Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/167 Wed, 21 Apr 2021 01:49:24 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: Balancing Police Reform and Fighting Crime https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/10137-max-murphy-podcast-balancing-police-reform-and-fighting-crime https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/10137-max-murphy-podcast-balancing-police-reform-and-fighting-crime NYPD briefing

The mayor and NYPD officials (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


February 3, 2021 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Balancing Police Reform and Fighting Crime

Richard Aborn of the Citizens Crime Commission of NYC joined the show to discuss police reform and keeping the city safe, including a new set of recommendations from his group.

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 274 Balancing Police Reform And Fighting Crime

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Balancing Police Reform and Fighting Crime Wed, 03 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: The Police Reform Movement's Goals for 2021 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/10138-max-murphy-podcast-police-reform-movement-2021-goals https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/10138-max-murphy-podcast-police-reform-movement-2021-goals NYPD recruits oath

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


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

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

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

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Police Commissioner Repeatedly Contradicts Mayor on NYPD Reform]

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

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

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

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

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

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

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Dermot Shea's Rocky First Year as NYPD Commissioner Mon, 07 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Long-Promised Study of De Blasio's Neighborhood Policing Program Delayed Into His Final Months In Office https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9791-de-blasio-nypd-neighborhood-policing-study-late https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9791-de-blasio-nypd-neighborhood-policing-study-late 2 expansion hood policing

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


An external study of the NYPD’s neighborhood policing program, which Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD leadership have promised for years, has been delayed because of the pandemic, according to the company conducting the review. The results of the study, which is supposed to provide empirical support for one of de Blasio’s signature initiatives that he regularly credits for what he says are improved police-community relations, were originally due in mid-2021 and it’s currently unclear when they will be released.

De Blasio, who is term-limited out of office at the end of 2021, and all three of his police commissioners – Bill Bratton, James O’ Neill, and now Dermot Shea – have all boasted about making the city safer through what they call major shifts in policing paradigms that have changed how officers interact with New Yorkers. At the core of the administration’s approach is neighborhood policing, first launched in June 2015, which breaks up police precincts into sectors that are patrolled by dedicated officers, many of whom are tasked with building community relationships and allotted time away from having to respond to 911 calls.

As crime and arrests have continued to consistently fall during de Blasio’s tenure, with 2020 proving an exception on crime, the mayor and NYPD leadership have repeatedly lauded neighborhood policing as a success. But they have yet to produce any evidence that can directly support that conclusion despite promising for years that they will do so. 

The program helped the administration and the City Council justify adding more than 1,000 officers to the police department and was meant to bridge a yawning trust gap between officers and communities and help reduce crime at a local level. The program has been rolled out across the city for nearly two years; in April 2018, the mayor even announced an expansion of neighborhood policing to the subway system.

In an interview on WNYC radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday, when asked about police reform, de Blasio said neighborhood policing was “revolutionary unto itself.” He’s previously defended the approach when expressing resistance to cutting funds for the NYPD. “We instituted neighborhood policing to create an actual, respectful dialogue between police and community, to actually get people to know each other. Because that's not what was happening in New York City before this administration,” he said in a September 18 interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. 

Asked at a July 13 news conference about Police Commissioner Shea’s decision to disband the plainclothes “anti-crime unit,” de Blasio again touted neighborhood policing. “I think you have to understand that this whole seven-year effort has been to recognize that safety comes from a bond between police and community. That's what neighborhood policing has been about, and until the coronavirus, it was overwhelmingly successful,” he said. 

The city had enlisted the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit policy research organization, to analyze the effectiveness of neighborhood policing. The nonprofit presented the NYPD with a preliminary report on the program last year – both RAND and the NYPD refuse to publicly release it – and was meant to issue a final report next year. But a RAND spokesperson said on Monday that the report will not be delivered on time. 

“Because we have ongoing work on this topic, it’s not appropriate for us to address the topic of NYPD’s programs at this point in time,” said Warren Robak, the spokesperson, in an email. “Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused us to push back the timeline for our work with the NYPD. We will keep you informed as the project produces findings.”

There is little to no evidence about how neighborhood policing has affected crime rates in the city or whether it has helped improve trust in the police. Some police reform advocates have criticized the program as a fig leaf for a police department that continues to act with impunity, evident in aggressive crackdowns on largely peaceful protests in the last few months and refusal to wear face coverings during a pandemic, for example.

