citing a "perfect storm" of factors, some of which hold water. After the pandemic hit the city in March, nearly a fifth of the NYPD’s uniformed personnel were out sick with coronavirus or coronavirus exposure within a month. In the summer, Black Lives Matter protests tested the police’s ability to handle massive demonstrations and, after its glaring failures, prompted calls for defunding the NYPD by at least $1 billion, which became the focus of city budget negotiations and a great deal of heated debate in June.

The resurgent movement for police reform also led to the passage of several new laws at the city and state levels that de Blasio and the NYPD has resisted for years, as well as some changes they supported. Among those were the outlawing of police chokeholds and other restrictions that some say led police officers to back off in their work to stem serious crime.

“I think he's doing a great job under tremendous administrative pressure...in that he's forced to do more vis-à-vis a year of lockdowns and protests with less staff,” City Council Member Joe Borelli, a Staten Island Republican and staunch NYPD supporter, said of Shea. “That’s hard for any commissioner of any agency.”

When Shea first took office, he attempted to build good will with a listening tour, meeting with members of the City Council, community advocates, and faith leaders. He made the obligatory appearance at National Action Network’s House of Justice to meet with civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton. “It's very fitting that I'm here, I think, because I am the police commissioner to-be, of not the police department but of all New York, of 8.5 million New Yorkers,” he said at a news conference after the meeting. 

Tellingly, as Shea’s first year as commissioner was coming toward an end, the police department he leads was conducting a series of listening sessions due to an executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo mandating that local jurisdictions create community-informed police-reinvention plans. Meanwhile, New Yorkers are awaiting the outcomes of multiple major investigations of, as well as hundreds of civilian complaints about, the NYPD’s protest policing. Potentially dozens of lawsuits against the department are in motion.

The NYPD press office did not respond to multiple requests for an interview with Shea about his first year as commissioner.

Though it now seems like a lifetime ago, Shea’s early steps endeared him to some elected officials. “He really jumped out of the box in a good way, really engaging and really listening to folks about what policing should look like in various communities, because we are not one-size-fits-all throughout the city,” said City Council Member I. Daneek Miller, a Queens Democrat, in a phone interview.

But by the start of 2020, just over a month after Shea took the job, data showed that homicides had increased over the previous year. The high-profile murder of a young Barnard College student, Tessa Majors, in December had unnerved many in the city. Just two months before, four homeless men were beaten to death in Chinatown. The incidents lent themselves to a perception of danger more so than the reality that the city was still about as safe as ever before, if not more so, according to the actual crime numbers. 

But in February, data showed a nearly 17% increase in major crime in the first month of the new year compared to the same time last year. Still, the data showed the city was exceptionally safe overall.

“The uptick in crime is relatable to the change of law and policy that a hundred people are responsible for, not named Dermot Shea,” Borelli said. 

Some, including Shea and other top police officials, attributed the uptick to recent reforms in bail laws approved by the state Legislature last year that became effective January 1 of this year, though the data sample was small and often misconstrued. Shea and de Blasio were among those who wanted to see the bail reforms rolled back and relied on flawed arguments, which NYPD data refuted, to support their views. 

The police commissioner had even gone so far as to write an op-ed in the New York Times headlined, “New York’s New Bail Laws Harm Public Safety.” At the time it was published, the laws had only been in full force for 23 days. “The New York Police Department favors criminal justice reforms and bail reform, but within a framework that is fair both to the victims of crimes and to those accused of committing them,” he wrote, arguing that judges should be able to consider the risk a defendant poses to public safety while deciding to set bail. “The time has come to rethink these reforms to achieve the desired goal of a fairer criminal justice system that doesn’t undermine, but supports, public safety.”

The state Legislature would eventually water down the sweeping bail reform, though not fully in the direction that Shea had pushed for. To some, Shea’s fervent advocacy appeared highly political, but the commissioner said it was part of his job as the city’s leading law enforcement official to shape criminal justice policy and the mayor backed Shea’s outspokenness, even when presented with the fact that Shea was peddling misinformation. While de Blasio was typically careful not to repeat the same falsehoods Shea presented, the mayor chalked it up to Shea's passion and differing opinions.

"When the Commissioner took office, I hoped that we could work together on issues of transparency and accountability – and to his credit, I’ve found him accessible to myself and my office,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a frequent NYPD critic and criminal justice reformer, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “But a year into Commissioner Shea’s tenure, any progress and reform has been outweighed and overshadowed by a series of misdiagnosed issues, misdirected energy and missed opportunities. He and the Mayor have both been wrong for this moment.” 

In March, the city became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, testing every facet of municipal government, including the police. Police officers were pressed into enforcing social distancing guidelines, a decision that proved misguided when it emerged that 90% of those getting arrested or ticketed were Black and Hispanic New Yorkers.

In a May 13 news conference, Shea denied any racial bias when confronted with instances of violent enforcement caught on camera. “I will push back strongly on any notion that this is business as usual for the NYPD or that this is ‘racist police.’ I think this could not be anything further from the truth,” he told reporters at a news conference with the mayor, arguing that criticism of those actions also endangered the lives of police officers. 

“Accountability is what we must have from this police department and I, as the police commissioner, will not stand for excessive force nor will I stand and defend indefensible actions, but I will also not have my police department called a racist police department,” he said. At a City Council hearing the next day, he conceded that the videos reflected badly on the department. “We have taken a hit to our credibility and to everything that we have worked toward in the last several years,” he said. 

The summer was marked by additional contradictions and complicated dichotomies. Police officers were falling ill in droves but there were dozens of examples of them publicly refusing to wear masks to follow the public health guidelines and protect themselves and others from coronavirus exposure. The large increase in shootings and murders led to calls for more intensive policing while at the same time hundreds of thousands were protesting racist policing and police brutality after George Floyd was killed, urging the city to reduce the size of the police force and to reallocate funds from the NYPD towards communities in need. 

The NYPD responded with brutality against largely peaceful protests against police brutality. But Shea, with the mayor in his corner, repeatedly denied the plainly obvious evidence that was captured in dozens of witness videos and experienced by hundreds of New Yorkers, from aggressive use of batons and pepper spray to inconsistent enforcement of protest behavior and of the weeklong curfew instituted by the mayor, to the use of “kettling” and unwillingness to communicate with protestors. 

Some justified the police crackdown because of instances of violence during the two weeks of protests. More than 350 police officers were injured during the protests, NYPD officials testified at a June 9 City Council hearing. Five officers were hospitalized while 200 were treated and released. There were 232 incidents of vandalism to vehicles in the eight days before the hearing, including police cars that were burnt or had their windows smashed in.  

The NYPD’s behavior prompted hundreds of complaints with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a quasi-independent oversight body, lawsuits from civil rights groups, internal NYPD investigations, an investigation ordered by de Blasio to be carried out by the city’s Department of Investigation and corporation counsel, and an external investigation by State Attorney General Letitia James.

The opposition to Shea’s leadership eventually crystallized in calls from activists and elected officials for Shea to resign or for the mayor to fire him. A notable voice calling for his termination was Maya Wiley, who was formerly counsel to the mayor and also led the CCRB. “If we believe black and Latino New Yorkers deserve to be safe — physically, economically and emotionally — and if we want to truly reform policing, then we need our leaders to lead,” she wrote in a July 9 op-ed in the New York Daily News as she laid the groundwork to launch her own 2021 mayoral bid. “Dermot Shea has proven that he is not up to the task. He must go.”

In a June hearing convened by James to examine the NYPD’s conduct, Shea defended the department’s actions which included the arrests of legal observers, kettling protesters, using pepper spray, beating them with batons and even an instance where officers drove into a crowd of protesters behind a barrier. He portrayed a department under siege and decried, as he had previously done with very limited evidence, the actions of “outside agitators” and anarchists with premeditated plans for violence at protests. “I think the officers used an incredible amount of restraint in terms of allowing people to vent,” he said. “I am proud of their performance in policing these protests, ending the riots, and upholding the rule of law.”

Shea said kettling -- by which lines of officers cut off protest movement on all sides until they decide to let protestors disperse or make arrests -- is not part of the NYPD patrol guide and appeared to feign ignorance about its common use by his commanders.

Reports from James and the other investigation entities have still not been published in full or at all. After months of delay, de Blasio said this past week that the investigation he ordered is due to show results this month. A month prior, in early November, he had said a report was imminent.

Holden praised Shea for sticking up for the department where he said the mayor would not. “Shea did what he's supposed to do. He did stand by his officers in situations that I think he needed to do,” Holden said. “And you have to walk a fine line. I don't think he had a mayor that actually backed him up many times.”

For police reform advocates, Shea’s leadership during the protests was only confirmation. “Commissioner Shea’s first year has been marked by multiple occasions of him misleading the public and enabling police violence,” said Carolyn Martinez-Class, a spokesperson for the Communities United for Police Reform coalition. “Top NYPD officials, including the commissioner, have used their massive public relations apparatus to mislead the public on various issues, including their baseless fear mongering around bail reform, false claims about the reasons crime stats have gone up, and not holding officers accountable when they harm New Yorkers.”

Eileen Maher, a community leader at advocacy group VOCAL-NY, said flatly, “I just think he's doing a terrible job.” But she also blamed the mayor for enabling the commissioner and the NYPD to act with impunity. “There's definitely this kind of sense or aura of ‘we only answer to ourselves, and basically the mayor or anybody else, they don't matter...The next mayor is definitely gonna have to step in and curb the authority of the commissioner.”

As the protests reached critical mass, legislators at the city and state levels quickly moved to approve several policing reforms that had languished for years. The City Council passed a series of reforms including a law criminalizing the use of chokeholds by police during an arrest, which included a provision that also prohibited any method of restraint that could compress an individual’s diaphragm. A less restrictive version of the law was first proposed by Council Member Rory Lancman six years ago after the death of Eric Garner, and it was expanded based on recent events, particularly Floyd’s killing. The mayor begrudgingly expressed support for it and signed it into law, though even at the bill-signing he said the law may need to be tweaked, an extraordinary statement. Shea publicly critiqued the decision, calling it “incredibly reckless” in a videoconference with interfaith leaders after it was approved by the Council.

Asked about Shea’s criticism of the reforms, de Blasio said at a July 6 news conference, “I respect that sometimes people need to express their frustrations because they are deep frustrations. They're working so hard to try and keep people safe and they feel there's some real challenges they are up against. I’m not going to tell people not to say what they feel about that. But in the end, we come to a common approach and we implement it.”

“I know that he has faced challenges like few Commissioners have, internally and externally – from the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase in shootings to widespread protests for racial justice and a disastrous curfew,” Public Advocate Williams said of Shea. “But in many of these instances the Commissioner, like much of the administration, has failed to rise to the moment. He has opposed major policing reforms and criticized new bail reforms, stoked inaccurate conclusions and defended inarguable failures. Commissioner Shea may be well-suited to the old ways of thinking about policing, but that has made him less willing to meet the current moment, where we need to re-envision public safety. Unfortunately, he and the Mayor have very often refused to even acknowledge the reality of problems, much less take meaningful action to fix them.

