Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1943 Mon, 09 Dec 2019 02:47:00 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Turnout, Ballot Questions, & Dropoff: How New York City Voted in 2019 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8931-turnout-ballot-questions-how-new-york-city-voted-in-2019 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8931-turnout-ballot-questions-how-new-york-city-voted-in-2019 voting new york city

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


A year after the 2018 election cycle, when insurgent candidates and heightened political participation helped drive a wave of New Yorkers to the polls, voter turnout in the city this fall continued the trend. While still low as a percentage of registered voters, the 15 percent turnout was far higher than previous off-year elections.

While many attribute the recent increases in voter participation to a Trump effect, the particulars of this year’s city ballot, including key items not present in the corresponding cycle four years ago, may also have had an effect: a citywide Public Advocate election and five ballot questions offering New Yorkers the chance to approve or reject changes to city elections and governance.

Yet while the series of proposed city charter amendments may have motivated some voters to the polls, new analysis shows the questions did not generate as much interest as the public advocate candidates at the top (and front) of the ballot.

New maps created by Steven Romalewski, director of the Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center, using voter turnout data from the New York City Board of Elections show that, while turnout was relatively high across the board, there was significant drop-off from the top and front of the ballot -- where candidate races are listed -- to the ballot proposals on the back.

Romalewski’s analysis also shows the places where turnout was highest (Upper West Side, Brooklyn Heights, and Park Slope) and lowest (parts of the southern Bronx and southern Brooklyn) and illustrates where voters seemed especially motivated to vote on the charter changes.

Of the nearly 4.8 million active registered voters in New York City, 15 percent went to the polls over the two weeks they were open this fall, according to still-unofficial city turnout data and the most recent state voter registration numbers released at the beginning of November. By comparison, in the 2015 general election turnout was just 6 percent, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board, though there was no citywide race or charter amendments on the ballot that year.

The increased turnout follows an election last year where turnout was uncommonly high at 39.1 percent, according to the Campaign Finance Board. It also coincides with a number of long-sought voting reforms passed by the State Legislature after Democrats took control of both chambers following the so-called “blue wave” elections of 2018. Among them was early voting, a change advocates argued would improve access to the ballot box, which went into effect this fall. For the first time, city voters had the opportunity to vote early at 61 assigned poll sites over the course of nine days leading up to Election Day, November 5, when thousands of traditional poll sites opened citywide.

The highest profile race this fall was for public advocate, the only citywide elected office on the ballot, where Democratic incumbent Jumaane Williams beat Republican City Council Member Joe Borelli and Libertarian nominee Devin Balkind to keep the seat he had won earlier this year in a nonpartisan special election.

Williams won handily with nearly 78 percent of the vote in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans close to seven to one. In addition to Williams’ race, as well as a City Council contest to fill the seat he vacated and a handful of judicial races, the ballot contained the five referenda encompassing 19 charter amendments put forward by the 2019 Charter Revision Commission.

Voters overwhelmingly approved all five questions, with the 19 proposals dealing with elections and governance, by between 71 and 77 percent.

In five maps provided to Gotham Gazette, Romalewski breaks down turnout data and ballot referenda voting by Assembly district using unofficial election night results in which roughly nine out of ten ballot scanners were counted. Official results are expected to be certified soon.

In the areas with the highest turnout, like the Upper West Side, Brooklyn Heights, and Park Slope, nearly 24 percent of registered voters cast ballots for public advocate, according to the analysis. The neighborhoods with the lowest turnout, like the West Bronx, Mott Haven, Parkchester, and Bensonhurst saw just 10 percent or less of registered voters go to the polls (see map below).

pubadv roma map

The Upper West Side and Brooklyn Heights saw close to the same high turnout on proposal 5 as they did for public advocate -- 22.4 percent (see map below). But much larger regions had turnout rates of 10 percent or less: all but three Bronx Assembly districts fall into this category, as well as Corona, East Elmhurst, and Flushing, Queens.

prop5 roma map

A vast majority of Assembly districts saw drop-off of between 1,000 and 2,889 votes from the top of the ballot to the back of it. The districts that saw the smallest drop-off -- under 1,000 votes -- were in parts of Lower Manhattan, the Upper East Side, Williamsburg and parts of the borough’s southern tier. The worst drop-off was in Upper Manhattan, the South Bronx, Eastern Queens, and parts of Central Brooklyn.

patoprop5 roma map

Despite what then-Public Advocate Letitia James described in July 2018 as “a rare opportunity to fundamentally change the future of our City” when the charter commission was empanelled through her legislation with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a number of factors may have contributed to the drop-off on ballot proposals by the time the votes were cast.

Among them are the miniscule, 7.5-point font the ballot questions were printed in and the large amount of detail contained in each one. Another might be the limited public education conducted by government agencies in the run-up to the early voting period, or the fact that many of the city’s most prominent officials did not express positions on the proposals. There’s also the fact that the commission did not propose particularly sweeping changes to how city government functions, though ranked-choice voting, part of the first ballot question, is a major change.

All but one Assembly district in Queens, where there was a notable district attorney race, saw drop-off of more than 1,500 votes between the public advocate race and the fifth ballot proposal -- meaning many Queens voters were not taking stock of their entire ballot.

One district -- Assembly District 59 in Brooklyn -- had a drop-off of roughly a thousand more voters than any other district in Romalewski’s maps. That drop-off could actually be smaller because data for that district was available from only 78 percent of ballot scanners, compared to between 85 and 99 percent of scanners in most of the other districts, he explained in an email. When they are all counted the gap may shrink.

Another, and perhaps more notable, outlier is Assembly District 48 -- spanning Borough Park and Midwood, Brooklyn -- where there was actually a greater number of ballots marked for or against Question 1 than public advocate by 76 votes, according to one map (see below). Given its inclusion of ranked-choice voting, Question 1 was perhaps the most consequential and controversial of the ballot measures, especially among certain officials and groups. According to the unofficial election night results, voters in District 48 rejected Proposal 1 by a margin of 4,058 to 1,545, and the other four proposals by similar margins.

patoprop1 roma map

Ranked-choice voting, which for party primary and special elections will let voters list up to five candidates by preference rather than selecting a single top choice, received significant attention in the weeks leading up to Election Day, with groups campaigning for and against the proposal. The biggest proponents of the new method were a coalition of good government groups, voting rights advocates, and elected officials, which spent close to $1 million on advertising for it.

