Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/435 Mon, 22 Jul 2019 19:00:30 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) 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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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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

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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
De Blasio Backs NYPD Harassment of Muslim New Yorkers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8371-de-blasio-backs-nypd-harassment-of-muslim-new-yorkers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8371-de-blasio-backs-nypd-harassment-of-muslim-new-yorkers may bill de blasio rally remarks

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


Last year, New Yorkers learned about the experience of Jamilla Clark, a domestic violence survivor who was forced by NYPD officers to undress herself, removing her religious headscarf against her will. Jamilla and other women’s experiences led my co-counsel and me to sue the NYPD, bringing a federal civil rights lawsuit.

We hoped that self-proclaimed “progressive” Mayor Bill de Blasio would be quick to end this traumatizing practice. We were wrong. Last week, nearly a year after we first brought the lawsuit, 30 elected officials and community groups condemned the mayor for defending the NYPD policy. Groups ranging from Make the Road New York to the Legal Aid Society to my own group, The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project said it “is wrong for the NYPD to force New Yorkers to violate their faith, and it’s wrong for you, Mayor de Blasio, to defend this policy.”

Officers who force Muslim women and other religious New Yorkers to remove their head coverings aren’t breaking NYPD rules, and they don’t face disciplinary action. To the contrary, they are following official, NYPD guidelines, which require Muslim New Yorkers to take off the hijab for a mugshot.

A hijab is a religious headscarf that covers the hair and ears, but leaves the oval of the face fully visible. New York City’s unlawful and unconstitutional policy forces Muslim women to remove their hijab—a garment that symbolizes their faith and that so many view as an indispensable component of their identity.

The signatories to our letter demand that the mayor “immediately end the NYPD policy of forcing arrestees to remove religious head coverings, including turbans, wigs, hats, and the hijab, when arrested.”  At a time when other municipalities have stopped this horrific practice, allowing women to retain the hijab when arrested, New York is lagging behind. Cities from Dearborn Heights, Michigan and Long Beach, California to Minneapolis, Minnesota and Portland, Maine have recognized that it is unnecessary to remove religious head coverings for a post-arrest police photo.

In the past, New York City settled litigation over this policy, paying women who had been targeted by the NYPD. But though the city was willing to pay victims of the policy, it was unwilling to end the practice.  We need to go further and make clear that all arrestees have the right to retain their head coverings.

We can fight this out in the courts for as long as it takes. But if it takes a federal court order to make Mayor de Blasio do the right thing, he’ll need to retire the “progressive” label once and for all.

City leaders have promised to make New York a sanctuary for all faiths, but actions have fallen sort of our soaring rhetoric. This is the moment for our city to live up to our promise, this is the moment to respect the rights of religious New Yorkers, this is the moment to end New York City’s hijab arrest policy.

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Albert Fox Cahn is the executive director of The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a New York–based civil rights and police accountability organization. On Twitter @cahnlawny.

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De Blasio Backs NYPD Harassment of Muslim New Yorkers Wed, 20 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Police Accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability pol acc

(photo: @Charter2019NYC)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Representatives from the NYPD did not propose any charter amendments.

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Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Police Accountability Sun, 10 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Headley Case Again Raises Questions About NYPD Accountability Under De Blasio https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8150-headley-case-again-raises-questions-about-nypd-accountability-under-de-blasio https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8150-headley-case-again-raises-questions-about-nypd-accountability-under-de-blasio squad presser

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


When video was captured in 2014 of Staten Island resident Eric Garner dying with an NYPD officer’s arm wrapped around his neck, just months after the election of a progressive mayor promising a new day at the police department, it seemed like a watershed moment. The evidence was there for millions to see for themselves, across the city and country, and beyond. It seemed impossible that the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, would escape any accountability. But more than four years later there has been little beyond Pantaleo’s move to desk duty. Years of agitation and advocacy, lawsuits and desperate pleas occurred as a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges and a federal civil rights investigation has crawled to no end. Only recently -- amid ongoing criticism that there is still no real accountability for police officers who break the public trust, department protocol, or the law -- the NYPD announced a departmental trial.

Over the course of the past five years, there is little evidence that Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police department that he controls have taken steps to improve officer accountability, and the administration has even taken a large step backwards in terms of transparency (and the accountability that can come with it) regarding officers’ disciplinary records. Now, de Blasio is facing another round of questions about his management of the department, while he touts reform measures like de-escalation training and neighborhood policing that do not appear to directly connect to outcomes for officer accountability.

The recent arrest of Jazmine Headley, also caught on video that went viral, led to no action against two police officers who were seen violently pulling the young mother’s one-year-old baby from her arms and threatening bystanders with a taser. The NYPD, after a “strenuous” week-long review of the incident, declared its officers innocent and pegged the blame on two security guards, called “peace officers,” at the Human Resources Administration office where the incident took place. Separately, Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks, under whom HRA falls, suspended the two peace officers and announced that they would face disciplinary charges that could lead to termination. Tellingly, Banks also announced new HRA protocols that include directing peace officers to not request NYPD assistance -- unless there is an immediate safety threat -- “without first contacting the Center Director or Deputy Director or her/his designee to attempt to defuse the situation by addressing a client need.”

De Blasio, who came to power in 2014 vowing to reform the NYPD but has since failed to fully follow through in the eyes of many of his supporters, initially issued a tepid response to the incident and later defended the NYPD during a press conference and then an interview on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. He pointed to the peace officers and a situation that was “already out of control” when the NYPD arrived, and said it was “unfair” that critics lambasted the NYPD while ignoring the many reforms that have been enacted under his tenure.

