Gotham Gazette Fri, 28 Feb 2020 02:26:23 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) The Challenges Facing Dermot Shea ceremonial shea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

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

Note - this article has been updated. 

The Challenges Facing Dermot Shea Thu, 12 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio's Answer to Garner Death, NYPD Deescalation Training Slowly Evolves Toward Meeting Mayor’s Rhetoric police academy graduation

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

In the five years following Eric Garner’s death at the hands of then-NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly fallen back on the same argument to defend the police department when questions are raised about apparent incidents of excessive force or other misconduct by officers: deescalation training.

“[T]he goal is always to de-escalate,” the mayor said at a news conference on crime statistics on November 6, addressing a recent “chaotic” incident on a Brooklyn subway platform where an officer was caught on video punching two teenagers in the face amid a crowded brawl. The officer was later placed on desk duty while the department investigates the incident.

“That officer's obviously been modified, there's obviously a concern there being investigated, but we want our officers to engage members of the public in a way that de-escalates conflict,” the mayor continued. “That's what they're being trained to do.”

It’s what Pantaleo had failed to do before he decided to try to take Garner into custody back in 2014. The encounter, caught on cellphone video, showed Garner objecting to what he said was repeated and unnecessary harassment by police as Pantaleo and his partner told him they were responding to complaints that Garner was illegally selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. When Garner refused to cooperate with the arrest and be handcuffed, Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold – banned by department policy – from behind and pulled him to the ground instead of attempting to reason with him to get him to comply. Multiple officers then restrained Garner who said “I can’t breathe” 11 times before losing consciousness. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

When then-NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill fired Pantaleo in August of this year, in carefully worded remarks he stressed how difficult the decision had been for him. “I served for nearly 34 years as a uniformed New York City cop before becoming Police Commissioner. I can tell you that had I been in Officer Pantaleo’s situation, I may have made similar mistakes,” he said. “And had I made those mistakes, I would have wished I had used the arrival of back-up officers to give the situation more time to make the arrest. And I would have wished that I had released my grip before it became a chokehold. Every time I watched the video, I say to myself, as probably all of you do, to Mr. Garner: ‘Don’t do it. Comply.’ To Officer Pantaleo: ‘Don’t do it.’ I said that about the decisions made by both Officer Pantaleo and Mr. Garner.”

In December 2014, on the heels of a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict Pantaleo for Garner’s death, de Blasio announced that the NYPD would begin retraining all of its tens of thousands of officers in de-escalation techniques.

“[T]he training that’s going to happen here in this building will change the future of this city,” the mayor promised at the time, speaking from the Police Academy in Queens. “It will have not just an impact on thousands of people, it will have an impact on millions of people, because every interaction that every officer has with their fellow New Yorkers after they are trained again will be different. And that will multiply many times over, for years and years to come and a whole new generation of officers will be trained with a new approach.”

But it has taken more than five years for the department to slowly adopt best practices and recommendations from outside watchdogs who say its training curriculum must be strengthened. And major questions remain about how effective the training has been, whether officers who don’t follow department protocols are held accountable, and whether the NYPD has truly been transformed to the extent the mayor claims.

Incidents like the one on the Brooklyn subway platform, where full details remain murky, have also led to some public outcry that the mayor’s and departmental rhetoric often does not match the actions of officers, and that retraining cannot ameliorate the effects of the broken windows policing paradigm that, even if modified, disproportionately targets and criminalizes people of color.

De Blasio and NYPD officials repeatedly stress that incidents where officers escalate or fail to de-escalate situations are aberrations for a department that employs 36,000 uniformed officers and that the department as a whole has been transformed, in large part by the new training regime. Even after the latest NYPD report showed that incidents of use of force by officers had increased, particularly the deploying of tasers, de Blasio defended the department.

“De-escalation is the dominant approach now. It has been for years,” he said at a December 5 news conference on crime statistics. “The retraining of the entire police force...the meaning of that was not fully felt because there are so many other things happening. But if you really stop and think about it and look around this country, retraining an entire police force and then continually reinforcing that training in the name of de-escalation, is a seismic change.”

But there are significant questions about whether de Blasio is right.

In October 2015, the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD, an independent watchdog under the Department of Investigation, issued a lengthy report that critiqued the department’s use-of-force policy and made sweeping recommendations for reforms to policy, reporting on incidents, disciplinary measures, and training. Based on its review of the NYPD patrol guide procedures, Police Academy curriculum, and in-service training, the report “identified little to no substantive focus on de-escalation in NYPD’s training programs.”

The report made five specific recommendations on deescalation training: create specific Police Academy and in‐service courses that involve classroom and scenario‐based training; create a formal evaluation system for all scenario‐based trainings on the use of force; increase funding and personnel at the Police Academy to train recruits and in‐service officers; train officers to intervene when other officers escalate a situation; and review use‐of‐force trends to identify and retrain the serving officers that most need deescalation and use‐of‐force training.

Almost immediately after the report, the NYPD issued new use-of-force guidelines that it had been crafting. The new policies mandated documentation of each use-of-force incident, created a new division to investigate those incidents, and included instructions for officers to de-escalate situations.

For instance, it outlined that if an individual refuses to answer questions or walks away during a Level 1 encounter (the lowest level, where officers are simply asking for information), that does not constitute escalation.

The new policy has yielded three annual reports on use of force, with the long-delayed latest released on December 3, for data on 2018. In total, there were 7,879 NYPD use-of-force incidents reported last year, an increase of 500 from 2017.

Meanwhile, for this year there have been 1,911 arrests for resisting arrest as of September 30, compared with 1,891 in the same time period last year.

"The use of force by a police officer is often the result of a subject resisting arrest,” the report reads, though it does not indicate how often. “Resisting arrest is a crime under New York State law."

Similar to the use-of-force guidelines, the department’s new deescalation training methods have evolved and grown from the early stages where it simply involved a three-day retraining course.

According to the NYPD, deescalation has been incorporated into the curriculum for recruits and is reinforced over an officer’s career. Training involves academic teaching as well as lessons taught by a Scenario Based Training Unit, which, as the Department of Investigation report shows, was slow to be adopted.

The department also conducts workshops on interacting with people experiencing mental health crises and, as of October, more than 15,000 officers have received Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to respond to situations involving such individuals. Part of the CIT instruction, which includes uniformed instructors and mental health clinicians, involves scenarios by professional improvisational actors. Recruits are also taught to review actual body-camera footage from incidents involving tense encounters. (The mayor’s office and NYPD also recently released a long-delayed new set of protocols for officers responding to people experiencing a mental health crisis).

The NYPD did not make Chief of Training Bureau Theresa Shortell available for an interview despite multiple requests.

The mayor and NYPD leadership have emphasized the results of the new training paradigm along with the shift towards so-called neighborhood policing, which involves cops working the same beats and attempting to forge relationships in communities. They point out that arrests and summonses have dropped precipitously in the last few years, as have use-of-force incidents, all while major felony crimes have mostly continued to drop as well.

