Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/435 Wed, 08 Jul 2020 05:24:17 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) A Month After Historic Curfew, Many Unanswered Questions About How City Policed Protests, Looting https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9575-new-york-city-curfew-unanswered-questions-nypd-de-blasio-protests-looting https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9575-new-york-city-curfew-unanswered-questions-nypd-de-blasio-protests-looting De Blasio Shea policing NYC

Mayor de Blasio & NYPD Commissioner Shea (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


The first day of the most recent chapter of protests against police brutality and racism in New York City was Thursday, May 28, the same night 500 National Guard troops were being deployed to Minneapolis, where rioters had set fire to a police station in the quarter where George Floyd was killed three days earlier.

Over the next three nights, violence -- toward police and the burning of NYPD vehicles, by aggressive officers toward protesters, and in the form of rampant looting -- became a fixture of nighttime hours in pockets of New York City, leading to many questions about policing tactics and the leadership of Mayor Bill de Blasio. On Monday, June 1, Governor Andrew Cuomo and de Blasio, like their counterparts in other states, instituted a curfew in the city for the first time since World War II.

As the protests were unfolding the mayor and his police department seemed unable to stop what destruction was taking place around them. At the same time, there were frequent acts of brutal policing, which quickly became the subject of ongoing investigations by the New York Attorney General, New York City Department of Investigation along with the Corporation Counsel, and the city’s Civil Complaint Review Board.

Throughout those first nights and lasting for about a week into early June, de Blasio was asked repeatedly by members of the media for the city’s enforcement strategies around the large crowds and marches, looting, and the curfew, to which he responded with answers that were often vague or inconsistent with reality.

Weeks later, the de Blasio administration won't say what specific instructions, if any, were given to commands or officers on how to police the demonstrations, the looting, or the curfew. Despite repeated requests by Gotham Gazette, spokespeople for the mayor and NYPD did not provide information about the size and location of police deployments or details on crowd control and looting prevention and enforcement strategies.

Yet some limited pieces of this information formed key elements of the administration's narrative used to justify the historic, six-night curfew that many believed escalated tensions between protesters and police, and was the basis for numerous, seemingly indiscriminate arrests, often with major displays of force.

Curfew, Kettling and Chain of Command
"The curfew is to help us separate the peaceful protesters, which are the overwhelming majority, from people who are looking to exploit the moment by looting, et cetera," Cuomo said on CNN a few hours before the curfew went into effect on Monday, June 1.

Around the same time de Blasio was on NY1 saying, "the curfew is very clear that we will not tolerate any criminal activity, anybody breaking into stores, looting, smashing store windows. And that will give the officers, from 11 p.m. on, the ability to say to anyone on the street, 'You have to leave immediately.'"

What tactical decisions were made up to that point and why the NYPD -- a police force of 36,000 uniformed officers with a great deal of experience policing large crowds and violent crime -- needed the extra help remain unclear.

By the time the first looting took place on the fourth night of protest, viral images had already painted a complex picture of a heavy-handed NYPD response to marchers objecting to police violence and seeking a broad withdrawal of police, and of mayhem, including violence against cops and police vehicles.

There were several scenes, often captured on social and news media, of officers using rough tactics and displays of force apparently without enforcing laws. On Friday, May 29, someone in a quickly-moving NYPD car was caught on video opening the passenger-side door to hit a protester. That Saturday, a police helicopter hovered low above nonviolent marchers, whipping up dust and debris, the marchers shielding their eyes. There were reports of cops corralling and charging peaceful demonstrators with batons and pepper spray, sending protesters to the hospital, and intimidating journalists.

Reports of alleged police abuse from 80 incidents, from May 28 through May 30, were filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), an oversight agency charged with investigating police misconduct. In the weeks of protest, over 200 incidents have been reported to the board.

After the chaotic second night (Friday, May 29), both de Blasio and Cuomo said there would be “independent” investigations of how the protests were policed. Cuomo asked Attorney General Letitia James to conduct the state review. De Blasio appointed Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett and Jim Johnson, the administration's top lawyer as corporation counsel, to lead an investigation into conduct "by all players" and "to look at where accountability needs to be." The mayor also said the NYPD would conduct its usual internal reviews.

"It’s the NYPD’s obligation to find the best possible way to keep peace, to protect everyone, to avoid anything that allows further violence to occur,” de Blasio said at a May 30 press briefing, “but that means also recognizing that any aggressive act towards a peaceful protestor sends exactly the wrong message."

"At the same time, we saw acts of violence from protestors that have nothing to do with the tradition of peaceful, democratic protest," he added.

"This is New York City and we handle hundreds if not thousands of protests of all different sizes, shapes and forms," NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said in testimony to James weeks later, on June 22. "Some protests can take place with very minimal officers. Obviously the larger protests will require a different response in planning."

"I can tell you what we learned almost immediately from the Thursday night protest and continuing right into Friday and Saturday, that these protests were different," Shea said of March 28-30, the first three nights. "The main difference was, these were violent."

The NYPD says officers arrested over 2,500 people during the protests, "but the number is fluid and more details should be available at a later time," wrote NYPD spokesperson Detective Sophia Mason in an email. More than a fifth of those -- 631, according to preliminary NYPD figures -- were for burglaries, a vast majority of which occured on Sunday, May 31, and Monday, June 1, wrote Mason. According to information provided to Gotham Gazette by the city's five district attorney offices, about 1,090 people were arrested in the first week of the protests, which included the looting.

Throughout that first week of protests, before and after the initial June 1 curfew, de Blasio and Shea maintained that they wanted foremost to protect the rights of peaceful protesters. The two have insisted that the department's "restraint" and ability to "deescalate" was the overriding characteristic of its approach, though facts on the ground belied those statements.

"We've tried to be as flexible as possible in allowing people to demonstrate, respecting their first amendment rights...and also having respect for people's property and trying to maintain order," Shea said in the testimony to Attorney General James, who asked what directions were given to officers around enforcing the curfew. "So that was the instructions, it's not very unlike instructions that are given at any other protest." Shea provided no specifics.

The well-documented tactic of "kettling" -- where lines of police barricade and confine groups of protesters -- was common before and after the curfew was imposed. On many occasions, marchers were charged with batons and riot shields, but Shea indicated in his testimony to James that it is not a practice he’s been familiar with or ordered.

"I was never familiar with it until about two weeks ago and I’ve heard it more in two weeks than I’ve ever heard it,” Shea told James of “kettling.” “I believe I know what they’re referring to—it’s corralling, if you will, protesters. But it’s not something that to my knowledge exists in our policies.”

At least when the curfew was in effect decision-making was largely decentralized, according to NYPD leaders. "Discretion is given to all commanders on the scene. Decisions are not made from 1 Police Plaza,” said Chief of Department Terence Monahan, the NYPD's highest ranking uniformed officer, in an interview with Gothamist published June 11. “They're made from the commanders on the scene based on what they're seeing."

That discretion clearly played out in the streets, with different approaches to policing and different outcomes. In some cases peaceful protesters were dispersed and in many other instances their counterparts in other marchers were subject to kettling and rough arrests.

"If officers say now is the point we need you to go home, it's time to go home," de Blasio said to reporters at a June 4 press conference when describing broad parameters of how protests amid curfew were being policed. "I can say this in many places in the good old USA, a curfew at 8 p.m., that would be the whole, this the end of discussion right there,” he said later in the briefing. “It is the nature of New York City and the restraint shown by the NYPD that we're trying to give people extra space if they do it the right way, if they respect the instructions of the NYPD and do no violence, no harm, don't plan any violence."

Policing experts and former law enforcement officials disagree over what they believe was going on at the command level.

"Because of all of the looting and violence that was seen throughout the country, New York City and the Police Department put forth a 'full enforcement' type of response," said Dr. Alfred Titus, Jr., an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice with 23 years as an NYPD homicide and hostage detective based in Harlem and Washington Heights. "Which means that for any slight amount of violence the police were instructed to move in, apprehend people, stop the violence, protect property," he told Gotham Gazette, based on his observations.

"That was where a lot of the conflict came," Titus said.

Brian Higgins, the former Chief of Police in Bergen County, New Jersey, who also teaches at John Jay and consults with municipalities on crowd management, thought cops appeared to have their hands tied. "It's obvious there was a conscious decision to change tactics," he said of the NYPD's typical approach to crowd control. "It was most likely that the New York City Police Department was told to, for lack of a better term, stand down."

On the first night of looting, which led to the curfew, police allowed hundreds of peaceful marchers to cross Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn into Lower Manhattan, toward a site where, the night before several police cars were set on fire in the later hours. In moments like that, Higgins wondered why police didn't intervene in anticipation.

"It appears as if the normal protocols used by the New York City Police Department were not allowed to be used at night," he said. "And a crowd can be a very dangerous situation. It's almost like playing with fire."

In the first week of protest, from March 28 to June 4, 450 storefronts were damaged, according to the mayor's office, and everything from bridges to city buses were vandalized. Thirteen police cars were set ablaze and "were a total loss," according to an NYPD spokesperson. Another 269 were graffitied, had windows broken or tires slashed. The damages cost taxpayers an estimated $795,700 and 22 vehicles remain out of service, the spokesperson said in late June. (A spokesperson for de Blasio said June 29 that the mayor's office could not provide a cost estimate for the total damage, either to businesses or to city property, just before a new city budget was due.)

