Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/167 Wed, 05 Aug 2020 14:01:13 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Little Support for De Blasio's Claim that Court Shutdown is Driving Gun Violence Surge https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9624-de-blasio-nypd-court-shutdown-gun-violence-increase https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9624-de-blasio-nypd-court-shutdown-gun-violence-increase media avail photo

De Blasio and Shea discuss public safety (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea are marooned on an island with few substantive details to sustain their claim that one of the biggest drivers of New York City's recent increase in gun violence is a pandemic-stalled court system.

The two have repeatedly offered largely unsupported claims that the coronavirus-related suspension of grand juries and a slow-down in gun offense prosecutions has made the courts a major contributor to the surge in shootings throughout the city over the last several months. But representatives from the state courts, district attorney offices, and public defender services have all refuted the administration's claims, while available data paints a somewhat murky picture.

On Monday, the mayor published an open letter to New York Chief Judge Janet Di Fiore and the city’s five district attorneys in which he urged them to work with the city to "do much more," and said he would be reaching out to arrange a meeting with all parties.

Convening grand juries again, which had been halted to prevent the spread of COVID-19, "is important progress, but we will have to do much more in order to reduce the backlog of cases that have, for the most part, been held in abeyance for several months — delaying justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators," de Blasio wrote.

From June 22 to July 19, there were 328 shootings incidents in New York City, more than three times the number in the same period last year, according to CompStat, the NYPD's crime tracker. Over roughly the same 28-day period, even with so many more shootings, gun arrests have dropped by about two-thirds from 2019. The mayor has blamed the uptick on "massive societal disruption" triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout, regularly pointing to a court system that “is not functioning” and emphasizing the lack of grand juries and gun prosecutions. But he has been vague on specifics and has dodged questions about the falling arrest rate.

"It's a pretty few places where we're seeing the uptick, a relatively few people causing the violent crime. We're going after them," de Blasio said on CNN Thursday after questions about the increased shootings and decreased arrests. "We need them prosecuted again. That's the big missing link here because we can't get them off the street if there's not prosecution and the court system functioning."

"We know we don't necessarily need more gun arrests, we need the people that are caught to be prosecuted fully, and then we need the court systems open to get them off the street as quickly as possible," Shea said, seated next to de Blasio at a press briefing on July 17, where they announced an anti-gun violence campaign focused on increasing patrols in high-shooting areas, organizing gun buy-backs, and better deploying the Community Affairs Bureau.

Until recently, de Blasio has largely credited growing joblessness and the upheaval of daily life for the recent violence, while also repeatedly mentioning the courts. Shea has gone further by explicitly blaming recent bail reforms and COVID-related jail releases, which have been backed by the mayor for the most part. The state of the court system is their major area of agreement in explaining the recent gun violence, even as they continue to publicly butt heads on new police reforms backed by the mayor.

Lauding the police department's "precision policing," which focuses on rooting out a smaller number of individuals who officials say are responsible for most violent crime, de Blasio and Shea have blamed the courts and the prosecutors.

"When those courts are opened up, we have a line of cases ready to get the most violent people off the streets. We need the court's help," Shea said at the July 17 press conference.

In an open letter to Chief Judge Janet Di Fiore and the five district attorneys released Monday, de Blasio said 2,000 people had been charged with firearm offenses in New York City, but only about half had been indicted by a grand jury -- a point he and Shea have made before.

Yet the Office of Court Administration, a state entity, insists that the courts have remained open virtually, and district attorneys and public defenders say arraignments have continued by video conference.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has suspended some elements of the Criminal Procedure Law, including the convening of grand juries, as part of the state's emergency response to the virus. But public defenders say no grand juries only means people accused of violent felonies have fewer avenues to be released from jail while they await the administration of justice.

"The idea that a lack of grand juries is somehow increasing shootings is utterly absurd," said Alice Fontier, managing director for Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, in an interview. "To the extent that the court is not functioning to its full capacity, the result is more people being held in jail than previously would have been."

Grand juries are a constitutional protection that give defendants a chance to have their case thrown out before trial if prosecutors can't show probable cause. In the pandemic, that ability was suspended and only later replaced with a judge's discretion in preliminary hearings where minimal evidence is presented, according to Fontier and other defense attorneys Gotham Gazette interviewed.

Before the pandemic, when a person was arrested for an alleged violent felony, they would be arraigned -- meaning they are formally charged -- and a grand jury would review evidence to decide whether the case would proceed toward trial or be dropped. If the decision was made to indict, the defendant would remain in jail unless bail was set and paid. If the decision was made not to indict, the case was closed and the accused would go free.

During the state of emergency, arraignments have continued and judges still set bail. But with grand juries suspended, the opportunity to get out of jail before trial without taking a plea deal or paying bail has disappeared, multiple public defenders said.

In the past, if a grand jury wasn't convened within five days of an arrest -- which was not uncommon if prosecutors couldn't line-up witnesses or evidence in time -- the defendant would be released under a state statute known as Section 180.80 while their case proceeded. That provision was also suspended by Cuomo's executive order, leaving individuals to take a plea deal, pay bail (if bail is set), or sit in jail, according to the defense attorneys.

"In fact the right to get out based on whether or not a grand jury has indicted you is also suspended as long as they have what's called a preliminary hearing," said Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services. At preliminary hearings, which are being conducted virtually, a judge decides whether there is probable cause to proceed to trial, she said.

"Right now just based on the prosecutor’s charge and the judge saying that feels like a bail case, people are held on bail," Fontier said. 

"And there is no grand jury review, so it's all prosecutors and judges who are deciding who is in jail and who is not," she added.

Since the mid-March state of emergency, the New York City Criminal Court has held nearly 19,000 arraignments and over 600 felony preliminary hearings, according to the Office of Court Administration. Virtually all gun possession and use cases are felonies, according to prosecutors and court representatives.

"Although we share your goals of a safer and stronger city, your plea for a 'functioning and open' court system wholly ignores the reality that the courts have not only always remained open, but have excelled and adapted in ways that were unimaginable only a few months ago," wrote New York Chief Judge Janet Di Fiore in a letter to de Blasio on July 16 (the letter was first reported by The New York Post).

But a day later, at the July 17 press briefing with Shea, the mayor repeated his claims, even raising his voice to a reporter as he was asked again to prove his assertions: "With great respect to my colleagues in the media, I'm going to challenge you to actually report what I said. Listen, the court system is not functioning! You can't have the ability to get people off the streets if the court system's not functioning!"

"There's nowhere near the level of court activity that we had as recently as February, before the coronavirus," the mayor said on WNYC radio a week later, this past Friday, July 24.

"The Mayor’s narrative regarding the operation of the State Court System throughout the pandemic is at best totally factually incorrect and at worst an attempt to shift the blame for an increase in street violence," wrote Lucian Chalfen, the courts' director of public information, in an email to Gotham Gazette.

"Despite what some people would say, they should walk into 161st Street or walk into Jay Street," Shea said at a July 16 CompStat meeting with police brass, referring to the locations of state courthouses and ignoring the proceedings that have continued digitally. "Don't tell me that the courts are open. The courts have been shut down for months."

In some cases, like with long-term investigations, prosecutors obtain an indictment through a grand jury before an arrest is made. In the open letter to Di Fiore and the district attorneys Monday, de Blasio indicated this may be hampering the police department's ability to go after the gang activity underwriting the increase in shootings: "Because grand juries have not been sitting, we also cannot present the major cases used to take out the most violent street gangs," he wrote. Nothing prevents the NYPD from arresting someone they suspect of being involved in a shooting, however.

Prosecutors have largely denied any reduction in the vigor with which they pursue gun charges.

“It is wrong to say that the District Attorneys are not prosecuting or that the court system is not functioning,” wrote Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “It is certainly wrong to suggest that the recent uptick in shootings has been caused by the changes in court process that have resulted from the pandemic. It is true that grand juries and trials are on hold. But for months the Bronx DAs office has prosecuted and continues to prosecute cases especially violent offenses. There was no 'slow down.'"

"When an arrest is made, we draft the appropriate complaint and file it with the court," Clark wrote. "Every defendant who has been arrested and charged with a crime has been arraigned."

Similar word came from Manhattan. "Our office aggressively prosecutes violent crime and we have not observed a correlation between the uptick in gun violence and court operations," said Danny Frost, a spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. "Thanks to the hard work of our prosecutors, professional staff, and court system colleagues, our arraignments never stopped and our preliminary hearings have enabled us to meet our statutory obligations in the absence of a sitting grand jury."

Oren Yaniv, a spokesperson for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, told Gotham Gazette that all prosecutions in the borough had slowed during the height of the pandemic and have only recently begun to pick back up. But he said that hasn't impacted the number of arraignments or people released from jail while they await trial.

"Everything is getting arraigned and those accused of violent felonies can and are being held on bail or remand," he said in an email. "So, no, it doesn’t affect the number of defendants who are at large (leaving aside COVID considerations that are sometimes applied by judges when deciding on bail)."

There is some data to back up de Blasio’s and Shea's claims that defendants in weapons cases are being released at higher rates than in the past, although other data suggests these aren't the main contributors of recent gun violence.

In Manhattan this year, through June 15, there have been 319 arraignments for criminal possession of a weapon, only ten fewer than in the same stretch in 2019, according to Frost. But where 250 of those cases in 2019 resulted in detention, 177 did in 2020, a rate of 55 percent, down from 76% in 2019.

That may be due to a number of reasons, like the city's effort to reduce the jail population in response to the coronavirus, and the discretion given to judges at preliminary hearings, including to set bail.

According to a spokesperson for the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), 4,500 people had been released from jails between March 16 and July 5, a third of whom were released due to COVID-19 concerns. Of the COVID-related releases, 193 were re-arrested -- seven of those on gun charges.

The mayor has stood by the move to cut the city jail population, which is now below 4,000, during the pandemic. That figure came after years of reducing the jail census from 11,000 detainees when de Blasio took office in 2014 to roughly 5,400 at the start of the state of emergency in March.

"I am convinced it was the right thing to do because we were thinking about the health and safety of everyone involved and looking to save lives," de Blasio told reports in May in defense of the covid-inspired push to reduce the city jail population. "And, again, when this crisis is over, anyone who is awaiting trial who needs to be reincarcerated will be. So, this was the right approach."

MOCJ did not respond to requests for data on the total number of people with gun charges released from jail. A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Correction referred Gotham Gazette to MOCJ, which they said had received the inquiry.

A Gotham Gazette analysis of weapons arrest data provided by the Office of Court Administration revealed defendants in 48 percent of gun cases between March 16 and June 21 were released on their own recognizance or under supervision, compared with 25 percent during the same period last year. (Gun cases include criminal possession of a weapon and robbery with a weapon.)

In the three-month period between January 1 and March 15, 2020, after new state bail laws passed last year had gone into effect, defendants in 42 percent of weapons cases were released, close to the release rate during the pandemic. (Lawmakers have again increased the number of offenses that are bail eligible, which went into effect on July 1.)

But a New York Post analysis of police data showed only one person released under the 2019 bail reforms has since been charged with a shooting, amid the 528 shootings in the first six months of 2020.

