Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/435 Fri, 23 Aug 2019 13:53:17 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) De Blasio Says He’s Reformed the NYPD and Improved Police-Community Relations. The Reality is Complicated. https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8749-de-blasio-says-he-s-reformed-policing-and-improved-police-community-relations-the-reality-is-complicated https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8749-de-blasio-says-he-s-reformed-policing-and-improved-police-community-relations-the-reality-is-complicated may bdb participate

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

de Blasio NYPD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more by this writer.

Note - This story has been updated.

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

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De Blasio Says He’s Reformed the NYPD and Improved Police-Community Relations. The Reality is Complicated. Tue, 20 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
NYPD Counterterrorism Chief on Threats, Privacy & Transparency https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8711-deputy-commissioner-for-counterterrorism-explains-how-nypd-sets-its-standards-for-surveillance https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8711-deputy-commissioner-for-counterterrorism-explains-how-nypd-sets-its-standards-for-surveillance city council c s protecting

Donovan Richards and John Miller (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


As the internet continues to transform the landscape of threats to the United States and New York City specifically, the NYPD has had to adapt, and the police department in the country’s largest city, what some call its ‘number one terror target,’ uses monitoring and surveillance tools that have raised questions. Advancements in technology and tactics -- as well as age-old concerns about privacy, free speech, and due process, plus prior departmental errors in judgement -- have led to calls for more transparency by some advocates and lawmakers.

Amid the push to ensure civil liberties and NYPD transparency, the department has fought to maintain its own privacy, arguing that keeping its strategies and tools secure is necessary to truly provide public safety in the age of internet terrorism. Particularly, the NYPD’s intelligence and counterterrorism units must be given wide latitude to fight today’s threats, argues NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller.

Appearing last week at the “Protecting New York Summit” hosted by City & State, Miller spoke about the threats the city faces, the balance between transparency and secrecy, the lines that separate monitoring and investigation, and his work to keep New Yorkers safe. Appearing next to Miller during the discussion, moderated by Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max, was City Council Member Donovan Richards, a Queens Democrat and chair of the Council’s public safety committee, who wants to see policing done more fairly and transparently.

Whereas terrorist organizations until recently worked methodically in organized hierarchical structures, they now rely on propaganda-driven operations, Miller said, where senders and recipients often exchange messages without even knowing who is on the other end. Most of these messages move around on the internet, sometimes in public chat forums, providing the NYPD both a challenge and an opportunity.

While Miller and his team, along with other law enforcement partners like the FBI, are able to monitor some conversations that indicate the possibility of illegal activity or threats to public safety, there is also an incredibly vast world of potential danger where individuals are at times moved to do harm after sitting in front of their computers -- an intimate space often difficult for law enforcement to penetrate.

“The world has become a much smaller place. The world is a dangerous place. Now it’s a smaller more dangerous place,” Miller said at the summit, describing some of his thinking about his patrol.

But as the NYPD and others monitor, surveil, and investigate -- Miller took pains to insist on careful nomenclature, though a common set of definitions was not fully established during the free-wheeling hour-long conversation -- some want to know more about what words and phrases can trigger heightened policing, as well as what specific tools the NYPD is using, and when, where, and how they are being deployed.

When asked about calls for NYPD transparency by the City Council, activists, and advocates, who want to know more about how the NYPD is carrying out surveillance, what tools are being used, and how people are winding up on certain lists, Miller said: “It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“If you give complete transparency you will be ineffective,” Miller said. “I have undercover officers who take their lives into their hands and go into places with dangerous people who would kill them if they knew what their role was. To describe what equipment they wear - it would be to put them in danger.”

In the interplay between Richards and Miller, one specific potential police oversight measure that the City Council is considering is a bill that would require the NYPD to be transparent about which technological tools it is using, when, and how.

The Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, originally introduced in 2017 by then-Council Member Dan Garodnick, would require the NYPD to publish the details of equipment it uses to record audio and video, and perform other surveillance tactics. The bill was heard by Council committee, where NYPD representatives vociferously opposed it, did not move in the Council, and was reintroduced in 2018 in the new four-year Council session. It has not received a committee vote. The parties involved say they are continuing to negotiate the details of the bill.

According to Miller, NYPD and Council representatives sat together to go over the bill line by line, whereby the police department explained concerns and outlined changes it wanted to see in order to support the bill. Miller said the legislation showed no signs of changes asked for by the NYPD, that it remained a bill written by advocates.

“I think we believe in the work NYPD does every day but that does not preclude them from being accountable to the public,” Richards said. “We wouldn’t be the first city to reveal some of the tools the NYPD uses already.”

Miller and Richards both said that New Yorkers and visitors to the city, should not have to give up any additional privacy or freedoms due to the need for greater policing and counterterrorism work in the city -- which has been home to 30 mostly foiled terrorist plots since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Miller said, including three that were carried out (Chelsea bombing, subway bombing, West Side bike path truck attack) in the past two years.

They also agreed that there are of course some limits to free speech when it comes to disrupting or making threats to public safety, getting at one of the key tensions in how the NYPD monitors the internet.

“The Supreme Court has decided it’s not OK to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. Not all speech is protected. It’s probably OK to yell ‘god is great’ in a crowded theater; but if you say ‘allahu akbar,’ does that make it different? My answer is no...But if you’re saying something like ‘we should do something here, to hurt and kill people,’ that’s not OK,” Miller said.

“Even as we enjoy the freedom as Americans of free speech,” Richards said, “it doesn’t give individuals the right to go out there and prop up propaganda that can lead to violence and attacks in our city.”

Richards pointed to what he sees as unequal treatment of certain groups by the NYPD. He raised the issue of Muslim surveillance, which the department practiced after September 11, 2001, and more recently how the NYPD treated the presence of the Proud Boys, a rightwing extremist group, at the New York Metropolitan Club versus reports that the department has surveiled Black Lives Matter activists.