Thursday, May 28 through Saturday, May 30 - The First Three Nights
"I want to see a light touch because people are undeniably angry for a reason," de Blasio said of policing protests on WNYC radio on the morning of Friday, May 29, after the first night of protests. But "attacking a police officer is unacceptable," he said in response to a question about reported police injuries. A review of the police reports for May 28 say that violence against officers -- including a protester who allegedly threw a trash can into a crowd, knocking a cop unconscious -- occurred as they were taking part in "crowd control" or dispersal, at times while they were arresting other protesters.

On the morning of May 29, Shea said there would be a heavy police presence in response to the prior night: "The NYPD is out here in force tonight. We will have thousands of officers deployed throughout New York City."

That night saw the first serious clashes between protesters and police, with NYPD vehicles set ablaze and city buses graffitied, and dozens of arrests were made.

Protests in Manhattan were "overwhelmingly peaceful," Shea said the next morning. Only 11 arrests were made in the borough, according to the district attorney's office.

But in Brooklyn, where police estimated roughly 3,000 demonstrators had gathered in protest, cops beat and pepper-sprayed protesters, and protesters chased and burned police vehicles. There remain unanswered questions as to why NYPD officers on the scene moved to pen in and disperse protesters, and the extent to which objects were thrown at police officers, which NYPD leaders said instigated the crackdown.

The next morning, on Saturday May 30, de Blasio said the city would change its approach to the protests. "We are working as we speak today to make sure that the protests in the days to come will be as peaceful as humanly possible, that there will be different protocols and approaches to ensure the right to protest is honored and that everyone can do so in a peaceful manner," he told reporters about his dissatisfaction with some of the tactics used on nonviolent marchers.

"We practice de-escalation but it is very difficult to practice de-escalation when you’re having a brick thrown at you, at your head," Shea said Saturday morning, striking a somewhat different tone from the mayor. "We have countless, and that is accurate, countless officers -- at this point still tallying how many were injured from last night -- in the emergency room as we speak."

In his sworn testimony to the Attorney General a few weeks later, Shea said that nearly 400 officers were injured during protests, of which 65 percent (meaning 260 officers) required treatment at a hospital. According to a police spokesperson, 280 officers had to be treated at a hospital and six were admitted for injuries from the protests.

"The NYPD felt like they were under attack," said Dr. Ted Hamm, the chair of Journalism and New Media at St. Joseph's College, who has over a decade of experience covering protests in New York City, including at the 2004 Repubican National Convention, which featured somewhat similar mass arrests. "It seems like they took offense, they took this personally in very direct ways. And they decided, we're going to make lives difficult for these people who want to express an opinion that we don't like."

"A lot of what we saw was emotion-based,” Titus said of the overall atmosphere in the city and beyond. “The whole country was almost in outrage at one point."

On the third night of protest -- Saturday, March 30 -- in a hastily-scheduled late-night press conference outside the city’s Office of Emergency Management in Downtown Brooklyn, as protesters were igniting cop cars in Union Square, de Blasio told the public: "If you're out there to commit an act of violence, you're going to get arrested tonight." He urged people to go home -- "You have been heard," he said. Dozens of police vehicles were burned or damaged that night as New Yorkers who weren’t in the streets watched the scenes play out on social media and television. For almost two more full days, de Blasio and Shea maintained the NYPD was capable of policing the crowds without a curfew. 

De Blasio later said he spoke with Shea ”probably 50 times...literally" that Saturday, but what policing strategies they discussed is unknown.

Sunday, May 31 - Serious Looting
Looting began in downtown Manhattan the next night, Sunday May 31, after marchers crossed the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn and were splintered by police in Chinatown and funneled into the SoHo retail district. Arrest data provided by the Manhattan District Attorney's office shows a lot of the looting targeted expensive stores, though for some the dollar amount was not the point. That night WNYC reporter George Joseph tweeted a quote from a young man who had stolen bandaids from a pharmacy: "It’s the principle. It’s people higher than you, sitting in the chair watching + saying ‘wow look what they’re doing over one person’...We never had a voice, we’re gonna make one now."

The looting fed into a largely hollow narrative of "outside agitators," which had been spreading nationwide, echoed in statements made by politicians from the mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis to President Donald Trump.

"I have been on this evening a thread, a text thread with mayors all over the country. They're all experiencing exactly the same thing," de Blasio said that night of May 31 on NY1. "But they're not from communities of color. They're often not from – not only not from the neighborhoods they're protesting in, they're not even from the city in some cases."

The mayor and NYPD have not provided evidence of a significant element of outside agitators, though they repeatedly made those claims in the initial days of protest. In Manhattan that Sunday and Monday, where some of the worst looting took place, of the 114 "live arrests" made, 14 were of people from outside the five boroughs, of which nine were from Long Island or the Hudson Valley, according to arrest data provided by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. The remaining five were from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

As the evening wore on, officers reportedly stood by as looters entered smashed stores in Lower Manhattan, though a total of 169 arrests were made in Manhattan that night. "Sunday, Monday, for thousands -- yes, I mean thousands -- of people running through the streets, looting, hitting stores, but you were there. You were making arrests, and you did a fantastic, fantastic job," said Chief of Department Terence Monahan, the highest ranking NYPD uniformed officer, in a video addressing officers and posted to Twitter for the public to see on June 12.

Monday, June 1 - The First Night of Curfew
The next afternoon  -- Monday June 1 -- Cuomo and de Blasio announced the city would be piloting an 11 p.m. curfew that evening (the mayor would later shift the curfew to 8 p.m. from June 2 through Monday, June 8, though he ended it Sunday, June 7 instead). Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Raleigh all instituted curfews the same night and at least 13 other cities had in the days before, according to a Gotham Gazette review of news reports and government announcements.

Property damage would continue the next two nights, notably in the Bronx on June 1, where 86 people were arrested on burglary and vandalism charges, according to a spokesperson for the Bronx District Attorney.

Along with the curfew, de Blasio and Cuomo announced the NYPD would double the deployment and Cuomo later said there would be 8,000 uniformed officers on duty that Monday (June 1). "The additional officers will be deployed to areas where violence and property damage occurred during last night’s protests – specifically in lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn," read a joint press release announcing the curfew.

But the additional deployments failed to prevent the damage, and the mayor and police department were admonished by Cuomo the next day. "The police in New York City were not effective at doing their job last night. Period. They have to do a better job," the governor said on June 2, offering support from state police and 13,000 National Guard who were on stand-by. Cuomo later apologized to rank-and-file cops, saying he had been calling out NYPD leadership and the mayor.

"I believe, believed there was an issue of management, and deployment of the NYPD," he said the next day.

NYPD leaders said the sheer scale and tenacity of looters made vandalism and theft difficult to prevent. "They had a lot of people out here. We had a lot. They had more," Monahan said the night of June 2 on CNN, after the second night of looting had occurred June 1, this time under the 11 p.m. curfew.

"Someone would hit it," he said referring to storefronts being broken, "and then some would go in, or they'd circle back. It was cat and mouse all day. But we made 700 arrests. There were 2,000 out here."

No one from the mayor's office or NYPD has said why police weren't better able to prevent the wide-scale looting that took place in the Bronx and Manhattan and why, as Monahan reported, they were caught outnumbered by and struggled to keep up with looters.

Tuesday, June 2 through Sunday, June 7 - The Duration of the Curfew
Looting went on through the evening of Tuesday, June 2, when the curfew had been moved from 11 p.m. to 8 p.m. That night the city also banned traffic in Manhattan south of 96th Street, which Monahan said would help police maneuver more nibbly and keep up with looters.

"With the curfew at 8 o'clock, it gives us a reason, if we have a group that's starting to cause trouble that we can stop them all, and hopefully get them all off the street," Monahan said.

Tuesday, June 2, was the last night of widespread looting. Over the next several nights the police department selectively enforced the curfew, often kettling protesters before cracking down on them with batons and zip-tie cuffs or dispersing them.

Melees between police and peaceful marchers continued through Thursday, June 4 -- a week since the first night of protests. One of the largest and most severe mass arrests took place that evening in the Bronx, after peaceful marchers were kettled and then charged in Mott Haven around the 8 p.m. curfew. The Bronx District Attorney's office said there were 332 arrests that night, many for unlawful assembly. At the same time marches in Brooklyn were allowed to go on for hours after the curfew before facing kettling and some aggressive tactics, but with relatively milder outcomes compared to the Bronx. Shea defended the arrests, saying officers were acting on intelligence that suggested violence was being planned, and that enforcement was "executed nearly flawlessly,” but questions have been raised about the cited intelligence and preemptive tactics.

Police issued a total of 1,349 summonses for violating curfew, according to a statement issued by the NYPD after the curfew was lifted. About a third of them were issued to white people, while 42 percent were to individuals identified as “black or black Hispanic” by police.

The following Sunday, June 7, de Blasio repealed the curfew, one night ahead of schedule and after two nights where no protesters were arrested. Daily demonstrations throughout the city have continued relatively peacefully since, though there have been exceptions including clashes at the “Occupy City Hall” demonstration that developed in the lead-up to the budget deal reached by the mayor and City Council on June 30.

Many Unanswered Questions
Many unanswered questions remain about the tumultuous eight-night stretch, including to what extent the police department exacerbated and quelled tensions. What orders were given to officers and when are unknown, as is how many officers the NYPD deployed throughout the most damaging nights of looting and who or what can take credit for the peace that eventually settled.

"Cutting it back to 8 p.m., that helped a little but that wasn't the main thing that slowed down the violence," Dr. Titus, the former homicide detective, said of the curfew. "I believe it just kind of ran its course, more or less."