The Office of Court Administration and public defenders have criticized the de Blasio administration's push to reopen in-person courtrooms to criminal proceedings, saying it will put people at risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus. Doing so could disproportionately expose Black and Latino communities, which have already borne a higher toll in the pandemic, defense attorneys say.

Grand juries will be convened again beginning on August 10.

"We have been working to reestablish full court operations, including jury trials," Chalfen, of the Office of Court Administration, wrote in a statement Monday. "While New York City still does not allow indoor dining, the Mayor blithely asks us to call in thousands of people a week Citywide for jury duty. Clearly he has absolutely no understanding of how the criminal justice process works."

Many people familiar with court procedures are alarmed by the push to reopen courtrooms for in-person proceedings.

"Now we have a situation where clients and attorneys are being forced to go to court in unsafe conditions," a caller, who identified themselves as “Lauren” and a public defender in Brooklyn, told de Blasio in an appearance on WNYC radio Friday. "The ventilation systems in the courts are very old." 

"I'm in a high-risk category," Lauren said. "I have plenty of clients who are high risk."

"If there's ways to use remote activity that works, great, but it's not an option to not have a court system because it is one of the things contributing to our – the challenges we're facing as we're trying to address violence," de Blasio responded.

"I have been talking to DAs, I've been talking to police officials and I believe them that there is nowhere near the level of activity that happened," he said. "I mean, it was just a pure factual statement."

While court activity has been reduced, the mayor’s claims it is connected to an increase in gun violence remains refuted by those working in the court system.

"There is no connection to what is happening in the street whatsoever,” said Fontier, the public defender in Harlem, “and I struggle to think how he could possibly make one if he actually tried.”

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Little Support for De Blasio's Claim that Court Shutdown is Driving Gun Violence Surge Mon, 27 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Jumaane Williams on Gun Violence & Police Reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9617-max-murphy-podcast-jumaane-williams-on-gun-violence-police-reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9617-max-murphy-podcast-jumaane-williams-on-gun-violence-police-reform 237 jumaane 600

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


July 22, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Jumaane Williams on Gun Violence & Police Reform

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams joined the show to discuss his recommendations for reducing gun violence in the city, the next steps on police reform, whether the mayor should replace his police commissioner, and more.

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 237: Jumaane Williams On Gun Violence & Police Reform

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Jumaane Williams on Gun Violence & Police Reform Wed, 22 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The Challenges Facing Dermot Shea https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8986-challenges-facing-new-nypd-commissioner-dermot-shea-de-blasio-police https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8986-challenges-facing-new-nypd-commissioner-dermot-shea-de-blasio-police ceremonial shea

Mayor de Blasio & PC Shea (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Just a week on the job, new NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea appeared at a solemn press conference in Brooklyn on Thursday, where he addressed the Jersey City murders of two people with ties to Williamsburg as well as the Manhattan murder of an 18-year-old Barnard student. The killings are emblematic of a rise in hate crimes, particularly anti-Semitic ones, and an increase this year in murders in New York City, though those numbers remain near record lows.

He was in Williamsburg with Mayor Bill de Blasio, Shea said, "To express our commitment to you and to all New Yorkers to continue to root out hate and to not rest until acts such as this cowardly violence are brought to justice."

As the newly elevated commissioner of the NYPD, Shea has his work cut out for him in those two areas and many others, including the politics of the high-profile job. Shea took over one of the toughest jobs in the country – overseeing the police force of 36,000 uniformed officers and nearly 20,000 civilian employees in the nation’s largest city, with more than 8 million residents that’s also home to tens of millions of tourists each year and a top terrorism target – amid pivotal shifts, including laws governing the criminal justice system, and rifts.

He takes on the responsibility of repairing trust between the department and many members of the public wary and critical of it while rolling out new programs, overhauling certain divisions and protocols, and ensuring that public safety does not suffer throughout. And he must prepare himself to make the tough decisions that come with increased oversight of police conduct. He must deliver on many promises made by his two recent predecessors and by the official who appointed all three of them, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who will soon be facing his legacy.

Barring any scandal, Shea likely has just over two years as the city’s top cop given that de Blasio’s second and final term expires on December 31, 2021.

Shea, a 28-year veteran of the department who most recently served as chief of detectives, officially assumed the leadership role on December 1 in a private swearing in (an official ceremony was held the next day), taking over from James O’Neill, who had held the department’s top spot for just over three years. He’s the third commissioner to be appointed by de Blasio, under whose tenure major crimes have largely continued to drop each year while arrests and incarceration have also purposefully fallen, the department has adopted new policing strategies but criticism has raged from the right and the left.

“As we said we could in 2014, we have shown that we can drive crime down significantly with a far less intrusive enforcement profile,” Shea said when he was sworn in by the mayor last week at police headquarters in Manhattan. “In fact we have done what many believed was impossible. We’ve pushed crime down while also reducing criminal summons, stops, arrests, and incarceration. And throughout our police department, we are building trust and strengthening relationships in every New York City community and there’s more to do. Neighborhood policing and precision policing are seamlessly blended together and serve, I believe, as a model of American policing and proof that, yes, you can have it all.”

But as the department continues to maintain crime at or near historic lows, that has allowed focused attention on specific aspects of policing – accountability for wrongdoing by officers; increases in rates of certain crimes, like reported rapes; pockets of the city that continue to be plagued by gunfire; and several criminal justice reforms passed by the state Legislature set to take effect in the new year. Even parking placard abuse by officers. There's the constant threat of terrorism, and a City Council considering requiring more transparency around what technology the department uses. Shea must also grapple with an epidemic of suicides among police officers as ten officers have taken their own lives this year. The city has sought to ameliorate the crisis with a new mental health initiative launched in in partnership with New York-Presbyterian Hospital in October to provide greater services to officers.  

While he has immense resources, including a more than $5 billion annual budget, Shea has his plate full, a fact he has readily acknowledged, committing to improved community relations while also sounding an alarm about sweeping changes to pre-trial detention and evidence-sharing about to take effect.

“There are significant challenges on the horizon, however,” he said in his speech, much of which was directed at the many members of the NYPD sitting before him. “We’ve seen some signs of them. People that live in our communities too have already talked about them – looming changes that again will test you and test your ability to keep New Yorkers safe. But I believe we are a very strong organization. I have confidence in you because time after time you have proven your dedication to the people of this great city. And I know we will adapt and work with all of our partners to see changes necessary to keep everyone safe, including our police officers.”

The comments were indicative of Shea’s new perch, where he is expected to weigh in on policy and even politics, often during press conferences with the mayor where in the past he played a supporting role.

City Council Member Joe Borelli, a Staten Island Republican, pointed out perhaps the biggest change that comes with taking the helm of the police department. “One of the most difficult parts of any police commissioner’s job is navigating the political realm of New York City,” he said. “Last week, Chief Shea was a person with a defined role and defined duties and defined expectations, and tomorrow, he's going to be someone who is required to take part in this dance, and it's gonna be a challenge for anyone.”

Neighborhood Policing
The mayor and his three police commissioners: Bill Bratton, then O’Neill, and now Shea, have all emphasized the NYPD’s new neighborhood policing paradigm, which places the same cops on familiar beats across the city and gives them time and orders to build trust between officers and the communities they serve. But despite their claims of its advantages, they have not provided evidence of its efficacy and a long-promised community survey has yet to be published.

Shea will have to prove that the new approach, which was used to justify an expensive expansion of the police force and advocates have at times criticized for turning each community issue into a policing one, is working as intended and that it is sufficiently addressing the credibility and trust gap that has long existed between the police and some communities, particularly communities of color.

After his appointment was announced, Shea quickly went on a listening tour to meet with elected officials, advocates, faith leaders, and others, including making an appearance at the National Action Network’s House of Justice to meet with Al Sharpton and clergy members.

“Unfortunately, the way our laws, and especially our criminal laws are built is that they do criminalize poverty and over-police the most vulnerable communities,” said Marie Ndiaye, supervising attorney of the Decarceration Project at the Legal Aid Society. But she noted that the commissioner and police officers have the discretion to apply them in the most just way possible. “Officers have discretion to not arrest, to not cite, to have someone just stop a behavior they're doing and move about their way,” she said.

Even as the department has shifted its tactics, it has focused on more targeted policing, particularly of gang activity. As a result, thousands of individuals have been placed on a gang database, at times with little justification and even without having committed a crime. Advocates have called for erasing the database – which could include as many as 37,000 people, according to a Brooklyn College report – insisting it is discriminatory and based on racial profiling.  

“The most difficult thing to do is to let folks know that it's a never-ending discussion,” said Public Advocate Jumaane WIlliams, a Democrat, in a recent interview outside City Hall about his expectations for Shea. “So we should always be having discussions of how to make policing better and have safer streets. And those are not competing interests. We can do them at the same time.”

A New Disciplinary System
Last year, then-Commissioner James O’Neill responded to a series of exposes around a lack of accountability at the department by insisting that disciplinary standards had improved and that the department was not riddled with bad actors, but also creating an independent panel to overhaul the NYPD’s internal disciplinary procedures. The panel issued 13 recommendations in February that O’Neill accepted.

Some required little effort and were implemented within two months – supporting amendments to Section 50-a of the state civil rights law, which shields officers’ disciplinary records from public disclosure, preventing the expansion of the scope of 50-a, increased public reporting, publishing of trial room calendars, and enhanced reporting on when disciplinary action does not match a recommendation of the CCRB, the Department Advocate’s Office, or the Deputy Commissioner for Trials.

As commissioner, Shea will have to oversee the continuing implementation of the rest of the recommendations, many of which are underway as well, such as studying a disciplinary matrix for police officers that would clearly outline the possible disciplinary action for different types of misconduct and identifying an outside entity to audit the new disciplinary system.

Transparency and accountability are the main areas where critics say the mayor, who came to office pledging a transformation of the police department, has failed them. Even those like Public Advocate Williams who have supported the neighborhood policing model feel disappointed. “If you're not dealing with accountability, if you're not dealing with the disciplinary issues, if you're not dealing with the transparency issues, it's just not going to go anywhere. And those seem to be the two buckets that we've had the hardest time moving,” he said.

“I'm not sure that it should be that challenging. I can understand it's difficult, but it's the right thing to do,” he added. “Being transparent about...when police have been disciplined is the right thing to do. When there's...police involved and people are hurt, transparency about what occurred on edited footage to the family, those things are the right thing to do and that's that's where the city should be leading the nation. But we’re actually behind the nation, and we seem to be behind in a lot of things, and then call ourselves progressive.”

A Stronger Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB)
Also related to officer discipline, the CCRB, which investigates complaints of misconduct and other specific abuses of authority by police officers, received new powers under a revision to the City Charter approved by voters in November. Besides a larger, more independent board and bigger budget, the CCRB’s executive director now has subpoena power, and the board can investigate instances where officers lie under oath to its investigators. Another measure that was approved requires the NYPD commissioner to explain in writing when he or she chooses to reject or modify a disciplinary recommendation made by the CCRB or an internal NYPD official. 

Operating under these new rules, Shea will be required to be more transparent about disciplinary actions than his predecessors (NYPD commissioners, who have final say, very often reduce the recommended punishment for substantiated misconduct), though it does not entirely inhibit his discretion in how he disciplines his officers. As commissioner, he also chooses three of the 13 members of the board, who are then appointed by the mayor.