“Are they being treated equally? The answer to that question to me is no,” Richards said. “There has been historically a difference in how certain communities have been surveilled in our city.”

Miller denied allegations that the NYPD practiced improper surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists, who have also accused the NYPD of jamming their phones.

“We don’t jam anybody’s phone,” Miller said. “It would be a crime and against the law.” He said if members of a protest see their phones stop working it’s likely due to the fact that so many people in a concentrated space are trying to connect to wireless networks at the same time.

Among the causes of the recent uptick in white supremacy-motivated attacks of “domestic terrorism,” both Miller and Richards cited the increasingly hostile climate surrounding national discussions of race and ethnicity.

Asked if his job has been made more challenging by the fact that the president of the United States, Donald Trump, has promoted conspiracy theories, stoked racial resentment, and encouraged extremist groups, including targeting a New York member of Congress, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Miller said he wanted to stay away from the politics of it all.

“The things that are said, the names that are called, the calls that are made certainly have set a bar that has unleashed more vitriol that used to live in shadows way out into the open,” Miller said. After observing attackers who emerge from “online spaces, you would be foolish to deny that the brittle tone of the national discourse doesn’t have something to do with that,” he said. (The panel took place before the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio that rocked the nation this past weekend.)

According to a previously unpublicized FBI document, fringe conspiracy theories can now be considered “domestic terrorism,” Yahoo! News reported. The document, released May 30, details a number of arrests related to violent incidents motivated by such theories.

When it comes to surveillance, the NYPD does not treat cases of “domestic terrorism” any differently than other threats that compromise public safety, Miller said.

“If you’re talking about committing acts of violence, blowing something up, you’re going to be our focus,” Miller said. “The rules we use to collect information on rightwing extremists, leftwing extremists, Islamic exteremists, we can’t do anymore with one than we do with another,” he said.

On August 1, just after the panel discussion, the New York Times reported that the NYPD keeps a database of mugshots, including those of arrested teens, to be cross referenced with facial recognition software. Despite studies demonstrating that facial recognition software is less accurate in identifying people with darker skin, the NYPD defended its use, citing its as a necessity to make “sure we’re doing everything to fight crime,” NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot F. Shea told the Times.

The NYPD does not use facial recognition to “lock anyone up,” nor as probable cause, but it can serve as a lead in investigations, according to NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, City & State reported.

“Our committee is ensuring that even as surveillance is done there is a level of accountability,” Council Member Richards said at the summit. “One of the things we are trying to focus on is ensuring that we do protect the people’s right to the freedom of speech, and done in a way where certain communities don’t feel like they are unjustly targeted,” he said.

The NYPD has also come under fire for its surveillance of internet forums. However, Miller said that the NYPD does not surveil people unless there is a legitimate threat or allegation.

“When you’re in public forums where people know there are other people there. I don’t know that anybody is being watched until there is a possibility of illegal activity,” Miller said.

Miller said that the NYPD follows the “Handschu agreement” -- a set of guidelines that regulate NYPD activity designated after the department was found to have violated free speech among members of the Black Panther Party in 1985 -- when it comes to opening investigations, getting the approval of a judge. Miller said that compliance with the Handschu agreement precludes the possibility of surveillance that infringes on the constitutional right to free speech, and took issue with the term “surveillance,” which he argued has been manipulated by advocates to be misleading and have a negative connotation.

“Surveillance means I send out a surveillance team. If we have a case open we have to write it up,” Miller said. “The Handschu committee has to go and say this fits within the agreement. That's not surveillance, that’s investigation. Mixing these words together -- surveillance, spying -- advocates know what they’re doing by choosing these charged terms. We work within precision, rules, oversight. It bothers me when I hear about ‘police surveillance of neighborhoods.’ We don’t surveil neighborhoods, religions, activities, unless it fits within the guidelines.”

Richards drew a comparison between those who inaccurately predicted that drastically reducing the NYPD use of stop-and-frisk would lead to ‘streets running red with blood’ and those warning of increased transparency in NYPD surveillance.

Miller made a different point about stop-and-frisk, using a metaphor favored by his former boss, former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who likes to say that policing is like giving medicine to a patient. Doctors often have to give more medicine and treatment the sicker the patient is, but too much medicine (policing) can be counterproductive, and when the patient shows signs of improvement, it’s important to adjust the levels of medication. Miller said that in the later years of the Bloomberg administration, dosages of stop-and-frisk had gotten totally out of hand, to the point of being counterproductive, and that the NYPD did not appropriately respond to feedback from its patients.

Miller said that with a more strategic and precise approach, more guns are being taken off the street in recent years than even at the height of the stop-and-frisk era.

Asked about whether he’s worried about being blamed if he pursues reform and it is believed to contribute to an increase in crime or major incident, Richards said he is not “too concerned” about increasing transparency because he believes “that once again the more we build that trust collectively together the safer our city will be.”

“We’ve talked a lot about building trust with the NYPD. Why are communities feeling safer? It’s because we are building trust. We build trust by being transparent with each other,” Richads said. “It enables someone who could learn of a threat to want to communicate that to the NYPD. We close the door on that particular scenario if we are not being transparent.”