But five days ahead of Election Day, a group of city and state elected officials representing Orthodox Jewish communities in the Midwood area of Brooklyn began appearing in digital, print, and radio ads urging voters to reject all five ballot proposals, according to data from the Campaign Finance Board. The images of Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein, who represents District 48, along with State Senator Simcha Felder and City Council Members Kalman Yeger and Chaim Deutsch graced the English- and Hebrew-language ads, often accompanied by text reading: “If approved, these proposals will waste money, make our streets more dangerous and give our community less say in our city government. Help protect our voice.”

A total of $22,150 was spent on the ads over five days, according to campaign finance filings. They were paid for by the Police Benevolent Association Independent Expenditure Committee, which was also pouring money into a parallel campaign to defeat a proposal, in Question 2, that would enhance civilian oversight of the NYPD. The PBA spent a total of $139,626 on its “Vote No on Question 2” campaign, which includes the $22,150 geared toward Orthodox Jewish voters.

Two days before Election Day, the City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus also spent $5,000 on leaflets opposing ranked-choice voting, even though some of its members were proponents of a yes vote on Question 1.

One map shows that not only was there relatively high turnout for public advocate -- between 15,000 and 24,200 votes -- in the western half of lower Manhattan, as many as 99 percent of those voters also voted for or against proposal 5 on the back. The same map shows a number of districts where turnout was as low as 4,145 and down-ballot drop-off was between 25 and 33 percent. Those districts fall mostly in northeast Queens and the South Bronx (see map below).

prop5percentpubadv roma map

But in Assembly District 48, the opposite was true: voters there cast ballots for public advocate in relatively small numbers (between 4,145 and 7,500) but those that did were highly motivated to vote on the ballot proposals as well. As many as 99 percent of them voted on proposal 5 at the end of the ballot, Romalewski pointed out in an email.

While all five ballot questions passed citywide and in almost every borough, Staten Island voters rejected three of them, including the ranked-choice voting and police oversight proposals (Questions 1 and 2, respectively), as well as one related to the city budget (Question 4). The widest vote margin of the rejected proposals on Staten Island, where voters tend to be more conservative than the rest of the city and where many police officers live, was on the police-related reforms.

There, in addition to the PBA campaign against the police oversight amendments, several local elected officials joined PBA President Pat Lynch and other law enforcement union leaders days before Election Day to rally in opposition to the proposal. Borelli, who received nearly twice as many votes on Staten Island as Williams in the public advocate race, was among them.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated.

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Turnout, Ballot Questions, & Dropoff: How New York City Voted in 2019 Thu, 21 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
After Ballot Proposal Spending, Council Member Eyes Expansion of Independent Expenditure Disclosure https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8918-city-council-expand-law-requiring-independent-expenditure-disclosures https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8918-city-council-expand-law-requiring-independent-expenditure-disclosures 107 123 c3560 1

One PBA IE on 2019 ballot question 2 (photo via Campaign Finance Board filing)


Just after an election where the issue became especially apparent, a New York City lawmaker is planning to introduce legislation to close a loophole that has allowed independent expenditure committees to shield donors when they spend money to sway voters on ballot proposals. The potential change in city law would bring certain donor disclosure rules in line with state regulations and extend other city regulations to what is already required for political spending on candidates by groups outside the candidate campaign.

The move by Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander comes five years after the city enacted disclosure regulations on independent expenditures for candidates and following two consecutive general elections where city charter revision referenda went before voters.

In the most recent election, just completed, three groups -- each with its own independent expenditure committee registered with the state -- spent over $1 million either in support of or in opposition to ballot proposals. None of those entities had to disclose their contributors to the city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB), forcing members of the public to navigate a labyrinth of city and state databases in order to get the most complete picture of the influence of large political spenders. Nor did the independent expenditure committees have to follow a city law mandating such groups disclose their top three donors on communications with voters, a regulation in place for promoting or disparaging candidates.

“In 2014, we created a great law to provide disclosure for independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, and there is already evidence that it is working,” Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette. “This year, the first significant expenditure on behalf of a ballot measure revealed to us the need to expand our disclosure rules, already among the strongest in the nation for candidates, to cover spending for ballot measures as well.”

“I am working on introducing legislation to do just that, to ensure that the same level of transparency applies across the ballot,” he said. Lander was the lead sponsor on the 2014 legislation that created the new independent expenditure transparency requirements. It came just after the city’s raucous 2013 election cycle when IEs played a significant role in the first mayoral race following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, among other local elections where such spenders sought influence.

Lander’s stated plan comes days after the CFB issued a recommendation to the City Council suggesting lawmakers close gaps in the city’s campaign finance laws. Those gaps became more evident as spending around the ballot questions picked up in the days leading up to the general election this fall. Following the CFB recommendation, the Daily News Editorial Board endorsed the idea of closing the loophole.

In a press release issued Thursday, the CFB asked the Council to consider legislation that would amend the campaign finance laws in the City Charter to require independent expenditure committees to disclose their contributors to the CFB via its online portal; and publish “paid-for-by” notices on electioneering materials -- both of which are already required for spending on behalf of candidates under the 2014 law.

The City Charter also requires organizations making contributions of $50,000 or more to independent spenders on behalf of candidates to disclose all donors who gave more than $25,000 in the preceding 12 months.

Under the CFB recommendation, the paid-for-by notices would include a list of the independent spender’s top three donors as well as a weblink to the agency’s online portal, where the public can view detailed information on political spending. The aptly-titled “Follow the Money” portal presently contains details on how much was spent on political campaigns by independent expenditure committees, including what the spending went to and when it was spent, with images and videos of each ad posted or aired.

But that is the extent to which the public can follow the money through the CFB’s relatively user-friendly online resource. To find out who is bankrolling the independent expenditure committees, interested parties must visit the State Board of Elections’ cumbersome financial disclosure webpage where the information is largely decentralized.

“New York City has the country’s strongest disclosure requirements and resources for independent expenditures. Unfortunately, when it comes to ballot proposals, our law has a blind spot,” said CFB Executive Director Amy Loprest in the Thursday press release.

“Bringing the disclosure for ballot proposals in line with the requirements for independent expenditures about candidates will provide voters with important information that will help them cast informed votes, and we urge the Council to take action,” the statement reads.

For the past two general elections, New York City voters have had the opportunity to approve or reject City Charter amendments proposed by successive Charter Revision Commissions. Charter commissions can be empanelled by the mayor or through City Council legislation to examine the city’s central body of laws, take public testimony, and make recommendations for reform.