The chokehold law wasn’t the first time Shea undermined the mayor or lashed out at the city’s elected officials. The debate around cutting the NYPD budget reached its zenith as the City Council and mayor negotiated the city budget ahead of its July 1 deadline. And even as the mayor was celebrating reaching an agreement with the Council that would redistribute some funds from the police and commit to other cuts including to overtime and canceling incoming cadet classes, Shea was condemning the final deal, comments that came shortly after he had expressed some general support for shifting NYPD funds elsewhere. 

“Cutting overtime, cutting head strength at a time of rising crime is going to be an extreme challenge for the men and women of this department,” he said in a PIX11 interview on June 30. “It's going to impact our patrol strength, it's going to impact our training, and the sad part is it's probably going to impact people of color more than anybody else.”

In another interview on Fox 5’s Good Day New York, on July 1, he said, “You're seeing the City Council bow to mob rule. And let’s mark the date on the calendar on how long it’s going to be before we’re having a conversation about New Yorkers crying out for more police. I think that day is coming.”

Just two weeks later, Shea took aim at the city’s political class in a CompStat meeting with other top officials. “So many systems of government are literally cowards who won’t stand up for what’s right,” he said, according to video that was first reported by the New York Daily News. “They’re failing at every possible measure to be leaders, and they throw it onto the backs of the men and women of this police department and curse them with one hand and then blame them with the other. How dare they? How dare they?”

He added, “People that don’t have a clue about how to keep New Yorkers safe suddenly think they know about policing. I have another thing to tell them: they don’t have a goddamn clue what they’re talking about. But we are not going to let them destroy this city.”

[Police Commissioner Repeatedly Contradicts Mayor on NYPD Reform]

In the face of criticism, whether when he first appointed Shea as commissioner or since, de Blasio has consistently called Shea a reformer. In an August appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, when the mayor was asked about years old misconduct complaints against Shea, he said, “I wish that people in this city knew him better as a human being, because he is a profound reformer. He's...been such a crucial part of the reforms and improvements that have been made. Everything we've done, whether it's ending stop-and-frisk, reducing arrests, changing the marijuana policy, you name it, Dermot Shea has been front and center in that. And he's actually moved police discipline cases faster as police commissioner.”

Shea has taken some steps to improve police accountability and transparency and improve community relations. He disbanded the plainclothes “anti-crime” unit, which accounted for a disproportionate number of complaints of misconduct from the public. The department’s policy for body camera footage, invaluable for investigations of misconduct, was amended for quicker release. New disciplinary measures were put into place based on the recommendations of an independent panel appointed by the previous commissioner. The department also recently held the series of community forums to solicit feedback on how policing should change, though that last step was mandated by the Cuomo executive order.

Advocates say it's mostly tinkering around the edges and that Shea is not the right person to lead the real policing transformation that is needed.

Council Member Miller said Shea can still repair trust between the police and New Yorkers. “The police department is a very large organization. I know it can work because we became the safest big city in America. And that was not just a catchphrase, that was the truth,” he said. 

“That adversarial relationship, that ‘us vs them’ that has occurred on both sides that has begun to manifest itself again is taking us back...We're not where we want to be but we’re certainly not where we were and we need to get back on that track,” he said. “I think he can do it.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

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Dermot Shea's Rocky First Year as NYPD Commissioner Mon, 07 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000
How Do Black Lawmakers and Activists View ‘Defunding the NYPD’? It’s Complicated https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9715-how-do-black-lawmakers-and-activists-view-defunding-the-nypd-it-s-complicated https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9715-how-do-black-lawmakers-and-activists-view-defunding-the-nypd-it-s-complicated ebpcftcucaanlav

Protesters demanded a $1 billion cut to the NYPD budget (photo: @VOCALNewYork)


The New York City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio crafted an $88.2 billion budget for the current fiscal year in what was one of the most contentious budget negotiations in years, coming amid a pandemic-caused recession and a resurgent racial justice movement that sought to “Defund the NYPD” and redirect some of its massive resources to social services in communities of color. But the budget process showed major divisions in the City Council, where several of the notable ‘yes’ votes on the agreement that was ultimately reached came from Black Council members who said that significantly cutting police funding would hurt their communities rather than advance the cause of racial equity.

Those members had greatly influenced the shape of the deal, as City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is white, explained the night of the budget vote. Some of them said the ‘Defund’ movement was being led by people, and supported by Council members, who didn’t live in their districts and were imposing a political agenda that would threaten public safety in communities of color. But those assertions, like others made during the heated debate leading up to the July 1 budget adoption, belied a more complicated reality – two Black Council members, representing similar communities, voted against the budget because it failed to significantly cut the police budget; and the movement has been led by Black activists, some of whom have been making similar demands for decades and who said the Council members who voted in support did not represent the spectrum of opinions of their constituents of color.

“Black communities, like any neighborhood, are very complex places and so to make this comment, or to make this assertion that this is what Black people are calling for is not only inaccurate, it's almost absurd on some level,” said Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center and a decades-long civil rights activist based in Central Brooklyn, insisting that the Council members who want more police in their neighborhoods were only representing a selective range of opinions. “I think that who they are listening to are mostly middle class people who have bought into the system of policing, who feel like they've got property to protect...but who have not fully considered what it would look like to have a fully safe and secure community without police and have not fully considered what the impact of police actually is on on safety,” he said.

An NBC/Marist poll conducted between July 6-8, after the budget was approved, found that 55% of New York City residents supported defunding the police in their community to spend more on other local services, while 34% opposed it. As part of the demand to cut $1 billion from the NYPD’s roughly $6 billion annual operating budget, activists had called for removing police officers from non-law enforcement roles. Chiefly, they wanted the NYPD withdrawn from schools as well as removed from other purposes such as homelessness and mental health crisis response, and regularly raised questions about the necessary size of the police force.

That the budget would pass on time was a foregone conclusion, but it was noteworthy for the unusually high number of ‘no’ votes. Of the 51-seat City Council, which is almost entirely filled by Democrats, 17 members voted against the budget, which did eventually include some cuts to the NYPD but not anywhere near to the degree that police reform advocates had demanded. The nays included conservative Democrats and Republicans who opposed the cuts, and progressive Democrats, including members of color and white members, who felt they did not go far enough at a time when the city needed to invest in services for communities of color. Council Members Donovan Richards and Inez Barron were the two Black members to vote no, both arguing that the shifts to reinvent public safety through more community investment and less policing were not large enough.

The most significant ‘yes’ votes came from several Black Council members – Laurie Cumbo, Vanessa Gibson, Adrienne Adams, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Robert Cornegy, Mathieu Eugene, Andy King, Farah Louis, Daneek Miller, Bill Perkins, Debi Rose, and Ritchie Torres – many of whom voted for the budget saying that more drastic cuts to the police would make their communities unsafe, while acknowledging the disproportionate impact that a history of over-policing has had in those same communities and the need to reform the NYPD into a more just public service organization.

They explained that their constituents want robust and fair policing, and argued that they couldn’t decry the abject devastation of the coronavirus pandemic and in the same breath vote to eliminate a school safety force composed largely of Black women. Delaying the budget to have a more robust conversation about reenvisioning public safety investment was not an option, they said, given it would mean that city workers would go without pay and that the crucial services provided by the government would be severely disrupted at an already tumultuous time.

The city budget was passed after weeks of massive public unrest following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. The resulting national wave of protest coalesced into calls for reducing funding for police departments around the country and to reinvest in underserved communities of color that have particularly suffered during the coronavirus pandemic and from hundreds of years of racist criminal justice and other public policies. As City Council leadership entered final budget negotiations with de Blasio, it committed to key goals espoused by many activists.

“We believe that we can and should work to get to $1 billion in cuts to New York City's police spending in the Fiscal 2021 budget, an unprecedented reduction that would not only limit the scope of the NYPD, but also show our commitment towards moving away from the failed policing policies of the past,” read a joint statement on June 12 from Council Speaker Johnson, members of the Council budget negotiating team, and the co-chairs of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.

But the final budget agreement fell far short of that goal, and for several complicated reasons that included hesitation from Black Council members.

The Council and de Blasio, who was opposed to a large reduction in police funding, found middle ground by directly cutting planned NYPD operational spending by slightly under $500 million – which is mostly (about $335 million) in reduced overtime spending and a reduction in the department’s headcount – while shifting other costs. De Blasio touted what he called a $1 billion shift, though much of his calculation included changes in planned capital expenses, like on a new police precinct, that were not part of activists’ demands. The mayor, whose claim was refuted by Council Speaker Johnson almost immediately after it was made, also included the restoration of school safety from the NYPD’s jurisdiction back to the Department of Education, a process that isn’t going to be completed in the current fiscal year and is part of a to-be-determined process of retraining toward a less punitive approach. Budget watchdogs also say that based on recent trends the reduced overtime expense projection is unrealistic.

Hanging over and complicating the discussion, gun violence spiked in the weeks before and after the budget passed. To the critics of ‘defunding the NYPD’ it’s proof positive that more policing -- and not ‘arbitrarily’ targeting police resources - is the answer to ensuring public safety. To reform advocates, it’s simply more evidence that police are not the solution since the strength of the police force hadn’t changed at all during the first half of the year and was set for only modest adjustments thereafter. The roughly 36,000-strong uniformed force has not been significantly shrunk, though the budget deal will in the course of the new fiscal year mean a reduction of the NYPD’s headcount totalling 1,163 officers, achieved through attrition and by cancelling two cadet classes.

For activists, the budget negotiation unfolding amid a multi-billion-dollar deficit and protests against police racism presented an opportune moment to reimagine the police’s role in public safety. Time and again, they have pointed out how the involvement of police in issues outside of violent crime can be detrimental, and too often deadly, whether it’s in the criminalization of people experiencing homelessness or escalating those in mental health crisis, or, more recently, in the racially disparate enforcement of social distancing rules early during the pandemic. They wanted the Council to drive a harder bargain, particularly as the mayor was slashing services to the city’s most vulnerable.

To some degree, the budget debate seemed to become about how much to cut and not about why, said City Council Member Adrienne Adams, a Queens Democrat who voted for the budget, in a phone interview. “That became the argument. We need to do more, we need to do less, or we don't need to touch the NYPD at all,” she said, “instead of, what does your district look like? What are the relationships between police and your constituents? That is the conversation that we didn't have. I think that was the missing piece in our negotiations. We only dealt with the finite amount of the budget cut instead of taking a look at the impact of policing and in some cases over-policing in some neighborhoods.”

She added, “What a lot of us recognized was that in some areas of New York City, shooting and criminal activity were on the rise and the hashtag, Defund the NYPD, doesn’t speak to that tragedy or to the residents who are affected by it.”

Anthonine Pierre, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition group, said that is a flawed view of the movement. “We have these elected officials who are visible leaders who are conflating all of the different things that Black people want, the diversity of Black communities, into their own political perspective. And that's dangerous for Black folks who don't necessarily agree with these Council members,” she added.