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

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NYPD Counterterrorism Chief on Threats, Privacy & Transparency Tue, 06 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Public Safety Chair Donovan Richards on NYPD Accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8698-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-donovan-richards-nypd-accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8698-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-donovan-richards-nypd-accountability Donovan Richards

Council Member Donovan Richards (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


July 24, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: How the City Council is Approaching NYPD Accountability

cm donovan richards 150 wbaiCity Council Member Donovan Richards chairs the Council's Public Safety Committee, which has oversight of the NYPD, and joined the show to discuss holding the police department accountable, Mayor de Blasio's handling of the disciplinary process related to Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Eric Garner's death, and more.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Public Safety Chair Donovan Richards on NYPD Accountability Wed, 24 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Police Reform Movement is Focused on Officer Accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8666-max-murphy-podcast-police-reform-nypd-accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8666-max-murphy-podcast-police-reform-nypd-accountability eric officers councilcall

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


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

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

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Police Reform Movement is Focused on Officer Accountability Wed, 10 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Council Takes Stock of City's Efforts to Help Victims of Domestic Violence https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8634-council-takes-stock-of-city-s-efforts-to-help-victims-of-domestic-violence https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8634-council-takes-stock-of-city-s-efforts-to-help-victims-of-domestic-violence first lady chirlane annual dom vio

Annual Gladys Ricard and Victims of Domestic Violence Memorial Walk/Brides' March (2016) (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


The City Council held an oversight hearing Monday to discuss an annual report on domestic violence in New York City, including city initiatives to help victims. The hearing featured testimony from Cecile Noel, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV), and advocacy groups.

“As more survivors come forward to report abuse we must make sure the city is capturing the demand for services,” said City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Council’s Committee on Women and Gender Equity, at the hearing. Indicators continue to show that reports of domestic violence are on the rise in the city, though it’s unclear if that is more a result of victims reporting the abuse than more incidents actually taking place.

ENDGBV was re-launched in 2018 by Mayor Bill de Blasio to develop policies, organize training, and operate the New York City Family Justice Centers, among other responsibilities. With one located in each borough, Family Justice Centers connect survivors of domestic and gender-based violence with organizations that provide case management, economic empowerment, counseling, civil legal, and criminal legal assistance. Many of these services are located within the Family Justice Center, so survivors only need to go to one location.

In 2018, 25,222 different clients visited a Family Justice Center, according to ENDGVB statistics, and made a total of over 65,000 visits to the centers.

The new report - the first of its kind mandated by a recent city law - and the Council hearing, come at a time of higher reporting of domestic violence in the city. While the “Me Too Movement” and associated cultural awareness has brought more attention over the last few years to domestic violence and sexual assault, after spiking, NYPD “radio runs” responding to alleged or suspected domestic violence decreased slightly last year.

Police officers responded to 241,584 domestic violence calls in 2018, down from 245,577 in 2017, according to an NYPD spokesperson. Police officers received 287,549 domestic violence incident reports in 2017, a number that dropped by about 5,000 in 2018, according to the spokesperson. More domestic violence incident reports were received by the NYPD in 2017 than in any year since 2014.

However, the number of felony assault complaints related to domestic violence increased from 7,800 in 2017 to 8,200 in 2018, according to data from the NYPD’s website.

A dozen years ago, in 2007, 4.8 percent of all major crimes in the city were related to domestic violence. In 2016, domestic violence constituted 11.6 percent -- a function of both most other major crimes continuing to drop and reporting of domestic violence increasing.

Domestic violence was a factor in 17.5 percent of homicides and 20 percent of assaults in the city in 2017, according to ENDGVB’s annual report. The number of homicides related to domestic violence increased from 51 in 2017 to 54 in 2018, according to NYPD statistics. There were just under 300 total murders in the city in each of those years, meaning roughly one in six murders in the city are related to domestic violence.

Vulnerable New Yorkers are disproportionately affected by domestic violence, especially low-income New Yorkers and people of color, Council Member Rosenthal pointed out at the hearing.

While Family Justice Centers provide integral services to often underserved communities, they are still in need of improvements, said Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat. Rosenthal highlighted the significant number of New Yorkers that speak a language other than English, and the challenges posed to them by using a contracted interpretation service to communicate at Family Justice Centers.

To communicate with clients who do not speak English, Family Justice Centers employ Voiance, a telephonic interpretation contractor. Rosenthal pressed Noel on the sensitivity of the subject requiring interpretation, suggesting that interpreters should receive training on how to discuss trauma with survivors.

“Given the inherently sensitive nature of this work and what we’ve learned about the implications for people who are not trained for survivors, it would be of the interest of the committee and the counsel to find out how that’s working out,” Rosenthal said at the hearing. “Perhaps there should be more preventative training for these workers,” she said.

“To every degree possible we make sure the contractor understands both the Family Justice Center and our issues,” Noel said. “We don’t provide direct training to Voiance but if issues come up that present any problem to the contractor those are immediately addressed.”

The language barrier has not gotten in the way of the Family Justice Centers doing the work, Noel said. Every one of the unique clients who visited a Family Justice Center in 2018 filled out a client intake form, the first step in receiving services.

Rosenthal encouraged the Family Justice Centers to bolster their economic empowerment initiatives. ENDGVB operates a learning lab at the Manhattan Family Justice Center, increasing the capacity of ENDGVB’s existing four-month career training program by 50 percent. Learning labs do not exist at Family Justice Centers in any other borough.

“We are aware of no public investments specifically allocated to workforce programming for gender-based violence survivors,” said Sarah Hayes, Deputy Director of Economic Empowerment Program at Sanctuary for Families, a group providing services for survivors of domestic and gender-based violence.

While the Family Justice Centers track their visitors and the services they use, they do not track from where the clients are referred.

“A tracking mechanism is essential because it will tell us where the bulk of our constituents are coming from and will allow us to better engage with them,” Council Member Diana Ayala said at the hearing.

De Blasio has taken several steps to address domestic violence as incident reports have grown, introducing in 2017 the Domestic Violence Task Force, which invested nearly $11 million in programs to enhance legal protections for survivors of domestic violence and improve education on the issue, according to a press release from that year.

“This report sends a loud and clear message – we will not tolerate domestic violence, survivors have the City’s full support, and abusers must be held accountable. We will do everything we can to ensure that New York City is safer for everyone, everywhere, at all times,” de Blasio said in a May 2017 press release announcing the results of the task force’s report. As the city saw increased domestic violence reporting, de Blasio and other city officials were pushed to take action.