“It’s very easy to critique when you’re not in charge,” said de Blasio, whose allies acknowledge several aspects of police reform he has instituted but say he’s fallen far short on accountability for badly behaving officers. “When you’re in charge you better get your facts straight.”

Elected officials and advocates were dismayed by the NYPD’s refusal to discipline the two police officers. “This defies belief. I am angry, confused and heartbroken,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted on Friday. “Anyone who watched that video I’m sure comes to the same conclusion. We still need Justice for Jazmin[e].”

“This incident was badly mishandled, and agencies’ independent reviews have determined which employees are the most responsible for escalating the situation,” said Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a de Blasio spokesperson, in a statement. “Now we will work to ensure that both agencies work together to improve their policies and protocols so we can prevent this incident from happening ever again. This will absolutely lead to immediate reforms on the part of both agencies.”

Joo-Hyun Kang, a spokesperson for the Communities United for Police Reform coalition, said the department “is continuing to protect its own officers at any cost.”

“On Mayor de Blasio’s watch, the NYPD has been completely unwilling to hold its own officers accountable for wrongdoing and misconduct,” Kang said in a statement, calling for the two police officers to be fired from the force. “It’s outrageous and wrong that no officers were even interviewed for the NYPD’s sham investigation into Jazmine Headey’s arrest, and that the names of officers have still not been released. An independent investigation into Jazmine Headley’s case and how the NYPD officers acted is clearly needed.”

The Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent police oversight agency, is also investigating the incident and it’s possible it may come to a different conclusion than the police department. However, even if the CCRB makes a disciplinary recommendation, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill would still have the final word and could dismiss even those findings. BuzzFeed News reported in March that hundreds of police officers had been allowed to remain on the force despite committing offenses for which they should have been terminated. The report prompted the NYPD to create an independent panel in June to review its disciplinary practices. The three-member panel was initially given four months for the review but requested an additional 90 days to complete its work, at the end of which it will issue a public report with its conclusions.

“In a day and age that we’re talking about building trust between police and communities, that incident undoes all the progress we’re trying to make,” said City Council Member Donovan Richards, who chairs the Council’s public safety committee, in a phone interview on Monday. “It further exacerbates the mistrust.”

Though he credited the mayor and commissioner for taking what steps they have to improve the public’s perception and relationship with police -- including the neighborhood policing program and the body camera program -- he flatly said accountability has not improved. As a response, he is preparing to introduce legislation that would mandate the creation of a “discipline matrix” that categorizes police conduct violations and details the specific punitive measures each violation would invite. Other jurisdictions have codified such guidelines to ensure that misconduct is punished in consistent and standardized ways, with little leeway for weakening disciplinary recommendations. Similar policies have been enacted and debated in other municipalities as well, including in Newark, New Jersey, which created a new civilian oversight board in 2016 that would use a matrix to determine responses to officer wrongdoing.

“What happened to bias training?” Richards wondered, citing the new training techniques that the department has been touting alongside de-escalation training as a solution since after Garner’s death in 2014. “Why do we need training to treat communities of color with respect? If this was a different zip code, this incident would absolutely have not happened.”

“If you have to get training to not pull a baby so harshly, you probably do not belong in the department. I don’t know how you train someone to not do that,” he added. Richards had called for the officers to be fired soon after the incident.

One significant hurdle to accountability has been the de Blasio administration’s reinterpretation of the state Civil Rights Code’s section 50-a, which protects police officers’ personnel records from public disclosure. Previous administrations have released a limited amount of information about officers’ disciplinary history. De Blasio’s administration did so as well up to 2016, when it claimed that the law had been misinterpreted for decades and changed its policy. The mayor said his hands were tied and that it was up to the state Legislature to scrap the provision.

Richards noted, however, that there has been “radio silence” from the administration on repealing 50-a. “There’s always time to get a better grade,” he said of the city’s record on police accountability, “The big test coming up is 50-a.” He is encouraged that a Democrat-controlled state Legislature will take up the issue if there is a vocal push for it.

Results of the NYPD commission and repealing 50-a could bolster the notion of a new era of accountability that critics are demanding. In the wake of the Headley incident, not only did those critics connect what they saw as police misconduct to the Garner incident, but also to other instances in the years since, including multiple shootings by police of unarmed individuals suffering from mental illness. An ongoing federal corruption trial involving several former top NYPD officials and two prominent donors to the mayor has also undermined the department’s reputation and the mayor’s commitment to reform.     

Short of any steps forward, Richards is concerned that the department is sending a message to other “bad apples” that they will be defended no matter what their behavior, further eroding any confidence that New Yorkers, especially communities of color, may have in law enforcement. De Blasio has staked some of his policing legacy on a neighborhood policing program he says is part of already drastically-improved relations between police and communities -- a claim many activists and elected officials say is overly generous. The administration also points to a reduction in both use-of-force incidents and complaints against officers as proof that its policies are working, while crime continues to drop and arrests are significantly down.

Recalling the video of Headley’s arrest, Richards worried about her baby and the trauma he went through.

“That baby will see that video some day,” he said. “Do you think he will trust the police?”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Headley Case Again Raises Questions About NYPD Accountability Under De Blasio Mon, 17 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000