“Since its launch, the NYPD's neighborhood policing program has been nothing more than a public relations strategy and an expensive attempt to repair the NYPD's image," said Kesi Foster, spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of activist reform groups, in a statement. “In the past months, there have been weekly - and sometimes daily - viral videos and accounts of widespread NYPD violence and abuse towards New Yorkers. The NYPD has proven time and again that they consider themselves to be above the law. Their refusal to swiftly fire officers who harm and violate the rights of New Yorkers strengthens their impunity. It's time to significantly reduce the NYPD's bloated budget and reallocate those funds to agencies and community programs that will help New Yorkers build safe and healthy communities.”

The RAND study is meant to examine changes in crime and measure trust between police officers and neighborhood residents, according to the RAND website. It will also “document how the philosophy has changed over time and summarize lessons learned in areas that implemented the program first.” But more than five years after initial implementation in select neighborhoods, there are no lessons to be offered and the administration seems to have even taken a step back to examine how the expansion of neighborhood policing has run into hurdles. THE CITY reported in July that the NYPD had engaged another outside contractor, Guidehouse LLP, to evaluate the program. That report, due in February of this year, has also not been released.

“We are very confident that neighborhood policing has been a meaningful benefit to the city and its residents,” said Alfred Baker, an NYPD spokesperson, by phone. Baker declined to offer any empirical proof of that claim or to provide either the Guidehouse or preliminary RAND studies.  

Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center and a long-time police reform activist, said the neighborhood policing program has not made the slightest difference. “It's a public relations tool more than anything else. It's not a way of dramatically changing the relationship between police officers and civilians,” he said. Trust would come with accountability for misconduct, he said, noting how the NYPD has pushed back against reforms to disciplinary practices at every turn and has defended even some of the most flagrant examples of abusive policing. “I see community policing as something that they trot out at every instance to say that they're being responsive to community needs. I don't know how you can do that and then resist every attempt to be accountable,” he added.  

Asked about the delay in the RAND study, Griffith said, “I don't think there are too many people out there holding their breath.”

The only survey information the NYPD has released in recent years came from a “Sentiment Meter,” an electronic survey created by Elucd Inc., a start-up in Brooklyn, which was contracted through CUNY in 2017. The survey, carried out through social media, judged on a scale of 1 to 10 whether New Yorkers trust the police and feel safe in their communities. The last release of that data was in September of last year – trust in police citywide increased to 6.6 from 6.1 over three years, while safety fell to 6.3 from 6.6 in the same time. That survey, however, did not directly ask questions about neighborhood policing and, the New York Post reported in August, the NYPD cancelled the contract. 

Even as the department has refused to release previously promised surveys, the NYPD is launching a new effort to measure interactions with New Yorkers. Last week, Commissioner Dermot Shea announced a pilot program titled “How Did We Do?,” which will be rolled out at the 25th and 113th precincts through October before being launched citywide. Individuals who visit those precincts to file a police report, for instance, will be given a two-minute survey, which is also available online, through which they can provide feedback about the precinct officers’ performance. 

“If we were Apple, we would care what the customers think when they walk into our store and make it as enjoyable as possible,” Shea said at the announcement. “Our customers are the people of New York City.” 

In Shea’s telling, the initiative is informed by the same philosophy as neighborhood policing. “If we're going to say that we want to build trust, if we're going to talk about neighborhood policing, and we're not going to listen and cherish the people that are walking in, then we're kidding ourselves,” he said. 

“We're going to use it to evaluate, obviously these commands and all of the others that we roll it out to,” said Danielle Pemberton, Deputy Commissioner of Strategic Initiatives. “We'll use it to influence policy, make decisions around training, and really just look at how we can improve the work that we're doing in our communities.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Long-Promised Study of De Blasio's Neighborhood Policing Program Delayed Into His Final Months In Office Tue, 29 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Giuliani’s Rant on Crime in New York City: The Numbers Tell a Different Story https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9769-giuliani-s-rant-on-crime-and-new-york-city-the-numbers-tell-a-different-story https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9769-giuliani-s-rant-on-crime-and-new-york-city-the-numbers-tell-a-different-story former mayor giuliani

Rudy Giuliani at City Hall (photo: Kristen Artz/Mayor's office)


Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani launched an attack on Mayor de Blasio, blaming him for rising crime and crowing about how safe New York City had been until de Blasio took over. Giuliani reportedly said, “We went from being the most dangerous city to the safest large city in America, and we remained there until this idiot took over.“ It is certainly terrible that murders so far this year have increased compared to last year, nobody likes to see that. But if one chose to actually go back to Giuliani’s final year as mayor, 2001, the city was in fact less safe, with far higher crime levels across the board, including murder, than today.