In 2018, de Blasio signed bills to combat workplace sexual harassment, expand the city’s paid leave laws to employees who are survivors of domestic violence, and enacted ENDGBV by executive order, mandating the city to address and coordinate a response to domestic violence.

First Lady Chirlane McCray has taken a primary role in the city’s efforts to combat domestic violence, announcing in 2018 Interrupting Violence At Home, a citywide program to address domestic violence through services, training, and intervention for abusive partners who are not involved in the criminal justice system.

“Any kind of violence is unacceptable. But as we keep survivors and families safe, we must also do everything we can to intervene directly with their abusive partners,” McCray said in a 2018 press release announcing the initiative. “Hurt people hurt people.”

The Council committee also discussed on Monday a resolution to encourage the federal passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019. The Violence Against Women Act was first passed under President Bill Clinton in 1994, but must be renewed by Congress. The bill has been renewed in every subsequent administration and was last renewed in 2013.

The bill passed in the House of Representatives in April, but has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Opposition to the bill has focused on a provision, known as the “boyfriend loophole,” that would make it easier for law enforcement to strip perpetrators of domestic violence of their guns.

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

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Council Takes Stock of City's Efforts to Help Victims of Domestic Violence Wed, 26 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Reps Sought to Kill Police Accountability Measure https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8632-de-blasio-reps-sought-to-kill-police-accountability-measure https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8632-de-blasio-reps-sought-to-kill-police-accountability-measure mdbd graduation cermony

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Less than a week after arguments ended in the high-profile NYPD administrative trial of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the administration of Mayor de Blasio waged an effort to block a significant reform aimed at preventing and punishing lying by police officers during investigations of misconduct.

One commissioner on the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission says members were contacted by a representative of the mayor in advance of a vote earlier this month on whether to move to the November election ballot a slate of proposals to modify the city charter, while the police department carried out a parallel campaign to sway commissioners, who are supposed to be independent of the elected officials who appoint them.

A spokesperson for de Blasio did not deny the effort, telling Gotham Gazette that the administration talks through all the issues with charter commissioners, including sharing concerns from city agencies.

The 15 commissioners on the 2019 commission, tasked with reviewing the city’s central governing laws and presenting proposed changes to voters, were appointed by the mayor, City Council, comptroller, public advocate, and borough presidents. After months of hearings and meetings, the commission recently met twice to vote on which proposals to advance to the ballot, selecting 20 in total.

One of the 20 proved especially controversial. It was the only one that was voted down during the first of the two recent meetings, but was then passed upon reevaluation at the second. It deals with strengthening the power of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to prosecute discipline charges when police officers lie during the course of investigations.

According to four charter revision commissioners Gotham Gazette spoke with, in the conversations ahead of the first meeting on June 12, administration and police representatives urged the commissioners to vote down the measure, “proposal 7,” which accountability advocates believe would significantly curtail officers’ ability to avoid scrutiny and discipline.

In public, however, the administration has maintained silence on the proposal to rein in police lying -- a practice that has been exposed in significant new detail in recent months by reporting by Gothamist and elsewhere -- and a spokesperson for the mayor told Gotham Gazette it is still in the process of official review.

The events shine a light on the mayor’s oft-criticized level of commitment to transparency and accountability with regard to police misconduct and efforts to reform the politically powerful police department.

Commissioner Sal Albanese, who twice voted against the charter proposal, told Gotham Gazette he was contacted by a representative of the de Blasio administration who told him the current apparatus to deal with false official statements is working well.

“The de Blasio administration made a very compelling case that the present system works. If an officer is accused or makes a false statement that they handle it, and if it’s serious it goes to the prosecutors. That was their position and it makes sense,” Albanese said, referring to the NYPD’s process of handling allegations of police lying internally. Albanese, a former City Council member and mayoral candidate, was appointed to the commission by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, himself a former NYPD officer and captain.

Probed further about contact from the de Blasio administration, Albanese said, “That’s their position. That’s the call I got from them, yeah.”

But in an email to Gotham Gazette Friday, Will Baskin-Gerwitz, a spokesperson for the mayor, wrote: “Mayor de Blasio has heard the informed opinions of CCRB and NYPD about the proposal, and he continues to review it in advance of the revision commission’s final vote in July.”

Albanese and six other commissioners, including all four appointed by de Blasio and the commissioner appointed by Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, originally voted against proposal 7 on June 12 at the first meeting where the commission took up potential charter amendments. The measure was the only one of the 18 considered by the 15-member body that was not passed that night.

Asked to comment on the mayoral appointees’ voting pattern at the June 12 vote, Commissioner Sateesh Nori, an appointee of former Public Advocate Letitia James, told Gotham Gazette, “I don’t know what happened exactly in their minds, and whether they voted individually or as a collective group, whether they represented anybody.”

“But they’re all respectable, straightforward people and I think hopefully they’ll change their minds, or enough of them will,” he said, referring to the possibility of revisiting the vote.

“I think that’s the only life and death issue that we’re dealing with here,” Nori said. “It’s deeply disappointing.”

In an unusual display of political metanoia, after speaking with representatives of the CCRB and hearing from police reformers including the mothers of men killed by police, charter revision commissioners moved to revisit proposal 7 at the June 18 hearing, and voted it ahead toward the ballot in November.

One mayoral appointee, Commissioner Carl Weisbrod, changed his vote to support the controversial measure. The other three affirmed commitments to police transparency and honesty but did not support codifying the measure to bring police lying under independent scrutiny.

The purpose of the June votes was to advance proposals from the commission staff to the commission’s final report, which members need to approve at the end of July before amendments can be placed on the ballot in November.

‘The only life and death issue’
False statements made by the police in the course of misconduct investigations are well-documented and have figured into some of the most serious cases of police brutality and corruption, including the trial of Daniel Pantaleo in the 2014 death of Eric Garner. 