Ndiaye recommended “full cooperation with the CCRB and accepting their recommendations where those recommendations make sense, and actually allowing them to do their job.” She added, “Internally, the NYPD should be doing its own robust investigations and really be holding people accountable.”

Evolving Body-Worn Camera Policies
Another area where the commissioner maintains discretion is in the public release of body-worn camera footage of “critical incidents” where individuals are either seriously injured or killed by police officers. The NYPD’s long-sought policy, only recently published, notes that the commissioner will decide within 30 days whether to release the footage.

Advocates have criticized the policy since it leaves disclosure in the commissioner’s hands with no mandates for how the footage is released – the police department can edit and release partial footage as it deems necessary. Shea will also have to work on the ongoing implementation of the body camera program itself, it has only recently reached all 20,000-plus patrol officers, along with other specialized units.

Recent Upticks in Crime
Even though the overall major felony crime rate has continued to decline overall, certain categories of criminal behavior have grown or appeared to grow, requiring a more targeted approach by the NYPD and presenting challenges for Shea as he takes the reins.

Among those are hate crimes, domestic violence homicides, sexual assaults, and some more recent upticks in shootings in certain parts of the city. Through December 1, murders are up 8% this year compared to the same period last year; 2018 saw a record-low number of murders.

Hate crimes have spiked in recent years, largely incidents of anti-Semitic attacks and vandalism. Following the fatal shooting in Jersey City targeting a kosher market, Mayor de Blasio on Wednesday announced that the NYPD had been working to create a new unit to specifically target hate crimes called the Racial and Ethnically Motivated Extremism unit. At the announcement, Shea noted that there has been a 22% increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes this year and that the new unit would aim to prevent rather than just react to such incidents.

Despite murders at or near all-time lows over the last several years, intimate-partner homicides have persisted and even increased, maintaining an increasingly higher percentage of the overall murders in the city. Two murders in November particularly highlighted the protracted nature of the problem, one that the NYPD has few tools to directly address. Rape reports have also risen significantly in recent years, though there are questions around whether that has been the result of social (and to a lesser extent police-departmental) factors encouraging reporting, rather than the actual number of incidents, which are notoriously under-reported even still.

The increase in reports means additional opportunity for the NYPD to arrest perpetrators, though, and presents another challenge for Shea, who as chief of detectives faced criticism around how the Special Victims Division was staffed and operated.

City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat and chair of the Council’s committee on gender equity, is still waiting to see progress on reforms to the Special Victims Division. A Department of Investigation report last year found that the SVD suffered from severe understaffing which adversely affected sexual assault investigations.

“There is quite a bit of work to be done with that unit coming out of the DOI investigation and report from February 2018 and we haven't achieved the things that they called for in that report that the Police Department committed to,” Rosenthal said in a phone interview. “We're asking for there to be an intentional effort for trauma-informed investigations, and that happens through good training, good supervision, more staff. So they still have a ways to go.”

Cuomo's MTA Policing Plan and Subway Crimes
Serious crimes in the city’s subway system, which is used by nearly 6 million riders each day, have also declined in recent years, though there has been an increase in robberies and specific categories of misdemeanor crimes, including sexual misconduct. Governor Andrew Cuomo repeatedly inflated the problem, however, when he pushed the MTA to hire 500 new police officers who would also work to crack down on fare evasion and address the growing number of homeless people on the subway system. (Cuomo’s description of crime in the subways drew multiple rebukes from then-NYPD Commissioner O’Neill, among others.)

Those new MTA police hires were announced after an earlier diversion of 500 officers to the fare evasion beat by the NYPD and the MTA. The increased police presence has been met with a swift backlash from some elected officials and advocates, who say that it disproportionately harms New Yorkers of color and criminalizes poverty. They also note that the new hires will cost hundreds of millions of dollars over the next several years, resources that could be put to fare-reduction initiatives or to invest in the communities where residents cannot afford to pay fares, or even toward better bus and subway service, which can encourage more people who can afford the fare but skip it to pay.

Several recent incidents caught on video have added fuel to those critiques.

“The problems of police misconduct are deeply embedded in the mission of policing,” wrote Alex Vitale, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, for The Nation, outlining how he believes the NYPD needs to change after O’Neill. “While the lowest-level interactions have been reduced, police continue to wage a war on drugs, gangs, disorder, and terror, and those wars are going to be waged in a confrontational way. And anyone who resists those wars (even passively), like Eric Garner, will be subjected to escalation, not de-escalation, regardless of how much training is conducted.”

He added, “O’Neill leaves office having achieved no real improvements in police transparency, accountability, or behavior. Instead, he leaves his successor, NYPD insider Dermott Shea, with a host of unresolved issues and a hostile workforce committed to resisting change.”

Implementing Criminal Justice Reforms
Under the category of resisting change may be Shea’s repeatedly expressed concerns about sweeping criminal justice reforms passed by the State Legislature and Governor Cuomo earlier this year and set to take effect in January. They include the elimination of cash bail for misdemeanors and a vast number of non-violent felonies and new open discovery laws that allow a defendant to receive the evidence against them on a faster timeline.

Reformers and advocates hailed the new laws, particularly the bail reforms aimed at equalizing a system where people who have yet to be found guilty of a crime can spend months, even years in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay for their freedom. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, that law would apply in 90% of arrests.

“I think Shea’s going to be in charge of overseeing a real culture change within the NYPD,” Ndiaye said. “The majority of this is not only following the letter of the law, which is of course, important, but following the spirit of the laws, which is to limit people's interaction with the criminal justice system and to mitigate the harms that come with that as much as possible.”

Public Advocate Williams said, “We have to support these type of reforms while investing in the things that we know make communities safer and my hope is that the commissioner will join us.”

The reforms have, however, prompted a backlash from law enforcement officials and legislators who have predicted that they will lead to an increase in crime, though there is no evidence to back that claim. Some believe the laws will make officers hesitant to do their jobs, knowing that an individual they arrest may soon be out of detention.

“I think the most difficult challenge he's gonna face is the recalibration of the police department in response to bail reform,” Borelli said. “How do you keep patrol officers motivated to do their job when a person they've arrested will be let out before they get home for dinner? It is going to be the most demoralizing change the police department faces in its two-century history.”

Shea himself has expressed some reservations. “We are for reform. We just have some very slight concerns about some parts of this reform that’s coming,” he said at a December 5 news conference on the latest crime statistics, citing some worry about public safety. But, he said the department has been training officers to work under the new system. “We’ve been preparing and planning for this for many months now...We feel well prepared as an agency in terms of being ready for this. And if there are any bumps in the road we will learn from it and quickly.”

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

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Note - this article has been updated with references to the NYPD gang database. 

Note - this article has been updated. 

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The Challenges Facing Dermot Shea Thu, 12 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Rikers Commission Study Finds Local Jails Have No Impact on Property Values or Crime Rates https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8571-rikers-commission-study-finds-local-jails-have-no-impact-on-property-values-or-crime https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8571-rikers-commission-study-finds-local-jails-have-no-impact-on-property-values-or-crime Lippman Rikers

Jonathan Lippman (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


As the city eyes sites for the four borough-based jails that will replace the Rikers Island jail complex, some residents have sounded off concerns about negative impacts they believe local facilities may have on their neighborhoods. A new analysis may assuage some of those worries, finding that detention facilities in New York City have not, historically, had observable impacts on neighborhood property values or crime rates.

The study, conducted by the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, which first crafted a plan for closing the Rikers jails, analyzed five operating or recently-closed city detention facilities using data from over 10,000 real estate transactions and 500,000 criminal complaints over the past decade.

It shows that areas within a five-minute walk of four existing adult detention facilities had property value trends and crime rates that matched comparable adjacent neighborhoods. The analysis also looked at what happened to these trends locally when a detention complex in Queens closed in 2001 and when one opened in Brooklyn in 2012. In both cases, property value and crime rates remained consistent with comparable surroundings, suggesting the placement of borough-based jails has little impact on those metrics.

“This study validates what we’ve been saying the whole time, that this old story that jails are damaging to the neighborhoods that they are in just doesn’t hold true,” Jonathan Lippman, chair of the commission and former New York State Chief Judge, told Gotham Gazette.

“There is absolutely no correlation between crime or declining property values and having local jails,” he added.

The new information is the latest development in the debate over how best to move forward on the plan to close the ailing Rikers Island jail complex and reduce the city’s inmate population in an era critical of mass incarceration and discriminatory policing. A poll released by the commission last month showed 59 percent of New Yorkers support the plan to replace Rikers Island with borough-based jails.

Contending with the zeitgeist of decarceration and criminal justice reform is the enduring struggle by some New York City residents to prevent what they view as dangerous facilities from setting down roots in their neighborhoods. Residents may recognize the importance of closing Rikers and utilizing borough-based jails, in part to keep defendants closer to the courts and their families, but often wonder -- aloud, at community board meetings, public demonstrations, and in open letters -- why their community must bear the burden. A nuance of that refrain, often coming from residents in historically underserved areas, suggests siting jails in their neighborhoods is another form of government divestment.

Local community boards representing the borough-based jail sites are all pushing back against the city’s plan, though the plan was crafted with the approval of each of the four local City Council members and the Council Speaker, Corey Johnson.

“We’re hearing a lot of concern from some people, particularly in places where they don’t have an operating jail, ‘What does this mean for our property values? What does this mean for the safety of our neighborhood?’” the commission’s executive director, Tyler Nims, told Gotham Gazette.

The commission was empaneled by then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in 2016 after years of reports that Rikers Island is dilapidated, unsafe, and inhumane. Its stated goal was to study the possibility of closing the jail complex in the context of the city’s broader criminal justice system and make recommendations for change, which it did in March 2017. Just days before the commission released its report, and following pressure from Mark-Viverito and activists as he sought reelection, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a ten-year plan to shutter the Rikers jail complex and replace it with local facilities, while significantly reducing the city’s incarcerated population.

Advocates, including the commission, believe borough-based jail facilities will go a long way in ameliorating the troubles plaguing Rikers both for the city and for the people incarcerated there and their families. The idea behind the borough-based jails is to bring incarcerated New Yorkers closer to the courthouses and to communities with access to public transportation, reducing the time and money it costs the city to transport inmates to court, helping the legal system run more smoothly, and easing the burden on families visiting loved ones. They would also bring incarcerated people closer to their lawyers and service providers.

At the same time, the plan is to wipe the slate of Rikers’ culture of violence, which has witnessed brutality by inmates and guards, and a well-documented history of inhumane conditions. The city has plans to site the four borough-based jails in Mott Haven in the Bronx, Boerum Hill in Brooklyn, Kew Gardens in Queens, and Lower Manhattan.

New York City currently has the capacity to house approximately 13,800 people in its jails, while the new facilities together would hold fewer than 5,000 people, according to the commission’s new report. There are approximately 7,800 people in New York City jails, according to the report (a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice recently told Curbed New York that figure was just over 7,600), and the city wants to reduce that number to 4,000 by 2026 through a series of criminal justice reforms at the city and state level, like changing the bail rules that contribute to the mass incarceration of poor New Yorkers of color.