This year, the Charter Revision Commission was created by the City Council in conjunction with then-Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. The commission put five questions on the ballot, together containing 19 distinct amendments, dealing with a range of city election and governance issues.

In the weeks leading up to the start of the nine-day early voting period in late October, and Election Day on November 5, three independent expenditure committees together spent roughly $1.15 million urging voters to cast ballots either for or against one or more of the proposals. All five questions were overwhelmingly approved by voters citywide.

The vast majority of independent spending was around Question 1, which contained an amendment that would bring ranked-choice voting to certain New York City elections. The voting method, which allows voters to list candidates in order of preference rather than making a single all-or-nothing choice, was backed by a coalition of good government reformers and elected officials under an independent expenditure committee called “Committee for Ranked Choice Voting NYC.” The committee spent a total of $986,017 on digital, TV, and direct mail advertising between mid-September and Election Day, according to the CFB portal.

But, while the principals of the committee are required to be reported to the CFB, the committee’s funders are not. According to the Daily News editorial, which analyzed data from the State Board of Elections, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting had received a total of $1,996,948.33, of which 90 percent is from just four large contributors.

Ballot Question 2, which dealt with police oversight, also saw significant spending, but to vote down the proposal. That campaign was waged by the city’s largest police officer union.

While there were independent expenditures made for and against ballot proposals in the 2018 general election, the total independent spending on those campaigns was a much smaller $125,659, according to the CFB portal.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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After Ballot Proposal Spending, Council Member Eyes Expansion of Independent Expenditure Disclosure Tue, 12 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Police Union Spends on Ads to Defeat Ballot Question 2 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8890-police-union-pba-spends-on-ads-to-defeat-ballot-question-2-ccrb-nypd https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8890-police-union-pba-spends-on-ads-to-defeat-ballot-question-2-ccrb-nypd pba ie need help q2 2019

(photo: Police Benevolent Association Independent Expenditure Committee)


The city’s largest police union is spending significantly to defeat a ballot proposal that experts say will bolster the authority and performance of the civilian city agency tasked with investigating alleged misconduct and abuse of power by NYPD officers.

Voters are being presented five “yes” or “no” questions on the back of this fall’s ballot that propose 19 specific changes to the city charter. If approved by voters, Question 2 would enhance the operational capacity of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), the oversight agency, and make some cases of lying to its investigators a form of police misconduct under its jurisdiction.

The Police Benevolent Association, which represents 24,000 rank-and-file NYPD officers, has been vociferously opposing that question and, as of Tuesday afternoon, had reported roughly $127,000 in independent expenditures on communications to defeat it on the ballot.

According to independent expenditure disclosures reported to the city’s Campaign Finance Board, the PBA began spending on print ads and mass mailing last Monday. Over five days, the union spent $59,547.84 on print ads and another $68,083.32 on mass mailings.

The communications contain messages describing the CCRB as biased against police officers and the ballot question as a power grab by the civilian agency. They contain images of protestors or the apparent aftermath of violent crime.

The text on one ad reads: “Political extremists and cop-haters have been attacking police officers in the streets for years. Now, they’re doing it at the ballot box.” In large letters in the margins are the words, “If you stay home, they win.”

It is unclear exactly where the PBA campaign funding is coming from. By city law, donations to independent expenditure committees focused on ballot referenda -- unlike IEs supporting candidates -- do not have to publicly disclose their contributors, according to a New York City Campaign Finance Board spokesperson. But the spokesperson said that state law does require such reporting, but no disclosures have been published on the state Board of Elections website, where they should appear if filed.

The proposed amendments on the ballot were developed by a charter revision commission with commissioners appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, the New York City Council, Comptroller Scott Stringer, then-Public Advocate Letitia James, and the five borough presidents. Its job was to explore the city charter and propose reforms directly to voters that could not be easily accomplished through the city’s usual lawmaking process.

In addition to Question 2 related to the CCRB, the questions include amendments in four other areas: elections, ethics and governance, budget, and land use.

In addition to the provision on police lying, which has surfaced as the most controversial proposal, CCRB officials and police reform advocates say Question 2 would help the civilian agency achieve its mandate to investigate, substantiate, and prosecute complaints of misconduct and abuse of power by police officers. The proposed amendment would give the CCRB a guaranteed baseline in annual budget negotiations and would allow its Board members to delegate subpoena power to the executive director. It would also expand the size of the Board and slightly alter who makes appointments to it. And it would codify an agreement between the NYPD and CCRB requiring the police commissioner to provide justification when rejecting a CCRB disciplinary recommendation.

Gotham Gazette first reported that the PBA launched a campaign imploring its members and allies to vote “no” on Question 2 last week.

City Council Members Joe Borelli and Bob Holden will hold a rally with PBA President Pat Lynch and other law enforcement union leaders on Staten Island Thursday to urge the public to vote “no” on Question 2.

Borelli, who is the Republican nominee for public advocate, recently told Gotham Gazette that while he opposes Question 2 and will be voting against it, he sees favorably the provision to bring suspected false police statements under CCRB jurisdiction.

“If that was a stand-alone bill I’d probably support that,” he said in an interview earlier this month. “Because what is the point of having a court if you can’t validate a statement people make while they are swearing...before it. That to me is not a problem.”

With its 24,000 members, the PBA campaign could be particularly impactful in what is expected to be a low turnout election. The digital ads appear to have first been posted on the website and on the PBA’s social media accounts last Monday, and posters have been reportedly up in precincts for the last month, according to the Daily News. It is unclear who the recipients of the mailers have been.

In response to the PBA ads, the CCRB published a fact sheet on its website aimed at dispelling what it called “myth” being promoted by the police officers union.

Each PBA ad includes a disclaimer noting it was paid for by the Police Benevolent Association Independent Expenditure Committee, which is not required on material promoting ballot referenda, according to a Campaign Finance Board official. Unlike independent expenditures for candidates, committees promoting a vote on ballot referenda are also not required to disclose contributors. In this case, the PBA has not reported any of its contributors.

By comparison, the only other independent expenditures reported to the Campaign Finance Board for this fall’s election were made by Committee for Ranked Choice Voting NYC, backed by a coalition of election reformers and elected officials who support a new voting method for some city elections, contained in Question 1. The group has spent roughly $447,000 in support of Question 1, and has disclosed the sources of approximately $83,000 in contributions.