A number of versight entities have been created to address police misconduct, corruption, and mismanagement, each with a relatively narrow mandate to pursue aspects of departmental impropriety. Several of the reforms being weighed by the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, including the one that has apparently attracted the opposition of the administration, have to do with giving more teeth to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which is appointed by the mayor from a pool designated by the mayor, City Council, and police commissioner.

The CCRB is the principal entity charged with investigating civilian allegations of police misconduct when they fall into one of four categories, known as FADO: use of force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, and offensive language.

Currently, false testimony by the police to investigators falls outside the FADO categories, and as such cannot be the subject of investigations and disciplinary recommendations by the CCRB, which is an independent agency with the power to prosecute cases in administrative settings. Instead they must be referred to the police department to be dealt with internally, where allegations of lying are often downgraded or dismissed without repercussion.

A report in the New York Times last year found that of the 81 tracked cases of false statements referred to the police department by the CCRB since 2010 only two were affirmed by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau. A “Blue Ribbon” panel appointed by NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill to recommend reforms to the department’s internal disciplinary system, in its final report in January, discussed a pervasive culture of “lax” or nonexistent responses to officers who lie to investigators about their and their colleagues’ actions.

In an email to Gotham Gazette, Sergeant Jessica McRorie, a spokesperson for the NYPD, said the department has “accepted all of the recommendations of the independent Blue Ribbon Panel on discipline.” McRorie made a distinction between “intentional or willfully false statements” -- which would immediately result in an investigation and potential disciplinary action -- and “unintentional inconsistent statements which are generally the result of insufficient preparation for testimony, in which case enhanced one-on-one training may be appropriate.”

The distinction did not resonate with some of the charter revision commissioners.

“I have to say that the argument that we should be giving the benefit of the doubt to police officers who cannot remember what they did in a situation of likely police misconduct and even violence,” in contrast with the treatment of people of color by police nationwide, “was infuriating to me,” Commissioner Alison Hirsch told Gotham Gazette. Hirsch, the political director at the powerful building services workers union, 32BJ SEIU, was appointed to the commission by Comptroller Scott Stringer.

To enhance the CCRB’s ability to check the powers of the police, many stakeholders have pushed for the expansion of FADO to include other types of misconduct like lying to investigators. The charter revision commission, which has the power to examine the entire City Charter and put amendments directly to voters via referendum, has attracted advocates eager to see reform to the NYPD, a less-than-transparent city department backed by influential political forces with a great deal of sway at City Hall.

Several of the commissioners, who saw the June 12 commission vote as an opportunity to advance police reforms, were surprised at proposal 7’s lone failure that night.

“Some of us left that meeting last week with our jaws dropped. Like, what happened, how did that happen?” Nori said. “We thought it was a close vote but we didn’t think it would be unsuccessful, and that was a huge shock.”

Several other commissioners who spoke with Gotham Gazette expressed the same sense of bewilderment.

That night, seven commissioners voted against proposal 7, including all four de Blasio appointees, as well as the commissioners appointed by borough presidents from the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. The commissioners chosen by the public advocate, comptroller, and Manhattan borough president, and two of the commissioners appointed by the City Council voted in favor. The remaining two City Council appointees abstained from voting, and the Queens Borough President’s appointee was absent because of a family emergency.

Four other proposals relating to the CCRB were voted ahead on June 12. If passed by voters in November, they will give other entities besides the mayor the authority to appoint members to the board; give the CCRB executive director subpoena power; guarantee a minimum budget for the agency; and require the police commissioner to provide an explanation when deviating from a CCRB disciplinary recommendation.

Charter revision commissions have historically been empaneled by mayors, as was the one that put proposals on the ballot last November. The current commission, however, was created through the City Council on the initiative of Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and then-Public Advocate Letitia James.

Its members were appointed by a mix of elected officials, with none appointing a majority: The mayor and City Council each chose four commissioners; the remaining seven were appointed by each borough president, the public advocate, and the city comptroller.

“It's important that no single official appoints a majority. Some previous charter reviews haven't been independent, instead dominated by appointees answering directly to mayors,” wrote Brewer and James in an op-ed announcing their plan.

Vote Revisited
Following the June 12 failure of proposal 7, a counter effort was waged among some of the commissioners sympathetic to the arguments of police reformers to revisit the “no” vote.

“The police have a tremendous amount of power in this city and they waged an effective campaign to influence people and change their minds,” Nori told Gotham Gazette before the second meeting, referring to commissioners.

“I hope we can try to change that today,” he said.

On June 18, when the commission met for a second time to discuss and vote on which proposals to send toward the ballot, Nori raised the issue again and asked if any of the opposing commissioners would reconsider their vote.

Weisbrod was the only commissioner appointed by the mayor to change his vote to support proposal 7 but, thanks to the affirmative votes of commissioners who had abstained or were absent at the first meeting, the proposal passed eight to six (with one abstention) at the second meeting.

One of four de Blasio appointees, Weisbrod, flipped his vote to support the enhanced oversight measure after thanking Nori and Hirsch for helping him “see the light on it for what it is,” after the previous meeting.

“I think we have an obligation to support the truth,” he said at the meeting.

The other mayoral appointees seemed to walk a fine line when they chose to explain their opposition in the face of reconsideration.

Commissioner Lisette Camilo, a de Blasio appointee and the head of the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services, said, “I really agree with the spirit of the reasons to put this motion forward and I supported the reconsideration. I will vote no. I do not believe that passing this will largely change anything. This is more of a symbolic action.”

Commissioner Paula Gavin, another mayoral appointee and former Chief Service Officer under the mayor, said, “I do believe in truth and honesty but I’m going to keep my vote as no because it has to do with structure.”

Commissioner Lindsay Greene, a de Blasio appointee and senior advisor in the mayor’s office, said, in the absence of more fundamental changes to the powers of the CCRB, “I don’t think this does enough, so it feels more form over substance. But I generally support any efforts we are trying to pursue, generally, for more police accountability. My vote is no.”