In an interview, Council Member Laurie Cumbo, a Brooklyn Democrat who is majority leader of the body and a close ally of Speaker Johnson, offered a range of justifications for her vote in favor of passing the budget. Though she said the members of color were generally in agreement about the premise behind ‘Defund the NYPD’ to redirect funds to community-based organizations, she couched her argument in practicality more than politics, saying a racist policing system could not be overhauled in a matter of weeks without first proposing a viable, well-thought out alternative. “It's not sexy to talk about hiring, training, staffing, integrating a new public safety program...That's not hashtagable,” she said. The activists who demanded defunding proposed an arbitrary funding cut, she argued, which did nothing to ease the fears about what would replace the police.

In some ways, the debate has been personal for her. As the mother of a three-year-old, she was particularly pained by the tragic shooting death of a one-year-old in Brooklyn a few weeks after the budget vote. It’s the type of incident that she worried could occur more often if the NYPD had been significantly defunded. “I couldn't accept my son being shot and killed as part of this purging process, this destructive process to take us to a new land and a new place,” she said, wondering how and which community-based organizations could take up the role that police play. “When do you decide that you need police presence in some of these matters such as sexual assault, such as rape, such as domestic violence, such as homelessness, all of these very intricate things?” she said.

She was particularly opposed to the proposal to eliminate school safety agents without a replacement plan. “Are we going to replace them with 5,300 guidance counselors? That would be great...Do we have the time and the capacity to recruit 5,300 guidance counselors?...Nobody wants to talk about that.”

Activists also took the fight for funding cuts to her doorstep. Among them was Jabari Brisport, a state Senate candidate backed by the Democratic Socialists of America. Going further than other activists, DSA had called for slashing $3 billion from the NYPD, about half its operating budget.

Though Cumbo did not directly mention DSA, she did launch into a lengthy tirade about “colonization” and what her colleague, Council Member Robert Cornegy, called “political gentrification.” Those phrases were quoted in a recent New York Times article on the divide among Black lawmakers about defunding the NYPD. In the interview with Gotham Gazette, and in a statement to constituents after that article was published, Cumbo sought to provide more context about her comments. She explained her belief that white progressive activists (read: DSA) newly arriving in gentrifying neighborhoods have adopted support for the Black Lives Matter and ‘Defund the NYPD’ as a means to building political power. She said their preferred candidates, like Brisport, who she called out specifically, are unlikely to represent the interests of Black and brown communities over time. “It's my projection that those initial Black candidates that were initially elected are not going to go the distance,” she said of their likelihood to get the things they’re espousing done when in office.

But that criticism conflates ‘Defund the NYPD’ with white progressive activism while ignoring the decades-long activism of Black-led organizations and protest movements, their intersection, and the newer Black leaders of reform activism. The argument was similarly employed by other Council members, who claimed that white progressive activists and lawmakers were attempting to supplant their voices in an issue that would affect Black and brown lives. They also seemed to ignore that fellow Black Council members voted (with some Latino and white members) against the budget.

Council Member Richards, a Queens Democrat who chairs the public safety committee, which has oversight over the NYPD, was one of two Black members who voted against the budget, though he recognized why his colleagues voted for it. “There's no contradiction in saying you need reform and you need service,” he said of their explanations.

But he echoed Council Member Adams in noting that the discussion of the police’s role in public safety fell by the wayside. “I think it's time to have that conversation around what investment looks like in these communities. Why aren't there community centers in these places? Why haven't there been investments in our small businesses? Why is housing quality so poor?...This is about access and opportunity. If you want to take a gun out of somebody's hand, you have to give them opportunity.”

Council Member Barron, a Democrat from Brooklyn, was the other Black member to oppose the budget. Barron is known for casting dissenting votes, often the sole one on the left of an issue, often around police reform. “The policing that is going on specially in our neighborhoods, that is being executed by the NYPD has historically targeted Blacks and Latinos for undue arrest and harassment,” she said. “And increasing the numbers of police does not in fact reduce crime. If that was the case, there should have been no increase in any type of crime since January, because there's been no reduction in police since January.”

Instead, she wanted to see aggressive investment in anti-poverty programs and jobs and workforce development. Rather than police, public safety should be promoted through community outreach and particularly by increasing funding to “violence interrupters” who seek to preempt crime among at-risk youth. “Those are the kinds of models that’ve been proven to be effective,” she said.

Even with the budget behind them, activists have not given up on the defunding debate. It’ll carry through to the next budget, they say, which will be due shortly after a primary election that will determine who becomes the next mayor of New York City.

Brooklyn Movement Center’s Griffith said the Council showed a failure of imagination and missed a golden opportunity to build a new system of public safety. “They're refusing to go out there and imagine and lay out for people a different vision of what is possible because one thing we do know is that through stop-and-frisk, through broken windows policing, through the war on drugs, we know that this idea of throwing police at a problem has not worked,” he said.

For activists like Griffith, piecemeal reforms at this stage are insufficient. Successive mayoral administrations, police commissioners and particularly police unions have always resisted reform. Just recently, unions sued to stop the release of officer disciplinary recommendations after a law shielding them was repealed. “So when you've got a system that is so resistant to change on any level, then you go to the place where you say, ‘Hmm, maybe we need to dismantle this system and rebuild a new one,” Griffith said.

CPR’s Pierre said the debate about eliminating police presence from schools became too simplistic, as Council Members sought to protect the majority Black school safety agents. “It's a narrow and near-sighted understanding of what Black communities are going through,” she said. “If we can't provide for all Black communities, then we're picking and deciding who can be saved right now.”

Pierre also criticized the accusation that Defund the NYPD has been coopted by white voices. “They're playing sort of a sneaky game of trying to discredit the entire Defund movement,” she said, noting that Cumbo’s disagreement seems to stem more from her animosity towards Brisport. “To conflate a political fight with a fight that very deeply affects and governs the lives of Black New Yorkers is irresponsible,” she said

During the budget process, when Cumbo and others were raising questions about who was leading the Defund movement, Crystal Hudson, a candidate for City Council who was formerly Cumbo’s chief of operations, took to Twitter to name the many Black activists and organizations who were on the front lines. “I think that there is definitely a misrepresentation of the work and of the advocacy and the activism that's been happening,” she said in a phone interview.

“Defunding the police does not mean that communities become any less safe,” she added. “Defunding the police means that we're investing in the social services needed to keep our communities safe. It means that we're deepening our investment in Cure Violence programs and adapting that model as our system of community policing.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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How Do Black Lawmakers and Activists View ‘Defunding the NYPD’? It’s Complicated Fri, 28 Aug 2020 01:04:23 +0000
De Blasio Promised Another Charter Revision Commission; Electeds and Advocates are Ready with Suggestions https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9593-de-blasio-promised-another-charter-revision-commission-suggestions-reforms-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9593-de-blasio-promised-another-charter-revision-commission-suggestions-reforms-new-york-city comm estab seven pieces legis

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


When Mayor Bill de Blasio said in late April that he was creating a task force to lead a “fair recovery” from the COVID-19 pandemic, nestled in his announcement was a brief statement that he also intends to call another Charter Revision Commission. But the mayor hasn’t yet convened that commission, which would be the third to be created while he has been mayor, the second by him alone, and hasn’t explained his rationale for it. 

There have already been two commissions created in the last few years to examine and propose amendments to the City Charter, the document that establishes the central functions of city government and its officials. Amendments considered and proposed by such commissions are placed on the ballot for city voters to approve or reject. 

A spokesperson for the mayor said there is no set date for when the mayor will create his new commission. The timing will depend on the city’s recovery planning process, the spokesperson said, and on whether the commission can help overcome any roadblocks to that “fair recovery.” The mayor’s announcement also stated that his Fair Recovery Task Force will consider questions that could be taken up by the commission. De Blasio said he expected a “preliminary recovery road map” by June 1, though his spokesperson did not say whether that plan had been created or if it would be made public.

De Blasio previously created a charter commission in 2018, convened, he said at the time, to improve voter participation and limit the influence of money in elections. That commission placed three questions on the November 2018 ballot, all of which passed with overwhelming support, that significantly reduced individual campaign contribution limits, established term limits for community board members, and created a new Civic Engagement Commission.

Another commission was created that year through legislation passed by the City Council, with commissioners appointed by various officials including the mayor, based on a push by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and then-Public Advocate Letitia James, which was embraced by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. It was said at the time to be tasked with a more sweeping review, and potential overhaul, of the city’s key government functions and processes.

In the end, it also produced mostly modest reforms, put forth as five ballot questions in the 2019 general election, all of which also easily passed. The questions covered 19 specific proposals in all, including the implementation of ranked-choice voting in special and party primary municipal elections, expanded powers for the Civilian Complaint Review Board (a police oversight agency), independent budgets for the public advocate and borough presidents, among other technical changes to land use policy and the city’s budgeting process.  

It’s unclear what solutions to the city’s current crises might require or inspire a change to the city charter. “[W]e're going to build something new and we're going to build something better and not just better because it's more modern,” de Blasio said in his April 26 announcement of the Fair Recovery Task Force. “We're going to build something more fair. We're going to build something for everyone. This recovery has to have that spirit, that New York spirit, that everyone matters.”

He explained that a Charter Revision Commission would be part of that recovery “because if ever there was a moment, a breakpoint moment in the city's history, this is it. And it's time to look anew at everything we do and see what works, what doesn't work, what about our city government structure might be outdated or less effective, what do we need to build a fair recovery.”

More than two months later, the City Council is “not aware of any formal efforts by the administration to create another Charter revision commission," according to Jacob Tugendrajch, a spokesperson for Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

At this point, it appears all but certain that any charter revision commission assembled by de Blasio would do its work to put proposals to voters on the 2021 general election ballot, rather than this fall.

For some who participated in the previous charter amendment processes, a new commission offers an opportunity to revive proposals that weren’t taken up by the previous commissions as well as push for new needs that have become apparent in recent months.

Comptroller Scott Stringer pushed the previous commission to consider an amendment mandating the appointment of a chief diversity officer at City Hall and at every city agency, as he has done in his own office. Though Stringer insists the mayor could create that position administratively, it’s possible he may push a new commission to take up the proposition.

“A CDO for New York City would function as city government’s executive level diversity and inclusion strategist, driving the representation of people of color and women across government, tracking and overseeing the city’s M/WBE programs, and determining whether agencies’ daily practices are equitable,” he wrote in a July 8 op-ed at Gotham Gazette. “A citywide CDO could begin to tackle long-standing disparities that are now coming into stark relief -- from analyzing how taxpayer dollars are spent through an intersectional lens to removing barriers to doing business with the city to making sure public service is a viable option for people from diverse backgrounds and experiences.”

A spokesperson for Stringer did not provide comment for this article when asked for which proposals the comptroller may put forward for a new charter commission. When he testified before the 2019 commission, Stringer presented a 102-page booklet of 65 ideas and proposals, including the chief diversity officer concept, which was his number one focus. 