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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A Month After Historic Curfew, Many Unanswered Questions About How City Policed Protests, Looting Wed, 08 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Deconstructing the #DefundNYPD Clash with City Council Members of Color https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9563-city-council-members-of-color-defund-nypd-budget-boards https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9563-city-council-members-of-color-defund-nypd-budget-boards Cumbo NYPD city budget

Council Member Cumbo (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Defending her vote in support of a new city budget that did not cut NYPD funding by at least $1 billion (as New York City faces a $10 billion COVID-19-related revenue shortfall) Brooklyn City Council Member Laurie Cumbo told protesters criticizing the plan: "Work under the existing leadership of the communities that are already there."

Cumbo compared the development of the #DefundNYPD movement to "colonization" and said, "this movement is not being led by the Black community."

She and several other Council members of color made it sound like protests against state violence and inequality in city resource allocation had come out of nowhere from parts unknown. Did the few Black and Latino Council members who voted against the budget over lack of NYPD cuts blindly follow a movement of outsiders? Cumbo’s former chief of operations quickly rejected Cumbo’s narrative.

In a late-night tweetstorm Crystal Hudson listed 10 leading Black organizers, whose groups are among the over 170 organizations pushing to #DefundNYPD that Cumbo and other members have no doubt encountered during their time in the Council. The movement against state violence has been and is today led by marginalized peoples, Black women, Latino, Asian, immigrant, and LGBTQ.

Yes, there are many new people engaging in local politics, some are new residents in communities facing gentrification, and some of them eyeing elected seats in districts they recently moved to (an article for another day). But the vast majority of #DefundNYPD activists are simply people fighting to divest from policing and incarceration and to reinvest that money in those who most need it. And though Council members resent being the subjects of criticism and desperate pleas to do more, as the old saying goes, “It’s not about you.”

Many New York City Council members of color say that in their communities people aren't screaming for police defunding or abolition. One wonders, did they just close their windows each time a #BlackLivesMatter protest marched by their house? It is true that this year’s #BlackLivesMatter protests have engaged far more white people than they did when Eric Garner was killed, but in response to those protests the Council voted through a budget that added 1,300 new police officers. What Black or Latino Council member can honestly say their communities were screaming “Build new jails!“ when they approved billions to do just that in 2019? (None.)

Though to Cumbo’s point, when Council members of color and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea claim the community is asking for more police, there is truth there. The question is, which community are they referring to? Common community venues politicians and police leaders tell protesters to get involved in include local meetings of Community Boards and Precinct Community Councils. While community boards are not uniform -- multiple CBs passed resolutions in support of #DefundNYPD, including East Harlem's CB11 calling to #DefundNYPD by at least $1B in FY21 -- they’re generally more police-friendly organizations than the broader neighborhoods they are part of.

Community Boards are appointed by the local Borough President and City Council member. Local electeds don't often choose a bunch of people who think far differently than they do. There’s no public reason given as to why one is or is not chosen to a community board and many appointees have existing relationships with local electeds. Members are often removed from community board committees or not reappointed to CBs for rocking the political boat. As all-volunteer entities chosen by politicos where dissenting voices are not always welcome, community boards are not often viewed as a functional space where meaningful change can happen or be pursued. Because New York City has a dearth of local civics education, most don’t even know that it is the first rung of city government, a feeder for elected office (several sitting Council members, including the Speaker, are former community board chairs and more are former CB members).  

If you’ve ever gone to a community board meeting in a Black or Latino neighborhood you might feel like you stepped into a world where #BlackLivesMatter never happened. There isn’t a lot of reimagining public safety outside of police. Fear of returning to the "bad old days" of the 1970s and ‘80s reigns.

A return to the “bad old days” is the ultimate political boogeyman in New York City politics. It can quickly undermine substantive policy arguments in almost any public safety conversation. Of course, crime and cops not responding, were just part of planned disinvestment of the past. Many community board members in communities of color are old enough to have lived the last crisis even close to the one New York City now faces. They are reminded of the crime and divestment as they walk by firehouses and schools that have remained closed since their childhood or those recently converted to luxury developments.

Community boards trend older and more conservative. Property owners are overly represented, renters and the homeless under-represented. Black and Latino CB members often live in neighborhoods that face more police violence and gun violence than their white counterparts. Local police are accessible to and regularly engage with many community boards. When calls to reform or cut police come, community board members often think of the last shooting or the working relationships they have with officers who report to the community board and work community events.

At Precinct Community Council meetings in Black and Latino neighborhoods, you won't find many people who have been abused by or lost family members to police, virtually no one actively calling for reinvestment of NYPD funds into social services, and few immigrants. Why? Precinct Community Council meetings are held with many cops and most often in police precincts. Most of the agenda is dominated by Black and brown people literally begging the police to “deal with” homelessness, “deal with” substance abuse, “deal with” guys hanging out on the corner, and “deal with” the seven major crimes (murder, burglary, assault, car theft, and so on).

One can be from and "do the work" in Black and Latino neighborhoods in New York City and not spend a minute in politician- or cop-dominated/funded spaces (some would call this self-care).

Tons of longtime residents who do mutual aid, community, and anti-violence work -- who fight health disparities, hunger, gentrification, racism, homelessness, and deportations -- avoid Community Board and Precinct Community Council meetings like the plague.

#DefundNYPD was coming from all over Black and Latino neighborhoods in New York City. From non-profits getting their budgets cut, individuals losing their jobs, people facing eviction when the moratorium ends, the hungry, the homeless, families of those killed by police violence, and others.

This new city budget was always going to be lose-lose chaos. City Council members got the ball after Trump and the Feds refused to reimburse cities and states for COVID-19-caused revenue deficits. Cuomo cut Medicaid and wouldn't allow New York City to borrow money to fill the tax revenue gaps. Trump, Cuomo, and de Blasio all refused to raise taxes on the wealthy. De Blasio offered a tale of two cities budget that slashed education and hospitals while protecting police and the wealthiest.

Disparaging #DefundNYPD and using budgetary tricks to act like the city got far closer to (or over) $1 billion in NYPD cuts didn't fool a single person paying attention. People can read budgets (though no public copy of the full Fiscal Year 2021 budget was available before the Council vote) and see through the funny math the mayor and Council presented. To pretend NYPD cuts are more than reality just handed talking points to the right wing, who will now claim, as Trump and Staten Island Council Member Joseph Borelli already have, that crime is rising because of $1 billion or more in NYPD ‘cuts.’

Expecting that the NYPD face a substantial budget cut like virtually every other city agency during a depression is not "abolition." A substantial cut to the NYPD’s almost $6 billion budget was not radical. It should have been inevitable. It's what happens when tax revenue dips $10 billion, and no one can say how much deeper it will drop, or when or what recovery looks like.

The difficulty in making NYPD cuts comes not only from strong police unions, their military and surveillance capabilities, but the deep faith in policing that is still shared across the political aisle. For all of the social services the NYPD is involved in; there are people in and out of city government who for many years have called for cops to get more involved with them. People still call cops to "deal with" fireworks, kids smoking weed, and loud music. On an individual and structural level, we call cops like genies in a bottle then wonder why we can't hold police accountable or their budget in check, why police “reform” never gets at the root.

Investing in jails and police while cutting education and public health has never made our communities safer. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore explained when talking with the New York Times last year, abolition of police is not the absence of "safety.” Abolition is not just closing prisons and dismantling the police; it is creating and maintaining vital systems of support many of our communities lack.

At a local level, New Yorkers have stepped up for each other through the most heartbreaking of challenges. But at federal, state, and municipal levels we have not addressed the root causes of any of our compounding pandemics or their impact on mental health (see New Orleans after Katrina [1] [2]). Crime will almost certainly continue to rise in the coming months, and that is because of the existing racial and socioeconomic inequality COVID-19 has only exacerbated -- pre-existing conditions many elected officials still see as “fake” or too "unrealistic" to prioritize.

If those calling for defunding and abolition cannot effectively address the reasons people feel the need to call the police and cannot offer alternatives to calling police viewed as viable by those most impacted by non-police violence, then people will keep calling the cops, long past the next election.

If politicos in New York City’s Black and Latino neighborhoods don't open themselves to conversations on "public safety" not dominated by them or police and continue to dismiss calls to divest and abolish as stuff only people on Twitter and new residents to their districts who don't "do the work” care about, then they are making the political miscalculation of their lives.

***
Andrew J. Padilla, an award-winning artist and educator born and raised in East Harlem, has lectured on urban politics across the country, from Hostos to Harvard, and is a proud member of Manhattan Community Board 11. On Twitter @apadillafilm6.

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

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Deconstructing the #DefundNYPD Clash with City Council Members of Color Sun, 05 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Police Reformers Dissatisfied with NYPD Moves in City Budget https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9558-max-murphy-podcast-police-reform-nypd-funding-city-budget-de-blasio https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9558-max-murphy-podcast-police-reform-nypd-funding-city-budget-de-blasio de Blasio NYPD budget deal 2021

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


July 1, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Police Reformers Dissatisfied with NYPD Moves in City Budget

joo hyun kanginsetJoo-Hyun Kang of Communities United for Police Reform joined the show to discuss police reformers' dissatisfaction with the new city budget in terms of NYPD funding and related decisions.