In March, the city began a single Universal Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which involves input from local stakeholders and gives a fair degree of discretion to local politicians, for all four of the borough-based jails. Critics have decried the use of a broad brush to paint the local impact of siting the jails, observing that the characteristics of each neighborhood are different and the effect of each facility on the community will be unique. Three of the four sites are on existing detention facilities, while the fourth, in Mott Haven, will be built on the site of a police tow pound. They must all go through ULURP because even the existing detention facilities will require rezoning to meet the city’s needs.

The commission shared the new report on property values and crime rates near jails with Gotham Gazette in anticipation of the upcoming ULURP hearings for borough presidents to express their positions, which begin in Brooklyn on June 6.

Another subject of concern for many residents is the potential increase of vehicle and foot traffic, and Nims acknowledged the commission had heard this at several of its public hearings. The commission does not plan to study the impact of detention facilities on traffic patterns, but Nims says the issue will be examined by the city during ULURP. “Traffic can be beneficial to a community,” he noted, referring to the potential increase in commerce that large and busy facilities might bring to local economies.

In addition to the four borough-based jails, the new report calls on the city to move away from the practice of housing people with mental health needs in its jails. “We call on the City to seek out alternative, non-jail locations for populations with discrete needs, including people with serious mental health diagnoses and people in need of drug and alcohol treatment,” the report reads.

The push for specially tailored facilities comes amidst broader calls for criminal justice reform to address the intersection between mental health and incarceration. Announcing a criminal justice platform last month, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told an audience at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “The health care system has turned away the chronically ill, and left jails as the public caretaker of last resort. But incarcerating people with mental health issues is a profound injustice, and something that we should never allow in our city.”

Lippman’s commission hopes the new data will lead people to reconsider assumptions about jails and land use. The former chief judge pointed to two examples he feels are illustrative where a detention facility had no discernible impact on neighborhood property values and crime rates: Downtown Brooklyn and Tribeca. In each case, “the neighborhood is thriving,” he said.

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Rikers Commission Study Finds Local Jails Have No Impact on Property Values or Crime Rates Tue, 04 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Why Does Crime Keep Falling in New York City? https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7410-why-does-crime-keep-falling-in-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7410-why-does-crime-keep-falling-in-new-york-city de Blasio Bratton O'Neill NYPD

James O'Neill, Bill Bratton, Bill de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York Police Department have much cause for celebration. Last year was undoubtedly the safest year on record in decades, setting new benchmarks for crime reduction across most major categories, according to the latest crime data released by the NYPD on Friday.

The total number of major felony crimes fell below 100,000 for the first time ever, no small feat for a city now home to more than 8.5 million residents. The city also set a record for fewest murders in the modern data-tracking era, and fewest since the early 1950s, when the city had far fewer residents, and fewest shooting incidents.

The mayor and police commissioner, James O’Neill, are proudly touting the success of the department’s practices, especially reforms of the last few years, with numerous initiatives that they say have shown immense success. The neighborhood policing program is rebuilding trust with communities, targeted policing of gangs in trouble spots across the city is nipping crime in the bud, and preventative programs are reducing gun violence, they say. Officers are being re-trained in new policing tactics, especially de-escalation, while also being equipped with improved technology and safety gear. Complaints about police officers are also at new lows, while the number of arrests has plummeted, and a body camera program is being rolled out.

Meanwhile, the mayor and police officials still believe that broken windows policing, with its acute attention to keeping social order and enforcing low-level crimes in an effort to prevent larger ones, and its use, however evolved, is still seen as essential.

Though it may be easy, and tempting, to draw the simple conclusion that crime is at historic lows because of the work of the NYPD and this mayor’s administration, experts say that would be a mistake. Crime has been falling for decades across the nation and even the entire world, and New York City, the “safest big city in America,” is not unique.

“None of this happened by accident,” said Commissioner O’Neill, at a news conference on Friday with other top NYPD brass, Mayor de Blasio, the newly elected City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “I’d call it incredible were it not for the very credible reasons why it’s all happening,” O’Neill said as de Blasio nodded in agreement.

Neighborhood policing, now in 56 of 77 precincts and in nine Housing Bureau areas, is a “game changer,” O’Neill insisted, creating a greater sense of shared responsibility towards public safety between police and communities. Coordination with state and federal law enforcement in “precision policing” is helping build stronger cases against the “real drivers of crime,” he said, and community partners are playing a strong role. “As far as violence being reduced in society, that’s a little bit above my pay grade,” he conceded, when asked about broader trends. “But I know what’s happening in the NYPD, I know what’s happening in the city, and I know it’s happening with the way we are working with communities around the city and it’s all playing a big part in reducing crime.”

“This is a new day in New York City, a different reality, and it’s working,” said de Blasio subsequently, also crediting the Cure Violence program, which is led by local leaders, including former gang members, and seeks to prevent and diffuse conflicts at the community level, preempting crime before it is carried out. De Blasio insisted that stop-and-frisk policing had been “holding us back” and that it’s reduction had made the city safer.

“I think when you see this kind of intensive, fast reduction, I think it does come back to neighborhood policing, precision policing, stronger ties to the community, community allies making a big impact, and different strategies right down to the example of taking something as difficult and painful as domestic violence and treating it as a moment for intensified engagement,” the mayor said. “Not just answer the call and that’s it, but constantly coming back. That’s a very hands-on, proactive approach that is newer to the NYPD. I think that makes a big impact.”

Two areas of serious crime that the city has not seen significant reductions in of late are domestic violence and rape reports, which NYPD officials attribute to more reporting, not more actual incidences, the willingness of victims to come forward, a changing culture, and victims’ belief that they will be heard and helped by the police department. Domestic violence reports were down about 6 percent in 2017 compared to 2016; the number of rape reports were nearly the same.

There were 290 murders in 2017, down from 335 in 2013, the year before de Blasio took office (the prior record low was 333 in 2014). In that same time, the number of “index” crimes -- seven major felony offenses -- fell to 96,517 from 111,335. It’s part of a larger trend that has continued for decades, said Alex Vitale, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College. “The drop can’t possibly correlate with any policy changes in New York City. It began in the Dinkins administration,” Vitale said. “Our best minds have tried to figure out what’s causing this long-term international phenomenon and we just don’t understand.”

The overall body of research on crime reduction is inconclusive and often rife with partisan interpretations, which is why Vitale cautioned against broadly crediting the NYPD for the drop in crime, which runs the risk that, when issues arise, the city will simply throw more officers at the problem. “When all you have is hammers, everything looks like a nail,” he said, of the assumption that policing is the only solution to public safety. Rather, the city should be guided by considerations of “justice, racial politics and democracy,” said Vitale, who is a liberal.

“What I would say to the mayor is that he needs to continue to aggressively pursue ways of improving quality of life that don’t rely on the criminal justice system,” Vitale said. He did acknowledge the steps the city has taken -- reducing stop-and-frisk policing, targeted enforcement and anti-violence prevention programs -- but, at the same time, he said the city must also better address issues such as gentrification, homelessness, and lack of access to healthcare for low-income New Yorkers.

Among the major steps the city has taken was the addition of 1,300 more officers to the force in 2015, at the behest of the City Council under former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Corey Johnson’s predecessor. In recent days, Johnson has also floated the idea of adding more police officers to bolster community policing and give officers more time on the beat than responding to radio calls. It’s what Vitale warns against. “We start with the premise that because it’s a community problem, we need the police to figure it out,” he said. “But where’s their expertise?”

Vitale has long advocated for more city investment in social services to deal with community issues, rather than the overuse of policing, which he believes should be focused on the most serious crimes.

The neighborhood policing program that the administration swears by has slowly evolved from other paradigms of broken windows policing. This philosophy and practice have the mayor’s support and broken windows is the mantra of former police commissioner Bill Bratton, who continues to defend the practice as the key driver of crime reduction even as police reform advocates criticize its adverse impact on communities of color.

“Beginning in 1990, the New York City police department returned to a mission that was focused on not only dealing with serious crime, but also began to focus on disorder, which had not been addressed at all in the '70s and '80s,” Bratton said in a recent interview with National Public Radio, on the causes for dropping crime, “and disorder is described as broken windows, quality of life, minor offenses. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.”

As Bratton explains it, broken windows policing has taken different forms in different eras, responding to conditions at the time. For example, intense law enforcement in the subway system in the 1990s, a decade that saw Bratton's first stint as NYPD commissioner and the implementation of strict, proactive policing by Mayor Rudy Giuliani's police department. The more recent iteration was in the overuse of stop-and-frisk policing, which increased significantly under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly as they sought to take guns off the streets, triggering massive protests and a federal lawsuit.

But there’s no clear evidence that broken window policing has caused the drop in crime. The relatively new Office of Inspector General of the NYPD concluded in 2016 that there was “no empirical evidence demonstrating a clear and direct link between an increase in summons and misdemeanor arrest activity and a related drop in felony crime.” The administration and NYPD top brass, including de Blasio and Bratton themselves, pushed back against the report, claiming it was “deeply flawed,” but largely using corollary and experiential takeaways to justify their claims. Meanwhile, crime numbers continue to trend down even as the NYPD has arrested tens of thousands fewer people. Bratton and others would argue that the city has only tweaked the formula, not abandoned broken windows in any discernible way.

A November 2017 report on proactive policing initiatives by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine also found that broken windows has little impact on crime while stop-and-frisk has mixed results. Hot spots policing and problem-oriented tactics lead to short-term reductions, the report found, while focused deterrence has both short- and long-term impacts on crime control.

De Blasio’s NYPD has combined most, if not all, of those measures. Ames Grawert, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, cited the report to illustrate how tough it is to draw concrete conclusions about the city’s crime numbers. “I think [de Blasio’s] right to credit community policing, but that’s a very broad term...any initiative that’s targeted at repairing trust between police and communities fits under that umbrella,” Grawert said, “so it kicks down the road the question of which types are community policing and which aren’t. But I think those are broadly successful anti-crime measures.”

Yet, crime was trending down over decades before de Blasio implemented his neighborhood policing program, which is still in its infancy. Grawert had a simple prescription for the NYPD. “Keep following the data to figure out where police resources are needed and how to apply them, and keep engaging the community to keep and increase their trust in the police,” he said.

The city’s approach goes beyond just responding to crime, seeking to prevent it in the first place. This work has taken different forms over decades. Now, New York City is the largest Cure Violence site in the country, with 18 communities where “violence interrupters,” as they are called, operate to work with high-risk individuals and diffuse conflict. It’s a health-based approach, said Charles Ransford, director of science and policy at Cure Violence, looking at crime as a “problem of contagion.” “When you recognize that, you take those most exposed to violence...and work with them,” he said. “Police can only do so much. Policing matters but it’s something that should be a last resort.”

Ransford said New York City is doing far more than other cities to prevent violence at the front end, and studies bear out the effectiveness of the approach. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation Center found that between 2014 and 2016, there was a 50 percent decrease in gun injuries in East New York, Brooklyn and a 37 percent reduction in the South Bronx, two communities where Cure Violence has been implemented. “We have to make sure that we look at the whole picture,” Ransford said. “This was a very deliberate decision and effort by Mayor de Blasio and the City Council together to take a chance on Cure Violence and fund it to such a level. They deserve a lot of credit for that.”