No independent expenditures in support of Question 2 have been reported to the Campaign Finance Board. Voters can cast their ballots during the current early voting period through November 3, or on Election Day, November 5.

[READ: There are NYPD Oversight Measures on the Ballot - How Significant are They?]

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated with additional information and clarification around city and state disclosure requirements for spending by IEs related to ballot referenda.

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Police Union Spends on Ads to Defeat Ballot Question 2 Wed, 30 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Civilian Complaint Review Board Refutes Police Union's 'Myths' About Ballot Proposals and Its NYPD Oversight Work https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8884-civilian-complaint-review-board-responds-to-police-union-pba-nypd-charter-ballot https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8884-civilian-complaint-review-board-responds-to-police-union-pba-nypd-charter-ballot mayor pd comm

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


The Civilian Complaint Review Board has responded to the Police Benevolent Association’s efforts to kill a ballot referendum that would enhance the agency’s powers. The CCRB began promoting a fact sheet on its website and social media Friday aimed at “correcting misinformation” days after the launch of the PBA’s campaign, calling the union’s communications “myth” as it seeks a “no” vote on ballot question two.

Last week, the PBA began urging its members and allies to vote “no” on the ballot proposal before voters this fall and has a statement of opposition to the measure in the city’s official voter guide, Gotham Gazette first reported. The set of proposals -- question two of five -- would amend the city charter to expand the CCRB’s operational capacity and jurisdiction, while also tweaking how appointments to the board are made and requiring more transparency and communication from the police commissioner.

All five ballot questions contain proposed changes to the charter developed by a multilateral commission tasked with examining the city’s central governing document. Voters can approve or disapprove of each during the October 26-November 3 early voting period or on Election Day, November 5.

Question 2 on the ballot includes four changes that CCRB officials say would improve the administration of its mandate and a fifth that would expand its jurisdiction to allow it to look into allegations of officers suspected of lying while under investigation for misconduct.

The administrative changes would allow the Board to delegate subpoena power to the executive director and guarantee its budget based on a formula tied to the NYPD’s officer headcount. The proposals would also increase the size and appointments to the Board and require the police commissioner to explain to the CCRB when deviating from the agency’s disciplinary recommendations.

Police reform advocates and the CCRB chair, Fred Davie, believe the changes to the city charter amount to a small shift in the powers and performance of the agency but will add layers of accountability to the police department. The CCRB is a civilian agency separate from the NYPD and tasked with investigating civilian-reported complaints of police officer misconduct in a limited set of circumstances: when excessive force or offensive language may have been used, or when police officers are said to have abused their authority or acted discourteously.

In opposing the proposed reforms in Question 2, the PBA, the city’s largest law enforcement union, posted to its website and social media claims that the measure constituted a large-scale “power grab” by a police oversight agency with a history of “anti-police bias.”

Debate over the ballot measure comes just months after the CCRB prosecuted Officer Daniel Pantaleo for misconduct in the arrest that led to Eric Garner’s death on Staten Island in 2014. That departmental trial led to Pantaleo’s dismissal by NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill despite the PBA’s assertion that Pantaleo did nothing wrong.

The CCRB fact sheet attempts to illuminate seven of what the page refers to as “myths” promulgated by the PBA as part of its campaign against the ballot measure.

Citing a statement of opposition submitted by the PBA and published in the city’s voter guide, the CCRB takes issue with the police union’s description of Question 2 as giving the CCRB “sweeping new powers.” The fact sheet emphasizes that only one of the charter changes -- the one dealing with suspected police lying -- would constitute a wholly new power. It notes, “The Board already has the authority to subpoena evidence,” and allowing it to delegate that power to the executive director simply makes the process “more efficient.”

The PBA statement in the voter guide, which is published by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Board, also says Question 2 would “drastically” increase the CCRB’s budget. If approved, Question 2 would guarantee the budget large enough to support a CCRB staff size equal to .65 percent of the police department’s headcount of uniformed officers. The fact sheet points out that the current budget ratio this year was only slightly lower, at .59 percent, than what would be guaranteed under the proposed amendment.

“Under this new requirement, we would continue to work closely with the Office of Management and Budget to determine the amount of funding necessary to maintain this level of staffing,” wrote CCRB Executive Director Jonathan Darche in an email to Gotham Gazette.

In its voter guide statement, the PBA asserts the ballot measure would “reduce the authority of the Police Commissioner.”

The CCRB fact sheet refutes that, stating: “The Police Commissioner would maintain the same level of authority over discipline, but the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau would no longer be solely responsible for investigating false official statements made by officers during a CCRB investigation.”

The fact sheet does not mention the proposed change that would require by law the police commissioner to explain in writing any decision to impose a lesser form of discipline than the one recommended by the CCRB. That requirement already exists under a 2012 memorandum of understanding between the NYPD and CCRB, and would be codified in the city charter if Question 2 is passed by voters.

The CCRB also points to posts from the PBA’s Twitter account that accuse the CCRB of harboring “rampant anti-police bias” and calling it “an outrageously dysfunctional agency.” In response the CCRB cites its mandate to conduct “fact-based investigations of police misconduct” and points out that, according to its rules, one of each three-member panel, which make decisions on CCRB cases, must be a Board member designated by the Police Commissioner. On the matter of alleged agency dysfunction, the fact sheet points to upward trends over the last five years in number of cases closed and mediated.

In another tweet, the PBA stated: “By encouraging their clients to file false & frivolous CCRB complaints, [“criminal advocates”] can sidetrack court cases and get guilty gang members, drug dealers & thieves out of jail.” In response to this, the CCRB cites data on the number of unsubstantiated misconduct allegations it has processed.

“Of the allegations closed in 2018, 463, or 8% of total allegations, were unfounded,” the fact sheet states. It adds: “In the past decade, only 52 complainants have ever been found by the Agency to have made repeated unfounded complaints against officers.”

One of the PBA claims appears to refer directly to the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, the body that devised the proposed amendments, rather than to the CCRB. In a tweet kicking-off its vote “no” campaign last Monday, the PBA wrote, “Political extremists and cop-haters have been attacking NYC police officers in the streets for years. Now, they're doing it at the ballot box.”