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said he wants to see his office strengthened under the charter and would push for additional changes to the city’s budget process, where the mayor currently holds far more authority than the City Council. He also expressed support for a proposal to give the City Council advice and consent power over the appointment of the NYPD commissioner, an idea that was pushed by police reform advocates to the 2019 commission but not taken up and that could gather momentum following the recently renewed movement against police brutality that has subsumed New York City and the country at large. 

On that note, Williams said a commission could provide a valuable opportunity to reimagine the institutions of public safety in the city, beyond just the NYPD. “If all we do is look at the police, we’re going to miss the mark,” he said.

City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who is running for city Comptroller in 2021 and pushed for a comprehensive city planning process to be taken up by the prior charter commission, has recently suggested that New York follow Minneapolis’ lead on police and public safety reform.

“If another Charter Revision Commission is truly on the table again, then New York City should consider following the lead of Minneapolis, where they are proposing a charter amendment to dismantle their police department and create a department of community safety and violence prevention that leads with a public health and restorative justice approach,” Lander said in a statement. “That would be a good use of a commission, to transform our city's approach to public safety.”

The previous commissions both considered issues of police reform but sweeping proposals were either rejected or watered down. The 2019 commission did lead to the adoption of certain transparency and accountability measures. The CCRB’s composition was expanded, giving the public advocate an appointment while another appointee chosen jointly by the mayor and Council will serve as chair. The Council also no longer needs approval from the mayor to appoint members to the board. The agency’s executive director also received the authority to issue subpoenas and the CCRB can now also prosecute police officers who make false official statements during an investigation of which they are the subject.

Carolyn Martinez-Class, a spokesperson for the Communities United for Police Reform coalition, hopes that the next commission will go further. But she has doubts since it will be appointed by the mayor, whose office attempted to sabotage some of the 2019 commission’s CCRB reform proposals and who has favored incremental changes to the police department through his own initiatives. 

“Mayor de Blasio has consistently undermined efforts to reform the police in New York City including the last charter revision process,” Martinez-Class said in a phone interview, noting how the mayor’s appointees on the Council-created commission voted against the CCRB proposals. “There's little faith that if the mayor’s the person who is going to control the process in its entirety, that substantive reforms can come out of this process,” she said. 

Among the reforms CPR would like to see included in the charter are increased accountability for police misconduct, greater transparency, particularly with regards to the NYPD’s notoriously opaque budget, and greater oversight of police surveillance technology. “The last few months have only reiterated how critical all three of these pieces are,” she said.

At least part of those demands have already been met with the Council’s recent passage of the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, which will require the NYPD to disclose the types of surveillance mechanisms it uses. De Blasio has said he will sign the bill into law despite his initial reluctance to support the legislation. He has also promised changes to NYPD disciplinary practices, though administrative measures do not carry the same force as a charter provision.    

The police budget’s size and lack of transparency have been particularly pertinent considering the fraught passage of the recent $88.2 billion city budget for the 2021 fiscal year, where the central sticking point was a proposed $1 billion cut to the NYPD’s roughly $5.5 billion operating budget. The mayor and Council agreed upon a combination of cuts and cost shifts that amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars, though there has been debate over how significant changes really are, with many advocates and some elected officials disappointed.

Martinez-Class said the charter should be modified to require reporting on line-item spending, disclosure of funds raised by the department from private sources, as well as giving the Council and public the ability to weigh in on, and veto, the purchase and renewal of surveillance technology.

CPR does not have a position on a controversial proposal to create an elected CCRB that was advanced last year by some advocates but failed to be taken up by the charter commission. The group also has not weighed in on the police commissioner advise-and-consent proposal that Williams supports and was also pushed by a number of individuals who testified before the charter commission at its public hearings. 

The charter currently gives the mayor the upper hand in crafting the city’s budget, but the City Council and Comptroller Stringer have both previously proposed amendments that could redistribute some budget-making power while also bringing city spending in line with actual performance measures. Both the Council’s and comptroller’s reports before the 2019 commission advanced similar ideas including greater reporting on individual capital projects, allowing the Council to jointly decide on “units of appropriation” with the mayor, and creating strict deadlines for the mayor to seek the Council’s approval for mid-year changes to the city’s financial plan.

Both the 2018 and 2019 commissions barely touched on land use policy and comprehensive planning, which the Thriving Communities Coalition (TCC) of urban policy and housing nonprofits has repeatedly championed. 

“Our focus was in particular how to really change the way that the city does both land use but also planning more broadly so that includes budgeting, infrastructure investment, as well as land use,” said Emily Goldstein, director of organizing and advocacy at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a member of TCC. 

The coalition proposed a slew of ideas before the previous commission, including enshrining a “right to housing” in law, limiting the disposal of public land, equitable budgeting, and more. “Unfortunately, what we saw was that almost no changes were made. Only very, very minor modifications,” she said.

Goldstein also worried that the mayor’s commission will largely follow whatever direction he intends for it, rather than a broader mandate. “Charter commissions are not the most democratic process,” she said. “There's tons of space for input but in the end, it’s just whatever the appointed commissioners decide to do.”

If another commission is convened, Goldstein said the TCC will definitely push for the passage of comprehensive planning, something that Lander and Council Member Antonio Reynoso have been vocally supportive of and have said they are drafting legislation to pursue a version short of what a charter amendment could require.

“When we talk about comprehensive planning what we mean is actually looking honestly through data at the needs of the entire city,” Goldstein said. “Looking at existing needs, not just projected growth. Looking at, regardless of wealth or race, where and how can communities’ needs be met. Looking at historic disinvestment and patterns that sort of need to be made up for, looking backwards...and putting in place a planning process that grapples with those challenges and that equalizes the power balance.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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De Blasio Promised Another Charter Revision Commission; Electeds and Advocates are Ready with Suggestions Thu, 16 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Police Reformers Dissatisfied with NYPD Moves in City Budget https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9558-max-murphy-podcast-police-reform-nypd-funding-city-budget-de-blasio https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9558-max-murphy-podcast-police-reform-nypd-funding-city-budget-de-blasio de Blasio NYPD budget deal 2021

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


July 1, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Police Reformers Dissatisfied with NYPD Moves in City Budget

joo hyun kanginsetJoo-Hyun Kang of Communities United for Police Reform joined the show to discuss police reformers' dissatisfaction with the new city budget in terms of NYPD funding and related decisions.

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.

Max & Murphy · Episode 232: A Consequential Month For The Police Reform Movement In New York

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Police Reformers Dissatisfied with NYPD Moves in City Budget Wed, 01 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Says He’s Reformed the NYPD and Improved Police-Community Relations. The Reality is Complicated. https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8749-de-blasio-says-he-s-reformed-policing-and-improved-police-community-relations-the-reality-is-complicated https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8749-de-blasio-says-he-s-reformed-policing-and-improved-police-community-relations-the-reality-is-complicated may bdb participate

Mayor de Blasio & members of the NYPD (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


“Fire Pantaleo!” the crowd chanted. “Fire Kizzy Adonis!”

At an August 14 rally on the steps of City Hall, a crowd of advocates and elected officials called on Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill to take what they said was long overdue action against police officer misconduct. Daniel Pantaleo is, of course, the officer who used a banned chokehold while arresting Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014, leading to Garner’s death. He was on desk duty for five years before recently being suspended after facing a disciplinary trial in which an NYPD administrative judge recommended he be terminated.

On Monday, O’Neill announced at a news conference at 1 Police Plaza that he agreed with the judge’s recommendation and dismissed Pantaleo from the force. “It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer,” he said. “In carrying out the court’s verdict in this case, I take no pleasure. I know that many will disagree with this decision, and that is their right. There are absolutely no victors here today – not the Garner family, not the community at-large, and certainly not the courageous men and women of this police department, who put their own lives on the line every single day in service to the people of this great city.”

The far less well-known Sergeant Adonis was Pantaleo’s supervising officer when the Garner incident took place, and she has not faced a disciplinary trial, despite being served with internal disciplinary charges by the NYPD in January 2016. O’Neill said the trial would be scheduled “soon” and would take place this year. The other officers involved in Garner’s arrest, including Justin D'Amico, who filed an inflated felony charge against Garner after his death, have not faced any discipline at all. On August 21, Adonis pleaded guilty to the department charges and was docked 20 vacation days, which means a trial will no longer take place. 

For five years, the Garner case and the de Blasio administration’s response to it has tested the relationship between communities of color and the mayor’s NYPD, a relationship that de Blasio promised to repair when he first ran for mayor in 2013 -- and one he insists is significantly improved despite what happened to Eric Garner and in other cases where officers have killed unarmed civilians. But the mayor remains adherent to the “broken windows” approach to policing, focused on so-called low-level, quality-of-life offenses in order to prevent disorder and more serious crime. Critics say it mainly leads to over-policing of communities of color and disproportionate enforcement based on race, while de Blasio says he’s overseen a new, evolved iteration of broken windows that is more fair but still helps keep the city safe.

”I know that the NYPD of today is a different institution than it was just a few years ago,” de Blasio said at a news conference on Monday, responding to Pantaleo’s termination. “I know the NYPD has changed profoundly. I know that members of the NYPD learned the lessons of this tragedy. They acted on it, they did something about it. It is a beginning, but we have a lot more to do and the change has to get deeper and deeper.”

But has policing really changed markedly since de Blasio took the reigns of City Hall promising reform and healing? As de Blasio has faced intense scrutiny over the city’s handling of the Garner incident, particularly Pantaleo’s fate -- including on the presidential debate stage -- does that case exemplify broader problems that persist, or are it and others like it exceptions to the rule?

Is there really an argument to be made that day-to-day policing has changed significantly to help bring communities of color and the police department closer together despite some high-profile tragedies?

Under de Blasio’s five-and-a-half-year tenure, policing and the criminal justice system in New York City have undoubtedly changed. Some key data points paint a clear picture. But to many advocates and critics, the mayor has fallen far short of his lofty pledges and boasts of reform; and other data points undermine de Blasio’s claims.

Arrests, summonses, stop-and-frisks, and complaints of officer misconduct are all trending downward, meaning fewer and less punitive interactions between police officers and New Yorkers.

But any of the progress that may indicate is often juxtaposed, and for some completely undermined, by disproportionate racial impacts and repeated and public instances of flagrant violations by officers that seem to go unpunished, sending the signal that while officers enforce the law, they themselves are above it.

“There were multiple officers involved in murdering Eric Garner and there were multiple officers involved in trying to cover it up,” said Yul-san Liem, co-director of the Justice Committee at Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition group, at the August 14 rally. “And all of those officers represent a threat to public safety. Mayor de Blasio, if any of those officers are not held accountable, you have not done your job, and you cannot speak Eric Garner's name without hanging your head in shame.”

But de Blasio regularly invokes Eric Garner’s name, citing his death as a turning point for the department’s efforts towards true accountability. He said as much on Monday at City Hall.