The administration and the Council together put $22.5 million towards the Cure Violence program in fiscal year 2017 through the newly created Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence, up from $12.7 million in fiscal year 2015.

City Council Member Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn said it was one of the things that New York City was doing differently in reducing crime, and credited the mayor for his support. “I think there are a variety of factors and I think there’s not one answer to this...I think there’s a better understanding that public safety is not just for the police and they can’t be the only people responsible for all of the issues that lead to some of these crimes,” he said. In particular, he praised “how we’re dealing with gun violence and the community approach that we’ve found to work, and actually putting money behind it, real money, that has always been missing...there was a real belief and real resources put behind it.”  

Noting that numerous metrics were trending downwards -- murders, shootings, instances of officers firing their weapons, arrests, complaints against officers -- Williams said, “We need to continue in that direction. We need to make sure that we’re continuing not to see summonses and arrests as the only way to deal with issues in communities.”

Williams did have some criticism for the administration and the police department, arguing that with regards to accountability and transparency, the city has stood still and even fallen behind. He noted, in particular, statute 50-a of the state civil rights code that protects officers’ disciplinary records from public disclosure. The mayor has called for a repeal of the statute and he reiterated, when asked by Gotham Gazette on Friday, that it’s one of his legislative priorities in Albany this year.

There are larger forces at work as well. Shifting demographics and gentrification have changed the face of neighborhoods across the city. The economy is riding a wave of unprecedented prosperity and unemployment is at an all-time low. “The number one thing that cuts violent crime arrests in half is a job,” said Williams, noting that the city has expanded the Summer Youth Employment Program in the past three years from roughly 25,000-30,000 slots to 70,000 slots. “I think [President] Donald Trump and [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions should look at what’s happening in New York City and pay attention to what’s happening here as opposed to pushing cockamamie ideas that take us backwards,” he added.

That crime has decreased as the administration moves towards full implementation of neighborhood policing is correlation without causation, as there is no measurable data on the program. De Blasio himself admits that his proof lies in anecdotal evidence. At a December 29 news conference, when asked how he quantified success, he said, “Because I’ve talked to so many neighborhood policing officers and community leaders who have given me numerous examples of information they’ve gotten that has helped them to fight crime and have made clear this was information they often didn’t get in the past.” He acknowledged that his administration would have to release objective analyses of the program “to help people understand just how big an impact there has been.”

Police reform advocate Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, believes it’s a dubious claim. “Crime was going down before quote-unquote neighborhood policing,” he said. “I don’t see how [de Blasio] starts drawing this direct line between that and the reduction of crime. I don’t believe it passes the smell test.”

Advocates like Griffith were vindicated when the city curtailed the unconstitutional and unchecked use of stop-and-frisk policing, proliferated under Bloomberg and Kelly, and crime continued to fall. De Blasio has also claimed validation, as he ran for mayor on a pledge to scale back stop-and-frisk and repair police-community relationships.

To Griffith and others, the continued drops in crime has been proof that aggressive policing does not work and that more police officers on the street is not the solution. “The police can no longer use this narrative of our neighborhoods being unruly and undisciplined and prone to violence as an excuse to use abusive policing,” Griffith said. “I think this is now the moment to see how we can have both worlds. We can have low crime and we can have an accountable police force that is not abusive, not discriminatory and is not aggressive.”

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

Read more by this writer.

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Why Does Crime Keep Falling in New York City? Sun, 07 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Despite Record Low Crime, Massey Attempts to Make Public Safety a Campaign Issue https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6840-despite-record-low-crime-massey-attempts-to-make-public-safety-a-campaign-issue https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6840-despite-record-low-crime-massey-attempts-to-make-public-safety-a-campaign-issue Massey City Hall presser

Paul Massey (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


Real estate executive Paul Massey, a leading Republican mayoral contender, held a week-long campaign launch earlier this month, concluding with a focus on community policing. Having visited each borough with a daily theme, Massey said in an email blast on March 17, “I’ve heard many concerns in my discussions with city residents this week and one that stands out is that our city feels less safe.”

It wasn’t the first time Massey made the claim, and it wasn’t the last, as he takes to the campaign trail attempting to paint Mayor Bill de Blasio as an ineffectual and corrupt leader who has presided over declining quality of life in the city. Massey has repeatedly pointed to cherry-picked statistics that show certain crimes are up in the city, or in certain geographic areas, contributing, he says, to unease among New Yorkers about their safety. In doing so, Massey is attempting to make a campaign issue out of one of de Blasio’s strongest overall metrics -- in reality, major crime has declined over the last three years and the city continues to hit historic lows in crime rates virtually each month.

De Blasio, a first-term Democrat, has already positioned himself to run on declining crime. The mayor has taken to holding monthly press conferences with NYPD leaders to tout new crime numbers, while also arguing that he has reformed the police department to improve police-community relations. The mayor’s campaign often recycles a statement for news stories about the mayoral race that includes “crime is at historic lows” in summarizing de Blasio’s record.

Still, Massey and his team see an opening. The first-time political candidate, who recently moved to the city from Westchester in order to run for mayor, ran a real estate business throughout the five boroughs for decades. While his campaign has been focused on critiquing de Blasio, Massey must first win the Republican primary (though he has already secured the Independence Party line).

In its early stages, Massey’s campaign identified what it saw as a few major areas of failure for de Blasio: housing, jobs, quality of life, and schools. Each issue presents a debate de Blasio and his supporters are seemingly ready to have. Yet, Massey has struck the chord on several points of substantive criticism of the mayor that have more supporting evidence than claiming rising crime -- homelessness, the administration’s top-down approach to rezoning neighborhoods, crumbling infrastructure in public housing, and long-struggling public schools, for instance.

Massey has also decided to take on the mayor’s record on public safety, arguably the most important job for the Mayor of the City of New York.

“We will maintain public safety and fight terrorism by providing the resources, support, and leadership our police officers need and deserve,” Massey’s campaign account said in a tweet on March 17. Another refrain of his campaign is that NYPD members “feel like they can’t do their job because the mayor doesn’t have their back.”

Asked for further explanation of those points, Mollie Fullington, a spokesperson for the campaign, said in an email to Gotham Gazette, “Perhaps it goes without saying that men and women in uniform do not feel [de Blasio] has their backs for a variety of reasons, and we also know our public spaces feel less safe, with random slashing attacks targeting pedestrians, commuters being pushed in front of subway cars, and a 55% increase in hate crimes and bias attacks.”

Fullington also pointed to a 32 percent increase in crime in city parks, a 4 percent increase in crime at public housing, and 14 percent increase in crimes in a South Bronx precinct last year. She added, “The Mayor has failed to maintain the counter terror capabilities of the NYPD, resulting in the first major terror attack in New York since 9/11,” seemingly referring to the bombing in Chelsea last year.

Those numbers are countered by the fact that major felony, or “index,” crimes tracked by the NYPD have decreased overall by about 9 percent between 2013 and 2016 under de Blasio, according to year-end statistics released by the NYPD in January. The number of murders, 335, was the same as three years ago after having seen slight fluctuation each year, and rapes and felony assaults did increase from 2013 to 2016, by 4.2 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively. But, overall, 2016 was the city's safest year on record -- robberies were down 19 percent, burglaries were down by 25.5 percent, grand larceny was down by 2.4 percent. Gun violence also decreased significantly - there were 998 shooting incidents in 2016, the first time that number was below 1,100 in the decades of modern data-tracking.

Massey’s campaign appears to be the first and only entity to attribute the jump in hate crimes, widely seen as having been sparked by forces in and around Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, to a failure by the de Blasio administration, which includes the NYPD.

Massey may have difficulty gaining traction on public safety as a campaign issue, though he will certainly not fall on deaf ears. Voters are divided along demographic and party lines on the mayor’s handling of crime, with the city’s lopsided enrollment tilting things heavily in de Blasio’s favor (Democrats outnumber Republicans six-to-one in New York City voter rolls; there are also over 1 million unaffiliated voters Massey is hoping to woo). At the same time, Massey and other Republicans have pointed largely to the perception that crime is getting worse, even if the numbers look good.

The latest Quinnipiac University Poll from March 1 shows 54 percent of voters approve of the way de Blasio is handling crime while 39 percent disapprove. Along party lines, the difference is stark -- 69 percent of Democrats approved of the mayor’s handling of crime while 17 percent of Republicans felt the same. The polling also shows racial differences -- 73 percent of black voters approve and 56 percent of Hispanics approve, while 44 percent of white New Yorkers gave the mayor a thumbs up on crime.  

“The truth of the matter is, whether [Massey] likes it or not, crime is down,” said Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University. “By saying that crime is up and everything’s violent, he’s trying to tap into the white fear that [former New York City Mayor] Rudy Giuliani and [President] Donald Trump consistently tap into.”

Greer believes that Massey could get some amount of support by hammering home his message on crime. “But the type of people who believe that,” she said, “are people who aren’t interested in looking at the data.”

Before de Blasio came to office and early in his term, there were those who worried about his rhetoric concerning the NYPD and its tactics, and warned that he would oversee a rise in historically low crime from the Bloomberg era. De Blasio stringently opposed the overuse of stop-and-frisk policing, and his opponents pounced on that to paint him as anti-police. Over much of the last three years, he has been at pains to correct that impression, portraying himself as a strong ally of the police department, especially after his mayoralty hit a low point in late 2014 and early 2015 when two police officers were killed and others publicly turned their backs on the mayor.

Many who warned that curtailing the use of stop-and-frisk would lead to a spike in crime citywide were proved wrong, and some admitted so. The New York Daily News Editorial Board, which was strongly critical of de Blasio’s position on the policing tactic, published a mea culpa in August. “We are delighted to say that we were wrong,” the editorial read, admitting that the increase in murders that they foresaw never occurred while crime hit record lows.

Even de Blasio’s harshest critics have conceded that he’s kept the city secure. “Keeping the streets safe is one thing de Blasio has managed fairly well, by avoiding too much political interference with the NYPD, the best police force in America,” wrote the editorial board of the New York Post in December. (The Post and de Blasio are frequent targets of each other’s ire, with de Blasio famously feuding with the tabloid last year, refusing to take questions at a news conference from one of its reporters and calling the paper a “right-wing rag.”)

But crime is an “emotive topic,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and state prosecutor who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “I think that public safety never goes away as an issue,” he said. “It may appear to be taking a holiday, but every mayor knows you’re never more than one day away from public safety catapulting to the top of the list.”

Poll numbers bear this out. The March 1 Quinnipiac poll shows that 82 percent of voters said crime is a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem, compared to 17 percent who said it is “not very serious” or “not a problem at all.” O’Donnell said a single incident -- like the recent terror attack in London or the murder of a black man in midtown by a white supremacist from Maryland -- could easily dominate the conversation. “Emotion can quickly eclipse statistics,” O’Donnell said. “New York City is provably super safe,” he added. “The difference between perception and reality can change quickly.”