The new policing model has its critics on both sides. Many conservative voices and elected officials say the mayor has tied officers’ hands and deprived them of the ability to safely do their jobs, including in incidents when use of force could be necessary. They say that no one wants to be the next Pantaleo, vilified for using force to arrest a non-compliant suspect, and that this puts cops and the public at greater risk because officers often don’t have time to think twice. They point to incidents like an arrest in the Bronx in August caught on video, where officers clearly seem hesitant to force a man in handcuffs into a police car despite his repeated resistance. Then there were the multiple instances of officers being doused with water over the summer, none of which prompted immediate action on the scene by the officers. Some praised these officers for their restraint.

On the other hand, some progressives say that the city’s policing and police department are inherently broken, racially biased, and harmful, with officers enjoying far too much leeway and experiencing little accountability for wrongdoing. They say that despite talk of deescalation, officers still abuse their power with impunity and in fact escalate encounters with civilians, especially in communities of color. Repeated instances caught on video demonstrate their point.

In its fifth annual report of investigations by the NYPD Inspector General’s Office, issued in April of this year, DOI noted that out of the five recommendations made in 2015 on deescalation training, three were implemented while two were “accepted” by the NYPD but remained “unchanged.” (DOI’s recommendations are not mandatory and an agency can either choose to accept or reject them. Accepting a recommendation does not necessarily mean it can or will be implemented.)

The report acknowledged that one of those recommendations, on adding courses on deescalation with classroom and scenario‐based training, has been partially implemented by the NYPD.

The second recommendation, to review use‐of‐force trends to identify officers for retraining, was accepted in principle but not yet implemented. The department reported to DOI that it was adjusting its early intervention system for officers.

“While NYPD’s early intervention system may be able to identify at-risk officers based on their involvement in force incidents, NYPD has not commented on whether such officers will receive de-escalation and/or use-of- force training, as recommended,” the report read.

“DOI continues its oversight in this area, including the two recommendations from our 2015 report that remain open,” said DOI spokesperson Dianne Struzzi, in an email.

NYPD spokesperson Al Baker said in a statement that recruits and officers “actively participate in always evolving scenario-based training exercises that amplify our emphasis on deescalating what are often the most difficult encounters in policing.”

“For recruits, these scenarios hone their communication skills in answering domestic violence calls or aiding those in emotional distress…Later, officers who receive our Crisis Intervention Team training work to sharpen their de-escalation proficiency by immersing themselves in realistic jobs that are play-acted by professional actors and members of various city communities,” he said.

For elected officials seeking to see a more just police department, particularly when it comes to treatment of New Yorkers of color, the answers around training haven’t been satisfactory.

“Each situation obviously is unique, but we still have some ways ago,” said City Council Member Donovan Richards, a Queens Democrat who chairs the Council’s public safety committee with NYPD oversight.

“In a department with 36,000 people, there will be individuals who, no matter how much training you give them, will still unfortunately use excessive force...So until there's accountability, you can't train your way out of this,” he added, echoing an ongoing concern of the de Blasio years, that a mayor elected in large part on policing reform has made some significant strides but done little on officer accountability.

Part of the problem, Richards pointed out, is officers enforcing so-called quality-of-life violations and creating situations that can then escalate further. He cited two examples: Garner’s death, which happened when the officers involved attempted to arrest him for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes and Garner resisted; and the incident at an HRA benefits office when two officers violently tried to rip a child from his mother’s arms as they sought to arrest Jazmine Headley, the mother.

He also noted that the culture of the department needs to reflect the diversity and lived experience of the city, without which systemic issues will continue to persist. He pointed to the recent elevation of Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea, who is white, as the new NYPD Commissioner, over First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, the top African-American officer in the department.

“How could you train a department of 36,000 people to really understand what that feeling is about stop and frisk, about excessive force, if the people at the top and the executive office have not necessarily had that lived experience,” Richards said.

He did end the interview on an optimistic note, however, noting that new officers coming into the department, which is now the most diverse it has been in generations, maybe ever, are receiving training at the start. “I would hope that in a decade or two decades from now – god willing before then but I'm just being cautiously optimistic – that as the department diversifies, as individuals come into the department from these newer classes with certainly much more training and much more of a lived experience around these issues, that things will get better.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former NYPD officer himself, conceded that officers may be slow to change even with the new training. “In policing, it's called mental muscle,” he said in a phone interview. “When you're changing the culture of policing, it's not about what you do in one course.”

“Not only must we do it when an officer is in the Police Academy, but every time he or she goes through in-service training, we must do role-plays of what do you do when you respond to the job,” he added. “We need to put a greater level of repeated training on deescalation. Half of the madness you get involved in in policing is because we don't know how to deescalate, we escalate.” He said the recent subway incident presents a crucial teachable moment for the department and should be used in subsequent trainings to show officers exactly what not to do.

Adams did say there should be mutual understanding, that the NYPD should be training people on how to interact with police officers, something he recently held a workshop on for Brooklyn youth that also incorporated a “know your rights” theme. “When my lights go off on the car, and I'm pulling you over, I need to understand I'm approaching a person who's already dealing with a high level of anxiety,” he said, “because they're being stopped by the symbol of authority.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

De Blasio's Answer to Garner Death, NYPD Deescalation Training Slowly Evolves Toward Meeting Mayor’s Rhetoric Mon, 09 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Working with The Next Police Commissioner williams king deblasio

City Council Member Jumaane Williams, the author (photo: Jeff Reed)

Given where we are in the policing discussion in this city and country, and the acknowledgement of how deeply systemic the problems lie, focusing on the departure or hiring of any one Commissioner has always simplified a complex problem. I have never known a time when people were not calling for the removal of an NYPD Commissioner as the solution to policing issues in our city.

It was right for many of us to express concerns when Commissioner Bill Bratton was chosen, given troublesome incidents in Boston, Los Angeles, and right here in New York City. It was also our duty to point out clearly and boldly when we thought he was not helping us steer the conversation in the right direction. Indeed, there were times when Commissioner Bratton showed contempt for the City Council's role in government. The Police Department is not an agency unto itself, free of the city’s legislative body. The Commissioner has also, at times, used language that ranged from insensitive to incendiary and dangerous.

Still, we would be wrong to say that no change has occurred during his tenure.

We can argue about what the changes that have occurred mean, how effective they are and will eventually be, but we cannot ignore them. While there are still issues with the percentage breakdown by race of who is getting stopped and arrested, there have been significant drops in stop-question-and-frisks and marijuana arrests. The Neighborhood Coordination Officers Program, while not true community policing, is a good attempt to move away from focusing on arrests and summonses. There have been legislative victories, collaborations, and of course, the retraining of the entire force -- all while pushing crime to historic lows.

It takes many partners to deal with public safety and NYPD has a crucial role.