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

Max & Murphy · Episode 232: A Consequential Month For The Police Reform Movement In New York

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Police Reformers Dissatisfied with NYPD Moves in City Budget Wed, 01 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Police Commissioner Repeatedly Contradicts Mayor on NYPD Reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9555-police-commissioner-shea-repeatedly-contradicts-mayor-de-blasio-nypd https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9555-police-commissioner-shea-repeatedly-contradicts-mayor-de-blasio-nypd ceremonial for police

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Police Commissioner Dermot Shea had strong words Tuesday about the City Council's recently-passed bill banning police chokeholds, which he said went much further than the state's new ban and ignored input from law enforcement.

Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio having expressed support for the bill, Shea called it "incredibly reckless" in a videoconference with interfaith leaders, hosted by the New York Board of Rabbis. The comments are the latest example of Shea and other NYPD leaders publicly breaking with their boss, the mayor, over major police reforms that have cascaded out of City Hall and Albany in the weeks since protests against police brutality and racism began.

The legislation passed the City Council on June 18, as part of a package of NYPD reforms pushed through in the wake of George Floyd's killing by Minneapolis police and the national unrest that followed. Just before the Council passed the bill de Blasio indicated he would sign it, saying he had consulted with Shea, and the mayor has scheduled a required public hearing on the bill for July 7.

"I've worked on this closely in the last few days and been in constant touch with our police commissioner and I'm now convinced this is the right legislation to move forward with and I will sign it," de Blasio told reporters hours before the Council voted through the bill.

But in the video conference Tuesday, Shea told religious leaders, "Now you have a law passed by this City Council that I think is incredibly reckless. And I'm speaking about -- again I'm going to have my opinion -- I'm speaking about the chokehold ban that was passed in the City Council."

The problem with the bill he said, is that, unlike the state chokehold prohibition, which Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law in mid-June, the Council's bill not only makes it a misdemeanor for a police officer to compress an individual's windpipe, it also outlaws "sitting, kneeling, or standing on the chest or back in a manner that compresses the diaphragm."

"The diaphragm opens up the front stomach area or above the stomach, the back of somebody," Shea said. The bill says, "during the arrest you should not sit -- I agree with that -- stand -- I agree with that -- or kneel -- and that's where we have a problem."

"When you look at the police officers now, and again I'm being honest," Shea continued, "they are going to make a mental calculation: ‘am I making the arrest here, what am I doing, do I engage here, am I going to be supported, and what if it goes wrong am I going to be arrested?’"

He said the breadth of the prohibition could make even small or accidental pressure on a person's stomach or back -- what he said is a frequent occurrence in "fluid" arrests -- a criminal offense.

Police chokeholds have particular resonance in New York City, where Eric Garner was killed in one by Daniel Pantaleo during a 2014 arrest, despite being banned in NYPD rules since the 1990s. While the state law makes police using a chokehold a criminal offense, a statement from the City Council said it did not go far enough because it only applied to cases that lead to serious injury or death. The Council legislation also expands the prohibition to include kneeling on a person, as Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department did to kill George Floyd. Both men, before dying, uttered the words "I can't breathe," a phrase that has helped give voice to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Today the Council does what the NYPD has failed to do: police the police by making it an actual crime for a cop to put someone in a chokehold or to sit, kneel, or stand on them so they can't breathe," wrote Council Member Rory Lancman, a Queens Democrat and the bill's sponsor, in a statement when it passed. Lancman introduced the bill shortly after Garner’s 2014 death.

The same day the city legislation passed, the Council also passed a resolution in support of related legislation in Congress called the “Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2019”, sponsored by Brooklyn and Queens Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, which would make police chokeholds a civil rights violation. That bill only deals with pressure to the throat.

Commissioner Shea said part of the problem was the bill-making process. On the state law, sponsored by State Senator Brian Benjamin, a Manhattan Democrat, NYPD representatives had consulted on the bill and were comfortable with the outcome, Shea said. But the police department was not as successful with the diaphragm provision in the Council bill, which he said was added in a later draft.

"We worked strenuously behind the scenes, and said we would support that law but just take out that piece of it and it fell on deaf ears," he told the religious leaders, who included Rev. Dr. A.R. Bernard of Christian Cultural Center, Rev. Dr. Que English of Bronx Christian Fellowship Church, and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of the New York Board of Rabbis.

"There were requested changes, those changes were not taken, and we're proud of the bill that we’re voting on today," Council Speaker Corey Johnson told reporters before the bill passed.

The bill has been in the City Council for years but the body had not moved it and de Blasio had not previously supported it, citing concerns that it doesn't protect officers in life or death situations.

"Looking back, I now see that, honestly, the information I had at the time, I don't think was the whole truth," he told reporters the day after it passed. "I now believe, based on consultation with some additional lawyers, that there are those protections embodied in state law.

This is not the first time NYPD officials have publicly opposed one of the reforms recently embraced by the mayor.

Another piece of the police reform package passed by the Council in mid-June was the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, which would require the NYPD to publish information on the types of surveillance equipment it uses and the rules governing its uses. Proponents say more transparency is needed to ensure New Yorkers' civil liberties are protected. De Blasio has long opposed it because of counterterrorism, undercover, and public safety considerations. But in June, after almost three weeks of demonstrations for broad changes to policing, his tune changed.

"I am convinced that the wording of the act is appropriate, is balanced, so I'm comfortable supporting it," he said at a news conference the day before it passed.

But the following day, in response to a Gotham Gazette inquiry, a police spokesperson wrote: "The NYPD cannot support a law that seems to be designed to help criminals and terrorists thwart efforts to stop them and endanger brave officers."

That afternoon the NYPD's Guardian Association President Felicia Richards and Hispanic Society President Larry Fuchs, wrote an op-ed in the Daily News saying the legislation should have a provision exempting technology used by undercover agents and informants if that disclosure would jeopardize their life. The NYPD promoted the piece on social media.

On Tuesday morning, Shea went against the administration's position on another matter, this time on the controversial subject of defunding the NYPD, which has taken center stage amid claims of over-policing in Black and Latino communities. On Monday, de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson reached a tentative agreement to cut the police department's budget by hundreds of millions of dollars. The deal includes reducing the NYPD headcount by about 1,160 officers, reductions to planned overtime spending, and shifts of personnel from the police department to the education department and other agencies. De Blasio also announced plans to shift hundreds of millions in capital funds from the NYPD to youth and public housing projects.

"I am excited to say that we have a plan that can achieve real reform, that can achieve real redistribution, and at the same time ensure that we keep our city safe," de Blasio said Monday.

The plan balances the call to reform while "mak[ing] sure that our officers are on patrol where we need them around this city," he said.

But on PIX 11 the next morning, shortly before his conversation with faith leaders, Shea said, "Cutting overtime, cutting head strength at a time of rising crime is going to be an extreme challenge for the men and women of this department." (Gun violence and burglaries have increased this month, according to police reports.)

"It's going to impact our patrol strength, it's going to impact our training, and the sad part is," he said, "it's probably going to impact people of color more than anybody else."

"It's well-documented where most of the violent crime occurs and where most of our resources are as we try to police this city," he added.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Police Commissioner Repeatedly Contradicts Mayor on NYPD Reform Tue, 30 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
As Council Negotiations Continue, De Blasio Promises $1 Billion Cut to NYPD Operating Budget, Plus $500 Million in Capital Shifts https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9553-city-council-negotiations-de-blasio-promises-1-billion-cut-nypd-operating-budget-500-million-capital https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9553-city-council-negotiations-de-blasio-promises-1-billion-cut-nypd-operating-budget-500-million-capital cojo del

The Mayor and Speaker at an NYPD press conference (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Update

As pressure mounted on the city to drastically reduce spending on policing in the budget that is due before Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council reached a tentative agreement on Monday to cut $1 billion from the NYPD and to reinvest funds in youth and social services. Nearly half the reduction, however, involves shfiting spending on school safety to the Department of Education rather than actual cuts. 

The agreement would reduce the NYPD's uniformed headcount by canceling an incoming class of 1,163 cadets. It also includes about $350 million in cuts to overtime spending and various other cuts to traffic enforcement, vehicle purchases, contracts, and more. All those cuts total about $512 million. Shifting school safety and school crossing guards out of the NYPD's purview together account for $483 million in the $1 billion deal.

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On Monday morning, de Blasio announced that he proposed a plan to the City Council that would reduce the NYPD’s annual operating budget by $1 billion while also shifting another $500 million in capital spending from the police department to other agencies.

A document obtained by Gotham Gazette showed that reduction would mostly be achieved by moving school safety out of the NYPD’s purview and will not be accompanied by a significant reduction in the department’s headcount. As the mayor stressed Monday, all plans and details remain tentative given that de Blasio and the City Council continue to negotiate the full terms of the new city budget. Council Speaker Corey Johnson has not indicated that he and de Blasio are in agreement on what de Blasio announced, and the document obtained by Gotham Gazette shows the two sides’ different proposals for NYPD budget shifts.

The push to “Defund the NYPD” has emerged as the central point of tension in this year’s budget negotiations. It is being led by activists protesting both police brutality after the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd last month and the NYPD’s harsh crackdown against protesters in the wake of Floyd’s death, as well as the long history of racially disparate treatment by extremely well-resourced police departments.

Activists have called for cutting $1 billion from the police department’s $5.9 billion operating budget, a call that has been supported by the City Council and prominent elected officials including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Comptroller Scott Stringer proposed a four-year plan to reduce NYPD spending by $1.1 billion.

The Council proposed a $1 billion cut through various means – shifting responsibilities from the NYPD to other agencies, reducing the 36,000-officer headcount through attrition, and cutting overtime spending.