But the measure passed, and police reform and accountability activists celebrated.

“The false statements ballot item is important because it is the ONLY item on this November’s ballot that has any meaningful significance for police accountability,” wrote the Communities United for Police Reform coalition in a statement.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

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De Blasio Reps Sought to Kill Police Accountability Measure Tue, 25 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Ensuring Others Don’t Face the Injustice I Did: Why Rory Lancman is the Right Candidate for Queens DA https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8549-ensuring-others-dont-face-injustice-i-did-sean-bell-valerie-rory-lancman-queens-da https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8549-ensuring-others-dont-face-injustice-i-did-sean-bell-valerie-rory-lancman-queens-da r lancman photoop

Valerie Bell, the author, left; Rory Lancman; and Gwen Carr


On November 25, 2006, my son Sean Bell was killed in a hail of 50 bullets from the NYPD on his wedding day. The officers who killed my son were acquitted due to the lack of an unbiased relationship between the judge and the Queens district attorney. Sean never received the justice he deserved and the men that murdered my son suffered no consequences under the law.

Subsequent to this marred process of criminal justice, I worked diligently alongside other mothers who were victims of police brutality to request Governor Cuomo use his authority under the law to appoint a Special Prosecutor in the Attorney General's office to investigate police use of deadly force. The governor supported our view and a Special Prosecutor was granted.

Since meeting City Council Member Rory Lancman, I’ve learned he has always been in relentless pursuit of police accountability. He has been, and continues to be a guardian against the racial disparities of law enforcement in communities of color, and this is why I am supporting Rory Lancman to be the next District Attorney in Queens.

As I have seen firsthand, criminal justice in Queens is stuck in the past, but for the first time in almost 30 years, the people of Queens have the power to elect a new District Attorney. The current Queens DA's office led the opposition to creating a Prosecutorial Misconduct Commission, and is the only DA's office in New York City that refuses to have a wrongful conviction review unit.

The office has opposed closing Rikers Island, and refuses to follow the lead of other District Attorneys who no longer prosecute most fare evasion and marijuana possession cases; 90% of such prosecutions are people of color. Queens’ 2.3 million people deserve better than a 'lock ‘em up and throw away the key' mentality.

For these reasons and more, Rory Lancman needs to be the next District Attorney in Queens.

Rory understands that our criminal justice system is built on a foundation of institutional racism. That racism manifests itself in a number of ways: massive discrepancies in communities of color for low-level arrests, broken windows policing that terrorizes black and brown communities, and a system that sets up even innocent people to plead guilty rather than endure the nightmare of Rikers Island while waiting for their day in court.

My family never received justice for what happened to Sean. Gwen Carr and her family never received justice for what happened to Eric Garner. Instead of just lamenting problems, Rory has gotten to work. He’s sponsored legislation that would outlaw police chokeholds, and has fought against the misuse of New York's so-called “50-A Law” to shield police officers from public scrutiny of prior misconduct. As our next Queens District Attorney, Rory will not tolerate police malfeasance, whether it is violence against law-abiding citizens or perjury in the courtroom.

Finally, Rory will be a true criminal justice reformer at a time when Queens desperately needs it. Rory’s vision is simple: create a fair system that treats everyone equally, and that views incarceration as a last resort for real crimes. Too many of our young people are given criminal records for the rest of their lives that make it hard for them to get an education, job, and housing.

On June 25, Queens will face a stark choice in choosing a new District Attorney. The District Attorney has incredible power over people's lives. Queens is long overdue for a true reformer who will make sure the law works for everyone, and will hold even the powerful accountable. That person is Rory Lancman.

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Valerie Bell is the mother of Sean Bell.

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

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Ensuring Others Don’t Face the Injustice I Did: Why Rory Lancman is the Right Candidate for Queens DA Wed, 29 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
State Lawmakers Must Help Launch a New Era of NYPD Transparency and Accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8542-state-lawmakers-must-help-us-launch-a-new-era-of-nypd-transparency-and-accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8542-state-lawmakers-must-help-us-launch-a-new-era-of-nypd-transparency-and-accountability cm reynoso press

Council Member Reynoso, one of the co-authors (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


In recent history, New Yorkers have witnessed numerous instances of brutality and mistreatment at the hands of the police. Justice has not been delivered in many of these cases, and they all point to a glaring reality: a lack of transparency and accountability plagues the New York City Police Department.

The public was vividly reminded of this just a few weeks ago when a video of Christopher Parham’s 2018 arrest surfaced. In the video, 19-year-old Parham is seen picking up groceries for the restaurant where he worked when three plainclothes officers followed him outside of the grocery store and threw him to the ground, violently arresting him without cause. The officer who took him into custody – an officer with a history of civil rights lawsuits – and his colleagues slammed his head onto the sidewalk of a busy Williamsburg street, giving him a concussion and tasing him repeatedly before dragging him backwards by his handcuffed arms into a police car.

Despite the fact that this brutal assault occurred in broad daylight in front of witnesses, and was captured on cell phones and security camera, paperwork completed by the NYPD indicated that no force had been used during the arrest. The NYPD says an internal investigation cleared the officers who attacked him of wrongdoing.

The charges filed against Parham were eventually dismissed following the District Attorney’s review of surveillance footage obtained by Brooklyn Defender Services and our partnership advocating on his behalf. However, Parham’s experience with law enforcement is not unique, and residents of New York City are not strangers to officers with problematic histories patrolling their streets.

Stories like Parham’s are why we support the SaferNY Act, a package of bills currently in the New York State Legislature that aims to increase police accountability through measures such as repealing section 50-a of the state’s Civil Rights Law, which shields police personnel records; enacting the Police Statistics and Transparency (STAT) Act; and strengthening the role of the Special Prosecutor currently enacted by executive order.