NYPD Crime Statistics clearly bear this out. Before taking a look at the overall stats, one can acknowledge murders are up this year in the city compared to last year.

According to NYPD data for the year to date, there have been 321 murders in New York City from the beginning of the year through the week of September 13, compared to 230 through the same period last year, a 39.6% increase.

1 compstat citywide

Nonetheless, murders were substantially higher in Giuliani’s final year in office than they are now. Below is the NYPD Historical Perspective data set, also published by the NYPD as part of the CompStat Crime Statistics along with the current crime stats. There were 649 murders in 2001, the former mayor’s final year, compared to 319 in 2019.

2 histo pers

With 321 murders in the 36 weeks through September 13, 2020, the pace of murders in the city this year is about nine per week. Even if that pace continues, there would still be fewer murders in 2020 than in 2001, or 1998. With 15 weeks and a few days left in 2020, that pace would bring the City to 470 murders, about 28% below 2001 and 24% below the low point of Giuliani’s mayoralty in ‘98. That means to return to the lowest yearly number of homicides of the Giuliani Administration would be, to some like Giuliani, a return to ‘The Bad Old Days.’

In addition to the number of murders being far higher in 2001 than 2019, and higher in ‘01 than 2020 even if the current pace is sustained, levels of crime as measured by the FBI Index of major felonies across New York City were higher in all categories in Giuliani’s final year in 2001 than in 2019.

The NYPD CompStat table shows crime in New York City in the seven major felony categories was down 41% in 2019 compared to 2001, and 55% lower than 1998.

3 historical pers

Crime in the city in 2020 is actually down or flat in some categories compared to last year, and has spiked in some other categories. Below is the NYPD comparison for the seven Index crimes for this year, compared to last year.

5 citywide

There are various ups and downs in the crime numbers this year compared to last. The number of reported rapes through September 13 declined from 1,284 to 989, down 23% over the same period from a year ago. Robbery and felony assault levels are flat, down one-half of one percent for robberies and down 3% for felony assault. Burglaries are up 41% and larcenies are down 19%. Grand larceny auto is up over 60%, rising from 3,600 by this time last year to nearly 5,900 this year.

Giuliani was praised for his success in cutting vehicle theft, but in 2001 there were still over 29,600 vehicle thefts, or 569 a week. Despite the considerable increase in vehicle theft this year, the current pace is 163 a week, still down 71% compared to Giuliani’s final year. The current pace of robberies remains 50% below the 2001 level, and the current pace of burglaries remains 54% below 2001.

One can go back to Giuliani’s first year to take a look at murders in the city, and all the way forward to the present, through the Bloomberg and now de Blasio administrations:

NYC MURDERS 1994-2019

   Giuliani    Bloomberg    De Blasio
 1994 1561   2002  587  2014  328
 1995  1177  2003  597  2015  352
 1996  983  2004  570  2016  335
 1997  770  2005 539  2017  292
 1998  663  2006  596  2018  289
 1999  671  2007  494  2019  319
 2000  673  2008  522  2020 thru 9/13  321
 2001  649  2009  471    
     2010  534    
     2011 515    
     2012   414    
     2013  332    

(Source: Wikipedia (there appear to be some small discrepancies between the Wikipedia data and the NYPD Statistics as presently published))

There were 7,117 murders in Giuliani’s eight years as mayor of New York City and 6,171 murders in Bloomberg’s 12 years in office. For the first 6 and 2/3 years under de Blasio, there have been 2,236 murders. I think that means the city is more safe, not less, under Mayor de Blasio than under Mayor Giuliani.

The point here is not to deny Rudy Giuliani some credit for a safer New York in the 1990s, or to suggest that the current increase in crime isn’t a serious concern -- it is, and the mayor, the Police Department, and the city government need to address it in a way that brings people together, no matter how difficult that is. But as the data show, Guiliani’s comments about de Blasio’s New York City do not hold much water.

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Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter @JimBrennanNY.