De Blasio, on Monday, said his administration presented a plan to the Council over the weekend that would “achieve a billion dollars in savings for the NYPD and shift resources to young people, to communities, in a way that would help address a lot of the underlying issues that we know are the cause of so many problems in our society.” 

“I am excited to say that we have a plan that can achieve real reform that can achieve real redistribution, and at the same time, ensure that we keep our city safe,” he said. He promised that an additional half-billion dollars would be taken out of the capital budget for the police and used to build youth recreation centers and to invest in public housing at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). 

In April the mayor proposed an $89.3 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which includes about $5.9 billion in direct operational funds for the NYPD. However, the city spends closer to $11.5 billion in police-related costs in a year. Fringe benefits and pension contributions add another $5 billion to spending. Hundreds of millions are also spent through the capital budget – on police infrastructure – and to pay down debt incurred from those projects, an annual expense attributed to debt service not the police department. There is just over $400 million in NYPD capital spending planned for next fiscal year and just over $200 million in debt service expense spending budgeted.

[‘Defund the NYPD’? What’s Really in the New York City Police Department Budget]

The Council had been pushing for cuts to the NYPD even before the recent protests, noting that when the mayor cut his initial proposed budget (which was $95.3 billion in January) because of the economic fallout from the pandemic, the police department was largely untouched.  

A spreadsheet obtained from a Council source shows a gulf between how the Council and mayor have intended on achieving the $1 billion reduction.

The Council proposed cutting $747 million from the department’s expense budget and another $329 million in accompanying fringe costs, for a total of $1.076 billion. In the Council proposal reviewed by Gotham Gazette, the capital budget was not addressed.

The operating shift proposed included moving school safety and school crossing guards out of the NYPD, which would cut $374 million in direct funds and $159 million in fringe spending, for a total of $533 million reduction from the NYPD. It’s not clear if these expenses would simply be made up for at the amount under other agencies.

Reducing the uniformed headcount and lowering the “budgeted peak headcount” under the Council plan would together save another $176 million in operational funds and $169 million in fringe benefits, totalling $345 million. Savings in overtime (cutting spending, capping uniformed overtime and savings cancelled events) would amount to $140 million. The Council also proposed canceling an incoming cadet class, and cutting spending on contracts, vehicles and other miscellaneous expenses. 

The mayor’s proposal falls short of those demands in certain areas while proposing other changes that the Council did not put forward. He proposed $533 million in expense cuts, saving $177 million in fringe costs for a total of $731 million. It’s unclear how the mayor’s proposal will reach the $1 billion mark he announced Monday. 

The mayor’s school safety and crossing guard cuts total $506 million -- and the document also does not indicate if these costs are simply recreated under other departments. As he’s made clear a number of times, de Blasio is less willing to cut the department’s headcount, only proposing a $55 million cut, which will save another $26 million in fringe benefits, for a total of $81 million. His proposal would not reduce the peak budgeted headcount. And he proposed $50 million in overtime cuts (overtime spending routinely outpaces what is budgeted; the NYPD has spent as much as $728 million on overtime in the 2019 fiscal year after budgeting $600 million) and $13 million in cuts to contracts and other expenses. 

He did propose $76 million in savings through other measures the Council did not consider, including $14 million in reducing school safety overtime, a $42 million reduction in traffic enforcement revenue, and $5 million each from a delay in purchasing vehicles, cuts to traffic enforcement, a hiring freeze for certain civilian positions, and from shifting homeless engagement to the Department of Homeless Services.

The mayor also proposed a $516 million shift in capital funds originally intended for a property clerk facility and the new 116th precinct in southeast Queens. 

Reactions have been predictably split. Several Council Members, including Republican Joe Borelli and conservative Democrats Bob Holden and Ruben Diaz Sr., have criticized the move to cut the NYPD’s budget, particularly noting that crime has been increasing in the last few months. 

Meanwhile, police reform advocates and some elected officials have largely been dissatisfied with what the mayor and Council have proposed so far as too little, warning that they are playing three-card monte with NYPD funds without addressing their core demands. 

“Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson are using funny math and budget tricks to try to mislead New Yorkers into thinking that they plan to meet the movement's demands for at least $1 billion in direct cuts to the NYPD's almost $6B FY21 expense budget and reinvestments of over $1 billion to communities,” said Anthonine Pierre, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, an advocacy coalition, in a statement on Monday. “This is a lie and the movement isn't falling for de Blasio and Johnson's budget tricks that are protecting and giving special treatment to the NYPD, refusing to even institute a full hiring freeze on NYPD uniformed officers - all while continuing to decimate the social safety net, threaten future layoffs that are not police, cutting non-police hate violence prevention initiatives, and refusing to take care of elders, youth, Black and other communities of color most devastated by the pandemic and ongoing police violence.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - this article has been updated. 

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As Council Negotiations Continue, De Blasio Promises $1 Billion Cut to NYPD Operating Budget, Plus $500 Million in Capital Shifts Mon, 29 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
4 Things to Watch as Mayor and City Council Finalize New Budget https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9546-4-things-to-watch-as-mayor-de-blasio-city-council-finalize-new-budget https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9546-4-things-to-watch-as-mayor-de-blasio-city-council-finalize-new-budget city budget negotiations council de blasio johnson

The Mayor and City Council discuss the budget (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


New York City’s next fiscal year begins Wednesday, July 1, and there is no clear picture of the city’s fiscal future. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has been catastrophic for the city’s economy, gutting revenue streams and necessitating major cuts in planned city government spending, along with tapping into billions of dollars in reserves.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council are engaged in intense negotiations as they seek to fill a large budget gap and try to prevent significant cuts to services and avoid mass layoffs while coming to a budget agreement by Tuesday night.

In his Executive Budget plan released in April, de Blasio had cut proposed spending by $6 billion from his January, pre-pandemic Preliminary Budget, from $95.3 billion to $89.3 billion. This was done through $2.7 billion in savings, largely reductions in planned city agency spending, and drawing $4 billion from reserves to attempt to minimize the city’s budget gap. But as tax revenue has continued to plummet that gap has continued to grow and the administration still has to find another $1 billion to balance the budget.

Yet the City Council was not in agreement with de Blasio’s Executive Budget and the two sides have had different priorities heading into final budget negotiations, most notably the goal set by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and dozens of the Council’s 51 members to slash the police department’s $5.9 billion operating budget by $1 billion.

Meanwhile, hanging over the city budget picture have been two possible ways to close the immense gap that are out of the control of the mayor and Council: a federal “bailout,” which looks virtually impossible before the June 30 city deadline (thanks to Republicans in Washington), and permission from the state for the city to borrow billions of dollars to cover operating expenses, which appears unlikely to be granted in the next few days (thanks to Democrats in Albany).

Here are four things to watch in the city budget:

How will the city balance the budget?
Mayor de Blasio said at a press briefing on Friday that the city could have to lay off as many as 22,000 employees by October 1 if it cannot fill the $1 billion gap that remains.

Along with persistently but unsuccessfully lobbying for federal funds, de Blasio has been pushing the state Legislature to allow the city to borrow funds to cover those operational costs, a move that was prohibited after the practice in part pushed the city to the brink when it faced insolvency in the 1970s and the state came to the rescue. The resulting legislation after that fiscal crisis created an oversight body, the state Financial Control Board (FCB), and required that the city only spend as much revenue as it has on hand. 

The mayor said his borrowing plan has been amended and instead of seeking authorization to borrow $7 billion, the city will ask for $5 billion over two years. “We hope to borrow none, if we actually got the kind of federal stimulus support we deserve,” he said. “Maybe that will come, but we need the fallback of borrowing.” He said the process would be closely monitored by the FCB.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature have been reluctant to approve any operational borrowing by the city but have yet to give definitive answers on the mayor’s latest proposal.

“Borrowing for operating expenses is a risky proposition, and it has to be done with caution, if at all,” Cuomo said at a press briefing on Thursday. “Because now you’re really rolling the dice on future revenues. We went through this situation in the ′70s, where New York City was basically bankrupt and the state had to step in.”

“If there is a plan, we will review it,” said Caitlin Girouard, a Cuomo spokesperson, in an email on Friday. “That said, the existing financial control board is in the best position to review any plans for New York City to issue long-term debt to pay for current operating costs.”

On Saturday, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat, issued a statement indicating the Senate Democratic Conference is not there yet on supporting borrowing by the city.

“New York City is the economic engine for our nation and our state, and so it is a priority for the Senate that it remains economically strong and viable,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Prudence requires the development of a plan not rushed through before action is actually necessary, especially when the possibility of additional federal aid remains unresolved. Mayor de Blasio has made it clear we have several months before drastic measures like layoffs would occur and other city leaders have sent mixed signals about the wisdom and efficacy of the current request. The Senate will work with our partners in Government including the Mayor, the City Comptroller, the City Council, the Assembly, and the Governor to help New York City. We are open to approving limited loan authorization but more work needs to be done to develop a consensus around a sound approach.”

In response, mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “Waiting to see what will come from Washington has never been a viable option. It wasn't during the crisis, and it’s not in its aftermath. We need money to restart our city, keep New Yorkers working, and deliver the services they need most as they rebuild their lives. Now is the time to act. We’re disappointed the State Senate doesn’t see that.”