“When you look at everything that has happened, literally from just days after this tragedy until today, the retraining of this entire police force – retraining 36,000 officers regularly to deescalate so that exact incident would not happen again; the implicit bias training, because we're all humans with biases and it needs to be weeded out and the only way to do that is to help people understand those biases so they can act on them. The body cameras – if you go back to that day in 2014 none of those things were here. It's a very different department.”

Numbers vs Sentiments
“Anyone who says that everything we’ve been doing for five years to stop another tragedy doesn’t matter, I think they absolutely do not understand the needs of the people of our city who have told me repeatedly that policing has changed,” de Blasio said in a recent appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall with host Errol Louis. The mayor had just come off a debate appearance in the Democratic presidential race, where protestors heckled him on live television and called for Pantaleo’s firing.

“I’ve talked to people in communities all over New York City. They say their lives are different because their children are not being stopped. I’ve talked to young men of color who say their lives are different because they’re not being stopped. And folks who say their relationship with police is profoundly different because we retrained every police officer after that tragedy of Eric Garner, and we did not just stand idly by,” de Blasio continued. “We retrained every police officer to change the nature of policing and policing is different today in New York City. So I’m not caught up in the words of a few activists. I care about 8.6 million people and their lives have to change. And we’ve devoted ourselves to making sure it is a very different world than the one it was five years ago.”

It’s true that on the metrics, the NYPD is no longer defined by the unconstitutional practice of stop-and-frisk policing that peaked during the Bloomberg era. Stops fell from a high of 685,724 in 2011 to 11,008 in 2018, according to NYPD data.

De Blasio has repeatedly said his administration “ended” the practice but the number of stops had already dropped dramatically in Bloomberg’s last years in office and has continued to decrease under de Blasio, though it has not been completely eliminated. Advocates and experts point out that stops still disproportionately affect people of color and note that de Blasio can hardly take credit for what was accomplished through concerted activism, public pressure, and litigation (even if he was part of the chorus before being elected mayor). They also point to repeated reports by a federal court-appointed monitor with oversight of the NYPD that have noted that officers were undercounting street stops.

On arrests and summonses, too, the city has shown significant shifts under de Blasio, part of the picture he paints when arguing that he’s a police reformer.

In 2018, there were a total of 246,781 arrests, down from 388,368 in 2013.

In 2018, there were a total of 89,908 criminal summonses (which mean a written citation and court date but not a trip to jail) issued, down from 424,883 in 2013. (There have been 44,382 issued through June 30 this year.)

In 2018, the NYPD handed out 54,774 civil summonses for low-level offenses that often can be dealt with as criminal or civil violations, and the city has moved toward civil based on legislation passed by the City Council in 2016. (In the first six months of 2019, only 14,908 civil summonses were issued, compared with 26,782 over the same time last year.)

All this, while most major felony crimes, including murder, have dropped during de Blasio’s tenure, continuing a decades-long trend in New York City.

Use of guns by NYPD officers appears to be down. In 2017, the latest year of data available from the NYPD, there were 52 firearms discharge incidents, down from 81 in 2013; 19 individuals were shot and injured or killed by officers in 2017, down from 25 in 2013; and total shots fired were 242, down from 248. (The NYPD now tracks all uses of force – earlier, only firearm discharges were tracked.)

The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), a quasi-independent agency of mostly mayoral appointees that monitors and investigates complaints of police misconduct and abuse of power, received 4,745 complaints within its jurisdiction in 2018, down from 5,410 in 2013. And that decrease comes amid a heightened environment around police misconduct, in part spurred by incidents like Garner’s death, the Black Lives Matter movement, and more. (Through July of this year, the Board received 3,377 complaints.)

In February, the NYPD completed the initial rollout of its body camera program to roughly 20,000 members of the force, with an additional 4,000 set to be given to specialized units by this month. While the cameras are said to increase transparency and accountability for officers, there are major questions around the rules for how footage is released and used.

Under O’Neill, the NYPD’s focus has been to rebuild trust through neighborhood policing, a program that assigns officers to regularly patrol specific sectors within precincts to grow familiarity with community members. Officers also participate in community meetings to hear directly from locals about the issues affecting their neighborhoods. The program has been rolled out in all precincts citywide.

“Policing in New York has never been more fair or effective,” said Alfred Baker, an NYPD spokesperson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Officers on the ground are building foundations of trust within our neighborhoods while department leaders are working to meet ever higher standards of accountability. Today, the NYPD continues to drive down crime and serve as a national model for the idea that safety is a shared responsibility and that the police and the community must work together to ensure people are safe and that they feel safe. But our important work continues, as our collective vision for sustained success on all fronts evolves.”

Alongside neighborhood policing, the department has also committed to what it calls “precision policing,” tracking crime patterns and troubled neighborhoods where they can send additional resources and personnel, and focusing on gangs, crews, hot-spots, and individuals known to be repeat offenders. That, O’Neill argues, allows the department to target the most serious drivers of crime and the few thousand individuals who commit most of the city’s violent crime, instead of stopping and frisking tens or hundreds of thousands of mostly black and Latino young men.

O’Neill has repeatedly touted the success of precision policing of crime hotspots and gangs, as well as the neighborhood policing program, which he has said has led to a paradigm shift in how cops interact with communities, something de Blasio has made a mantra.

Following the announcement of the NYPD judge’s decision in the Pantaleo case on August 2, de Blasio reiterated the point at a news conference at City Hall.

“For the last five years, our mission has been to fundamentally change the nature of policing in New York City,” he said. “After the death of Eric Garner, everything was reevaluated. The entire police force was retrained – 36,000 officers retrained to deescalate conflict, to understand the implicit bias that we all carry with us, to ensure it would not interfere with their duty. The approach to the community is entirely different today – and we had to weed out the distance and the separation that was the norm of the past, and, through neighborhood policing, actually create a dynamic where our officers and community members got to know each other as human beings, where people felt they were on the same side, working toward a common goal.”

But neither the mayor nor the commissioner have offered proof that sentiments are changing on the ground, and there is only corollary evidence that neighborhood policing is having any impact on crime. A long promised survey of communities has yet to be released – in May O’Neill said the surveys were ongoing. A separate study of the program by the RAND Corporation began in 2018 and will only be fully completed by mid-2021 for public release. The NYPD is meant to receive preliminary findings from that study this year.

A March 2018 Quinnipiac University poll showed that 52% of voters approved of de Blasio's handling of the Police Department, while 37% disapproved. Across racial lines, that approval varied – 61% of black residents gave their approval, while only 50% of white residents and 48% of Hispanic residents felt the same. An earlier poll, from July 2017, showed that only 41% of New Yorkers approved of the way de Blasio was handling police-community relations, and 52% disapproved. Again there were racial differences – approval was 55% among black New Yorkers, 34% for white voters, and 39% for Hispanic voters.

“The mayor is more concerned with public relations and talking points,” said Joo-Hyun Kang, director of Communities United for Police Reform, in a recent phone interview. “Even the conversation around quote-unquote neighborhood policing, much of it is really a hugely funded PR game right now. The fact that there's something called neighborhood policing, or the fact that there are some officers called NCOs [neighborhood coordination officers] is not equivalent to fundamental change or improvement in policing. And there's no evidence that they're pointing to that that [improvement] exists.”

Advocates don't seem to want to give an inch in acknowledging the areas where there appears to be progress toward goals shared with de Blasio. Some like Kang argue that the issues with the department are more ingrained, and that the lack of accountability encourages a culture of abuse of power that cannot be checked through simply retraining officers. They say that the NYPD needs to end broken windows policing entirely, that police should not be the solution to community issues, and that a focus on socioeconomic factors would more greatly contribute to both safety and increased trust.

Alex Vitale, professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, and a prominent critic of broken windows policing, said the two metrics for improved policing are the number of punitive interactions between police and the public and the level of abuse during those interactions.

On the first, the administration has shown much success. “Stop-and-frisk encounters are of course down astronomically, misdemeanor arrests are down, overall arrests are down. So those are very real positive metrics,” he said.

On the second metric, Vitale said, the results are more mixed. “We continue to see a lot of very abusive interactions between police and the public,” he said. “The videos continue to show not so much that people are getting killed [like] Eric Garner, but just tons of videos that show police needlessly escalating because they're being driven by this idea that if they don't show that they are the superior force in every interaction, that somehow civilization will become unglued.”

He pointed to the recent incidents where officers were being doused with water in the streets and chose not to make any arrests. “The department's policy response was to go out and get these people, to use force to arrest them, and to ramp up the idea that what's important here is police authority. So that when push came to shove, any idea about neighborhood policing or de-escalation went right out the window,” Vitale said.

He had particular criticism for the mayor’s talking points on retraining officers. “All this talk about training is smoking mirrors. This is political cover and it's made absolutely no difference,” Vitale argued. He had five concrete suggestions to improve the state of affairs: “getting the police out of the mental health business,” decriminalizing sex work, aggressive support for marijuana legalization, getting police out of schools, and dialing back on gang policing.

If the advocates believe the mayor has let the NYPD run roughshod, there are also those who believe he’s completely stifled the police force. Republican elected officials and the uniformed unions say the mayor is anti-NYPD, and accuse him of kowtowing to the demands of advocates. “I think folks in media and advocates tend to focus on statistics that justify the narrative they want,” said City Council Member Joe Borelli, a Staten Island Republican, in an interview outside City Council chambers. “When you look at the number of confrontational shootings the NYPD does compared to other major city departments, it's actually astounding how reserved and professional our police officers are, and they get no credit for that whatsoever. And the left wants to paint them as these jackbooted oppressors.”

“What more level of accountability could there be when there are already five or six agencies and offices that an individual officer must be accountable to?,” Borelli asked rhetorically.

The mayor and the police commissioner have been similarly and repeatedly criticized by Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents 24,000 rank-and-file police officers. Following the Pantaleo decision, Lynch said in a statement, “With this decision, Commissioner O’Neill has opened the door for politicians to dictate the outcome of every single NYPD disciplinary proceeding, without any regard for the facts of the case or police officers’ due process rights. He will wake up tomorrow to discover that the cop-haters are still not satisfied, but it will be too late. The damage is already done. The NYPD will remain rudderless and frozen, and Commissioner O’Neill will never be able to bring it back.”

de Blasio NYPD

A failure of accountability and transparency
For advocates and elected officials, however, there’s a disconnect between some of the data and the community efforts and what they see as an almost complete lack of accountability for erring officers. “I think they've done a relatively good job at trying to build those bridges back and really trying to intimately get into communities to know people,” said Queens City Council Member Donovan Richards, a Democrat and chair of the public safety committee, in an interview at City Hall. “Where the failure has come has come on accountability, and transparency and accountability are still the areas that they struggle on.”

Richards cited, for instance, the NYPD’s facial recognition, DNA, and gang databases, which sweep thousands of New Yorkers into the system, seemingly in violation of their civil rights. And of course, the death of Eric Garner.