O’Donnell did acknowledge that public safety would resonate as an issue in the mayoral primary, particularly with the Republican base in the city, but it will be “daunting” for Massey to venture beyond that group. It also smacks of the irony in the public safety conversation, as O’Donnell points out. “A lack of safety mostly affects minorities. White New York has generally been safe but they’re the ones that are fearful,” he said.

Former Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, de Blasio’s main general election opponent in 2013, said that crime and quality of life issues “are always high on the agenda.” “Some people are more worried about street cleanliness than they are about crime and vice versa, but crime is an issue because it’s the quality-of-life nature of it,” he said. In 2013, Lhota’s campaign argued that de Blasio was a risk to public safety. (Some of the consultants who worked on that campaign are working for Massey, who has raised and spent about $2 million.)

Although he couldn’t speculate whether public safety will gain traction as the race progresses, and he gives credit to de Blasio and the NYPD for continuing reductions in crime, Lhota echoed O’Donnell’s point that singular events could change that. “Campaigns are a function of things that happen in the city and in the world,” he said. “Events take control of elections, events take control of campaigns.”

But Lhota reiterated that there is indeed anxiety among New Yorkers about crime. “Polling is showing people still have a sense of fear. So another question is, how do you eradicate that fear and is it [eradicable]? I’m not sure.”

He added, “The argument will be, ‘People don’t feel safe’ and the mayor’s argument’s gonna be, ‘But the numbers say that they are safe.’ And so where does that debate go? What’s the next question? What is your policy on homelessness? What are you going to do about reducing the rate of growth in the budget in the city of New York? Those issues could become more important. Homelessness could be, sanitation pickups could be. That’s where I’m saying events can take over. An opponent will talk about the feeling of crime and the mayor will have the ability to stand behind his record on crime.”

Perhaps the one constituency that Massey may be able to spotlight is rank-and-file law enforcement, which has had an adversarial relationship with the mayor since before he took power. Although de Blasio has taken many opportunities to try to repair that dynamic, especially over the past two years, there are few signals that much has changed.

Last year, an internal survey by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents more than 24,000 rank-and-file officers in the NYPD, found that morale among its members had bottomed out under de Blasio. About 96 percent disapproved of the mayor’s policies on public safety and policing, and 95 percent said they felt “less safe” on duty. This has become one of Massey’s consistent talking points.

“Nothing’s changed,” said Albert O’Leary, PBA communications director, of officer sentiment towards de Blasio. “He’s still mayor, he’s still perceived as a supporter of anti-police segments of our society. He’s viewed as anti-police by police.”

O’Leary also indicated that the recent settlement of the PBA contract with the city, which de Blasio and PBA President Patrick Lynch announced in a rare joint appearance, had done little to assuage those sentiments.

Using this relationship as a foil, Massey has emphasized that he will show the NYPD the support he says the mayor has failed to display. “I will always stand with police and work with the police commissioner to fully empower and fund the NYPD’s community policing,” he said in the March 17 statement. It is not clear what additional empowerment or funding the NYPD needs for community policing given what de Blasio has invested in the effort that is one of his hallmarks, including adding 1,300 officers to the force.

De Blasio is now fighting for NYPD funding in terms of $110 million in federal anti-terror funds that are currently under threat from the Trump administration. Greer, from Fordham, said this actually works in the mayor’s favor. “I think that relationship is on the mend,” she said of de Blasio and the police, “and the mayor’s in a good position because Trump’s trying to defund the NYPD.” Greer also said Trump, with his proposed cuts to NYCHA, the NYPD, and elsewhere, has inserted himself into the mayoral race and that any Republican candidate would have to address that. Massey has repeatedly said he will not make the mayoral race a “referendum” on President Trump as he thinks de Blasio is trying to do.

At a November 29 news conference, when asked about morale in the police department, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said, “There are ebbs and flows with morale depending on what goes on around the city and what the sense of appreciation that the police feel from the residents of the city. I think we’re in a good place now. It can always be improved, but we look constantly to make things better for our police officers.”

He continued, “And the number one thing that I do is that I respect that the work that they do, and they know that because I’ve come up through the ranks. So, I think that having a police commissioner that’s come up through the ranks, I think that’s appreciated by the vast majority of the members of the New York City Police Department who continue to do an outstanding job every day.”

De Blasio then added, “There’s tremendous appreciation for how the NYPD protects people from any terror threat. I hear that from the public all the time and I hear it from the officers that I talk to that they get those thank-yous and they appreciate those thank-yous.”

He also said that the department’s new neighborhood policing model is improving relationships between cops and communities. “There’s a lot of mutual respect and a lot of appreciation and it’s stated quite frequently. I know our officers appreciate that. And I agree that having a leader who came up through the ranks means a lot to our officers. I’ve also heard that from many officers that they really appreciate that their leader experienced everything that they experience, and they know that Commissioner O’Neill has their back.”

De Blasio quickly named O’Neill, who had been chief of department, as commissioner after former Commissioner Bill Bratton announced his intended retirement from the NYPD last year. De Blasio has stressed that O’Neill is the architect of neighborhood policing and, in announcing the new PBA contract, focused on the agreement that all officers will wear body cameras within three years. This has become a campaign talking point for the mayor as he seeks to assure his base he is a reformer who is improving accountability at the NYPD. Some see de Blasio as more vulnerable on policing from the left than the right -- activists have questioned the scale of de Blasio's reform of the NYPD, attacked him for a lack of transparency and accountability at the NYPD, and long-time policing reformer Robert Gangi, executive director of Police Reform Organizing Project, has declared his candidacy in the Democratic mayoral primary.

The mayor’s campaign is scarcely worried about Massey’s attacks. A Quinnipiac poll from Feb. 28 showed de Blasio handily beating Massey in a head-to-head contest, winning 59 percent of the vote over Massey’s 25 percent (with about 15 percent undecided). Massey’s campaign has spun the poll as a positive, stating that voters have begun to recognize their previously unknown candidate and winning approval from one-fourth of voters this early in the race is a promising sign.

Massey’s campaign is also set to roll out detailed policy positions over the next few weeks. At his first official news conference in February, Massey had little to say on policy and said he hadn’t “established an answer” yet on stop-and-frisk, the controversial policing tactic that dominated much of the 2013 election cycle. At subsequent events Massey said that the NYPD is “currently using stop-question-and-frisk and I believe it’s one of the necessary tools and that there are many that we need to have for our police.” He stressed the importance of the Mayor supporting the police and said, “They will never turn their back on me because I will never turn my back on them."

Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for de Blasio’s campaign was confident when asked about Massey’s public safety positions. “Mayor de Blasio ended the overuse of stop-and-frisk and brought crime to record lows while improving relations between police and the communities they serve,” Levitan said in an email. “That’s a record we are happy to compare with anyone.”

As Lhota also said, “[Crime] won’t be the only issue in the campaign I guarantee you. Will it be an issue? Yes. Will it be the issue that makes the difference? Probably not.”

Note: this article has been updated to provide more specific felony crime data for 2013 to 2016.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Despite Record Low Crime, Massey Attempts to Make Public Safety a Campaign Issue Wed, 29 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Crime Under Mayor De Blasio, The Long View https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6559-crime-under-mayor-de-blasio-the-long-view https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6559-crime-under-mayor-de-blasio-the-long-view  de blasio crime nypd bratton oneill

Mayor de Blasio & NYPD officials (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


This September was the safest September in the more than two decades that the NYPD has been keeping statistics of the seven major felonies through its CompStat system.

Announcing that fact on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD officials, including new Commissioner James O’Neill, again touted crime numbers largely heading in the right direction.

The press conference came one week after the first Presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, during which public safety in New York City, de Blasio’s record on crime, and the controversial policing practice of stop-and-frisk were focal points.

While Trump’s assertions about the value of stop-and-frisk were largely debunked by real-time fact-checking and news accounts since, his claim about murder being up under de Blasio is also wrong, but has some background in truth. In 2015, murders increased in New York City from the record low of 2014, which was de Blasio’s first year in office. The murder rate is currently down in 2016 from its 2015 pace, however, which - alongside de Blasio’s full record as mayor - led Clinton to assert correctly that murder is not in fact rising under de Blasio.

Crime stats press conferences led by the mayor at 1 Police Plaza have been a monthly ritual as city officials have had more and more good news about safety in the city, especially in long-term trends and this year compared to last. While there are slight increases this year over last in reported rapes and felony assaults, there have been decreases this year in murder, shootings, robbery, burglary, and car theft.

“I’ll note that there are cities in this country – and I say this with sorrow – there are cities in this country that are experiencing increasing crime,” de Blasio said on Monday. “We’re very pleased to be in a city where crime continues to go down through innovative strategies, through exceptional effort by the men and women of the NYPD,” the mayor said, continuing on to explain that not only was this the safest September on record, but that for 2016 thus far, “overall index crimes [are] down 3 percent, murders down 3.7 percent, shootings down 10.9 percent” compared to the first nine months of last year.

In part, this year’s statistics look good because there were slight upticks in some categories last year.

With murder, for example, 2015 saw an increase from the record low of 2014: 352 murders in 2015 after 333 in 2014. Through September of this year, murder is down about 4 percent from the same period last year (262 this year; 272 through September 2015). If there are fewer than 90 murders in October, November, and December, this year will have fewer murders than last year. Meanwhile, there would need to be 71 murders to match 2014’s record.

Worth remembering, of course, is that there were 629 murders in New York City in 1998; 1,927 in 1993; and 2,262 in 1990. While no one wants to see murder or any crime statistic rise from month-to-month or year-to-year, it is almost always best to look at crime data over longer periods of time.

In the discussion about murder in New York City, we again see how tricky crime statistics can be, even if you try to take a “just the facts” approach, as the NYPD often boasts. Commenters of all perspectives can often find some piece of data that suits their preconceptions or fits the argument they want to make. But, because of the statistical evidence from de Blasio’s first 33 months as mayor, it is difficult to argue that crime is on the rise under his leadership.

At this juncture in his mayoralty, we can gain some clarity by looking at the longer term trends, including by comparing the first 33 months of de Blasio’s mayoralty to the final years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure. By taking the averages of de Blasio’s 33 months and comparing them to the averages of the final three years (36 months) under Bloomberg, more valid conclusions can be drawn than by only sticking with year-over-year or month-over-month comparisons.

Under de Blasio, there have been 28 murders per month. For Bloomberg’s final three years in office, there were 35 murders per month. In the larger context of the seven major felonies, or index crimes, under de Blasio there have been 8,675 per month; for 2011, 2012, and 2013 under Bloomberg, there were 9,143 per month. (These numbers can be extrapolated to yearly averages by multiplying by 12, of course; and in three months we’ll have the full data for de Blasio’s first three years.)

Reported rapes show the same monthly average: 118 under de Blasio and over Bloomberg’s final three years in office.

Otherwise, some categories show lower monthly averages under de Blasio than the final three years under Bloomberg (robbery, burglary, car theft) and some the opposite (felony assault and grand larceny have risen).