A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, said the Assembly will review any proposals.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson came out against the proposal to borrow $7 billion in May, instead pushing the administration to cut between 5 and 7% of city agency budgets. At the time, he said borrowing should be a “last resort” for the city. But at the Thursday briefing, Johnson said he wasn’t outright against it and that it may be required if federal stimulus funds aren’t delivered. “I am open to a responsible borrowing plan if we are at the same time focusing on meaningful cuts to city agencies without jeopardizing our social safety net,” he said. “We can’t just borrow to avoid looking hard at our budget and net agency spending. There are long-term implications to borrowing and if we do it, it must be done carefully and we can’t do it to supplement the entire city budget.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has supported a long-term borrowing plan, insisting that cuts to services and layoffs would affect the very communities that have already borne the disproportionate brunt of the pandemic.

Comptroller Scott Stringer has cautioned against the burden that borrowing could place on the city, estimating that a $7 billion debt would need $11 billion in repayments over 20 years or $12.5 billion over 30 years. “While it's too soon to rule out any specific budget action, New Yorkers should know that under the Mayor’s proposal our children could be paying over $500 million a year for the next 20 years. I urge extreme caution,” he said in at the start of the month.  

The four Democratic candidates running for Comptroller in 2021 have taken somewhat divergent views. Council Member Helen Rosenthal has called for borrowing. Council Member Brad Lander, State Senator Brian Benjamin and Assemblymember David Weprin, however, have warned against it.

[2021 Comptroller Candidates Offer Different Ideas for Addressing City's Fiscal Woes]

De Blasio is urging labor unions to help find enough savings in labor contracts to help the city avoid the layoffs. “The layoffs would not begin until October 1, so, there's time to find the resources,” he said Friday on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show. “But if I don't have borrowing and I don't have stimulus, I'm just out of options. We would still say to labor, help us find a different kind of savings, and we wouldn't do layoffs. But we need them to come to the table and work with us.”

Citizens Budget Commission, a fiscal watchdog group, has recommended several “hard choices with difficult consequences” that the city could undertake to find almost $1.7 billion for the next fiscal year and reduce gaps down the line without layoffs or borrowing. It recommends cutting spending by $1.6 billion through improved efficiencies, renegotiating labor contracts, and cutting 9,000 employees from the 340,000-strong full-time workforce through attrition. They also called for a two-year property tax increase of 2%, selling city assets and freeing up another $750 million from the $1 billion general reserve fund.

“If the City’s leaders are willing to make the right and reasonable hard choices, they can balance the budget without asking future generations to pay for today’s bills or resorting to layoffs,” said CBC President Andrew Rein, in a statement.

Cuts to the NYPD
One of the major sticking points between the Council and the mayor is the push to cut $1 billion from the NYPD’s nearly $6 billion budget (which doesn’t include billions in other annual NYPD-related expenses) and to fund youth and social services that otherwise face cuts under the mayor’s proposal. The Council has been pushing for that reallocation for weeks but pressure has only increased after the recent protests of police brutality and racism as activists have taken up a call to “Defund the NYPD” and have even camped out next to City Hall for days to press their demands.

The Council proposed cutting the $1 billion by taking certain responsibilities from the police department, including shifting school safety, which cost $327 million this year, to the Department of Education, cutting the department’s headcount through attrition and a hiring freeze, and limiting overtime costs.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a news conference on Thursday that the mayor’s executive budget proposal “is not a budget that the Council accepts, not a budget that would get the votes to pass,” citing cuts to education and the city’s social safety net while the NYPD emerged relatively unscathed. “This moment in our country and in our city calls for appropriately cutting funding for police and making sure that we are making structural changes to policing, re-envisioning what public safety looks like, and investing that money into communities of color and vulnerable communities. What was outlined in the executive budget doesn't do that.”

Though de Blasio has agreed to shift some funding away from the police department and said he is finding some agreement with the Council, he had said the $1 billion demand is too large. “We don't have a final dollar figure, but we're going to do something very, very substantial,” he said Friday on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “We'll know more in the next few days. Yes, money will come out of the NYPD. Yes, money will go to youth programs.”

The mayor has also pushed back and is reportedly considering cutting the Council’s discretionary funding, according to the New York Daily News.

But on Monday de Blasio announced that he had put forward a plan to shift $1 billion in NYPD operating budget funds away from the department and another $500 million in capital dollars. While a deal with the City Council has not been reached, the two sides appear closer to an agreement on "defunding" the NYPD by the $1 billion, though some advocates and elected officials say that too much of the cut is really just moving functions and employees from the police department to other city agencies, like school safety to the Department of Education. The details of the proposals put forth by the mayor and the Council show some overlap, but also some key distinctions, especially when it comes to NYPD headcount.

Comptroller Scott Stringer has pushed for a $1.1 billion reduction to the NYPD over four years, achieved through a reduced headcount by attrition, cutting overtime, and other miscellaneous costs. 

Summer Youth Employment and Other Programs
The City Council took particular issue with the mayor’s executive budget proposal, noting that it only reduced the NYPD budget by less than 1% while slashing the budget of the Department of Youth and Community Development by 32%. That cut meant that the city was zeroing out the $124-million Summer Youth Employment Program, which provides summer jobs to young people between the ages of 14 and 24. The city allocated funds for 75,000 jobs last year, many of which went to youth from low-income communities of color.

Though after major blowback de Blasio promised an alternative plan, details have yet to be released. De Blasio recently said the program will take shape soon, albeit late this year, and include a mix of outdoor and virtual opportunities.

[Amid Blowback Over Planned Suspension, De Blasio Administration Explores Alternative Summer Youth Employment Program]

Summer youth employment is one of many relatively smaller budget items, whether full or partial, that have been on the chopping block as de Blasio has sought to close the budget gap. But those very programs are often ones that Council members don't want to see cut, so the end result of how agency spending is trimmed will be full of details of great interest to many stakeholders inside and especially outside of government, including, for example, the many nonprofits that the city contracts with to perform vital services as well as CUNY, the city's public university system, and more.

Also in this larger category are city funding for individual schools, which supports not only teachers' salaries but guidance counselors, nurses, and more.

Capital Budget
The mayor’s executive budget also made major changes to the four-year, $67.2 billion capital plan, which funds long-term infrastructure investments around the city, from building and repairing schools to the city’s vehicle fleet and much more. Most capital projects were delayed to future years, when de Blasio will no longer be in office.

The capital budget is funded through long-term borrowing, but billions of dollars in debt service is paid each year through the city operating budget, so de Blasio’s plan is aimed at reducing some of those annual costs in the near-term.

Notably, the mayor cut significantly from planned upcoming investments in affordable housing, new schools, and the plan to build four new borough-based jail facilities to replace the Rikers Island jail complex which is slated for closure.

[Jails, Affordable Housing and Other Capital Projects Delayed as City Grapples with Cash Crunch]

Budget watchdogs have emphasized that the city should continue funding routine maintenance and repair work, which are essential to the city’s quality of life and its eventual recovery. Others like City Council Member Brad Lander have urged the mayor to invest more funds in capital projects as a means to not only ensure the long term prosperity of the city but to also put New Yorkers back to work at a time of record unemployment.

Citizens Budget Commission, however, recommends reducing the five-year capital plan by a total of $6.7 billion – $2.4 billion in planned school construction and $4.3 billion in other expansion projects.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated with news of de Blasio's Monday announcement about NYPD funding.

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4 Things to Watch as Mayor and City Council Finalize New Budget Sun, 28 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Make My School and All Others Police-Free https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9542-make-my-school-and-all-others-police-free-nypd-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9542-make-my-school-and-all-others-police-free-nypd-new-york-city make my sch

Students rally for police-free schools (photo: Urban Youth Collaborative)


Every morning, I walk through a metal detector to start my day. I’m one of thousands of students who attend heavily policed schools, where there are more school safety agents than nurses, guidance counselors, and therapists combined. Students of color like me deserve to feel safe and supported, not policed, in our classrooms — but a new proposal to simply transfer school safety agents from the NYPD to the Department of Education is no solution at all. For us students, the answer is clear: we need completely police-free schools. 

Right now, even in a terrifying economic crisis, New York City spends more than $450,000,000 a year on over 5,100 school safety agents and policing equipment. In contrast, the average school in New York employs just one guidance counselor for every 357 students, and many of our schools are deeply underfunded in every other way. This divide — funding the police and underfunding everything else — is especially true in majority Black and brown schools like mine. But just one neighborhood away, my friend goes to a majority-white school without a single metal detector. The message we hear from the city is loud and clear: policing students of color is more important than educating us. 

The ironic truth is that instead of creating a safe learning environment, the constant presence of cops makes us feel like criminals — and actually escalates conflicts between students and between students and adults. I’ve seen too many incidents that could have been resolved with counseling, but instead became violent because students panicked when the cops came in with handcuffs and batons. The data shows that policing does not reduce bullying or fighting, and instead criminalizes behavior that would just merit a visit to the principal's office in a better-off school. My worst experiences with cops in school are much less traumatic than those of many of my friends, but even day-to-day interactions — like getting pulled aside and examined, hands on the wall, when I forget my phone in my pocket while walking through a metal detector — are dehumanizing.

I’m glad to see that the public — and even the City Council — is beginning to see how dangerous this reality is. But let me be clear: we cannot settle for the sham proposal of transferring school safety agents from the NYPD to the DOE. A cop is still a cop — no matter who they’re getting their salary from.

Instead, New York City needs to invest in learning environments that will prevent the roots of violence. That means significantly increasing the ratio of guidance counselors to students. It means making sure that we have trained psychologists available to talk to, from K through 12. And it means investing in restorative justice trainers to mitigate conflict, because we deserve to learn from our mistakes instead of being suspended or arrested for them. 