In its fact sheet, the CCRB responds: “The Charter Commission, which ultimately decided what would and wouldn’t be on the ballot this year, was comprised of 15 members of varying backgrounds and degrees of support for police oversight. The Charter Commission Members were appointed by elected officials including the Mayor, Borough Presidents, and City Council Speaker.” City Comptroller Scott Stringer and then-Public Advocate Letitia James also appointed members.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Civilian Complaint Review Board Refutes Police Union's 'Myths' About Ballot Proposals and Its NYPD Oversight Work Mon, 28 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Police Officers Union Launches Campaign to Defeat NYPD Oversight Ballot Measure https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8867-police-officers-union-launches-campaign-to-defeat-nypd-oversight-ballot-measure https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8867-police-officers-union-launches-campaign-to-defeat-nypd-oversight-ballot-measure mayors office promotion

PBA President Pat Lynch, second from left (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


The Policemen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s largest law enforcement union, launched on Monday a campaign against ballot proposals aimed at strengthening police oversight. 

The PBA is urging its members and their allies to vote “no” on Question 2 on the ballot this fall in hopes of scuttling potential changes to the way the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) investigates and prosecutes officers accused of misconduct. A New York City charter revision commission has placed five questions with 19 proposals on the ballot this year, with voting across the city set to begin October 26 with early voting and conclude on Election Day, November 5.

In a statement posted to the PBA’s Twitter account at 9:35 a.m. on Monday, the union wrote, “Political extremists and cop-haters have been attacking NYC police officers in the streets for years. Now, they're doing it at the ballot box. Don't let the criminal advocates expand @CCRB_NYC's power. VOTE NO ON BALLOT QUESTION #2 #VoteNoOn2”. 

Accompanying the message is an image of an apparent protestor with most of their face hidden by a bandana and a Guy Fawkes mask, holding a Blue Lives Matter flag upside-down with the words, “F*** THE POLICE,” written across it (the union appears to have censored the expletive). Scrolling around the figure and the flag reads the text: “Do you know what’s on your ballot? Because they know…”

The same image and message is on the PBA website homepage. When clicked the ad directs readers to a page where they must enter their member log-in credentials to access what is posted.

Question 2 on the ballot contains five changes to the CCRB’s jurisdiction and operations. They include expanding the number of appointments to the board and who makes them; giving the executive director subpoena power; guaranteeing the CCRB’s budget; and requiring the police commissioner to provide an explanation when deviating from the board’s disciplinary recommendations. 

And the fifth and perhaps most controversial of the proposed CCRB amendments is an expansion of the Board’s jurisdiction to allow it to investigate officers suspected of lying to CCRB investigators. Currently, the agency must refer those cases to the NYPD even if it has proof an officer has lied while under investigation. The amendment is limited to apply only to officers already under CCRB investigation for other types of misconduct under its jurisdiction.

The PBA has also submitted a statement of opposition to the city’s Campaign Finance Board to be included in its Voter Guide, which illuminates the union’s position on the proposed amendment. “Ballot Question #2 would give CCRB sweeping new powers and drastically increase its budget,” the statement reads. “It should not be adopted. CCRB is a dysfunctional, ineffective agency, and increasing its authority would harm police officers and have serious ramifications for public safety.” 

The statement claims strengthening the CCRB would “embolden anti-police extremists, and reduce the authority of the Police Commissioner.” 

The CCRB is an all-civilian agency separate from the police department, though its Board often includes former NYPD officers. It is charged with substantiating certain misconduct complaints, prosecuting officers in departmental trial settings, and recommending discipline to the police commissioner. The Board is appointed by the mayor with eight of its 13 members nominated by the City Council and police commissioner. Under the city charter, the CCRB’s jurisdiction is limited to four types of civilian complaints: excessive use of force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, and offensive language, and it can only investigate when a complaint is filed.

Police reform advocates and CCRB Chair Fred Davie believe the proposed changes would help the board carry out its mandate as outlined in the charter. 

“Let me just say, generally, I cannot advocate for anyone to go out and vote in favor of these proposals. But I think I’m free to talk about how I view their impact on the agency,” said Davie in an interview with Gotham Gazette earlier this month.

“And I think, on the whole, they are good for the agency and will help to advance civilian oversight of certain disciplinary aspects of the NYPD, those that fall within our jurisdiction,” he added. 

Referring to the proposal to bring suspected officer lying under the CCRB’s authority, Davie said, “Obviously, I think we should be able to investigate those. I think that...it adds integrity to the process. It adds another level of accountability.”

A representative from Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) Action Fund, the political arm of a coalition of police reform and civil rights activists, said the group is urging voters to vote “yes” on Question 2. In an email sent to Gotham Gazette Monday, Monifa Bandele of MomsRising Together and the CPR Action Fund said, “Condoning false statements by police is dangerous for everyone, which is why CPR Action Fund is calling on all New Yorkers to vote Yes on 2 - to help ensure that the CCRB can investigate these incidents.”

“New Yorkers are increasingly rejecting racist and baseless fear-mongering by the police unions who protested the firing of the officer who killed Eric Garner,” the statement continued. “The latest bad-faith attempts by the PBA to advocate for police to be above the law and undermine the democratic process with lies is despicable." 

The Sergeants Benevolent Association and the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association do not appear to be waging parallel campaigns to the PBA’s. Representatives from the PBA, SBA, and COBA did not respond to requests for comments. According to the PBA website, the union represents approximately 24,000 current members of the NYPD.

In a second tweet posted at 12:07 p.m. Monday, the PBA quoted an article published in the New York Post in 2016 about a 2014 CCRB investigation carried out without a complaint on file. “‘The CCRB is so anti-cop that it is now accusing highly decorated officers of misconduct--even when no complaints are filed against them,” the tweet reads.

“This is a power grab by an agency with rampant anti-police bias. On Nov 5th VOTE NO ON BALLOT QUESTION #2,” the post continues, along with, “#VoteNoOn2,” a hashtag that currently appears more popular in states with stronger referendum traditions than in New York. 

Like the other four ballot questions, Question 2 had not received any organized public opposition before the PBA’s campaign launched Monday. In fact, the only organized advocacy around the proposals at all has been by a coalition of voting reformers who are pushing voters to approve Question 1, which would institute a ranked-choice voting system in some New York City elections.

The other three ballot questions deal with issues in the categories of ethics and governance, city budget, and land use.

As of Monday, the PBA has not reported any independent expenditures with the Campaign Finance Board, according to Matthew Sollars, the agency’s director of public relations. Independent campaign spending must be publicly disclosed if it exceeds $1,000 to promote or oppose a ballot proposal or candidate, but the filing deadline for expenditures made up to and including Monday is not until the end of the week.