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Giuliani’s Rant on Crime in New York City: The Numbers Tell a Different Story Wed, 23 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
'This is Not a New Conversation': Southeast Brooklyn Leaders Discuss Causes and Casualties of Rising Gun Violence https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9758-southeast-brooklyn-sharp-rise-gun-violence-persaud https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9758-southeast-brooklyn-sharp-rise-gun-violence-persaud sen rox pers2

State Senator Roxanne Persaud (photo: @SenatorPersaud)


Coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic devastation, crime, particularly gun violence, has increased across New York City, a trend that began even before the coronavirus outbreak but has worsened since. The spike in shootings and murders has been particularly large in sections of Brooklyn. The 19th State Senate District, covering southeastern parts of the borough, including Canarsie, East New York, Brownsville, and Sheepshead Bay, and represented by longtime Senator Roxanne Persaud, has been among the hardest-hit areas. On Wednesday night, Persaud hosted a community conversation on the spike in gun violence in the neighborhoods she represents.

The district straddles the Brooklyn North and Brooklyn South NYPD commands, the former of which has been the subject of citywide attention for its crime rates over the past several months. Specifically, Persaud’s district includes the 61st, 63rd, and 69th Precincts in Brooklyn South and the 73rd and 75th Precincts in Brooklyn North, as well as Police Service Areas 1 and 2 (which cover the city’s housing developments) and Transit District 33.

In the Brooklyn South precincts, while year-to-date changes in shootings are negligible in the 61st Precinct, the 63rd Precinct, centered in Flatlands, has seen 11 shooting incidents so far this year (up 120% year-to-date) and the 69th Precinct of Canarsie,  has seen 30 shooting incidents this year (up 400%), according to the NYPD’s CompStat. In the Brooklyn North precincts, the spike has been larger, in terms of raw numbers, with 74 shooting incidents in the 73rd Precinct, based in Brownsville, so far this year (up 184.6% year-to-date) and 78 in East New York’s 75th Precinct (up 76.7%). Murders are up 81.8% and 144.4% year-to-date in the 73rd and 75th precincts, respectively.

In this context, Senator Persaud hosted the town hall over Zoom with local community and faith leaders, which her office titled “The Causalities and Casualties of Gun Violence.” Participants included Dr. Jeffrey Gardere, a pastor and teacher at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine; Reverend Timothy Taylor of Hebron Baptist Church, a former Corrections Officer; Camara Jackson, executive director of Elite Learners Inc.; Rabbi Avrohom Hecht of the Canarsie JCC; Brother Paul Mohammad, a member of Community Board 5; Digna Layne, a member of the 73rd Precinct Council; Gardy Brazela, President of the 69th Precinct Council; and, Vincent Riggins, President of the Brite Leadershipship Coalition of East New York; as well as two young people from the district who are members of the NYPD Youth Explorers Program. (The Wednesday evening town hall, broadcast on Facebook Live, had around 50 viewers at any one point during the event.)

The pandemic in many ways has exacerbated an already-existing problem. The rise in murders in Brooklyn North was notable last summer and Senator Persaud, a Democrat, was quick to say that “This is not a new conversation.” She has been holding similar town halls since last November on the issue of gun violence in the district.

“Our kids should be able to walk from one building to another without fear,” Persaud said later. “The violence in our community is taking a mental toll on our community and we have to address that.”

The focus of the town hall was mostly local actions that can be taken to reduce gun violence, with sparing mention of citywide or statewide criminal justice efforts or broader policing policy. Throughout the town hall, Persaud repeatedly stressed the need for the community to “work with our NYPD partners,” striking a far different tone than recent calls from left-wing activists and elected officials to “defund the NYPD” and lining up more with several other Black elected officials who discussed the importance of fair but robust policing in their districts. In fact, none of the participants in the town hall voiced support for moving funds away from the NYPD as a means of solving the current gun violence crisis.

“I’m not fighting against the police. The police have a role in society,” said Persaud, who did support the recent series of criminal justice reforms passed by the Legislature she’s part of in Albany as one of 63 senators across the state, along with 150 Assembly members, which included major changes to bail laws. “We want our communities safe from every entity,” Persaud said. “It’s our kids dying by our hands. We have to stop pointing fingers.” The senator said she wanted the disparate community and faith organizations to coordinate their efforts more.

In addition to people working more closely with the NYPD, among the answers mentioned by Persaud and others involved in the town hall were anti-violence programs in schools, family stability, greater involvement from community leaders and mentorship programs, and increased education funding, particularly for students with learning difficulties.