When I imagine a school that feels safe, I imagine walking into school and going straight to class — no metal detector in sight, no cop cars stationed outside, no school safety agents standing on the edge of the cafeteria, waiting to pounce. I know it's possible, because thousands of students in wealthier and whiter neighborhoods live that reality every day. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Corey Johnson — we demand that you give us the police-free schools that we deserve. 

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Akeria Adams is 16 year olds, attends Academy of Medical Technology in Queens, and is part of The Urban Youth Collaborative.

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Make My School and All Others Police-Free Sun, 28 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Defund the NYPD and Save Black and Brown Lives by Reforming Mental Health Crisis Response https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9531-defund-the-nypd-save-black-and-brown-lives-by-reforming-mental-health-crisis-response https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9531-defund-the-nypd-save-black-and-brown-lives-by-reforming-mental-health-crisis-response police shooting

Questioning one role of the NYPD (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


The protests that have erupted across American cities in response to the murder of George Floyd, together with the larger movement for Black lives, have amplified advocates’ calls to defund the police and reallocate resources toward services that would better meet the needs of Black Americans and over-policed communities nationwide. 

New York City’s police budget alone surpasses its spending on housing, hospitals, youth services, and homeless services combined. In response to public outcry, the City Council finally appears ready for a historic reckoning as it now pushes to cut $1 billion from the New York Police Department

The coalition we help lead, Correct Crisis Intervention Today - NYC: Fighting to Transform Responses to Mental Health Crises (CCIT-NYC), has proposed one such defunding measure, which would remove mental health crisis responses from the NYPD’s portfolio entirely.

CCIT-NYC urges the City Council to redirect $16.5 million of NYPD funding to a five-year pilot project in two of the city’s most impacted precincts, Brooklyn’s 75th and Midtown South. 

At the cost of $3.3 million per year, our proposed pilot would pair Emergency Medical Technicians with trained “peers” (people with lived experience of mental health crises). These teams, in place of law enforcement, would serve as first responders for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Unlike the city’s current Health Engagement and Assessment Teams, which are only available for part of the day and cannot be dispatched directly to the general public, the teams proposed by CCIT-NYC would be available 24/7 and accessible to the public.

This is a proven model. It is similar to the hugely successful CAHOOTS program used in Eugene, Oregon, for over 30 years without any serious injuries to the health-care workers. It is easily adaptable to neighborhoods here.

Critically, this approach enjoys wide public support. A national survey conducted in early June found that nearly 70% of likely voters support “creating a new agency of first-responders, like emergency medical services or firefighters, to deal with issues related to addiction or mental illness that need to be remedied but do not need police.” A majority of those surveyed also agree that police frequently use unnecessary violence; in our city, we know this to be all too true. 

Over the last five years, 14 New Yorkers experiencing a mental health crisis were killed by police responders, a 15th died by a self-inflicted gunshot during a police engagement, and another three were shot by police and left critically wounded. Just this week, one more New Yorker with mental health concerns died at the hands of NYPD after being repeatedly tasered at his home, having threatened no one.

What’s more, that number killed between 2015 and 2020 is double the number killed during the preceding years spanning 2007 to 2014. Notably, these shootings increased despite the fact that, during the same five-year period, 15,000 officers received Crisis Intervention Training to use de-escalation techniques under these very circumstances.

Having worked in the fields of mental health, human services, and criminal justice for decades, we are well aware of the racial disparities in accessing care, and of the wrongful criminalization of Black and brown individuals. As documented by the U.S. Surgeon General, people of color have less access to mental health services than white people, are less likely to receive needed care, and are more likely to receive poor-quality care when they are treated. Of the 18 individuals shot in police encounters in New York City, 16 were Black or other persons of color. 

Of particular note during these precarious financial times is the fact that instituting mental health response teams would pay for itself in savings. Each year, New York City spends approximately $250 million on cases involving police misconduct by the NYPD, and we estimate that roughly one-third of those cases involve people undergoing a mental health crisis. 

The time is right to pilot a culturally competent and compassionate, peer-driven model for responding to mental health crises that avoids inflicting further harm by eliminating the unnecessary use of police, emergency rooms, and psychiatric hospitals. Our proposed pilot’s use of non-police responders trained in engagement and de-escalation techniques would spare the city expensive lawsuits and save lives – particularly those of Black and brown New Yorkers. 

Let’s restore faith that when people call for help in times of crisis, they receive actual help and health care, not the law enforcement response they have come to fear. 

*** 
by Cal Hedigan of Community Access; Jim Mutton of Concern for Independent Living, Inc.; Matt Kudish of National Alliance on Mental Health Illness NYC; and Ruth Lowenkron, Esq., of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

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Defund the NYPD and Save Black and Brown Lives by Reforming Mental Health Crisis Response Thu, 25 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Have Drug Overdoses Spiked During the Coronavirus Crisis? It Depends Who You Ask https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9534-drug-overdoses-spiked-during-coronavirus-pandemic-new-york-city-unclear https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9534-drug-overdoses-spiked-during-coronavirus-pandemic-new-york-city-unclear 2 drug overdose

Mayor de Blasio makes an announcement (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


As the coronavirus ravaged New York, hospitals were flooded with patients and city services ground to a halt. Activists and elected officials worried that in the fray of the pandemic, with New Yorkers ordered to mostly stay inside and millions losing work, the already prevalent opioid epidemic in the state could be further exacerbated. But city and state health officials don’t have full grasp on the scope of the problem, and may not know for months, because of a lag in how drug overdose data is tracked and classified.

The NYPD, on the other hand, reports that while overdoses have fallen overall in the first half of 2020, overdose deaths appear to have significantly increased during that period, according to preliminary reports.

Reports from across the country indicate that overdose deaths have likely increased as a result of COVID-19. In a brief report, updated June 18, the American Medical Association’s Advocacy Resource Center noted, “More than 30 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder in counties and other areas within the state.” Among the examples the report cited were reports from New York.

But city and state officials say it’s too soon to tell if there has been a spike in overdose deaths or hospitalizations. “Fatalities may still be pending classification and more data is needed for a reliable comparison to previous years,” said Michael Lanza, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, in an email earlier this month. According to Lanza, since March, just before the coronavirus outbreak in New York, there has not been a larger increase in overdose-related hospital intensive care unit (ICU) visits than what was expected based on historical data. At the state level, a Department of Health spokesperson said the most recent confirmed data is from 2019, even as the calendar shows 2020 nearly halfway over.

Asked about overdose data from this year so far, Edison Albany, a spokesperson for the state Office of Addiction Services and Supports, said in an email, “Official data regarding relapses and/or overdoses for this period is not available at this time. OASAS recognizes the potential consequences of isolation during the pandemic, and how it relates to the possibility of increased alcohol and substance use. To combat this and other risk factors, all OASAS providers remain open during the pandemic, and we are committed to ensuring that all of our services remain available.”

A New York City health department spokesperson said it’s hard to definitively say whether overdose deaths have gone up since classifying them takes time because of the need for additional investigations and to conduct toxicology reports. The department monitors several metrics, including ICU visits, for this data.

The lag in data production is evident from past reports. It was only in August 2019 that the city health department released a full picture of overdoses in 2018 and the first three months of 2019. The report found that drug overdose deaths fell for the first time eight years, to 1,444 from 1,482 in 2017. In the first three months of 2019, there were 45 fewer overdose deaths than in the same period in 2018.

The NYPD’s overdose squads, created in 2016, investigate all overdose deaths in the city and also respond to hospitals to interview people who have survived overdoses. The department also holds quarterly RxStat meetings, which involve about 35 different law enforcement and public health agencies, to discuss data on overdoses.

According to an NYPD spokesperson, preliminary data shows that overdoses overall are slightly lower, even during the months of the pandemic peak, but overdose deaths have increased over last year. The numbers will likely change after further investigation but there does seem to be an indication of a spike.

The Queens and Staten Island District Attorney offices have also noticed local spikes in overdoses. Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz’s office, in a June 1 press release, pointed to 86 suspected overdoses in the first five months of 2020, a 56% increase compared to the same time in 2019, it said. The data is sourced from the NYPD and the city Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

“We are living through an extraordinary time. We are fighting battles no one would have expected, but still we push forward with hope and unrelenting resolve to succeed,” Katz said in a statement at the time. “Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has made the opioid epidemic even worse for those fighting for their sobriety.”

Ryan Lavis, a spokesperson for Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon, said that through June 18 there has been an apparent year-over-year increase in overdoses in the borough, from 35 to 47, based on data collected by the office’s Overdose Response Initiative which collaborates with the NYPD. Lavis emphasized that data for 2019 and 2020 is “preliminary, incomplete, and subject to change as additional information is collected, including completed toxicology reports from the Medical Examiner, which have been delayed due to the effects of COVID-19.”

The confusion in the data is part of a persistent problem, said Jasmine Budnella, drug police coordinator at Vocal-NY, an advocacy group. Budnella said that activists like herself have seen anecdotal evidence that suggests an increase in overdoses across the state. “What that looks like in actual numbers, I don't think we'll know for a long time,” she said.

The pandemic, she said, has illustrated the need to track overdoses in real-time, just as the city is tracking covid infection rates on a daily basis. “I think if we can get covid numbers out that fast, then we should be able to get overdose numbers out that fast,” she said.

Budnella noted that the pandemic has posed particular challenges for those struggling with addiction. The state and city lacked a clear plan for dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, let alone specifically for those with a substance use problem. “Covid kind of goes against everything that we tell people, like don't use alone…don't isolate,” she said. If the city had a better system to track overdoses, they could have “responded in real time to a public health crisis on top of a public health crisis,” she said.