Police departments in New York are tasked with disciplining their own officers, which means that officers who commit crimes, ranging from lying under oath to murder, are allowed to keep their jobs, even after an assessment of potential wrongdoing has been made. In this enormously flawed law enforcement disciplinary system – one where, for example, a finding of wrongdoing by the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board and Internal Affairs Bureau investigations does not guarantee that officers are penalized – the personnel records of police officers remain sealed under 50-a.

Under 50-a, the information contained in personnel files, including investigations and findings of fact, are sealed from public scrutiny. This is problematic because the publicly available records paint an incomplete picture, one that judges and prosecutors are all too able to ignore at the NYPD’s urging. As a result, even when numerous public civil lawsuits have been filed, they are not considered as findings of fact or determinations of guilt and most of these cases settle out of court.

The public is starting to learn of some of the most problematic cases and worst offenders, however they have yet to be held accountable. As an example, Sgt. David “Bullethead” Grieco has been named in more than 30 lawsuits with allegations including physical violence and lying under oath. Yet despite his egregious track record, cases brought by this officer are still being prosecuted.

If we want a city that is safe, fair, and equitable, we must hold all citizens to the same standards and levels of accountability, including members of our law enforcement. It shouldn’t take a City Council member and advocates to join forces to protect individuals like Christopher Parham from those who are supposed to protect us.

Parham wants to move on with his life, “I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” he says. It is in the hands of the New York State Legislature to get us closer to this goal, and that is why we urge our state lawmakers to pass the SaferNY Act before the end of this session in Albany.

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City Council Member Antonio Reynoso represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Lisa Schreibersdorf is Executive Director and Founder of Brooklyn Defender Services. On Twitter @CMReynoso34 & @lisaschreib.

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State Lawmakers Must Help Launch a New Era of NYPD Transparency and Accountability Wed, 22 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Mass Gang Takedowns are Not ‘Doing Justice’ https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8498-mass-gang-takedowns-not-bharara-doing-justice-nypd https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8498-mass-gang-takedowns-not-bharara-doing-justice-nypd preet bha vitale2

Preet Bharara (photo: @PennLaw)


Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has a new book entitled Doing Justice, which is designed to further establish his position within the “Trump Resistance” by playing up his commitment to the rule of law in the face of the politicized actions of the Trump Justice Department. In it he argues that there is no place for politics in the decisions about which cases to take on and how to prosecute them.

"Certain norms do matter,” Bharara writes. “Our adversaries are not our enemies; the law is not a political weapon; objective truths do exist; fair process is essential in civilized society.”

But this rhetoric of justice and legal formalism stands in sharp contrast to his role in prosecuting young people from the Bronx accused of being “the worst of the worst” as part of the Bronx 120 “gang takedown.”

In 2016 the NYPD and a variety of federal agencies conducted the largest mass arrest of alleged gang members in New York City history, rounding up 120 individuals. Then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Bharara undertook the prosecution of those cases using the broad powers of the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. He alleged that these were hardened criminals who had created a vast criminal enterprise that was terrorizing their Bronx community.

Those arrested faced severe felony charges that caused almost all of them to accept plea deals after being held without the possibility of bail for up to two years.

A recent study of the outcomes of these 120 cases by CUNY Law Professor K. Babe Howell calls into question whether the interests of justice were served in these cases.

Howell’s report documents that after three years of court proceedings, 80 of the 120 were not convicted of a violent crime, a third of the defendants spent between zero and two years in prison, and 35 of those arrested were only convicted based on conspiracy to sell marijuana. She also found that almost all the defendants were eligible for a public defender, suggesting that these defendants had no financial resources despite supposedly belonging to a major “criminal enterprise.”

In fact, only around half of the defendants were ever even accused of being gang members. Nearly half of those arrested, including those facing the most serious charges, had already been convicted in state court for the same conduct; some were in prison or jail at the time of arrest.

On the other hand, in one case, Kraig Lewis was arrested in another state while completing a master’s program. He was beating all the odds. He had studied hard through college, as a scholar-athlete, playing basketball, running track, and making the dean’s list. In 2013, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He decided to enroll in an MBA program, and was excelling at it, all while paying it back to his community. He coached a kids’ basketball team and created and organized a “Stop the Violence” basketball tournament aimed at raising awareness of gun violence in inner city communities. And through it all, he was raising a young son.

In his final semester of grad school in 2016, on track to receive his MBA, Kraig was arrested in the Bronx 120 raid. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, headed by Bharara, argued that he should be detained without bail, even though he had no criminal record, and had never been in trouble. His classmates graduated, and walked the stage to receive their diplomas. Kraig sat in jail. His six-year-old son went to school without his dad to walk him there. He celebrated birthdays and milestones. He didn’t understand why his dad was gone.

Kraig is out now. He was given a sentence of time served for conspiracy to distribute narcotics (marijuana). But his life is not the same. He remembers seeing a friend stabbed in the neck while he was in jail. He remembers missing his son’s birthdays. He remembers how full of potential his life was, before the arrest. Even though he completed his MBA program through another school while in jail, his future is not the same. Not with a felony conviction.

These prosecutions were clearly political in nature. Bharara and then-NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton went to extensive lengths to demonize the people arrested in the Bronx 120 raid and presented the public a false narrative that this and other such raids are the way to make communities safer.

Arresting large numbers of people because of their alleged involvement with marijuana dealing, re-arresting people already in prison to produce a show trial, and branding young people struggling to make a future for themselves with a felony record is not justice and it doesn’t create long-term safety for their communities.

Bharara was confronted with the accusations Wednesday night at a Brennan Center event at NYU Law School by the moderator, Margaret Hoover of Firing Line on PBS. He responded that he acted on the advice of the NYPD, whose officials argued that this was the way to respond to an acute crisis of violent crime. He also pointed out that there was community support for some of the other raids he prosecuted in Westchester County.