There was occasional mention during the event of historic underfunding of neighborhoods, such as Brownsville and East New York, in Persaud’s district, particularly with regard to education. “Resources aren’t allocated the same way in our communities as in others,” said Dr. Gardere, who specializes in mental health.

Rabbi Hecht cited lower levels of screening tests for learning difficulties in schools in these underfunded communities as having a domino effect leading to disaffection and later serious consequences for local children. Early intervention is key, Hecht said.

Jackson, whose organization follows the Cure Violence model, said schoolchildren are “never too young” to learn about conflict resolution, adding, “It’s really about allowing our youth the safe space to ask questions,” about gun violence, gang activity, and other community issues. According to Jackson, “Conflict mediation needs to start as early as public school,” but “the programs in the schools are very scarce.”

However, there was an almost implicit agreement among participants that the city and state could not be relied upon to deliver much-needed local funding anytime soon. According to Persaud, “It’s not only about legislation. We’re never going to have enough funding.” She instead said that those in attendance “should all agree to work for the betterment of our community and we hope it will change the youth’s thinking.”

Several participants echoed a few points. Reverend Taylor was among those who stressed various versions of “It takes that entire village,” while expressing nostalgia for bygone days when community members shared collective responsibility for looking after each other’s children and the community knew the local beat cop.

Rev. Taylor says that “We don’t teach ourselves our worth,” which is “more than what [local youth] are settling for.” He voiced support for Senator Persaud’s bill that would add Black history to the public school curriculum. Echoing Senator Persaud, he said, “Sometimes we’re our own worst enemies.”

Riggins, among others, decried the “exit of Black fathers out of the household” as a key contributor to the current conditions in the district, although statistics show that Black fathers are no less likely to be absent from their children’s lives than other American fathers. Later, Jackson noted that in the local community, “The Cure Violence model is actually spearheaded by more men than women.”

Gardy Brazela, the 69th Precinct Council President and Brooklyn’s Community Board 18 chair, said that the rise in shootings was “directly related to gang violence,” adding “[gangs] do not care about your socioeconomic status or property value.” Like Rev. Taylor, Brazela believes that the community “must go back to taking the village approach to raising our children” and that “we’re lacking mentorship in our community.”

“Our young children are under a lot of pressure,” Brazela said, and he believes that adults “need to listen to what they have to say.”

When asked by Senator Persaud if the community has become desensitized to gun violence, Ariel Palmer, one of the Youth Explorers present, recounted how a shooting recently occured near her home and said, “It could be me or anybody that I know.”

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

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'This is Not a New Conversation': Southeast Brooklyn Leaders Discuss Causes and Casualties of Rising Gun Violence Thu, 17 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Stop Living in Fear of the ‘80s Crime Wave — It was an Aberration and It’s Not Coming Back https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9685-stop-living-fear-80s-crime-wave-aberration-not-coming-back-nypd-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9685-stop-living-fear-80s-crime-wave-aberration-not-coming-back-nypd-new-york-city mayor police com

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


Stephen Sigmund recently wrote an op-ed published by Gotham Gazette calling on New York’s young progressive activists to tread carefully in their pursuit of radical transformation or abolition of the NYPD, lest these reforms bring forth a repeat of the era of mass violent crime and urban decay that they are a bit too young to remember. I was glad to read this piece, because while I vehemently disagree with its entire premise and its specific proposals to activists (stop the protests; work with elected officials on reforms; “partner with police”), it provided just the necessary window into the mindset of the city’s senior leaders, especially the Mayor, Police Commissioner, and Council Speaker, to understand why they’ve been so reluctant to allow any real reductions in the NYPD’s size, power, or budget.

What that window revealed to me is the degree to which gut instincts — and especially that most powerful of instincts, fear — are guiding policy-making in our city. In particular, a potent mix of fear of the 1980s and mythology of the 1990s has a firm grip on the worldview of the people leading New York City today, as well as some number of others, like Mr. Sigmund, warning about the ‘bad old days.’

In order for police reformers and abolitionists like me to achieve the radical transformations we seek, perhaps we need to take a moment first to destroy once and for all these fears and myths of the recent past.

Mr. Sigmund, as it happens, is an essentially perfect spokesperson for this prevailing mindset of the powerful; not only has he been professionally connected to key New York City leaders in both the public and private sectors, he is a demographic fit for the cohort those leaders are most concerned about: 30-, 40-, and 50-something white professionals who moved to New York City in the ‘90s, once it felt safe for them to do so. 