The long-term trend - under several mayors in a row - is down: major crimes have been decreasing in New York City over decades. Within that larger trend, there have been upticks certain years in certain categories. But, major felonies have been decreasing overall, and for the most part that continues to be true under Mayor de Blasio.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Crime Under Mayor De Blasio, The Long View Tue, 04 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Increase in Rape Reports Given Little Attention Amid Celebration of Crime Drops https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6494-increase-in-rape-reports-given-little-attention-amid-celebration-of-crime-drops https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6494-increase-in-rape-reports-given-little-attention-amid-celebration-of-crime-drops NYPD BdB presser

Mayor de Blasio at a press briefing (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


“You’re going to hear some numbers that are striking,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio as he began an August 4 press conference on the city’s latest crime statistics. “2016 saw the fewest shootings, the fewest robberies, the fewest burglaries, the fewest auto-thefts of any first-half of a year in a CompStat era. So, when you think about that, the lives of everyday New Yorkers are freer. They’re more peaceful. They’re less disrupted. And people have every reason to feel safer.”

Yet, there are some striking numbers that are less often heard during the mayor’s crime briefings, which have lately had a celebratory tone, like the city’s rising number of reported rapes, increasing reports of misdemeanor sexual assaults, and decline in the percentage of reported rapes that result in arrest.

While violent crimes like murder and shootings are largely declining in New York City, reports of another type of violent crime, rape, have increased over the past two years. Through the middle of August, according to NYPD statistics, there have been 717 shooting victims in the city, a 15.5 percent drop from the same point last year, and 931 reported rapes, a 7.4 percent increase from 2015.

Many in New York City are fixated on gun violence, and for good reason, but the consistent uptick in another violent act that can leave physical and psychological scars remains troubling and under-appreciated by many.

Rape, like all other felonies in New York City, has declined since the NYPD began keeping track of such crimes using CompStat more than two decades ago, yet the recent increase in reported rapes demands attention. It is unclear if that attention is being given, since discussion of rape is largely missing from the mayoral-NYPD press conferences and data from the NYPD shows that the percentage of reported rapes resulting in arrest dropped 16 percent from 2009 to 2015 (from 71 to 55 percent), while the number of reported rapes has increased 19.3 percent during that same time.

To celebrate the crime statistics for the first half of 2016, the NYPD created a six-page pamphlet, “Half Year Crime Report,” that indicates drops in murder, shootings, and overall arrests on the cover. Inside the handout, there are infographics about “precision policing” and “gang takedowns,” as well as a page labeled “The Right Direction,” showing downward arrows labeled “murder,” “shootings,” “robbery,” and “burglary.” There is no mention of the increase in reported rapes on that page or any of the others.

NYPD Right Direction graphic no rape

As of 2015, roughly half of reported rapes result in arrest, and even when arrests are made, charges are not always filed. Tracking the results of these reported rapes (prosecution, conviction, dismissal, etc.) is further obfuscated by the way in which both city and state authorities, from the NYPD and the District Attorneys to the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, keep records of rapes.

Reported rapes in the city declined between 2003 and 2009, dropping from 2,070 in 2003 to the city’s all time low of 1,205 in 2009. The number of reported rapes steadily increased in the three years that followed, with 1,373 in 2010; 1,420 in 2011; and 1,445 in 2012.

Reported rapes dipped slightly for two years (1,378 in 2013 and 1,352 in 2014), before rising once again, to 1,438, in 2015. This year, 2016, is on track to have an even greater number of reported rapes: through mid-August, there were 931 reported rapes, up from 867 this time last year, putting the city on pace to have 1,544 reported rapes by the end of 2016 (about 100 more than last year).

It is possible that the rising number of reported rapes is partially the result of more rapes being reported, rather than more rapes being committed, something which outgoing Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has dubbed the “Cosby Effect,” referring to Bill Cosby and the attention around all of his alleged victims coming forward, some after many years. Heightened awareness about sexual assault and improved social norms about reporting rape could be leading more victims, especially women, to come forward.

“With the rapes that were recorded in New York City this year, one out of four did not occur this year – and that’s fairly consistent with what we see in prior years,” Deputy Commissioner Dermot Shea said during a July press conference at which NYPD officials and Mayor de Blasio celebrated the half-year crime numbers. (At that press conference, Shea did note the increase in rape - “up 7.3 percent,” he said - but he did not discuss efforts to combat the uptick. At the August crime briefing for press Shea said “rape was up” and moved on.)

Of the 1,438 rapes reported in 2015, 235 occurred prior to that year, dating as far back at 1975.

Police departments across the country are reporting a similar trend, and the increase in reported rapes coincides with city and state efforts to encourage more victims of rape to come forward and report the crime.

In the past two years, the NYPD has created new agreements with local colleges to encourage immediate reporting of sexual assault, worked with hospital emergency rooms to encourage reporting, and distributed 48,000 cards and flyers throughout the city explaining sexual violence and encouraging people to report crimes to the Special Victims Division. In 2014, the Metropolitan Transit Authority created an online portal for sexual misconduct complaints, where victims may attach a photo and make an anonymous report.

“I think it would be logical to presume that if there’s an increase in acquaintance rapes being reported, it might in fact be an increase in reporting, because there has been so much focus on this issue of non-stranger rape in the past few years, especially on college campuses,” said Lisa Smith, former chief sex crimes prosecutor for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office and professor at Brooklyn Law School. “I definitely think the publicity is encouraging women to report.”

Still, there are likely far more rapes occurring in New York City than are reported, given that nationally only about 34 percent of rapes result in a police report, according to the Department of Justice, with less than 2 percent of those reports resulting in the rapist’s incarceration. And while the city’s efforts to encourage more victims to come forward are praiseworthy, they should coincide with an increase in the number of rape cases that actually result in some semblance of justice for the victim, and with efforts to prevent such crimes from occurring in the first place.

For example, the NYPD could do more to let New Yorkers know where stranger rapes are occurring. Currently, CompStat 2.0 maps incidents of rape down to the nearest intersection, but does not distinguish which category of rape the crime falls under - stranger, acquaintance, or domestic. While the vast majority of rapes reported in the city are acquaintance or domestic (92 percent, according to the NYPD), rapes committed by strangers also rose from 2014 to 2015 (117 to 166).

Yet, “there is no easy way for a civilian to determine” where stranger rapes are frequently occurring, as New York Times writer Ginia Bellafante pointed out, such as in 2013, when a man raped four women in the span of a week, finding all of his victims along the B12 bus route between Crown Heights and Canarsie.

Reports of misdemeanor sex crimes, including forcible touching, public lewdness, and unlawful surveillance, have also spiked in recent years, particularly on the subways, where reports of such crimes have increased by 56.7 percent (431 crimes through May, 275 by the same time in 2015).

By mid-August 2014, there were 1,595 reported misdemeanor sex crimes in New York City. By the same time in 2015, that number rose to 1,887. This year through mid-August, there have been 2,096 reported misdemeanor sex crimes, an 11.1 percent increase from last year. Again, this increase could be due in part to efforts to encourage victims to report sex offenses, rather than an increase in the number of sex offenses occurring.

Ideally, more reports would lead to more arrests, more prosecutions, and more convictions - more justice for victims who are increasingly willing to put their faith in the system and go through with the onerous and emotionally taxing process of reporting the crime and all that follows. Data from the NYPD shows this is not the case.

reported table sans caption*Arrest data provided by NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information

Even when arrests are made, charges are not necessarily filed. Best-selling memoirist Mary Karr recounted an instance of forcible touching on the streets of Manhattan for The New Yorker earlier this August, culminating in the arrest of a man she dubbed “the crotchgrabber.”

“Nobody ever called me to court, but the cops had cuffed him, dragged him out of the bus station, and booked him,” Karr wrote. “A woman should be able to count on follow-through from the justice system—they’d eventually fail to charge him.”

The picture is incomplete without data on outcomes of these arrests and reports, yet the fact that only half of reported rapes result in arrest, and the number of arrests is declining while the number of reported rapes is increasing is cause for concern.

Because of the way New York City’s Police Department and District Attorney offices keep track of these crimes, it is nearly impossible to determine whether the city’s efforts to encourage more rape victims to report crimes to the police are actually resulting in more justice for the victims, or, ultimately, more trauma, forcing victims relive the event multiple times while relaying their stories to the police, with nothing to show for it but a police report and wasted time.

The NYPD does not keep track of prosecutions or convictions, while the District Attorney offices do not keep numbers of reports or arrests. This disconnect makes it difficult to link the number of reported rapes to the number of prosecutions and convictions that result from those reported rapes. Tracking the outcomes is further complicated by the fact that each of the five District Attorney offices may not maintain records in the same way.

Instead, the State Division of Criminal Justice Services keeps more consistent records of arrests and dispositions across all five boroughs. Yet, data compiled by DCJS presents its own challenge: not only is DCJS unable to link the number of reported rapes to the number of rape arrests made (rather, its data on the outcomes of those arrests begin with the arrest, not with the report), the number of rapes the NYPD reports to DCJS (2,244 in 2015) is far greater than the number of rapes the NYPD reports internally. This is because the NYPD must use the FBI’s definition of rape when reporting the number of rapes that occurred in any given year to the state, which is broader than the NYPD’s definition.

“Rape is a crime of opportunity, so it’s a bit harder to prevent,” NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Lieutenant John Grimpel told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “Once we are made aware of a crime, we investigate all rapes the same. If a violent crime happened to you, we want you to come forward.”

Those who commit sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals, like those who commit robbery or assault. The vast majority of reported rapes in New York City are committed by someone the victim knows, yet, as NYPD Deputy Commissioner Shea said in July, “the unique nature of these cases at times makes it difficult as we move through the criminal justice system.”

While stranger rapes constitute a small percent of the city’s reported rapes, they typically command greater police and media attention, and “there is very good evidence that those cases end up in prosecution or conviction most of the time,” said Smith, formerly of the Brooklyn DA office, now at Brooklyn Law School.

Getting justice for the victims of domestic or acquaintance rape is generally a murkier process, though in the past few years, stories of acquaintance rape - from Bill Cosby to college campuses - have begun to be taken more seriously.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has put some focus on college campus sexual assault in New York, signing legislation requiring all colleges and universities to adopt new measures to prevent and respond to rape in July 2015. In New York City, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Sex Crimes Unit regularly conducts trainings for representatives from local colleges and universities to help individuals better identify and encourage reporting of sexual assault. DA Cy Vance has also dedicated money from his office’s settlements to reducing the backlog of rape kits across the country.

Campus rape in New York City made widespread headlines in 2014 when then-Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz began carrying a mattress around campus to protest the fact that her accused rapist remained on campus. Across the country, shockingly light sentences handed down to convicted rapists in cases of acquaintance rape on college campuses have garnered national attention in recent months. Brock Turner, the Stanford student convicted of three counts of sexual assault, was sentenced to six months in jail in June (he faced a maximum of 14 years in state prison). On August 10, a judge ruled that Austin Wilkerson, a University of Colorado student convicted of sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman, will not have to serve a prison sentence, and instead sentenced him to two years work-release and 20 years probation.

“If more than a quarter of people in this community were killed by a drunk driver, or assaulted or menaced during an invasion of their home, the community would call for a stronger message than a sentence of probation with no punitive sanction to effectuate respect for the law, the deterrence of crime, and the protection of the public,” District Attorney Stanley Garnett wrote in a victim memo to the court.

“Sexual assault should be no different. Murderers go to prison. Armed robbers go to prison. Rapists go to prison. This is what justice requires,” Garnett wrote.