With all that said, we are not where many of us thought we would be in 2016, particularly in the areas of trust and accountability. In these areas improvement has been slow, even stagnant. This is where the new Commissioner, James O'Neill, whom I've grown to view as an honest broker, can really focus on moving the ball forward. I congratulate him on his appointment and look forward to working with him.

Long-lasting change cannot happen until we tackle all of the socioeconomic and structural obstacles that poor, black, and brown communities face. Unemployment, inadequate housing, and an unsatisfactory education system are all problems that need interagency solutions. Police have a tough job, and we owe it to them and the community not to ask them to do jobs that they shouldn't be doing.

In addition, the City Council has a legislative responsibility to do its part. To that end I am disappointed to hear Chief O’Neill say he will support the current agreement around the Right to Know Act (RTKA) without creating law. The RTKA goes hand-in-hand with the new neighborhood policing model, as well as the Right to Record Act, which helps protect both police and community. Together, they are responsible, common sense laws that will promote transparency and accountability in the police department, with the RTKA proposals mirroring recommendations from the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. These pieces of legislation will also help repair the relationship between the department and black and brown communities.

While improved policing practices and common sense legislation are steps in the right direction, we cannot expect the troubles of the community to be fixed solely by police and lawmakers. If we are honest, the biggest improvement would be the complete acceptance that the responsibility for public safety cannot be left to police alone. This acknowledgement must be combined with concentrated funding for other resources that complement, match, or exceed investment in law enforcement.

I look forward to working with the new Commissioner on these ideas and others.

When asked about the future of policing in this city when Commissioner Bratton was appointed I said then that I was “cautiously optimistic.” As an elected leader, I make no apologies for remaining optimistic in the worst and best of times while fighting to do right. If asked again as Commissioner O’Neill is set to take over, my answer would be the same.

Jumaane D. Williams is a City Council member from Brooklyn and co-chair of the Council's Task Force to Combat Gun Violence. On Twitter @JumaaneWilliams.

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Working with The Next Police Commissioner Tue, 09 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Change of Commissioner Spotlights De Blasio’s Record on Police Reform de blasio nypd tucker bratton oneil et al

photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office

Many believe that the biggest responsibility of the Mayor of New York City is to keep people safe and Bill de Blasio has largely done that, in no small part by letting his lightning-rod police commissioner, Bill Bratton, call the shots on public safety policy. The mayor has focused on pre-kindergarten and affordable housing while Bratton has governed the streets, helping bring crime down to historic lows. At the same time, Bratton has led an evolution of sorts in how his force polices the city, adjusting practices toward the fairer, more equal city de Blasio promised.

“I don’t think any of us could have predicted this much reduction in crime and this much improvement in relationship between police and community simultaneously,” de Blasio said in a recent WNYC radio interview, succinctly making his case and indicating the tough balancing act on safety and reform that he and Bratton have been attempting.

On Thursday, de Blasio and NYPD officials announced that through July, there have been the fewest number of felony crimes, including murders and shootings, and the fewest number of overall arrests, in 20 years.

For some, though, the pace and quality of change has not been nearly enough, and not what critics say de Blasio promised as a candidate for Mayor, when he pledged to “end the stop-and-frisk era,” as his son Dante famously said in a prominent TV ad, and ensure that policing is fair and constitutional in all neighborhoods.

Some point to his decision to hire Bratton, the architect of Broken Windows policing, as a long-ago sign the mayor was not serious about what they call real NYPD reform. On the other side of the ledger, some who saw crime in New York City drop precipitously over the past two decades have sounded the alarm over the reforms that have been instituted under de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Bratton in the commissioner’s second stint as the city’s top cop after a ‘90s run.

Throughout his term, de Blasio has been hit from the right and the left over police reform, or the lack thereof. To the right, de Blasio has had strong crime data and Bratton himself, an idol to many more moderate and conservative New Yorkers, to help bat back criticism or warnings of a return of “the bad old days.” To the left, de Blasio has pointed to policy changes and a different set of data, with the mayor and the police commissioner attempting to sell the “evolution” of “proactive policing,” even citing a “peace dividend” of reduced “negative interactions.” The number of arrests for lower-level crimes has dropped by the tens of thousands.

As de Blasio faces re-election next year, he’ll be judged on both how safe the city is and his record as a policing reformer. He and his allies call results in both areas outstanding, while some critics say he’s playing with fire on reform and others say he’s barely tinkered. De Blasio is likely to run in 2017 as both a crime-stopping mayor and a police reformer.

On Tuesday, a major curveball was thrown into the mix. The legendary, polarizing commissioner announced that he will retire next month. At a City Hall press conference, de Blasio heaped praise on Bratton while announcing that he will be replaced by Chief of Department James O’Neill, a veteran officer and “architect” of the NYPD’s new neighborhood policing program.

O’Neill, like de Blasio, is a Broken Windows policing disciple - both true believers in Bratton’s brand of tough, rigid enforcement of low-level offenses in order to prevent more serious crimes that is the controversial fulcrum of the debate over policing in New York. All three - de Blasio, Bratton, and O’Neill - see Broken Windows as evolving and say that the NYPD is changing for the better all the time.

Whether de Blasio is the policing reformer he claims to be is a key piece of the discussion as O’Neill begins his tenure in September and will be a source of debate through next November’s Election Day.

De Blasio’s Case for Reform
“[C]hanges in the police department now are rapid and extraordinary,” de Blasio said at a recent press conference. He was speaking in defense of an agreement between the City Council and his administration, namely the NYPD, to institute changes to the department’s patrol guide instead of passing police reform legislation with broad support. Many City Council members and police reform advocates blasted the compromise, calling into question de Blasio’s commitment to changing the NYPD and putting de Blasio and Mark-Viverito on the defensive.

The mayor took the opportunity to downplay the criticism and make his case as a reformer: “The retraining of all the officers, the neighborhood policing program, the de-escalation techniques that are being taught, the implicit bias training – all of this is happening at once,” de Blasio said. “And because of the [City] Council now, there’s going to be a whole new way to approach a number of these situations,” he added, referring to changes being brought about with respect to police stops of civilians and communication during those encounters.

Alongside the aforementioned numbers of shootings and murders, de Blasio has several other data points to make his reform case: all 34,000 police officers are being trained in de-escalation tactics and will be taught to recognize implicit biases; between 2013 and 2015, marijuana arrests fell from 28,649 to 16,030 and criminal summonses decreased from 424,850 to 297,413; stop-and-frisk incidents dropped from 191,558 to just 22,939; complaints made to the Civilian Complaint Review Board that evaluates allegations of officer misconduct also decreased from 5,388 new complaints in 2013 to 4,460 in 2015 (and there have been 2,347 complaints in 2016 through June).