I’m uncomfortably close to this cohort myself (I’m a white 30-something professional, though I was born and raised in New York City during those supposedly dark days of the ‘80s), so much so that I can still feel some of their instincts in my gut and see some of their worldview in my own memory. The narrative history of New York that these leaders have ingested and continue to reproduce goes something like this:

Crime almost destroyed New York City in the 1970s and ‘80s. It drove (white) professionals out of the city, and devastated our economy, tax base, city services, etc. New York City was saved by Rudy Giuliani and Bill Bratton, who hired more cops and got tough on (even minor) crime in the ‘90s, thus breaking the vicious cycle and drawing more investment (and people) back to New York, fueling a quarter century of economic boom. 

The central flaw of that prevailing worldview is that it assumes the city’s natural state to be one of lawlessness and violence, when in fact the opposite is the case. Historical crime data shows New York City was actually a very safe place to live in the 1950s and ‘60s, just as it’s been for the last three decades. In fact, as has been documented by historian Steven Pinker, across the globe lawlessness and violence have been trending down for centuries. The crime wave of the ‘70s and ‘80s was an aberration, not an equilibrium. Fueled by a toxic mix of de-industrialization, suburban white flight, leaded gasoline, crack cocaine, and a myriad of social and economic factors unique to the time and place, New York City experienced a traumatizing two-decade reversal from its long-term trend. But once the wave crashed, there was no reason to fear it would rise again.

Misremembered details of this history are also essential contributors to the fear of it.

In truth, violent crime in the ‘80s, much like the far-less-common violence today, was clustered in its lowest-income neighborhoods and primarily occurred between victims and perpetrators known to one another (spouses have always been the leading cause of homicides). The threat of random violence is always the go-to justification for heavy-handed policing, but it’s just never been that common. Unless you were (or are) in a violent domestic relationship or are engaged in some level of organized criminal activity, you’re highly unlikely to be a victim of violence.

And it is a cruel irony that some of the factors that did contribute to the 1980s crime wave are misremembered as having been caused by it, and that much of the return to normalcy in the 1990s is attributed to extraordinary measures. In fact the decline in New York City’s economy, fiscal status, and quality of city services actually came in the mid-1970s, before the crime wave hit, and suburban white flight was a leading indicator, not a trailing one, of the city’s tough times.

Rudy Giuliani didn’t take office until 1994, which was already year three of the great three-decade decline in crime. A 2015 Brennan Center for Justice analysis of what caused that great decline attributed only 5-10% of the 1990s drop to increased policing, and none of the post-2000 continuing drop in crime to policing. Police theories and tactics, from “broken windows policing” to “stop and frisk,” have never had a clear statistical link to increases or decreases in crime across the United States.     

Even when crime was more common, the portrayal of it in media (both news and drama) served to make it seem far more present than it was. For white men like Stephen Sigmund and myself, both living in Murray Hill in the 1990s (me as a teenager, him having moved to the city for work), the notion that we lived in constant danger is frankly a farce — one that too many of us hold on to, perhaps because it makes us feel braver than we were. Our internal perceptions of personal danger should take a back seat to the demands of those actually affected by policy. Perhaps the fact that the present tide of protest has been led by young people of color — the group that would be most likely affected by an increase or decrease in crime — should tell us all we need to know about the supposed need to maintain the criminal justice status quo. 

So here’s a new narrative for our city’s leaders, residents, commuters, champions, skeptics, and others to internalize:

The 1980s crime wave isn’t coming back. In truth, the danger then was never as widespread as our memories of local newscasts would imply. The last 30 years of reductions in crime aren’t wholly or even largely attributable to police activity. And billions of dollars of currently-planned private development attest to the fact that even an uptick in the crime rate isn’t likely to stop (or likely even slow) the growth of this global city. If we, as a democratic society, want to transform or even abolish our police department to build a more equitable city, we can and should without fear of revisionist history somehow repeating itself. 

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Jesse Laymon is the Democratic District Leader for the neighborhoods of Long Island City, Dutch Kills, Queensbridge, Ravenswood and Sunnyside. He is also the co-chair of the New York City chapter of Citizen Action of New York, and a member of the Working Families Party Advisory Council. On Twitter @jesselaymon.

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

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Stop Living in Fear of the ‘80s Crime Wave — It was an Aberration and It’s Not Coming Back Tue, 18 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
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.”

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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