This defense doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue, and doesn’t match Bharara’s other rhetoric. Prosecutors are supposed to make independent assessments of what is going to produce real justice, not just take the word of the police or respond to the loudest voices in a community. And they certainly shouldn’t agree to broad-based sweeps as conspiracy indictments.

Bharara himself admitted that criminal justice-led solutions, whether directed at violence or Wall Street corruption are unlikely to be successful on their own. We need a more holistic approach that understands the limits of deterrence-based strategies.

This is exactly correct. Instead of relying on police to give us ever-larger groups of socially-networked defendants and putting them in prison for ever-longer sentences, we need to legalize marijuana, provide community-based violence reduction efforts such as Cure Violence, and invest in the lives of young people so that they have real pathways to economic self-sufficiency.

Preet Bharara claims to be “doing justice,” so it is time for him to admit that these mass raids and RICO conspiracy cases are unjust and that those arrested should be given clemency.

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Alex S. Vitale is professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and the author of The End of Policing. On Twitter @avitale.

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Mass Gang Takedowns are Not ‘Doing Justice’ Thu, 02 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
How the Mayor and NYPD Must Step Up for Sexual Assault Accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8478-how-the-mayor-and-nypd-must-step-up-for-sexual-assault-accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8478-how-the-mayor-and-nypd-must-step-up-for-sexual-assault-accountability mayorscrime

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Not nearly enough has been done to improve New York City’s response to sexual assault in the one year since the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) issued a blistering report on how the NYPD was failing to make sexual assault response a priority. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s primary response to the report has been to question its accuracy.

The mayor needs to see that many of the failures documented by the DOI persist today and recently released figures show an alarming one in four rape cases were closed in 2018 due to an alleged lack of cooperation from the victim. In Manhattan, a shocking 40% of all rape investigations were closed citing uncooperative victims and unfounded allegations. A high rate of rape victims not cooperating with police is a red flag pointing to ineffective investigations and likely mistreatment of victims.

The pressure is mounting for this global city that is home to 8.6 million residents and 60 million tourists a year to keep pace with resources and innovation. In the Me Too era reporting continues to rise, and what's more, survivors are taking their complaints public, victims are suing the NYPD, and a state law is about to go into effect that mandates law enforcement agencies adopt policies that are victim-focused and trauma-informed.

What the DOI investigation documented in its 165-page report should be of concern to every New Yorker: a severely understaffed division; too many officers with limited investigative experience; insufficient training; cramped facilities in need of upgrading; and a failure to take acquaintance rape as seriously as stranger rape. Indeed, the report found that although there were more than 5,600 sex crime cases in 2017, by last year there were only 67 detectives to handle them.

The NYPD has made some important changes in response to the report's findings. The department started sending all acquaintance rapes, not just all stranger rapes, to SVD. This is a significant change, but it’s also one that will require more SVD staff and resources to handle the additional cases. The department has also committed to revamping SVD’s facilities in every borough, a welcome change for detectives and survivors. However, more needs to be done and that need is urgent.

A senior advisor to Mayor de Blasio issued a statement calling the NYPD’s investigative efforts “the best in the nation” a year ago. It wasn't true then, and it isn't true today.

Advocates who work with New York City survivors continue to see too many cases falling through the cracks and basic procedures lacking. We've seen failures to call victims back, to keep them informed of their cases, to demonstrate that leads were pursued quickly and evidence was collected in a timely manner, and to meet victims with compassion, concern, and cultural competence. There are undoubtedly many dedicated and experienced investigators in SVD, but without a top to bottom culture shift across the division and investment of more resources, too many victims will get a substandard response. For these people, the experience of reporting can become a painful continuation of trauma, rather than a start to healing.

We continue to call on the mayor and the NYPD to:

-Build a culture that demands meeting all survivors with compassion and professionalism. Research demonstrates that meeting survivors with belief and support not only impacts the trajectory of their healing but helps investigators obtain better information and results. In fact, a strong victim-centered approach was recommended in the U.S. Department of Justice report on preventing gender bias in law enforcement.

-Significantly increase the number of detectives within SVD to lower caseloads: DOI calculated that at least 140 investigators dedicated to the adult squad were needed to do an adequate job, and this was before accounting for the rising reports of sexual assault. Although the NYPD has increased the number of SVD investigators, the recommended number has not yet been met.

-Significantly increase the investigative skill level of those assigned to the division: only 5% of SVD investigators are First-Grade Detectives, those detectives recognized with the highest level of investigative experience. Increasing opportunities for promotion within the division and engaging more experienced investigators from the outset lays the groundwork for a stronger and more effective unit.

-Provide more and better quality training to SVD. The move to ensure that every SVD investigator is trained in trauma-informed interviewing techniques was a significant investment and critical step in the right direction. We’ll continue to push for expanded training until it’s clear that all sex crime investigations are timely, competent, and robust.

We shouldn’t stop at just making changes to the NYPD, that’s just one small piece in addressing sexual assault. New York City aspires to be a model for the rest of the nation on so many fronts -- why not on sexual assault? A comprehensive approach is needed.

We can make consent and healthy relationship education part of every New York City child’s experience pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. We can launch evidence-based public-service campaigns that aim to shift cultural attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate abuse and invest in survivor-led and community-based outreach to prevent violence.

Me Too has done a great deal to break down taboos and to raise awareness of how ingrained and routine sexual assault is in our culture. April is sexual assault awareness month – it should be sexual assault accountability month. And accountability lies with the mayor of New York City, who has a great opportunity to tackle a societal problem with the urgency, investment and innovation it deserves.

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Sonia Ossorio is president of the National Organization for Women - New York. On Twitter @soniaossorio & @NOW_NYC/@NOWNewYork.

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How the Mayor and NYPD Must Step Up for Sexual Assault Accountability Sun, 28 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000