Arrests for the most serious crimes, felonies like shootings and murders, are up, while arrests for lower-level crimes are down by tens of thousands. At the Thursday press conference to discuss crime numbers for 2016 through July, NYPD officials explained that they continue to heighten their use of precision policing to avoid unnecessary arrests and Bratton reiterated that notion of the “peace dividend,” whereby for minor offenses officers are relying on arrests as a last resort. They ask people to move along from a stoop or corner, encourage them to not to sleep across several seats on the subway, and so on.

Not Enough to Critics
To some City Council members, police reform advocates, and community groups, the mayor’s words ring hollow. Many who focus on the NYPD and have long-called for changes to what they say are discriminatory practices are in agreement that this mayor, who has universally stood behind Bratton and Broken Windows policing, has not lived up to his 2013 platform of police reform. De Blasio, critics say, ceded public safety policy to Bratton, who over-polices communities of color, and that the mayor is a hypocritical politician who would rather appease and compromise than implement wholesale, meaningful reform of the police department.

Bratton says his officers go where the crime is and cites the number of 911 and 311 calls that come from communities of color, including many public housing complexes. Reformers say that behaviors that have been virtually decriminalized in predominantly white communities, like riding a bike on the sidewalk, are still being heavily policed in communities of color.

For advocates across many organizations, such as Communities United for Police Reform and the Police Reform Organizing Project, and other reformers, including some elected officials, meaningful reform is not only fair enforcement in all communities and decriminalization of most low-level non-violent behaviors, but increased accountability for officers who abuse their powers. Systemic change is needed, they say, to pull policing policy out of the vicissitudes of institutional racism, protecting people’s rights in interactions with police and holding the NYPD to a higher standard.

There are calls for defunding the NYPD in order to better fund community outreach and social workers, social services, and education and employment opportunities. De Blasio has significantly increased the NYPD budget, including by adding 1,300 new officers to the force, but he has also devoted millions toward homeless outreach, mental health care, and other services to move away from arrests in many typical street encounters.

De Blasio’s focus has been on training over punishment for officers, wherein he has said that with better-trained officers, there will be far fewer bad actors to hold accountable. He acknowledges that a history of structural racism plagued the NYPD and insists that his administration has taken steps to combat it. “I am looking for the tangible, specific things that we can do to make things better,” he said in a Thursday appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, citing new methods of training and recruitment and giving police officers “a different model of policing to overcome some of the history.”

At a recent press conference, de Blasio his focus on “how you build a different kind of policing – different relationship between police and community paradigm shift, culture change.” He said that “other folks are focused more on accountability” and that “the accountability discussion is real and it’s not only important substantively, it obviously comes with tremendous emotional meaning because there has been so much pain.”

“Both have to happen and both have to give the public confidence in the rule of law,” he said. “But the one that will have by far the greater impact is the former, not the latter.”

Many outside the administration say he should indeed focus on both training and punishment. The City Council recently passed and de Blasio’s signed into law new NYPD use-of-force reporting guidelines. Still, NYPD watchdogs and critics say that officers are not disciplined for bad behavior as often as or to the extent necessary. Complaints to the Civilian Complaint Review Board about officer misconduct are indeed down under de Blasio and Bratton despite a time of heightened awareness about police misconduct.

There are those, including Bratton, who believe that the NYPD is better off without interference from outside quarters and that the City Council regularly oversteps its jurisdiction. At a Nov. 17 Citizens Budget Commission breakfast briefing, Bratton said, “The City Council...depending on the day of the week, is supportive and helpful or obstructive and destructive.” Referring to a number of reform bills that were under consideration by the Council at the time, Bratton said a majority of them were “unnecessary, intrusive and self-serving on the part of particular members of the Council.”

Pushback from the commissioner has slowed some reform efforts and watered down others.

Bratton insists it is better to find common ground on policy changes rather than pass more laws, while Council members bristle at the pushback against their legislative and oversight responsibilities and the power the commissioner wields within the de Blasio administration.

The mayor has made the argument that the new policies that he and Bratton are implementing will create a culture change in the city’s police department and a seismic shift in police-community relations. He has also stressed a strong collaborative effort with the City Council, which has made a significant push for criminal justice and police reform under Mark-Viverito. Even those moves, which include shifting a good deal of low-level non-violent law enforcement from the criminal to civil justice system, are often called insufficient by people who want to see an entirely new policing paradigm in New York. Still, even those reformers almost always acknowledge some progress in the moves being made.

As the mayor heads into his 2017 re-election campaign, he has some opportunity to redefine policing under incoming Commissioner O’Neill and bridge the gap in trust between police and community members that de Blasio, O’Neill, and Bratton all acknowledge continues to exist, though they say they are making strides already. At the center of this is the neighborhood policing initiative that Bratton championed, de Blasio agreed to, and O’Neill has been implementing.

Just after announcing that Bratton would be retiring and O’Neill promoted, de Blasio and the two announced that the neighborhood policing program is expanding further. With 12 more precincts beginning implementation in October, the program will cover a total of 51 percent of citywide commands and 100 percent of housing commands.

Hiring Bratton and Broken Windows
When de Blasio ran for mayor, he was Public Advocate, the elected citywide official tasked with speaking on behalf of New Yorkers who government is not properly serving. He forcefully criticized the NYPD and its over-reliance on the practice of stop-question-and-frisk, which earned him significant goodwill with communities of color and activists who saw an opportunity for change.

The way the NYPD was practicing stop-and-frisk was deemed unconstitutional in a federal lawsuit in August 2013. In part, de Blasio rode a wave of displeasure with the NYPD under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to victory in the 2013 Democratic primary, then general election for Mayor.

But much of the goodwill de Blasio cultivated began to wither when he hired Bratton to be commissioner of the police department.

“I don’t understand how the mayor’s primary agenda was to end stop-and-frisk and then he hires the architect of stop-and-frisk,” said Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University. For some, Bratton’s appointment was a key indicator that de Blasio wasn’t going to flip the script on policing, but would instead write a new chapter in a mostly congruent story.

While stop-and-frisks began to drop dramatically under Bloomberg given the federal case and heightened scrutiny, a significant reduction has indeed continued under de Blasio. The number of stops fell from a high of 684,330 in 2011 to 191,558 in 2013, to just 22,939 in 2015. The easing of the practice was seen as a necessary way to let air out of the ballooning tensions between the NYPD and communities of color.

Importantly, de Blasio moved to drop the appeal to the stop-and-frisk lawsuit and implement the reforms ordered by the judge, including instituting a police body camera program. The Department of Investigation also appointed an independent Inspector General for the NYPD in March 2014, mandated by a City Council bill that passed over a Bloomberg veto the previous year. In September 2015, the NYPD also introduced official receipts for stops that don’t result in arrests.

“The NYPD has been reformed as an institution in a lot of good ways,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer, now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Notably the easing up of quota-driven policing, and the level of enforcement for enforcement’s sake has been curtailed.”