With few consequential races on the ballot, this election is expected to have especially low turnout. Only the citywide public advocate, the Queens district attorney, and a handful of judicial seats are up for election. Ballot referenda in New York tend to have even lower response rates than other contests on Election Day.

This year, voters will have the opportunity to cast ballots at early voting sites from October 26 to November 3, or on Election Day, Tuesday, November 5.

[Read: There are NYPD Oversight Measures on the Ballot - How Significant are They?]

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Police Officers Union Launches Campaign to Defeat NYPD Oversight Ballot Measure Mon, 21 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 7.42%, with Labor Commissioner Bob Linn https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7829-what-s-the-data-point-7-42-with-labor-commissioner-bob-linn https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7829-what-s-the-data-point-7-42-with-labor-commissioner-bob-linn whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 48 -- 7.42% with Bob Linn [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

bob linn on wtdp ben maria

Bob Linn has one of the hardest, most complicated, and under-the-radar jobs in city government: he runs the labor relations department and negotiates contracts with the city's many municipal labor unions. Linn joined the podcast to discuss his career in labor relations, both from the city side and the union side, but mainly his work under Mayor Bill de Blasio negotiating contracts that impact hundreds of thousands of city works and the rest of New Yorkers who rely on those workers and how their contracts impact city finances.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 7.42%, with Labor Commissioner Bob Linn Fri, 27 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Unions Max Out to Council Speaker’s Inauguration Committee https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7538-labor-unions-max-out-to-council-speaker-s-inauguration-committee https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7538-labor-unions-max-out-to-council-speaker-s-inauguration-committee Corey Johnson Stuart Applebaum

Above: Speaker Johnson and Stuart Applebaum (photos: William Alatriste/City Council)


Political action committees affiliated with prominent unions in the city invested heavily in the 2017 municipal election cycle, contributing to candidates in races for City Council, borough-wide and citywide positions. And that giving continued after the election was over, with many of the same unions having another opportunity to donate to elected officials. The new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson was one of the beneficiaries of that giving, taking in maximum-allowable donations from several union-linked PACs for his transition and inauguration committee.

During the January 22-31 period, which came after Johnson was formally elected to lead the Council, the new speaker’s transition and inauguration entity (TIE) took in $31,500 in 14 donations from political action committees, according to disclosures filed with the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Ten of the donations were for the maximum amount of $2,750 that donors can give to City Council candidates.

The committee spent $31,254 on Johnson’s inauguration, which was hosted at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Midtown Manhattan. Johnson was sworn in by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, with several prominent Democratic elected officials and party leaders in attendance including members of Congress, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and dozens of Council members.

Most of the maximum donations to Johnson’s TIE came from groups that had already maxed out to his reelection campaign -- during which he faced no significant competition but generously moved money to colleagues’ campaigns as he sought their support for his speaker bid -- effectively meaning that they gave him $5,500 in total.

Those PACs, many associated with major labor unions, include the 32BJ United American Dream Fund, New York Hotel Trades Council’s PAC, the Local 6 Committee on Political Education, the Doctors Council SEIU COPE, the Mason Tenders’ District Council PAC, and the United Federation of Teachers.

A few PACs didn’t donate to Johnson’s reelection committee but did so for his transition, after his election as speaker, while others gave larger donations to his transition after giving to his reelection. The Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union PAC, for instance, gave Johnson’s transition committee $2,750 after only a $1,000 donation to his reelection effort, while the Building and Constructions Trades Council PAC gave $2,750 to the transition after foregoing a contribution to his reelection. Others like the Council of School Supervisors PAC gave lower contributions to the transition committee after having already donated to his reelection.

“We want the new Speaker to be successful, and we wanted to support his transition efforts and his agenda for working New Yorkers,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, in a statement. “We have contributed to him in the past for both of his elections to the city council; and we would expect to contribute to him again in the future. When he first ran for city council, his campaign operation was located in our offices.”

Johnson’s transition fundraising is barely a drop in the bucket compared with his own campaign, which raised more than $505,000 and spent about $416,000. But the contributions are a window into the groups, many of them with business before the city, seeking to curry favor with the leader of the city’s legislative body.

The Hotel Trades Council, the largest hotel workers union in the country, whose PAC donated generously to Johnson, has been pushing for stronger regulations against home-sharing services such as Airbnb. Metropolitan Public Strategies, a political consulting group with ties to HTC, also helped Johnson in his bid for the speakership. Just last month, Johnson, who has long-running ties to HTC, promised a strong crackdown on illegal hotels and illegal Airbnb listings.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association PAC, affiliated with the largest uniformed police officers union in the city, also gave to Johnson, both for his reelection and his transition. The PBA stepped up its involvement in local races in the 2017 election cycle, hoping to increase the sway it holds over members of a body that has, in the last few years, proposed and passed a slew of policing reforms.

In December, three weeks before the speaker vote, Johnson was among the majority of Council Members who voted to pass a controversial police reform package known as the Right to Know Act. One of the two bills in the final package, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, was roundly criticized, both by police reform advocates for being watered down at the behest of the mayor and the NYPD, and by the PBA for being a cumbersome burden on police officers. Chris Coffey, a consultant at Tusk Strategies, represents the PBA and is also a close advisor to Johnson, having worked on his speaker bid.

Many labor unions have exercised strong influence over legislation under the previous class of the City Council and through de Blasio’s first term. One notable example is 32BJ SEIU, the building-service workers union, which played an active role in shaping a package of legislation related to non-unionized fast-food workers, down to the very bill language, according to a Politico New York report.

Neither a spokesperson for Johnson's campaign nor a spokesperson for Johnson's City Council office returned a request for comment for this article.

This year wasn’t the first time Johnson created a transition committee. After the 2013 cycle, when he was first elected to the Council, he raised $35,147 and spent $34,831 on his inauguration. Of the 22 donations he received that year, however, only five came from PACs.

Along with Johnson, several other elected officials also created TIEs. Save for Mayor de Blasio,  -- who raised about $78,000 and spent about $77,000 on his transition -- Johnson outspent all the others including Comptroller Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to note that RWDSU donated $1,000 to Corey Johnson's reelection effort.  