Ultimately, the city should also invest more in efforts to prevent sexually violent crimes from happening in the first place. In order to truly reduce the number of sexual assaults that take place, advocates and the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention alike say “primary prevention” or prevention education is the most effective method.

“So much of prevention for non-stranger rapes has to do with educating young people about consent in middle school and in high school,” Smith said. “There are many different institutions that need to get involved in that, and law enforcement is only one spoke on that wheel.”

Last year, California became the first state in the nation to mandate lessons on sexual violence prevention and affirmative consent in high schools. Yet in New York City, educational programs “shown to prevent sexual violence perpetration,” according to the CDC, are not mandated, but rather, are left up to the discretion of the principal in middle and high schools.

The de Blasio administration and the City Council have demonstrated willingness to fund programs to prevent violence and protect New Yorkers time and again, from investing $12.7 million in gun violence prevention programs in 2014 to allocating $115 million in new capital funds earlier this year to expand the city’s Vision Zero program to reduce traffic fatalities.

Judging by the numbers, the city’s efforts seem to be working. Shooting victims are down 15.6 percent over the past two years. There were 231 traffic fatalities in 2015, 66 fewer than in 2013, the year before Vision Zero began. There were more reported rapes in the first three months of 2016 alone, 310, than traffic fatalities in all of 2015.

“Obviously, we are deeply concerned about the safety of the women in this city, and again, we don’t like some of these trends we see and we want to combat them,” Mayor de Blasio said in response to a question about the rising rape numbers during a January 12 press conference. “We take this very, very seriously and it’s our responsibility, period.”

The mayor’s office declined to comment further for this story, deferring to the NYPD.

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Increase in Rape Reports Given Little Attention Amid Celebration of Crime Drops Wed, 24 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Even with Crime Low, De Blasio and Police Union 'Worlds Apart' https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6437-even-with-crime-low-de-blasio-and-police-union-worlds-apart https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6437-even-with-crime-low-de-blasio-and-police-union-worlds-apart de blasio NYPD graduation 2016

Mayor de Blasio speaks at NYPD graduation (Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Last month, contract negotiations between City Hall and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the union that represents the city’s rank-and-file police officers, again reached a standstill.

On June 28, the PBA filed a Declaration of Impasse with the New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) asking it to appoint a mediator in the negotiations over a contract that goes back to 2012. The union, which represents about 24,000 officers, is the only uniformed service agency without a settled contract with the city -- the other 11,000 members of the NYPD, firefighters, sanitation workers, and corrections officers are all under contract.

After filing the declaration, PBA President Patrick Lynch took the occasion, as he often does, to criticize Mayor Bill de Blasio publicly. “We are hopeful that an independent, third-party mediator can restore a sense of fairness to a process that has been taken over by the Mayor’s insistence on playing politics,” Lynch said, in a statement accompanying the announcement, “and provide our members with a contract that will allow them to provide for themselves and their families.”

It was the latest salvo in a protracted process, accompanied all along with a public campaign by the PBA that, for the most part, has decried what it says are increasingly dangerous conditions faced by police officers without saying much about how cops are performing or the role they have played in bringing crime in the city to historic lows. Instead, the PBA’s message -- backed up by an internal survey of its members -- is that the city is headed in the wrong direction, that there is increasing disorder and police officers on the ground are bearing the brunt of it.

“Everyone else wanted to have productive dialogue and resolve outstanding issues,” said Mayor de Blasio, at an unrelated news conference on Wednesday, referring to other uniformed unions that have settled contracts. “How did we get to the progress on disability with sanitations, with corrections, with the fire fighters? Productive, respectful dialogue…The only one that stands apart consistently is the PBA and I don’t think that’s helping the members.”

Last year, when the PBA and city went into a binding arbitration over their contract and arbitrator Howard Edelman awarded the union 1 percent raises for 2011 and 2012, off-duty officers publicly protested the decision. The current offer on the table, for 2012 through 2015, is for a zero percent raise for the first six months, and 1 percent each year for the following four years. The PBA believes this doesn’t go far enough, that it’s less than the rate of inflation, and that they are paid at least 30 percent less than other uniformed unions at both local and national levels.

On the other side, the city insists it pays police officers nearly 150 percent of the average of large U.S. cities and that it has followed the same pattern as other uniformed unions, offering the PBA 11 percent raises over seven years, which it rejected. A mayoral spokesperson said they are expecting a decision from PERB on the PBA’s request for a mediator perhaps next week. If that mediator cannot resolve the issues in the negotiations, the process moves to a binding arbitration.According to Politico NY, a PERB ruling would apply for 2012 through 2014. The sides would then pick up negotiations again for the subsequent years.

“Since taking office, we have tried again and again to work with the PBA to provide their members with a fair long-term deal with significant raises and benefits – a deal like the ones every other police and uniformed union accepted,” said the spokesperson, Freddi Goldstein, in an email. “The PBA has been unwilling to negotiate, instead choosing to wage a political war and go to arbitration - again.”

PBA BdB billboard indianapolis via PBAThe PBA’s well-funded public effort to influence the negotiations and criticize the mayor, has taken a number of forms: flyering by members (including Lynch) in April; a television ad in May; radio ads calling on the mayor to be fair to police officers; and a full-page newspaper ad accompanied by a billboard truck when the Mayor visited Indianapolis for the U.S. Conference of Mayors (left). Throughout, the message remains the same: police officers increasingly feel unsafe in doing their jobs; unsupported by the de Blasio administration and the City Council; undermined by a slew of new bills and policy initiatives; and unable to support their families on the inadequate pay they receive.

In the overall message being put out by the union, there is little focus on police officers’ performance.

“I would think that any union would want to celebrate the good work of their members,” the mayor said at an unrelated news conference on Wednesday, when Gotham Gazette asked about the PBA’s public campaign and its focus. Emphasizing that crime numbers are at “unbelievable” lows, the mayor added, “They should be celebrating. They should be thanked. So the notion of their own union denigrating what they achieved makes no sense to me and that is not the way to achieve anything in contract negotiations.”

Suffice it to say, the PBA does not agree with the mayor and its representative quickly refuted the argument that the union has not focused on officer performance.

A PBA spokesperson, in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette, said the PBA has clearly and repeatedly stressed that their officers are doing “a terrific job” and that is one of multiple considerations in the negotiations. “That’s actually been an argument and position of the unions going back to the mid ‘90s,” said the spokesperson of the police force’s strong role in reducing crime in the city. “We continue to maintain that position,” the spokesperson added.

But at the same time, the spokesperson said, officers are under duress, understaffed, face more challenges, more paperwork, more oversight and scrutiny, and suffer from rock-bottom morale. The spokesperson also added that the de Blasio administration’s labor policies have been “worse than any other administration” and the city has refused to provide sufficient pay raises to cops at a time when it’s flush with cash - the sides are “worlds apart,” the spokesperson said.

In a statement emailed to Gotham Gazette, PBA President Lynch said, “Our members were instrumental in the historic decline in crime over the past 20 years. Now, with 6,000 fewer officers - who are under heightened scrutiny and have increased responsibilities - we have still been able to keep a lid on crime in New York City."

Former NYPD officer and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice Eugene O’Donnell said the PBA’s public campaign is “really about internal politics” and a sense of anger and disappointment among police officers.

“It’s meant to go after the mayor, who according to [PBA’s] poll is disdained by their membership,” O’Donnell told Gotham Gazette. “If you were having an ordinary negotiation, you would try to project a positive message and build a rapport with the other side. There’s no advantage to that…All that’s left to do is rain down damage on the administration for what they perceive to be making their job unbearable.”

O’Donnell also says that since the police unions don’t have the right to strike, they have to use other means to get their message out.

PBA leadership’s disdain for the mayor has been long in the making. De Blasio came into office on a platform of criticizing the NYPD and promising reform. Some of his close allies, such as Rev. Al Sharpton, have been fervent critics of the police department. His hiring of Rachel Noerdlinger, Sharpton’s former spokesperson, also irked police unions. Noerdlinger’s boyfriend was a convicted killer and made anti-cop statements on social media. De Blasio then went on to defend Noerdlinger from related uproar before she stepped down. The mayor has also publicly stated his concern about racist policing practices and said that he trained his biracial son Dante to be careful when dealing with the police. Eventually, the tensions between the mayor and police boiled over when two officers were shot dead in Brooklyn in Dec. 2014. At the hospital and the funerals, rank-and-file officers turned their backs to the mayor.

Since then, de Blasio has gone out of his way to ease the relationship and show his support for the police. He worked with the City Council to fund 1,300 new officers on the force and has stood by the police even when faced with criticism from his closest allies. He has vehemently supported Commissioner Bill Bratton, who is largely popular with rank-and-file cops, and Bratton’s signature Broken Windows policing strategy, which the unions support.

Dr. Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, said the PBA would gain more sympathy if it focused on a performance-based argument, which is easily measurable by outcomes in the city’s crime rate. “I think if they went with that strategy, it would help in the court of public opinion,” she said, insisting that their current arguments largely fall flat.

Just this week, de Blasio and NYPD officials released new statistics that showed some of these measurable outcomes. Murders and shootings were down in the first half of this year over last, with overall major crimes in the month of June at the lowest they’ve ever been in city history. De Blasio called it the “ultimate team effort” by the NYPD and said the numbers suggest changes in the city that will have long-term effects. “[T]his is a really powerful moment where the NYPD is getting to do things that it’s always wanted to do,” he said at a news conference on Monday where the data was released. “It’s now getting the chance to do them and to change the lives of people in all the neighborhoods of this city.”

Police reform advocate Bob Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project, said PBA President Lynch’s “aggressive public rhetoric is like throwing red meat to the legions in his union. Perhaps his intention is to distract people from his failure as a leader to obtain for his members a new contract.”

Gangi disagrees with the PBA’s claim that a police officer’s job had become more dangerous. Citing the killing of the two officers in 2014, which the PBA has often relied on as a case of the dangers their members face, Gangi called it an “aberrational” incident without any discernible pattern. “If that’s the sole rack that they’re hanging their hat on, I think it’s a weak argument,” he said. Along with Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were killed in Dec. 2014, there have been two other police officers killed in the line of duty since de Blasio took office: Brian Moore in May 2015 and Randolph Holder in Oct. 2015.

The PBA has spent hundreds of thousand of dollars on its effort, but the administration has not budged. De Blasio has 98 percent of the municipal workforce under contract, including all the other uniformed unions. While he can negotiate from a position of power, the police union may also be the most delicate in terms of public relations - no mayor wants to be seen as anti-cop. Still, the mayor has the low crime numbers to boast.

“I think it is a counterproductive strategy,” de Blasio said on Wednesday of the PBA citing increasing disorder instead of strong job performance by officers. “It certainly has not changed the way we comport ourselves. We work with people who want to work with us productively,” he said of negotiations.

But the PBA does not seem like it will back down from taking the mayor to task, whether it be over the contract proposals or police reform initiatives introduced at various levels. “We’re an advocacy group,” said the PBA spokesperson. “That’s our job.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Even with Crime Low, De Blasio and Police Union 'Worlds Apart' Wed, 13 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000