But even now, those stopped-and-frisked are still overwhelmingly people of color, disproportionate to their numbers in the city population. “Even though stop-and-frisks are down, they haven’t gone away,” said Greer. “It’s better but that doesn’t mean it’s good or great.”

A February 2016 report by a federal monitor, appointed by the judge in her ruling, found that many police officers remained ignorant of the new stop-and-frisk reforms and continued to engage in unconstitutional stops.

Criticism of policing in the city goes well beyond the practice of stop-and-frisk, stretching to the overarching policy of Broken Windows. It is a controversial approach proudly pioneered by Bratton, who previously served as the city’s top cop under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani from 1994 to 1996 and was credited with drastically reducing crime across the city.

Both de Blasio and Bratton regularly stress the evolving nature of Broken Windows, pointing to the current “peace dividend” that yields far fewer arrests and negative interactions between police and civilians, fostering greater trust with communities. When a recent report by the NYPD Inspector General found no direct correlation between increased quality-of-life enforcement and reduced felony crime, many interpreted it as an indictment of Broken Windows even though the report categorically stated otherwise. Bratton aggressively criticized the report and the mayor largely agreed, though in much more delicate terms.

“Quality-of-life enforcement, or Broken Windows as it’s sometimes referred to, is an essential component of policing,” Bratton said at a June 23 news conference where he addressed the report’s findings. “Its essentiality, however, is dependent on how it is implemented. And the mayor and I have made a great deal of effort over these two-and-a-half years to modify it to reflect the changed city.”

As he has done before, Bratton drew a doctor-patient analogy of the NYPD’s role in the city, saying that the “patient” is not as sick as before and that allows him to use “less threatening medicines” to treat the problem.

In a July 26 interview with WNYC on the sidelines of the Democratic National Convention, de Blasio confirmed that he would continue Broken Windows policing even after Bratton’s tenure, while indicating that it must continue to evolve. “There is no room in that strategy for disparate treatment of communities,” he said. “There is no room in that strategy, from my point of view, to leave it stale. It has to be constantly updated in terms of the training of our officers.”

Citing the one million fewer encounters between the police and the community, de Blasio indicated that there was a disconnect between public perception and actual results. “I think a lot of the critique is being answered on the ground by real work, but I think the public debate hasn’t caught up with that fully,” he said.

It’s not a convincing enough argument for proponents of reform, such as Bob Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), who criticized the mayor for hiring “the author of Broken Windows,” a system that Gangi sees as encouraging “quota driven” policing. He said the mayor has only made superficial changes to the NYPD instead of substantive reform that recognizes institutional, racially biased police practices.

“Broken Windows was introduced by Bratton in 1994,” Gangi said. “It continued under a different philosophical framework under Giuliani and Bloomberg, and de Blasio and Bratton have kept their foot on the pedal. It targets mostly people of color for minor infractions that have basically been decriminalized in wealthy communities.”

Kowtowing to the Commissioner
Perhaps the biggest critique of the mayor has been the extent to which he allowed Bratton to drive policing policy, his unwavering loyalty to Bratton, and his willingness to stand behind the commissioner even in controversy.

“There is no question that the mayor has ceded public safety policy to the police commissioner to an unprecedented degree,” said City Council Member Rory Lancman, another member of the public safety committee and a frequent critic of the mayor, “and it is unhealthy and it is inconsistent with the agenda that the mayor promised to New Yorkers he was going to deliver on when he ran.”

Even if de Blasio claims that Bratton’s policies fall squarely within his own mayoral vision for the police department, their incongruent views at times betrayed differing approaches. The mayor has often been placed in the awkward position of trying to explain the disconnect between Bratton’s rhetoric and his own words. For instance, when Bratton referred to rap artists as “basically thugs” following a fatal shooting at a hip hop concert in the city; the time he said women need to use the buddy system to avoid rape; or when he suggested that the killings of two police officers in Dec. 2014 were a “direct spin-off” of protests against police-involved deaths of unarmed black men. Bratton practically doubled down on the last claim recently, following the assassination of five police officers by a lone gunman in Dallas, Texas, by characterizing the Black Lives Matter movement as practicing a “different kind of bigotry” which portrayed all police officers as racist.

At each occasion, de Blasio demurred or gave slight clarifying comments through his own view, while being careful not to criticize Bratton. The mayor often pushes back again against critics, time and again saying that Bratton is a reformer who has overseen significant changes in policing, including the new de-escalation training for officers and stopping arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Dr. Greer said Bratton has been the mayor’s “Achilles Heel.” “I think as long as we have someone like Bratton in charge, [the NYPD] can only be reformed so much,” she said in an interview just before the announcement of Bratton’s departure. “This is someone who’s consistently used racialized and what I might argue is incendiary language referring to blacks and Latinos in New York City. The most high-ranking NYPD official has his own preconceived notions of particular racial groups.”

bdb bratton oneill tucker nypdWith O’Neill, Greer said in a follow-up interview that there may be an opportunity, both for the mayor and the new commissioner, to start fresh. “[O’Neill] is not coming in with the same baggage as Bratton did,” said Greer. She said Bratton’s departure was not necessarily a “negative break” and that O’Neill should make efforts to establish a positive tone at the start of his tenure. “He doesn’t want to come in and just be Bratton 2.0,” she said. “He has to think critically of what he wants to do in relation to the mayor, the City Council and the community, and what he wants to say and how he wants to say it.” She also said that the mayor now had a chance assert himself instead of deferring to his commissioner.

Council Member Lancman agrees with that sentiment. He has in the past criticized the pattern of diverging messages from the mayor and Bratton, particularly in light of their recent comments on Black Lives Matter. “I’m beginning to wonder,” he said a few weeks before Bratton’s resignation, “whether it’s just some kind of cynical good cop-bad cop, pardon the metaphor, where the mayor is trying to please both sides of New York by the commissioner taking a more right-leaning view of things and the mayor taking a more left-leaning view of things. But it’s unacceptable. It should be one administration. And the mayor promised policies that are not being effectuated and it is in large part because he seems to not have control over his own police department.”

In the wake of Bratton’s announcement on Tuesday, Lancman told Gotham Gazette the city has an opportunity to talk about real police reform, which Bratton often stifled despite his many accomplishments.

“Chief O’Neill now has to establish his own identity and vision and whether or not he is willing to confront issues of over-policing and unequal policing in communities of color,” Lancman said. “And the mayor has to now take ownership of public safety policy in a way that he hasn’t in the last two-and-a-half years.”

Lancman also sees a particular opportunity for the City Council to push forward an agenda of police reform, including passing the Right to Know Act and his bill making chokeholds illegal, “which were blocked by Commissioner Bratton’s obstinate refusal to engage in meaningful dialogue on these issues.”

New Contract with the Community
In June 2015, de Blasio and Bratton unveiled a new vision for the police department, “One City: Safe and Fair - Everywhere. The plan focused heavily on a model of neighborhood policing, interchangeably called community policing, that would create better relationships while also helping to reduce crime.