“Those are all glaring failures that I feel are undermining all of the progress they’re really trying to make in other places. You look at the Garner case, it's just a shining example of how far we have to go to make sure that the department is truly holding people accountable,” said Richards, who has been among those saying de Blasio should have moved to see Pantaleo fired long ago.

In all, he said the mayor’s record has been a “mixed bag,” which has only served to increase mistrust with the public. “You can't train people or legislate common decency. You can't train and legislate people to not pull babies apart from their moms in a dangerous fashion. I mean, how do you legislate somebody not to choke somebody to death over a low-level offense?”

The NYPD has indeed taken steps to improve its disciplinary practices, though it is unclear what impact they will have. In February, O’Neill announced the department would implement the reform recommendations of an independent blue ribbon panel – put together after a Buzzfeed News investigation last year showed hundreds of NYPD employees kept their jobs despite committing acts that should have led to termination – which included speeding up disciplinary adjudications, studying the creation of a disciplinary matrix, more strongly enforcing action against offices who make false statements, and greater transparency, among other measures.

And after the Justice Department announced that it would not file federal charges against Officer Pantaleo, the mayor said the city would never again wait to act on police misconduct while federal investigators make decisions in such cases.

Some police reform advocates take a much harsher view of the mayor’s efforts. For one, they point out that arrests have been falling because of changes in laws and policies that the mayor and commissioner have repeatedly resisted in many cases.

There is the Criminal Justice Reform Act, spearheaded by former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and passed by the Council in 2016, which created civil penalties for several low-level criminal offenses, and the Right to Know Act, which mandates that officers provide identification during street stops and let suspects know that they can refuse a stop when there is no evidence leading the officers to presume a crime may be about to happen or recently happened. In both cases, the mayor and police department had to be cajoled to support a version of the legislation that could feasibly pass the Council floor and not be vetoed by the mayor.

More recently, when the 2019 Charter Revision Commission was considering a proposal to strengthen the CCRB, the mayor’s office worked behind the scenes unsuccessfully to prevent the measure from making it onto the November general election ballot.

“What we've seen is police accountability and transparency going backwards under de Blasio in multiple areas,” said Kang. She cited the many “egregious cases” of police misconduct, many of them caught on tape or revealed in the press, that have gone unpunished. That serves to discourage New Yorkers from filing complaints against cops, she said, both for fear of retaliation or concern that their complaints will go nowhere. “The message is sent to New Yorkers is that the department and the mayor are not going to take police who harm people, they're not going to take that seriously,” she said. “They're not going to discipline officers, they’re not going to fire officers, they’re not going to protect New Yorkers from officers who are abusive.”

Kang also criticized how opaque the de Blasio administration has been with regards to police discipline, referring to Section 50-a of the State Civil Rights code, which shields officers’ disciplinary records from public disclosure. Prior to the de Blasio administration, limited disciplinary records were made available to the public and members of the press. But under him, the department reinterpreted it – arguing that they had inadvertently been breaking the law for decades – and closed what was a very small window into officer misconduct allegations.

De Blasio and O’Neill subsequently said they wanted the state law changed to allow more disclosure, but they do not appear to have made a serious push on the issue and nothing passed during this year’s legislative session in Albany. Notably though, the NYPD no longer invokes 50-a to keep body camera footage secret.

“[T]he expansion and manipulation of the state police secrecy law 50-a to really protect abuse of officers, hide police misconduct, hide trends of lack of discipline when cops do abuse or brutalize or sexually assault and harm New Yorkers is a huge issue. And the De Blasio administration has actually been worse than prior administrations, including Republican administrations in terms of the level of secrecy around this,” Kang said.

There are, of course, other practices that have rankled critics. The NYPD’s crackdown on fare evasion, which effectively criminalizes poverty, and on e-bikes, which disproportionately hurts delivery workers who tend to be immigrants (many of them undocumented) of color.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, in an interview at City Hall, gave the mayor credit for improved metrics: more safety while reducing arrests, summonses, and use of force. “But when it comes to accountability and transparency, we might be worse at this moment in time,” he said. “He ran on the backs of these stories of black and brown families, and to be having to fight certain fights is nonsensical...There are some conversations that are way too difficult than it should be for a mayor who ran on these issues.”

Chris Dunn, legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a phone interview, that for de Blasio, “Maybe the two big opposite ends of the spectrum are stop-and-frisk on one hand, and police officer discipline and accountability on the other.”

Dunn did not credit the mayor entirely for the reduction in stop-and-frisk, which, as Kang and others noted, was largely because of litigation initiated by advocates, which led a judge to rule that the NYPD had used the practice unconstitutionally by virtually indiscriminately stopping so many young men of color. But, Dunn said, “The mayor deserves a lot of criticism for his role in perpetuating a system where there's no transparency or accountability when it comes to police misconduct...He has not been a leader here in the city when it comes to police reform. Now, there are circumstances or instances in which he has gone along or been pulled along. But I don't think there are areas where he's actually led a reform initiative.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This story has been updated.

Note - This story has been updated to note that Sergeant Adonis pleaded guilty to departmental charges and will no longer face trial. 

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De Blasio Says He’s Reformed the NYPD and Improved Police-Community Relations. The Reality is Complicated. Tue, 20 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Police Reform Movement is Focused on Officer Accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8666-max-murphy-podcast-police-reform-nypd-accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8666-max-murphy-podcast-police-reform-nypd-accountability eric officers councilcall

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


July 10, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: the Police Reform Movement is Focused on NYPD Officer Accountability

anthonine pierre bmc wbai 150Anthonine Pierre of Brooklyn Movement Center and Communities United for Police Reform joined the show to discuss what police reformers are focused on right now, Mayor de Blasio's record on police reform, and what legislation in Albany they were disappointed to not see passed in the recently-concluded legislative session.

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
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Police Reform Movement is Focused on Officer Accountability Wed, 10 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Police Accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability pol acc

(photo: @Charter2019NYC)


The 2019 Charter Revision Commission met on Thursday evening to discuss police accountability reforms before an impassioned crowd filled with activists. Local advocates along with some politicians have long called for increased transparency and accountability in policing, particularly in recent years following the 2014 death of Eric Garner at the hands of NYPD officers on Staten Island and the slow, somewhat secretive process by which any accountability has been handled for that incident and others like it over the years.

The commission heard testimony from experts from representatives of the Civilian Complaints and Review Board (CCRB), NYPD, Legal Aid Society, and a variety of police reform advocacy groups.

It was the second charter revision commission hearing this year featuring “expert” panels on key areas that the commission is considering for reform recommendations. The commission, which has narrowed its focus areas to four big buckets, will make its recommendations this summer and its proposals for changes to the city’s charter, its foundational governing document, will go before voters in November.

The four focus areas are elections, which the commission met to discuss the week prior, governance, finance, and land use. Thursday’s meeting was the first to discuss governance, which includes police accountability.

The hearing occurred one day after the Legal Aid Society released a database of more than 2,300 cases of police misconduct involving almost 3,900 police officers between 2015 and 2018 (police unions say the database contains false and trivial allegations).

The CCRB is currently the primary mode of formal police accountability in New York City. The civilian board, members of which are appointed by various officials and groups, investigates citizen complaints of police misconduct in four arenas: force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, and offensive language. The board then recommends a certain level of discipline to the police commissioner, who holds the ultimate authority to determine and enforce penalties for misconduct.

The CCRB is a 13-member body: the City Council appoints one member per borough, the police commissioner names three members with experience in law enforcement, and the mayor installs five members and names the chair.

The hearing was divided into three panels, though unlike the election reform hearing, which was split thematically, the police accountability panelists discussed similar issues and recommended similar amendments to the charter to address the topic at hand.

The first panel included representatives from Citizens Union, a government reform group focused on transparency and accountability, Communities United for Police Reform, an activist organization, NYC Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board, and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The second panel hosted a criminal justice professor from Borough of Manhattan Community College, an attorney from the Legal Aid Society, president of the Boston-based National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, and the Independent Monitor of the Denver Police Department.

And to conclude the hearing, the third panel was composed of the executive director of the CCRB, the NYPD legislative affairs director, and an NYPD Deputy Commissioner.

All panelists and commissioners broadly agreed on the importance not only of accountability and transparency in the NYPD, but also on the maintenance of public perception of these tenets. Ideas on how to achieve those goals––or thoughts on whether New York City has already achieved them––differed.

With exception from the two NYPD representatives, a consensus emerged among most panelists around amending the charter to increase the CCRB’s legal strength and to compel the NYPD to release public rationale when the commissioner’s disciplinary decisions divert from the CCRB recommendation. Many experts also advocated increasing CCRB’s budget in tandem with that of the NYPD.

Police commissioners typically deviate from the CCRB’s discipline recommendations: according to the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, the police commissioner implemented the board’s recommendations in 26 percent of cases in the first half of 2018 and in 37 percent of cases in the first half of 2017. Deputy Commissioner Kevin Robinson of the NYPD, however, asserted that the concurrency rate––or the rate at which the NYPD acts upon the CCRB’s recommendation––has risen since this dip. The board agreed that the NYPD will often enforce some discipline at the CCRB’s recommendation, but it rarely aligns with the actual suggested measure of discipline.

Executive director of the CCRB Jonathan Darche proposed four amendments to the charter: codification of CCRB’s administrative prosecution unit, allocation of subpoena power to the board’s “highest ranking staff,” a stronger impetus for NYPD compliance with the CCRB’s requests for information and documents, and to raise the CCRB budget to one percent of the NYPD budget.

“While the department will continue to encourage a healthy working relationship that goes beyond the strict bounds of the charter,” said Oleg Chernyavsky, executive director of the NYPD legislative affairs unit, “we do not support such an expansion of the CCRB’s authority.” Darche encouraged the commission to consider the urgency of collecting evidence for misconduct investigations that rely on city resources like street cameras, where footage is routinely taped over.

The NYPD commended its own steps toward increased transparency. Chernyavsky said that last year Police Commissioner James O’Neill gathered an external panel of criminal justice experts to assess the department’s internal discipline process, ultimately finding “no evidence of a lack of fairness.” The department still decided to act on a number of reforms suggested by the panel, like deliberation over the adoption of a standardized disciplinary matrix, according to Chernyavsky.

Some experts suggested amendments to bolster CCRB’s oversight power. Joo-Hyun Kang, director of Communities United for Police Reform, proposed allocating disciplinary enforcement capacity to CCRB, including potential prosecutorial power. She also advocated fully publicizing all of the NYPD budget, enabling oversight of issues like surveillance technology procurement. Michael Sisitzky, lead policy counsel of the New York Civil Liberties Union, supported many similar provisions, including a charter amendment requiring City Council oversight of technology acquisition and decentralizing the disciplinary power of the police commissioner.

“The biggest problem has always been in CCRB’s lack of authority,” said Sisitzky.