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Unions Max Out to Council Speaker’s Inauguration Committee Mon, 12 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Oversight Bill Moves Ahead, with Police Union Opposition But De Blasio Support https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7148-police-oversight-bill-moves-ahead-with-police-union-opposition-but-de-blasio-support https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7148-police-oversight-bill-moves-ahead-with-police-union-opposition-but-de-blasio-support de Blasio Jumaane Williams NYPD

Mayor de Blasio & Council Member Williams (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


A police oversight bill sponsored by City Council Member Jumaane Williams unanimously sailed through the Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations on Tuesday, and is all but certain to be voted through the full City Council on Thursday. The legislation, which increases reporting requirements about and efforts to mitigate police misconduct, has the support of the de Blasio administration, but is being opposed and criticized by the city’s largest police union.

The bill requires aggregation of public data regarding litigation in state and federal courts against the NYPD and individual officers into a report to the Comptroller, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the NYPD, and the Commission to Combat Police Corruption, after which the NYPD Inspector General must use the data to make recommendations regarding training and disciplining of officers and the department.

Police misconduct has cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements. According to a report from the Comptroller’s Office, the city paid out $100.6 million in Fiscal Year 2016 in settlements related to police misconduct.

“The legislative process has been very valuable and very long,” said Williams in his opening statement at Tuesday’s committee vote, which was 4-0 (the other three members of the committee were absent). “But we received a lot of information. We got information about transparency issues. This is not about making police officers look bad. We are trying to find ways to make the department better.”

Vincent Gentile, the committee chair, echoed Williams’ sentiments, stating that there was “no negative intent” to the bill despite what opponents might say. After passing committee, the bill is set for a vote of the full 51-seat City Council on Thursday.

The legislation is seeing last minute opposition from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), the main union representing uniformed police officers in the city. In written testimony submitted to the committee in advance of Tuesday’s vote, the PBA questioned the intention of the bill and stated that the increased transparency would prove harmful to the department, individual officers, and the city overall.

“The “evaluation” contemplated by this legislation is apparently designed to reach a foregone conclusion — that New York City police officers engage in widespread, willful violations New Yorkers’ rights, and that the NYPD’s leadership is incapable of performing the disciplinary and governance duties assigned to it by the City Charter — that is not supported by any available evidence,” reads the testimony. “In this effort, the legislation would do significant harm to police officers’ reputations and due process rights by substituting mere allegations of misconduct for proof of the same. Moreover, by highlighting and publicizing those allegations for the benefit of entities that profit from the harassment and denigration of police officers, this legislation would undermine the NYPD’s governance and operations and diminish public safety for the City as a whole.”

The union also alleges that the legislation is explicitly designed to hurt police officers, and to serve an ideological agenda rather than to increase accountability, which it claims is already up to par.

“Far from seeking correcting the injustices in the existing system, this legislation amounts to an indictment of the NYPD’s leadership and its disciplinary policies for failing to produce a desired or expected outcome: the punishment of as many police officers possible, as harshly as possible, regardless of the merits of the allegations they face.”

The union also argues that the aggregation of public data into a single report “serves no purpose other than as a tool of convenience for the lucrative plaintiffs’ bar that profits from the filing of specious claims of police misconduct.”

The PBA provided only written testimony; no one spoke gave oral testimony to the Council committee.

Williams, who in an interview with Gotham Gazette for a previous article stated that the department has a woeful record on transparency and accountability, had choice words for the union at the hearing.

“There have been two hearings on this bill, the PBA hasn’t come to either one,” said Williams. “They haven’t provided any testimony, except for right now. And I know many of my colleagues have received some calls from the PBA telling them to oppose this.”

“I have never seen one piece of legislation that deals with policing that the PBA has supported,” he continued. “And they very rarely, if ever, engage in any discussion around these bills. They simply say no.”

“I’ve never denied the PBA the opportunity to discuss issues with me,” he said. “I’ve never tried to deny them the opportunity to come talk before us.”

Williams has bluntly criticized the PBA before. In 2014, he accused the union of lying to the public in order to foment “mass hysteria.” He has accused the PBA of failing to engage in “productive discussion” with the Council and reform advocates regarding Williams most controversial policing-related legislation, the 2013 Community Safety Act that created the NYPD IG and new prohibitions around racial profiling. The legislation, in part a response to the NYPD’s excessive use of stop-and-frisk policing, was passed by the Council over a veto by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

PBA sources told Gotham Gazette that Williams wasn’t telling the whole story about the bill currently at hand. “This is a policing bill without the input of the police. They had a hearing 17 months ago and made no effort to contact us or get our feedback ever since that hearing.”

Meanwhile, the legislation has moved ahead with the support from the de Blasio administration, which indicated it helped shape the final product of a bill that has been around for several years, since Williams first introduced it.

"We're proud to have worked on this legislation with our partners in the Council as part of the Administration's broader effort to bring greater transparency to how our City is policed and continue to build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect,” said Austin Finan, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio. Changes to the bill indicate that the administration reduced some of the reporting requirements in negotiations with the Council.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Oversight Bill Moves Ahead, with Police Union Opposition But De Blasio Support Tue, 22 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
With Some Contracts Now Expired, De Blasio Administration Begins Next Labor Negotiations https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7121-with-some-contracts-now-expired-de-blasio-administration-begins-next-labor-negotiations https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7121-with-some-contracts-now-expired-de-blasio-administration-begins-next-labor-negotiations 23589013804 3bdd4cedec z

Mayor de Blasio at DC 37's union headquarters (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


As numerous labor contracts for thousands of city employees begin to expire, the de Blasio administration is already in the midst of new talks with municipal unions. The process revisits a key element of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s early tenure -- when the city faced an unprecedented situation wherein all the city’s labor contracts were expired -- and of the incumbent mayor’s first-term record: de Blasio regularly boasts of bringing to terms the outstanding workforce uncertainty he inherited.

With negotiations underway with several unions, fiscal watchdogs say the de Blasio administration needs to implement cost cutting and efficiency measures while ensuring contracts are resolved without inordinate delay.

Upon taking office, de Blasio and his team, led by labor relations chief Bob Linn and budget director Dean Fuleihan, moved to quickly settle the city’s labor union contracts, all of which had been expired for years under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Of the city’s 355,286 employees, 337,666 are represented by unions and the city settled contracts with all but 1,350 or 0.4 percent of them. But, even as the administration touts that success, both sides are already back at the table as 30 of the settled contracts have expired, between 2016 and 2017, and 27 more are set to expire in the next few months. Bob Linn and his team are in regular negotiations, according to mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, and he was not made available for an interview based on that busy schedule.