“This is a modern, advanced, sophisticated approach to neighborhood policing,” said de Blasio, at the announcement. “That’s going to mean the cop on the beat knows community leaders, knows the clergy, knows the rhythms of the community, the needs of the community, where the problems are. And the community is going to know that officer. And they’re each going to feel a tremendous sense of connection and that they’re in it together.”

The plan involved putting more officers on the street, and on the force, made possible by the hiring of 1,300 new police officers at the behest of the City Council. Council Member Jumaane Williams, an outspoken proponent of police reform who sits on the Council’s Committee on Public Safety, agrees with the model and said he’s seen “tangible positive changes” in the department. But he said the city has yet to address the issue of accountability for erring police officers.

“I am happy that at least this administration is talking to us in a way that didn’t happen before,”  he told Gotham Gazette at a recent Council hearing. “That in itself is a plus. But there’s still this notion that any discussion around police reform means you’re anti-police, means you want to somehow handcuff the police and make communities less safe. The people who represent these communities and put these reforms forward are not stupid, they’re not devoid of the pain that’s going on. But I think we’re viewed as people who don’t understand the violence that’s going on there.”

The need for increased accountability is one that others have also expressed. “I support community policing, but to do it cosmetically and still be unaccountable, that’s not changing anything,” said William Burnett, a board member of Picture the Homeless (PTH), an advocacy organization. “That’s just changing appearances, changing optics.”

Burnett believes de Blasio isn’t the reformer he first appeared to be. “I think rhetorically he’s a reformer, but in terms of substantive action, the administration is blocking reform,” he said. “Rhetoric doesn’t have any meaningful impact on people’s lives.”

While he praised the mayor for dedicating substantial resources to dealing with mentally ill people, particularly among the city’s homeless population, Burnett is wary of creating any additional justification for police interactions with homeless people on the streets. He said such interactions have drastically increased and “it has gotten worse.” On May 26, Picture the Homeless and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the New York City Human Rights Commission alleging that the NYPD had violated the Community Safety Act, which forbids bias-based profiling, by profiling people based on their housing status.

Dr. Greer, of Fordham, said one of de Blasio’s biggest accomplishments is his ability to compromise, and the community policing model was a product of that but also a “missed opportunity.”

“Couldn’t we build community relationships without people carrying weapons walking the neighborhood?” she wondered. “And in communities that feel hyper-surveilled already.”

Resisting the City Council
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has made criminal justice reform a top priority. Council members have proposed wide-ranging legislation to introduce more transparency, scrutiny, and accountability of the police department while also reforming the punitive side of the criminal justice system.

It was the City Council that pushed the mayor and commissioner to add 1,300 new police officers to the force, enabling them to put into effect the new neighborhood policing program. The Council recently passed three bills requiring quarterly reports on use-of-force by officers across the city, which members say will be important transparency tools that aid in oversight and accountability. Two other bills, which would create an early warning system for overly aggressive police officers, have yet to pass.

Perhaps the most significant criminal justice victory for the Council was a package of bills, named the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which provides for the prosecution of low-level offenses in civil court, in effect preventing thousands of people from getting a criminal record each year and virtually decriminalizing behaviors like having an open container of alcohol that have led to many thousands of criminal summonses and outstanding arrest warrants. The NYPD will, however, retain discretion in applying civil or criminal enforcement in those cases, which was a result of pushback from Bratton.

As evidenced by the use-of-force warning system bills, the chokehold bill, the CJRA, and more, de Blasio and Bratton have either stalled or diluted legislation that would create increased oversight of the police department or change law enforcement practices.

“The commissioner has declared dead on arrival every police reform bill that the Council has in its hoppers,” said Lancman, “and the mayor is seemingly giving the commissioner a veto on administration policy as it relates to working with the City Council on police reform.”

Even reforms that have been achieved, like the CJRA, Lancman said, owed to the Council “dragging and forcing” the mayor and commissioner to a point of agreement. (Lancman also criticized the mayor’s opposition to his chokehold bill, which would make the practice illegal except in life-threatening situations. The administration instead chose to adopt the bill’s definition of chokeholds but in effect rolled back an existing departmental restriction on the practice, Lancman says, by making it easier for officers to justify their use.)

Council Member Chaim Deutsch, who has been among a minority of Council members to oppose many of the criminal justice reforms passed through the Council, including the CJRA and the recently passed use-of-force reporting bills, said he was nevertheless discouraged that members of the public safety committee have rarely had a chance to meet with the commissioner to engage in constructive dialogue on police reform.

“I think the mayor’s trying very hard to reform and I think a lot of it should be done through collaboration with the members of the City Council and the police commissioner and the community without forcing any type of legislation,” Deutsch told Gotham Gazette. He said, though, that he has repeatedly asked for a one-on-one meeting with Commissioner Bratton to no avail.

John Jay’s O’Donnell also decried the Council’s multiple attempts to push legislation, which he sees as counterproductive to police performance and ultimately recruitment of talented officers. “The sum total of all the people critiquing, second guessing, and demonizing the cops is going to absolutely depress the interests of the best people in going into the department,” he said.

Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, believes the process has been more collaborative between the Council and NYPD. “I think sometimes what a lot of New Yorkers don’t always understand is that they’re our partners,” she told reporters at a recent hearing. “We don’t always agree, but I will say that under this administration, under the leadership of our speaker, we’ve had an incredible amount of cooperation.”

In the wake of the Bratton and O’Neill announcement, though, Gibson did say that she is looking forward to the shift because she knows O’Neill well and believes that he better understands the Council’s legislative role.

The intricacies of the dynamics among the City Council, the mayor and Bratton’s police department were on display around the Right to Know Act, and the agreement between Bratton and Mark-Viverito that would table a vote on the legislation in exchange for changes to the NYPD patrol guide. The details of this ongoing saga are instructive of the larger question around de Blasio as a police reformer.

The Right to Know Act is aimed directly at the type of issues de Blasio promised to address as a candidate: street stops of civilians by police and the relationships between the two groups. The bills would mandate police officers identify themselves by name, rank, and command when a street stop doesn’t result in an arrest and to get consent from a person before searching them during a street stop without probable cause. Officers would also have to inform a person that they have the right to refuse in such instances.

The bills go one step further toward ending unconstitutional stop-and-frisks and are reflective of guidelines put forth last year by President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Bratton publicly derided the bills as another attempt by the Council to meddle in everyday NYPD function. De Blasio cautiously hedged. “There will be a legislative process,” he said at a Nov. 2014 news conference. “In the past, I have raised concerns about that legislation because I want to make sure that we don’t inadvertently undermine the ability of law enforcement to do its job. But there will be a legislative process, for sure.”