Charter Commission Chair Gail Benjamin, former director of the City Council land use division and appointed as chair by Council Speaker Corey Johnson, along with Commissioner Alison Hirsh, vice president of 32BJ SEIU and appointed by Comptroller Scott Stringer, inquired about the disciplinary procedure for “peace officers.” The experts generally agreed that the city lacks an adequate oversight system for these 5,000 officers, but Darche said that the CCRB lacks the resources to oversee peace officers.

The hearing’s most polarizing issue came from Pamela Monroe of the Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board. Monroe asserted that the “CCRB has failed,” and instead proposed a board of 21 elected officials “responsible to their district and answerable to New Yorkers.” The members would serve four-year terms that coincide with mayoral and City Council elections, she explained. The campaign has not yet determined if candidates should run along party lines or in nonpartisan elections. Monroe’s testimony drew fervent applause from the audience, which was largely composed of the campaign’s supporters.

Commissioner Rev. Clinton Miller, who was appointed by Speaker Johnson, asked for details, and Hirsh and several other commissioners inquired about the necessity for elected officials on the CCRB and expressed concern over how the NYPD’s political power could sway these elections in the department’s favor and potentially prevent new accountability reforms. “New Yorkers deserve to have the people represent them,” Monroe answered. Local elections are a tenet of democracy, she explained, and espoused her campaign’s belief that the current CCRB is reflective only of the politicians who appoint them, rather than the city at large.

While Brian Corr of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, reinforced Hirsh’s concerns over how police unions may wield their political clout in an election, most other experts declined to take a position on the issue as members of their organizations were still deliberating the idea.

Commissioner Sal Albanese, a former City Council member and appointed by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, challenged many of the suggested reforms throughout the hearing. Albanese celebrated CCRB’s progress from when NYPD officers served on the board, which changed to its current all-civilian structure 26 years ago under the David Dinkins mayoral administration. He also extolled more recent reforms, including the installations of an inspector general and a federal monitor within the NYPD roughly five years ago.

“Are these things not working?” Albanese asked, to laughs from both the audience and the panel.

Corr later told Albanese that large cities need a body independent of the police department with checks on its power from the mayor and City Council, empaneled with “people who are trained in civic oversight, who understand investigations and can also look at systemic issues.”

Commissioner Stephen Fiala, the Richmond county clerk and appointed by Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, asked several experts to detail their complaints with the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding that broadened oversight of the NYPD.

Many experts lamented the lack of any measure compelling the NYPD to provide a public rationale in instances of non-concurrency between the department and the CCRB on disciplinary measures, despite provisions in the 2012 MOU that suggested the NYPD would disclose these explanations. Ethan Geringer-Sameth explained that Citizens Union has had to wield legal action to unveil certain NYPD decisions. “The fact that it’s not public now,” Kang said “really shows how the NYPD has been allowed to make their own rules.”

Commissioner Carl Weisbrod, a Mayor Bill de Blasio appointee, asked the CCRB and NYPD representatives why the MOU “shouldn’t be codified, given the fact that it has stood the test of time.” Darche called the memorandum a “template for charter revision,” while Chernyavsky said that the MOU maintained police commissioner power because those who occupy that position worked through all levels of the police ranks, giving them important perspective on issues of police misconduct.

Issues of police mistrust within communities of color were debated during the second panel. Albanese asserted that polling shows people of color generally trust police officers, while Manhattan Community College professor Liza Chowdhury said she had not heard of these polls and spoke of historical over-policing in neighborhoods of color, drawing enthusiasm from demonstrators in the crowd who carried photographs of African-American men who have been killed by NYPD officers. Fiala, meanwhile, agreed the NYPD must improve its relationship with civilians, but blamed a lack of trust on a general trend toward suspicion of institutions.

Cynthia Conti-Cook of the Legal Aid Society recommended implementing a conflict counselor position within the CCRB to serve as independent legal representation for clients, rather than the standard set by New York City Law Department’s interpretation of state Civil Rights Law 50-a, which she deemed “the crux of the problem.” The state law, she explained, requires attorneys advancing complaints against police misconduct to delineate why they believe misconduct exists, but blocks their access to disciplinary documents from the NYPD. Defense attorneys, Conti-Cook said, are “arguing in the darkness.”

Chernyavsky advocated for amendments to 50-a that would permit the release of information in the public interest––including officer names, trial transcripts, decisions and disciplinary outcomes––while maintaining safeguards “aimed at protecting officers against harassment.”

“Commissioner O’Neill,” Chernyavsky said, “has attempted to be more transparent within the bounds of the existing law,” noting the decision to release body camera footage and CompStat data. “We can have both. We don’t need to throw away the safeguard that are afforded to our officers at the cost of transparency.”

Many experts and commissioners shared a desire to see a police force that demographically better reflects the communities it serves (which has been the trend in the NYPD), and the need to confront trauma both in neighborhoods that have experienced police brutality and within the police force.

Representatives from the NYPD did not propose any charter amendments.

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Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Police Accountability Sun, 10 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Right to Know Act: Progress and Disappointment https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7380-right-to-know-act-progress-and-disappointment https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7380-right-to-know-act-progress-and-disappointment right to know rally crop


On Tuesday, the New York City Council passed two police reform bills. One marks a vital step toward police reform and accountability. The other takes our city in the wrong direction.

First the good news: a consent to search bill, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, passed with support from over 200 community organizations, including the families of New Yorkers killed by police, and organizations led by homeless, LGBTQ, undocumented, and formerly incarcerated New Yorkers, and black and Latino youth. The bill will require the NYPD to create a policy directive that mandates that police officers notify New Yorkers of their right to refuse a search if the officer does not have probable cause to search them.

The NYPD will also have to document proof of consent, and ensure translation if necessary, so all New Yorkers comprehend it is their constitutional right to refuse searches without probable cause. It is a common sense and long overdue reform that will enhance accountability measures and increase protections for New Yorkers during interactions with officers.

The second bill, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, was opposed by over 200 community organizations, all five public defender offices, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, the National Latino Officers Association, and the Grand Council of Guardians. This legislation, known as the police identification bill, will in some situations require police officers to provide New Yorkers with a business card identifying the officer and an explanation for the stop.

As with consent to search, community members had pushed for such legislation for years. But inexplicably, because of last-minute changes, the final bill intentionally excludes traffic stops as well as the majority of non-arrest street encounters with police officers. It also includes a broad exception that significantly limits the NYPD’s responsibility to provide New Yorkers with an explanation for why they are being stopped.

Here’s what the holes in the final police identification bill mean in practice. If a young person is coming home from school and an officer asks him, “what are you doing?” or “where are you going?” or has his hand on his gun when he commands, “show me your ID,” that officer will not be required to provide a card identifying him- or her-self after the encounter.

If multiple officers corner a young person in front of her building and begin asking similar questions, they will not be required to provide identification after the interaction. If an officer stops a transgender woman and wants to know “why are you on this block,” or “what are you doing tonight,” this law will not ensure they know who is stopping them and why they are being stopped.

These everyday encounters for many young black, Latino, and transgender New Yorkers, which are just as likely as any other police interaction to lead to misconduct, harassment, or even abuse by officers, have been carved out of the bill without sufficient explanation.

President Obama’s 21st Century Task Force On Policing recommended law enforcement agencies require officers to identify themselves by their full name, rank, and command in writing to individuals they have stopped and provide an explanation for the stop. This past summer, the city of Albany, New York passed a bill requiring just that from their police officers.

New York City is not setting a baseline for future police reform. The baseline has already been set. By passing a bill that creates exceptions for thousands of stops and interactions with police officers, New York is merely confirming the NYPD sets police legislation and setting a weak precedent for other localities.

The Right to Know Act originated from the experiences of New Yorkers most impacted by police misconduct and abuse, including the families of those killed by police officers, and black and Latino youth from Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and East New York who have led our organizing efforts. No one—not Council Member Torres, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor Bill de Blasio, or NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill—has offered these young people any explanation for excluding common stops and interactions they are forced to navigate on a daily basis. If New York City is committed to “neighborhood policing,” someone should explain why those neighborhood cops shouldn’t simply hand over a business card and offer an explanation after stopping a New Yorker.

It has been over three years since the world watched an NYPD officer choke the last breath out of Eric Garner’s body on a Staten Island sidewalk. Now, this City Council has passed the only bills since that fateful day that address transparency, accountability, and protections for New Yorkers during interactions with the NYPD. It’s good news for all city residents that the Council passed a strong consent to search bill. But it’s deeply unfortunate that the Council allowed the NYPD to squeeze through a gutted version of police identification legislation that comes up short of the necessary reform that so many New Yorkers have spent the last five years demanding.

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Kesi Foster is a lead organizer with Make the Road New York, which a member of the Steering Committee of Communities United for Police Reform. On Twitter: @MaketheRoadNY.

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

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Right to Know Act: Progress and Disappointment Tue, 19 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Bill de Blasio’s Police Accountability Problem https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6690-bill-de-blasio-s-police-accountability-problem https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6690-bill-de-blasio-s-police-accountability-problem de blasio nypd headquarters

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign account recently posted a Twitter message touting the NYPD’s neighborhood policing initiative. “New York City is proving to the rest of the country that respectful, compassionate neighborhood policing drives down crime & makes us safer,” the tweet from @BilldeBlasio read.

In a response symbolic of a problem de Blasio is facing as he heads into his re-election year, Lumumba Bandele tweeted his response to de Blasio: “You & #NYPD are in no position to talk about respect & compassion.” Bandele then cited the fact that the police officers who killed Ramarley Graham, an unarmed black teenager shot to death in 2012, and “others,” likely a reference including Eric Garner, are still employed by the city.

Bandele identifies himself on Twitter as an organizer, writer, producer, and professor from Bedford-Stuyvesant. His mention of Ramarley Graham came as there has been increased attention from police reform activists to pressure de Blasio to proceed with an NYPD trial for Officer Richard Haste and the others involved in Graham’s death. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill recently announced that such a trial was likely to begin in early 2017.

The new year, de Blasio’s fourth as mayor, is also expected to see movement regarding accountability for Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Garner’s 2014 death during an attempted arrest. A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in 2014, and the federal Department of Justice has been investigating his actions, which, according to de Blasio and the NYPD, has kept the city from moving ahead with any of its own disciplinary procedure.

As the mayor kicks off his re-election campaign, police reform activists, including some elected officials, are frustrated with de Blasio for what they see as a failure to live up to his 2013 promise as a police reformer, especially with regard to increasing accountability at the NYPD. While these two high-profile cases may soon see developments, advocates say that punishment for officers takes far too long and is far too soft, and that on holding officers accountable for inappropriate or illegal behavior, the mayor has done nothing systemic to change NYPD culture.

For his part, de Blasio argues that he has been the reformer he said he would be, that he has overseen major changes to policing in New York City while both crime and arrests have declined. De Blasio, a Democrat, has been battling perceptions that he is "anti-cop" and would be soft on crime since his 2013 campaign. While he has mostly assuaged the latter, the former persists in some corners, perhaps contibuting to a lack of action in addressing accountabiity, even as, on the other side of the equation, reformers believe he has not been tough enough on badly-behaving officers.