Fiscal watchdogs generally praise the administration’s efforts in settling the expired contracts, particularly the inclusion of healthcare savings for the first time and reasonable wage increases, but recommend improvements that will ensure long-term fiscal stability. Some wanted to see municipal employees required to contribute to their health care, but that did not happen, while others said the administration should not have pushed the cost of retroactive raises as far into future budget obligations.

Among those unions whose contracts have expired are the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents around 22,200 rank-and-file NYPD officers, and the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which represents more than 8,000 firefighters. De Blasio and the PBA just celebrated coming to terms on a largely retroactive contract in January.

In September, the contract for District Council 37, the union that represents the second-largest group of civilian employees in the city, is due to expire. With more than 84,000 city employees on its rolls, accounting for about 25 percent of unionized city employees, DC 37 is second to only the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the union whose deal was perhaps most-anticipated and, when reached in 2014, set the “pattern” for the other unions in terms of annual raises.

Unions, including the likes of DC37, UFT, PBA,1199SEIU, 32BJ SEIU and the Hotel Trades Council, also employ significant political clout in the city. DC 37 and its affiliated political action committee, for instance, have made campaign contributions to candidates for mayor (they donated the maximum $4,950 to de Blasio), public advocate, comptroller and City Council. DC 37 endorsed de Blasio for reelection in January. The endorsement came just two days after the mayor released his preliminary budget for fiscal year 2018 that proposed creating 100 new school crossing guard supervisor positions, which were created for DC 37 workers. The mayor later denied that the endorsement was part of the deal, and the positions were eventually included in the adopted budget that passed in June. De Blasio has also been endorsed for reelection by a number of other prominent city unions. The PBA, which has been a thorny opponent of Mayor de Blasio and the progressive-dominated City Council, has decided to focus on swaying City Council races in this year’s election cycle. It’s unclear if the union will get involved in the mayoral race. De Blasio is seen as an overwhelming favorite in both the primary and the general, in no small part because of his support from labor unions, which help drive voter turnout in what are expected to be very low participation elections.

Union labor issues pose significant challenges to the city’s fiscal health, particularly if -- or when -- the city experiences an economic downturn, experts say.

“One of the measures of prudence is what the costs were supposed to be when Mayor de Blasio took office compared to what they actually are,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. The last budget under Mayor Bloomberg predicted that salaries and wages for city employees in fiscal year 2018 would account for $26.4 billion in the city’s budget, Gelinas pointed out, but have actually reached nearly $27.3 billion. “That clearly adds strain to the budget,” she said.

Part of the increase stems from pay raises that didn’t match accompanying savings. “The mayor signed these agreements without really asking for givebacks in return,” Gelinas said.

Maria Doulis, vice president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, echoed Gelinas’ point. Doulis said the last round of negotiations lacked a needed focus on efficiency in work rules, for instance negotiating staggered shifts for NYCHA workers or the causes of overtime in uniformed departments. “Those are important but weren’t done last time because the pressure was to get [agreements] done quickly and responsibly.”

But Doulis also said that the city had shown significant progress by working collaboratively with the unions on including health care savings in the negotiations. The de Blasio administration bargained with the Municipal Labor Committee, which collectively represents the city’s labor unions, to implement what it pegged as $3.4 billion in health care savings -- from $400 million in fiscal year 2015 to $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2018. There are a variety of measures in those savings plans, including a focus on preventive care so that union members avoid costly emergency room visits. Savings in excess of that projection are meant to provide bonuses to the city workforce. Doulis said the administration should build on that success.

The urgency with which the administration moved in 2014 to put labor agreements in place owed to long-expired contracts. But that also meant the city missed an opportunity to agree upon significant savings, Doulis said. “The savings that can come from productivity enhancements can only be recognized prospectively, not retroactively,” she said. “So it’s important to get contracts done in a timely way. Letting contracts go too long introduces fiscal risk to the city. And employees need to be able to plan their lives too.”

Gelinas reiterated that urgency is costly in labor negotiations. “Expired contracts, de Blasio really used that as an excuse,” she said. “It’s not good to have them expired for years on end but it’s not good to do a bad deal just to say that you did a deal.”

Gelinas said the city has fared well so far because of a strong and stable economy, and that a downturn after such an extended period of expansion would put the city in fiscal jeopardy as well as give the mayor less flexibility to cut costs. “Health care costs are increasing less fast than a few years ago,” she acknowledged, “but they’re still going up. The only reason the city can afford it is the economy is doing so well.”

She insisted that any further salary and wage increases should be paid for with cuts in the costs of benefits, namely health care. Although pensions are another part of the equation, and the city’s pension obligations have ballooned over the years, the city has a limited role in that respect since pensions are decided by the state Legislature.

In a view shared by other fiscal watchdogs, Gelinas suggested that workers share some of the costs, which currently fall almost entirely on taxpayers because of guaranteed benefits for city employees. She noted that health care benefits currently cost the city $10.1 billion and will grow to $11.7 billion in two years. “Keeping that from growing would be good savings,” she said. “Avoid the increase and share costs half and half with workers.”

And the onus is on the mayor to devise creative solutions, she said. “Bill de Blasio certainly hasn’t wanted to cut labor costs in his first term,” she said.

De Blasio, for his part, has recognized health care savings as an avenue where the city can go further. “I think the last agreement was very affirming to me that there's, again, much more where that came from,” he said at the annual State Financial Control Board meeting on August 2, referring to health care costs for public employees. “There's a willingness from our labor partners to think creatively. They understand this is about the longer term fiscal health of the city, they understand that if they want government to be effective, we have to keep finding healthcare savings, and I think there's a surprisingly strong atmosphere of partnership compared to, sort of, what the assumptions were previously. I think everyone has become sober together about the fact that we have to do a lot more on that front, and it is available to us.”

Asked about the current round of negotiations, de Blasio spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said the process was ongoing. “When this Administration came into office, no city worker was under contract,” Goldstein emailed. “Today, over 99 percent of the unions have reached a fair deal. As contracts begin to expire over the next year, we're confident we'll once again be able to reach deals that are both fair to workers and fair to taxpayers.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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With Some Contracts Now Expired, De Blasio Administration Begins Next Labor Negotiations Thu, 10 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Change of Commissioner Spotlights De Blasio’s Record on Police Reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6467-change-of-commissioner-spotlights-de-blasio-s-record-on-police-reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6467-change-of-commissioner-spotlights-de-blasio-s-record-on-police-reform de blasio nypd tucker bratton oneil et al

photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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