That legislative process was pre-empted by compromise and the promise of a revised patrol guide that lays out the rules for consent searches: officers will be retrained to obtain consent for the search of a person, home or vehicle and will be required to provide business cards to people after a search. The deal does not come with the weight of law and the speaker’s decision was seen by many as a backroom deal that not only betrayed the public but also her own members, a majority of whom were in favor of the bills. Advocates directed their ire towards both the speaker and the mayor for undercutting a crucial measure of accountability.

“The recent administration workaround to go around the Right to Know Act shows that [Mayor de Blasio is] committed to a cosmetic fix but not necessarily accountability at the root causes of issues with policing,” said Anthonine Pierre, lead community organizer at the Brooklyn Movement Center, a member organization of Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition that includes dozens of community advocacy groups.

“Bill de Blasio needs to work with the City Council to get stronger legislation and accountability, to actually make reform that affects people’s lives, not just “reforms” that are politically advantageous to him,” Pierre added.

Yul-San Liem, co-director of Communities United for Police Reform’s justice committee, said the mayor has been “acting like a hypocrite” when it comes to police reform. “We’ve seen no meaningful police reform legislation that’s been passed,” she told Gotham Gazette, shortly after a rally on July 13 outside City Hall to call for a vote on the Right to Know Act. “We’ve seen a bunch of statements from City Hall and from the NYPD saying that things are changed but for those of us that are working in communities that are directly impacted, we know that change is not happening on the ground.

The Police and the Mayor
The irony in the debate is that while many reform advocates feel the mayor hasn’t acted enough, there are those who feel he’s overstepped.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), the union of rank-and-file police officers, has targeted him for not being supportive enough of the police force and for creating increasingly dangerous conditions for officers on the ground.

It’s a view shared by Heather Mac Donald, the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Mac Donald rejected the notion that the NYPD is in need of reform and said it is already under multiple levels of civilian oversight. “[The NYPD] is regarded as a paragon across the world of professional, accountable policing,” she said. She insisted that the mayor has “made things a heck of a lot worse,” and characterized his comments regarding a history of racism in policing as “outrageous and ignorant.” She also said the reduction in stop-and-frisk couldn’t be attributed to his policies but were a result of media scrutiny and the federal ruling.

The PBA has multiple problems with the mayor, including ongoing contract negotiations. De Blasio entered office with none of the municipal labor unions working under current contracts and his administration has reached deals with 98% of the workforce. The PBA has not agreed to the same deals the de Blasio administration reached with other uniformed unions, firefighters, sanitation workers, and corrections officers.

Police union leadership and many officers were skeptical of de Blasio when he came into office due to his campaign rhetoric, which many saw as vilifying the police. De Blasio and his allies say the mayor was criticizing departmental policy as dictated by former Mayor Bloomberg and former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, not insulting the members of the department. Nevertheless, de Blasio was seen as more sympathetic to protesters than police after the death of Eric Garner, a black man killed in a chokehold by a white police officer in July 2014, and as offensive when he explained having to “train” his own biracial son to be especially careful in interactions with the police.

When two NYPD officers were murdered in December 2014, not long after de Blasio made the comments about training his son when a grand jury had declined to indict the officer who put Garner in the chokehold, things reached their boiling point. NYPD members turned their backs on de Blasio at the hospital where Detectives Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were taken and at their funerals. The PBA president, Pat Lynch, said de Blasio had blood on his hands and officers engaged in what amounted to a (possibly illegal) work stoppage for several weeks.

Bratton has perhaps been the glue holding things together. The outgoing commissioner has defended de Blasio at every turn even while admitting to low officer morale and a “dislike” for de Blasio among cops. In a Thursday interview with Charlie Rose, Bratton acknowledged the “gulf that still exists between my mayor and my cops,” and said it was a source of major frustration for him as he departs the administration.

'Tomorrow is too late'
“Tomorrow is too late,” said Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, at the July 13 Right to Know Act rally at City Hall, just a few days before the two-year anniversary of her son’s death.

The Garner case, perhaps more than other instances of police-involved deaths of people of color, is emblematic the problems people have with police accountability. The officer who placed Garner in the chokehold, Daniel Pantaleo, was not indicted by a Staten Island grand jury and, two years on, is still the subject of a federal civil rights investigation. He has not been disciplined by the NYPD other than to modify his duty. Commissioner Bratton has said the department’s internal investigation into Pantaleo’s behavior is complete, but that the NYPD is waiting to release its findings and any accompanying consequences until the Justice Department has completed its process. Fingers have been pointed at de Blasio and Bratton for not taking more quick action in the case as well as others involving police use of force.

Those who spoke at the Right to Know Act rally yelled in outrage, questioning whether they could trust the NYPD to implement provisions of the bills through its patrol guide, the same guide that has banned since 1993 the chokehold that killed Garner. “The sense is that if the NYPD says they want to make internal changes in lieu of the City Council passing any laws, they’re just trying to evade accountability,” said Burnett, from Picture the Homeless, also a member of Communities United for Police Reform.

Fordham University’s Greer said the city needs to be “much more swift and severe” when it comes to bad actors in the force, and in training and recruiting officers.

Council Member Deutsch said change needs to “start from the top” of the police department, through department-led change in policy instead of Council-led legislation. Council Member Gibson called it “a big circle that has to work together” on issues of accountability, practices, procedures, and technology.

All agree that the city, the mayor, and the police department have a long way to go in bridging the trust deficit between police and communities. According to public opinion polls, de Blasio’s support among African-Americans remains strong, though many calling for more assertive police reform are people of color. Backing during his re-election bid will in part come down to who the mayor is facing and what their police reform platform entails.

De Blasio and his allies say they are well on their way to making real, lasting police reform progress. Faced with a series of questions over the past two-plus years, de Blasio has repeatedly outlined the steps his administration is taking and said he understands that advocates always want more.

This is true. And strident police reformers are largely disillusioned with the mayor.

“When the city elected de Blasio, a lot of reformers were encouraged given his progressive bonafides and the campaign that he ran,” said PROP director Gangi. “To say that he’s fallen short is a kind characterization.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Change of Commissioner Spotlights De Blasio’s Record on Police Reform Thu, 04 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
NYPD Expands Neighborhood Policing Program  

police dept exp

An NYPD patrol car in Downtown Manhattan (Sofie Hecht for Gotham Gazette)

The New York Police Department’s program to reimagine policing with a focus on creating community relationships expanded to six additional precincts and one more housing Police Service Area (PSA) last week, bringing the total to 26 precincts and six PSAs now served by the new model. Gotham Gazette visited the 79th Precinct in Western Bedford-Stuyvesant on Monday, July 27, to see the rollout of the program and to speak with residents about their reaction to the new policing model.

Neighborhood policing, sometimes referred to as community policing, launched as a pilot in four precincts in May 2015. The program, part of the NYPD’s evolving approach to preventative measures, is an integral component of Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton’s new plan for the department, One City, Safe and Fair Everywhere, which was released in June of last year. The addition of 1,300 new officers to the force is part of implementing neighborhood policing, which calls for officers to spend more time walking beats free from responding to 911 calls.