Some reform advocates do give de Blasio credit for following through on elements of his campaign rhetoric, which had a significant focus on policing as part of his larger call for greater equity. But, they are quick to note that de Blasio’s efforts have not extended into essential areas of transparency and accountability.

City Council Member Jumaane Williams and members of Communities United for Police Reform, for example, acknowledge that de Blasio has overseen certain tactical changes at the NYPD, like instituting a new training regime focused on de-escalation, continuing to reduce street stops, and a more lenient approach to marijuana arrests. But, they believe that it amounts to little if it is not accompanied by major changes to how police officers are dealt with when they abuse their power, especially around excessive use of force.

Real culture change, they say, requires both front- and back-end reform -- new training, strategies, and directives, as well as beefed up oversight and increased transparency and accountability. At the same time de Blasio has been criticized for doing little on officer accountability, after decades of doing so the NYPD stopped making public a weekly update on officer disciplinary actions, citing their realization that they had been violating a state law.

When de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill held an early December press conference to announce low crime in the city, Communities United put out a press release saying, “As Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill gave briefing on crime data from November, they continued to ignore alleged abuses and misconduct during month.” The release linked to more than two dozen news articles about alleged police abuses or a lack of transparency into the NYPD.

“There’s a lot of talk about building relationships and building trust between communities and police,” but “our position is, hold up, in order for us to have trust, we need greater accountability,” said Monifa Bandele, a vice president at Moms Rising, a national organization that in New York is part of Communities United for Police Reform. Bandele spoke with Gotham Gazette after CPR held a mid-December press conference calling for new measures to improve transparency and accountability in the NYPD. Police officers regularly violate people’s rights, she said, but “nothing seems to come of it.”

CPR and a majority of City Council members want to see the Right to Know Act passed. The legislation would require police officers to provide more information to people they are stopping on the street, including identification. Despite majority support, the Right to Know Act has stalled in the City Council because de Blasio does not support it, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has not allowed it to come to a vote, and other Council members have been unwilling to move it to a vote without the speaker’s blessing. Mark-Viverito did announce a compromise with the NYPD to institute elements of the legislation through NYPD training and the patrol guide.

Council Member Williams is one sponsor of the Right to Know Act, and while he wants to see more from de Blasio and the NYPD, he also says that there has been progress. In an interview, Williams said that there probably hasn’t been enough credit given to de Blasio for some of the change, but that that is a result of other failings.

“It’s very real that when it comes to transparency and accountability we’re no better than any other city in this nation and that’s a problem, we should be leading this effort,” Williams said.

“One of the best ways to change behaviors is to make sure people feel there’s accountability for that behavior,” said Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat. “So those are the type of things that I think people have yet to see and they’re very concerned about it and it’s what he campaigned on so I think people have an expectation to see it.”

Williams said he’s pleased about neighborhood policing, street stops continuing to decrease, and marijuana arrests being down, but that the city still needs to look at the racial breakdown, the percentages by demographic group, of some of the stops and arrest data. It is a sentiment echoed by leaders from Communities United for Police Reform, an umbrella group, as well as PROP, the Police Reform Organizing Project, which monitors arrest data and court proceedings. These activists say that it is good that a number of metrics are trending downward overall, but that disproportionate racial disparities persist on everything from street stops to summonses and arrests for all types of low-level crimes.

“I would love to hear a coherent answer on that,” Williams said when asked why he thinks de Blasio hasn’t been more aggressive on the transparency and accountability aspects of police reform.

Asked recently about the issue, de Blasio told WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer that he believes he’s lived up to his promises on policing and that disciplinary matters are done on a case-by-case basis.

“What did I say we were going to do? We were going to greatly decrease the use of stop-and-frisk. We did that. We were going to institute neighborhood policing. We’re doing that. We were going to stop the things that were causing a rift between police and community. For example, we stopped the arrest for low-level marijuana possession. You know, we are now doing an entirely different training regimen for our cops including de-escalation when there are encounters with civilians. We’re starting implicit bias training at the NYPD – a huge step forward for the largest police department in the country,” de Blasio said December 7 on WNYC.

The mayor continued: “I think folks who want reform should look at all that – all the things that they had said they wanted are actually happening. In terms of the disciplinary cases, each and every one of those is going to be seen through. As you know, the Garner case, right now, is in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department. When they finish their process, if they do not bring charges, there will be disciplinary action determined through the NYPD’s due process.”

“So, I don’t put those pieces together the same way that some critics do,” de Blasio said. “I think we have made steady progress on police reform.”

To support his point, de Blasio said that the city has “reinvigorated” the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a nominally independent agency that hears civilian complaints about the NYPD, holds hearings, and recommends punishments. Under de Blasio, complaints against police officers to the CCRB have dropped, something the mayor regularly cites. He mentioned it on WNYC earlier this month, while also bringing up the NYPD Inspector General, a position created through City Council legislation co-sponsored by Council Members Williams and Brad Lander, de Blasio’s successor in the City Council from Park Slope, and passed over the veto of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg (de Blasio was supportive of the legislation as public advocate at the time).

“We have so many elements of reform that some of these same advocates said, for years, would change everything,” de Blasio said on WNYC. “We’re doing it. And body cameras – in the course of this year, you’re going to see body cameras starting to be introduced on a large level in New York City. They will be expanded greatly from there.”

One problem that reformers point to in de Blasio’s argument is that the NYPD commissioner continues to possess discretion as to what extent he or she follows CCRB recommendations on officer punishment and that discretion almost always leads to a lesser penalty, often significantly so. Officers who use excessive force, for example, may be docked a few vacation days as opposed to being suspended without pay or worse. Advocates want “zero tolerance” for officers who violate the rights of civilians.

Citizens Union, a government reform organization, recently published a new set of recommendations for streamlining and improving police accountability, including changes to the process by which officers are disciplined. This was a follow up to a 2012 Citizens Union report that analyzed more than ten years of CCRB and NYPD data, raising significant questions about officer discipline -- it found that “The NYPD almost always did not follow CCRB recommendations to administer the most severe penalty despite the fact that the CCRB shows great discretion in accepting and investigating complaints against police officers.”

De Blasio, who has had a contentious relationship with the main union representing rank-and-file NYPD officers, has repeatedly deflected discussion of police accountability by focusing on the new training that officers are getting, arguing that it and other reforms are preventing bad actions by officers, and reducing negative interactions between officers and members of the public.

Along with tougher sanctions on officers who use excessive force or otherwise break protocol, Williams, CPR, and others want to see movement on the Right to Know Act and another bill, sponsored by Council Member Rory Lancman, to make police chokeholds illegal -- they are currently banned by NYPD policy, but critics say this has not deterred officers from using them, as seen in Garner’s death. (Even if made illegal, chokeholds, like any other use of force, would be allowable under law when an officer’s life is in danger.)

According to Monifa Bandele of Moms Rising, the Right to Know Act would build on the progress of the Community Safety Act. She said that children come home having had an interaction with police that they felt was unjustified or abusive, but can’t tell their parents who the officer was. “It’s hard to have accountability when you don’t know who you’ve interacted with,” she said, noting that adults often have the same issue. “Transparency, which is what the Right to Know Act is rooted in, is very key to get to accountability,” Bandele said, adding that officers seem to know that “there won’t be any consequences to violating the rights of New Yorkers.”

A spokesperson for de Blasio argued that “The mayor has delivered the farthest reaching criminal justice reforms of any mayor in the city’s history," but did not address questions around officer accountability and punishment for officers who violate rules and laws.

The de Blasio administration is currently being sued by Legal Aid Society and others over its refusal to release the discipline records of Officer Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death. This, in combination with the change in policy around what had been a weekly posting of officer promotions and disciplinary action at NYPD headquarters has led to claims of backsliding on transparency and accountability.

“Without transparency about past disciplinary records when the CCRB finds an officer has committed misconduct, how can there be any real accountability?” asked Council Member Lander in a statement. “[I]f the NYPD can dismiss or downgrade the CCRB's charges secretly, and the public never knows about patterns of repeat offenders, how can communities be asked to trust the system? That’s why we are deeply distressed by the NYPD’s recent decision to suddenly reverse course on a decades-old practice of transparency, and why we’re joining the call today to release records pertaining to complaints against Officer Daniel Pantaleo.”

Pantaleo has been on modified duty since Garner’s death, but he continues to draw his NYPD salary, and was even found to be collecting significant overtime pay -- something that the NYPD quickly moved to address when Politico New York reported it. Overtime limits or not, modified duty is not enough for Pantaleo or other officers accused of wrongdoing, advocates for reform say.

Monifa Bandele said her teenage children are told the rules at school, but if they violate them, there are consequences. “Accountability is what we want from Bill de Blasio,” she said. “He’s done great things,” she added, noting universal pre-kindergarten and paid sick leave, “but what about policing -- this is an issue that Bill de Blasio ran on...it’s what separated him from the rest of the pack.”

It’s unclear at this point what “the pack” will look like as the mayor seeks re-election in 2017, but Bandele said “I don’t know” when asked if de Blasio has done enough good to warrant her support this time around. She indicated there’s still time for him to show real commitment to police reform by focusing on the transparency and accountability elements.

Congressional Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been an outspoken critic of de Blasio and is talked about as a potential mayoral candidate, though he has said he is not planning to run. At a September press conference outside NYPD headquarters, Jeffries said, “The administration said to us that they would be transparent as it relates to the issue of the police and the tension with the community. Instead, they’ve retreated, and declined to provide information on rogue officers who don’t deserve to wear the blue uniform any further. The de Blasio administration promised the people of the City of New York that we would receive meaningful police reform and instead we’ve gotten more of the same. That is shameful. And we will no longer tolerate it.”

Public opinion polls consistently show de Blasio with strong support among African-Americans, especially relative to white New Yorkers. Asked about this and whether people of color should support de Blasio, Council Member Williams said, “Well I think none of our support should be taken for granted so I would tell my constituents ‘don’t give anybody your support without asking hard questions and having them respond.’”

As for whether he plans to back de Blasio (seven of Williams’ colleagues recently announced their endorsements of the mayor for re-election), Williams said, “He’s the person I supported before, I think I am inclined to still support him, but not without hearing a lot of answers on police reform issues and housing issues, these are really affecting my constituents because I think there are glaring problems in what we want to accomplish in this city and what’s been done.”

“There has been movement,” Williams added, making sure to acknowledge progress. “We said we were going to push wholesale, systematic differences and changes and I don’t think that’s come about and people have a right to hear, well, ‘why hasn’t it and what’s going to be different in the next campaign?’ So all i’m going to tell my constituents: let’s wait and hear what those answers are.”

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Monifa and Lumumba Bandele are married. Separately, this reporter noticed the Lumumba Bandele tweet mentioned in the beginning of the story and came across Monifa Bandele at the press conference mentioned, later confirming the relationship.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Bill de Blasio’s Police Accountability Problem Wed, 28 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000