The city did eventually respond in May, just over two months after the lockdown, rolling out a program to deliver methadone to people sick with COVID-19 or a similar illness and those at high risk of contracting the virus. The program was first piloted at certain city-run isolation hotels. Additional measures were also taken to expand eligibility for the home delivery program, which was possible after the federal government eased certain regulations for the medication.

A separate issue that Budnella raised concerns about, particularly at a time when protests to defund the police have taken place across the country, is the NYPD’s involvement in overdose investigations. Treating overdoses as a police issue, she said, could discourage people from calling 911. Budnella’s group, Vocal-NY, is among those leading the advocacy for establishing safe injection sites for people suffering from addiction. Though Mayor de Blasio has outlined a plan to create four such “Overdose Prevention Centers,” with a strong police presence around them, the city has yet to receive permission from the state to follow through.

City Council Member Mark Levine, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Council’s health committee, noted that the city has seen a staggering 5,000 more deaths above normal that haven’t been attributed directly to COVID-19 but have been caused by the conditions created by the pandemic.

“We were losing a New Yorker approximately every six hours prior to the pandemic,” he said of the overdose crisis, while noting that since then, people have lost access to primary care and addiction treatment services. “We have every reason to fear that the number of overdose deaths has only increased over the last three months.”

Levine said he is considering holding an oversight hearing to press the administration on its response to the overdose crisis, though the Council and his committee have a full docket because of the outbreak and its many impacts. Levine said he has also submitted a request to draft legislation that would require monthly reporting by the health department on the number of overdose deaths in the city.

As the Council negotiates the budget for the next fiscal year with the de Blasio administration, Levine said the city will need to invest more funds in services for people struggling with addiction. “We have to respond now by ramping up our efforts,” he said.

For those who need help, the state’s “HOPEline” is at 1-877-8-HOPENY or text 467369.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Have Drug Overdoses Spiked During the Coronavirus Crisis? It Depends Who You Ask Wed, 24 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Why New York City Must Put Educators and Counselors, Not Cops, in Charge of School Discipline https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9529-new-york-city-educators-counselors-not-cops-school-discipline https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9529-new-york-city-educators-counselors-not-cops-school-discipline makes contract pay

Mayor de Blasio gives remarks on school safety (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)


Amid protests spurred by the police killing of George Floyd, activists from Minneapolis to Chicago to New York City are pushing to reduce the presence of police in schools, and a number of school districts are heeding their call. Most recently, New York City Council Members Mark Treyger and Donovan Richards are proposing to end the ties between the New York Police Department and Department of Education. 

They have a point. Reducing the number of cops in schools need not diminish safety. However, with 25 of the nation’s largest school districts now outsourcing at least some school safety to police departments, severing those ties will require the development of new methods for de-escalating conflict. Districts will need to learn from successful experiments that engage students, teachers, and administrators in improving school culture in ways that promote both safety and learning.

The call to reduce police presence in schools follows a decades-long escalation. In the 1990s an increase in gun violence in schools led President Bill Clinton to sign The Gun Free Schools Act, which made zero-tolerance school discipline a national movement. The law initially mandated punishments for firearms possession—mandates that were later expanded to include a range of crimes and infractions. 

By 1998, in the first takeover of its kind, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani arranged for the New York police department to take command of the education department’s Division of School Safety; he did so over the objections of at least two schools chancellors. New York City has had more than 5,000 police personnel assigned to schools in recent years, equivalent to one of the largest police forces in the country; by contrast, the combined number of school counselors and social workers was less than 4,300 in 2019.

Following the shooting at Columbine High School, in Colorado in 1999, the police presence on school campuses nationwide grew steadily with so-called School Resource Officers typically hired, and paid, by local police departments. 

Violent crime and thefts in schools declined 70 percent between 1992 and 2013 even as some high schools reported an increase in discipline problems after police appeared on campus. Indeed, schools with officers reported five times the number of arrests for "disorderly conduct" as schools without them. A lack of training in “positive behavioral interventions” has led many schools to become “overly reliant” on harsh discipline and to criminalize infractions that, in the past, might have merited a scolding from the principal, according to a recent Clemson University study.

The increased police presence and zero-tolerance policies have had a particularly adverse impact on students of color. Despite efforts under the Obama administration to limit the role of police in school disciplinary matters, students of color have been targeted for suspension and arrest in large numbers nationwide. Although suspensions have declined in recent years, overall arrests have increased; Black students, who make up just 15.5 percent of all public school students, accounted for over one-third of all school arrests, according to a 2018 government study, which found that “implicit bias” was partly to blame for the increase. Black boys are arrested three times more often, and Black girls 1.5 times more often, than white boys. 

In New York City, overall suspension rates declined by 39.4 percent in the decade leading up to the 2016-17 school year. While the suspension rate of Black middle- and high-school students also declined during that period, it remained 2.8 times higher than that of white students. 

At the same time, the presence of metal detectors, security cameras, and security guards makes kids of color feel less safe in school “physically and psychologically,” according to the National Association of School Psychologists, which can, in turn, have a detrimental impact on students’ ability to learn. (Nor is there clear evidence that the use of such restrictive security equipment is “effective in preventing school violence,” according to the study.)

By contrast, research has shown a strong positive connection between nurturing school environments and learning. A recent study of high-poverty New York City schools, which looked at the impact of neighborhood violence on standardized test scores, found that the performance of students exposed to violence suffered if they attend schools with weak climates; by contrast students who attend schools perceived as both safe and “having the strongest sense of community,” suffered no reduction in test scores even if they were exposed to violence. 

Creating the kinds of nurturing environments associated with both safe schools and better education outcomes requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. Schools need to foster new methods, such as peer-mediation and behavior-management strategies that deescalate conflict and put educators—not police officers—in charge of the vast majority of discipline infractions.

Take the case of the Bayard Rustin complex of six small schools in New York City, which, in 2017, began petitioning both the education and police departments to suspend unannounced metal-detector screenings at the school building, where 96 percent of students are people of color. The screenings were conducted by the NYPD even though discipline problems in the building “are rare” and the school principals opposed them—more than 80 percent of students said they felt safe in the school building, according to education department surveys. The New York Civil Liberties Union was brought in to mediate a discussion among the schools and the education and police departments. In 2019, when the NYPD was expected to install permanent metal detectors, the students finally won a partial victory; while Bayard Rustin remained a random-screening site, permanent metal detectors were never installed. 

The battle at Bayard Rustin—and the students’ modest success in keeping out permanent metal detectors—was a school culture and curriculum that encouraged students to grapple with real-world problems. The Bayard Rustin complex is run collaboratively with educators at all six schools jointly determining the use of common spaces and policies. Three schools are members of the highly-regarded New York State Performance Standards Consortium, which allows students to complete in-depth, long-term projects, often tailored around student interests, in lieu of most standardized tests.  

The fight against metal detectors was led by Bayard Rustin students with the support of educators. Brady Smith, principal of James Baldwin, a “transfer” high school for over-age, under-credited students who struggled at previous schools, and a member of both the performance standards consortium and the progressive NYC Outward Bound network, persuaded his fellow principals to appoint a student advisory council to address the metal-detector problem. He also insisted that the student council include some “marginalized students,” noting: “A lot of schools create pathways for student leadership that appeal to a particular type of student—the extrovert, charismatic student.” For this committee, he wanted the kind of students who would focus on “issues,” rather than having “good events.” 

Similar efforts to engage students in critical problem-solving have borne fruit elsewhere. In Leander, TX, a large district outside Austin, a years-long, student-led anti-bullying campaign has not only mitigated a major problem at district schools, but created leadership opportunities for teens. The effort, fostered by teachers and administrators, grew out of a nearly four-decade commitment to a school-improvement philosophy that encourages problem-solving at all levels of the school—from students to administrators. 

Despite a growing movement to cut police budgets, too many officials still view the police as a school safety panacea. Although crime in New York City schools is at record lows, Mayor Bill de Blasio has increased the school-safety budget by 25 percent since taking office in 2014. He has also called for a 1.36 percent increase, to $427332 million, in spending on school safety officers next fiscal year, even as he plans to cut $827 million from the education department and prepares to borrow $7 billion to make up for shortfalls in the city’s operating budget. 

Getting cops out of schools will present both opportunities and challenges, especially in mitigating the kind of childhood trauma that often leads to school violence and discipline problems. As of 2017, nearly 29 percent of the school incidents in New York City involving police or safety agents involved a “child in crisis,” and resulted in the child being taken to a hospital for a psychological evaluation; by contrast, only 12 percent of the incidents resulted in an arrest. 

For the transition to be successful, the education department will need to retrain school safety officers, especially in so-called restorative justice practices that include addressing sources of friction before they escalate, and working with both victims and the accused to develop long-term solutions, and to “foster understanding”  and “impose fair punishment.” And as principals take charge of supervising school safety, the department may also need to reduce some administrative burdens now shouldered by school administrators. 

In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, students who have spent months under lockdown have suffered increased depression and anxiety that can impede learning—the kind of trauma that most benefits from mediation by educators and counselors, and not police.

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Andrea Gabor is Bloomberg Chair of Business Journalism at Baruch College/CUNY and author of After the Education Wars (The New Press, June 2018). On Twitter @aagabor.

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

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Why New York City Must Put Educators and Counselors, Not Cops, in Charge of School Discipline Tue, 23 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000