Essentially, the NYPD’s plan is aimed at fostering trust between police officers and residents, business owners, and others in neighborhoods they patrol. Through daily personal interactions and direct involvement in community affairs, officers are expected to build relationships. The basic tenet of the program is that familiarity breeds trust so the same officers patrol the same areas virtually every day to acquaint themselves with the people who live and work there, and vice versa. The program is expected to expand to 40 precincts, of the 77 in the city, by next year.

"It really stems from the central idea that we owe it to our communities to keep them safe and we owe it to our officers to keep them safe," said the mayor, when he announced the plan just over a year ago. "And the two ideas unite when police and community are working together. That is the best guarantor of the safety of our neighborhoods and our officers."

Some reformers are critical of the community policing model, which they say has a potential to lead to more policing of quality-of-life offenses and turning community problems into police problems. When the increase in NYPD officers was proposed last year to facilitate the program, Alex Vitale, associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, and Alyssa Aguilera, political director at VOCAL-NY, opposed it. They wrote in a March 2015 editorial for Gotham Gazette, "Too often, community policing means more intensive and invasive policing of minor disorderly behavior that serves to criminalize mostly people of color without dealing with the underlying causes of this behavior like poverty, homelessness, problematic drug use, mental health issues, and more."

Under the new model, in part made possible by the 1,300 new officers fought for by the City Council, but also somewhat the result of how safe the city already is, each precinct is divided into four or five sectors and a two-officer patrol car is dedicated to each sector. Officers are also given a third of the time in their shifts to engage with the community rather than respond to 911 calls. Other precinct-wide response teams compensate for those officers to ensure emergency response isn’t affected. Each sector will also have two specially trained Neighborhood Coordinating Officers (NCOs) who identify community issues and crime trends to find solutions. "Citizens will get to know their cops," the plan reads. "The officers will take ownership of their sectors. The public will identify sector officers as their go-to-cops and not just another blue uniform."

At the NYPD Police Academy’s graduation ceremony on Friday, July 1, Commissioner Bratton echoed the sentiment that underlies the community policing model, telling the 1,257 new graduates that they shouldn’t wrap themselves in "a blue cocoon that isolates you from the community."

Last Monday, June 27, was the first scheduled day for neighborhood policing in the 79th precinct, which has relatively high crime rates, but has also been getting safer and is on the frontier of creeping gentrification in Brooklyn.

Requests to NYPD for information about the launch went unanswered in the week leading up to it and on the day, calls to the precinct’s Community Affairs unit went unanswered till late in the afternoon. The precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector John Chell, was also unavailable.

The launch of the program was without much fanfare it seems. Officers at the precinct did not seem to know the details of its implementation and suggested Gotham Gazette contact NYPD headquarters, to find those in charge of the program. The office of the Deputy Commissioner Public Information subsequently confirmed that the program had launched and provided details for the 79th precinct. The precinct has four sectors, with eight NCOs and a sergeant in charge of the program, supervised by the commanding officer.

For people in the neighborhood, the launch of the program came as a surprise. Some had heard rumors, while others were entirely unaware. But most agreed that it was a necessary and valuable initiative that would mitigate the distrust between the police and a community overwhelmingly home to people of color.

A few people were wary of more cops on the street, an extension of their feelings towards the controversial stop-and-frisk policies that the police department heavily relied on in the past. But they supported the principle behind the program if it means that police officers interact with them as law-abiding citizens rather than view them with suspicion.

Army veteran F. Herbert, 90, has lived in Western Bed-Stuy for more than 60 years and says he has seen it go from a "rough neighborhood" to one that started changing for the better ten years ago. He recalled the 1964 riots, which began in Harlem following the shooting of an African American teenager by an NYPD officer and later spread to Bed-Stuy. People were "trying to burn [the neighborhood] down," said Herbert, providing evidence of what happens when there is strife between the police and the people. "It’s gravy around here compared to what it was," he said.

Crime in the precinct has fallen precipitously, from 7,277 major crimes in 1990 to 1,541 in 2015, a drop of 78.8 percent.

Having lived there so long, Herbert has seen cops come and go. He befriended many of the older ones, who have long since left, but doesn’t recognize the new faces on the block. The new cops "don’t stop and talk," he said. "They just keep moving. I think they should try to get to know the people in the neighborhood."

That’s exactly what the neighborhood policing model aims to accomplish, and Herbert supports it. "I think it’s a good thing, personally," he said, stressing that the city needs to start implementing it in full. "Action needs to be taken instead of talk," he added. "Talk is cheap."

The effort to get to know people in the neighborhood is to build bonds, in part to learn about community concerns so they can be addressed proactively, before things boil over, to learn about individuals, gangs, and others who may cause neighborhood upheaval. The notion that better relationships will lead to more tips, both before and after crime occurs, is of concern to some police reformers.

Keishon Warren, 35, is co-owner of Brooklyn Blend, a coffee shop on Tompkins Avenue, a few blocks down from the 79th precinct building. Officers frequent his business, even from the neighboring 81st Precinct. "I'm for any initiative that can assist the community in growing and being safe without interrupting people’s livelihood," he said.

He praised the precinct’s current community affairs unit, saying they do a “phenomenal” job. “They’re doing a great job with just their presence in community programs,” he said. “They reach out to business owners and key figures in the community.” But he admits that despite falling crime levels, there's room for improvement and the neighborhood policing program is a necessity.

Warren’s words ring true. Crime is still relatively higher in the 79th compared to other precincts even though it is falling. In 2015, there were 1,541 major crimes in the precinct -- 7 murders, 27 rapes, 281 robberies, 363 felony assaults, 312 burglaries, 456 cases of grand larceny and 95 car thefts. This year, as of June 26, there have been 665 major crimes -- 2 murders, 10 rapes, 121 robberies, 150 felony assaults, 139 burglaries, 200 cases of grand larceny and 43 car thefts.

Warren also said that the 79th precinct is one of the few where he has seen officers on foot patrols, although there were none visible that day. Across the precinct, pairs of officers patrolled in squad cars, criss crossing the neighborhood.

George Carty, 56, works as a consulting network administrator. He has confidence in neighborhood policing. "It’s a good idea," he said, particularly for younger residents to develop congenial rather than adversarial relationships with police officers.

Carty doesn’t think there's much division between residents and police in the neighborhood, compared to other communities, but thinks the program is valuable regardless and will promote cooperation. “People will know that the police are somebody they can go to if there's a problem,” he said. "It'll be a good system. It'll help a lot...And if [the police] have a problem, people will look to help them out."

On July 11, the precinct’s Community Affairs unit will host a forum at 585 Dekalb Avenue, where the precinct community council meets once a month, at which top officers will discuss the program with residents and provide details of how it is being implemented.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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NYPD Expands Neighborhood Policing Program Tue, 05 Jul 2016 00:00:00 +0000