New York’s top crime and courts news this week included a police-involved death in Rochester and shocking shooting stats across the five boroughs. More details in The Allegedly List. For The Allegedly Original, Brittany Gibson examines the state of NYPD precinct community councils—and whether they have any place amid today’s push for police reform. If you like this week’s edition, don’t forget to subscribe!
The Allegedly List
Daniel T. Prude, a 41-year-old Black man, died of asphyxiation March 30 after Rochester police officers put a “spit hood” over his face while restraining him, it was revealed Wednesday. Video shows that a minimum of three cops held Prude “prone and forcing his head and chest into the pavement for several minutes until, apparently unnoticed by the officers, he stops breathing.” New York State Attorney General Letitia James is investigating Prude’s death, which has been ruled a homicide from “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” Via The Democrat and Chronicle, The New York Times
Donald Trump has threatened to defund New York City and other “anarchist jurisdictions,” prompting a warning from James’s office: “prepare for legal action.” “Sowing anger and dividing Americans are the last thing we need, and if the president actually decides to move forward with his threat to defund New York City, we will be ready to take immediate legal action,” James said in a press release Thursday, adding, “Time after time, we have beat the president in court and we have no doubt we will beat him again, if necessary.” Via New York Attorney General’s Office
Trump scored a court victory on Tuesday—the Second Circuit Court of Appeals barred the immediate release of his tax and financial records to New York prosecutors. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which is probing hush-money payoffs before the 2016 election to two women claiming to have had affairs with Trump, has been seeking these records. The U.S. Supreme Court in July rejected Trump’s claim that he was immune to these kinds of investigations as president. Via The Washington Post
The “Electric Avenue” singer-songwriter, Eddy Grant, alleged in a Manhattan Federal Court lawsuit Tuesday that Trump committed copyright infringement by playing the song in a Twitter video. Grant said in his suit that he will keep suffering if this video—which slams Trump opponent Joe Biden—keeps circulating across the Internet. Grant wants damages that would be determined at trial. Via New York Post
The fraud trial for former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon was scheduled for May 24, 2021. Manhattan Federal Court Judge Analisa Torres, who’s overseeing the case, recognized that COVID-19 could still delay things, saying Monday that “there are only a few courtrooms that are outfitted” for pandemic-era trials. Bannon is accused of siphoning money from We Build The Wall, an online fundraiser for Trump’s controversial border wall. Via Guardian US
Remember how Steve Bannon was arrested on an 150-foot yacht off the Connecticut coast? Well, the dissident Chinese billionaire who owns said yacht claimed that a supporter of China’s communist party was using “high-powered surveillance equipment” to track him, according to a report Wednesday. The suit also claims that the alleged stalker rented a boat and followed him to Rhode Island. Via New York Post
There were 242 shootings in New York City this August compared to 91 the same month of 2019—an 166 percent increase. Murders numbered 291 for the first eight months of 2020 compared to 217 over this same period last year, a 34 percent increase. Rape, which is notoriously under-reported, declined by 22 percent in August 2020, with 126 reported incidents compared to 162 at the same time of 2019. Via New York Police Department.
On Tuesday, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark recommended the dismissal of hundreds of summonses issued for alleged curfew violations during the George Floyd protests. While Clark doesn’t pursue criminal court summonses, she intends on filing a motion requesting that the court dismiss these notices against more than 300 demonstrators. “I believe in and encourage our Bronx residents to raise their voices to protest social and racial injustice in a peaceful way,” she said in a statement. Via New York Post
The Allegedly Original
Does New York City Still Need NYPD Precinct Community Councils?
By Brittany Gibson
In 1943, New York City launched NYPD precinct community councils. To this day, members of these volunteer-run groups meet with community affairs officers at their respective neighborhoods’ precinct station house, or spaces such as churches or schools, and voice their concerns over everything from ATM skimming to unruly e-bikes. Snacks are often served.
“The mission of the Community Council is to establish and maintain working partnerships between the New York City Police Department and community members; to improve public safety, quality of life and police-community relations throughout New York City,” an NYPD document says. “These working partnerships enable the Department in its crime-fighting strategy, build mutual trust and empower community members as stakeholders.”
Recent protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police have dramatically rekindled the debate over how cops interact with their community, however. Precinct councils can be considered an early example of community policing, but calls to defund the NYPD—and in doing so, shift many traditional department duties to non-law enforcement entities like social workers—have prompted some to question community involvement with policing outright.
While some New Yorkers continue to support precinct community councils, others think they’re an outmoded concept, given their inextricable connection to a police department they believe is systematically flawed. The NYPD did not provide comment for this story.
“I think they have the ability to reach people. I’m sure each council is different in some aspects, but I think they have the ability to be the go-betweens, the liaisons between the police department and the community,” said Dr. Alfred C. Titus, a retired homicide detective and current professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “A lot of times people don’t want to get involved with the police not just because of lack of trust, but also out of safety reasons. It’s frowned upon in a lot of communities to communicate with the police.”
Titus recalled one instance in his 23-year career where a police community council leader was able to help his team progress in investigating a homicide on the Lower East Side, by connecting investigators with a witness who was afraid to come forward.
Although it’s in the police community council’s mission to help officers develop a “crime-fighting strategy,” most New Yorkers will be more familiar with their community-building events like the National Night Out Block parties that happen every August (with the exception of this year because of COVID-19).
These block parties happen across the city and attract thousands of people with food stands from local businesses, live music performances, and speeches from NYPD leaders, as well as opportunities to talk with the community officers.
President of the 104th Precinct Community Council Len Santoro said this event is a way for residents and their kids to meet police officers in a “positive way.”
Some people may see this direct engagement as an advantage. Santoro, who’s been president of his council for two years, said: “when people find out they can speak directly to a commanding officer, they’re excited to go to a meeting.”
Others, however, see police presence at every meeting as a reason not to participate.
“It’s a waste of time because they’re inviting you to come and have a conversation with someone where there’s not an equal distribution of power,” said Monifa Bandele, a member of the leadership table for the Movement for Black Lives and the steering committee for police reform in New York City.
Bandele has been part of a five-year effort to repeal the police secrecy law, 50-A, which prevented police personal records from being made public. Implemented more than 40 years ago, 50-A was overturned this June.
“That would work if police were in any way, shape or form accountable and transparent. You can’t talk about partnerships with an agency that has no accountability, not just to our community but not even to the mayor,” she added. “How am I supposed to go and build a partnership with someone when I have no idea what their discipline records are? If they’re abusive? It’s a lopsided relationship. [Playing] basketball is not going to build trust.”
The City’s history of stop-and-frisk policing, which disproportionately targeted Black and Latino men, and track record of spotty discipline for police officers accused of misconduct, as well as Trump-era use of cops and courts to pursue undocumented immigrants, are just the most recent examples of potentially unbridgeable divides between the police and the communities they’re meant to serve.
The recent surge of grassroots organizing around the Back Lives Matter movement has proposed many different ways to reform policing, including removing police officers from schools and diverting money from its $8 billion budget to other city services and departments. Part of this strategy focuses on using other services to respond to calls currently going to the police department.
But at least one police community council president can’t see the merit in these efforts because of the property damage that’s happened in some protests.
“I don’t see the rioters as possible members [of the community councils],” said Gabriel de Jesus, president of the 40th precinct community council, currently in his 19th year working with the council. “Not once have they been productive members of the Community.”
De Jesus said the biggest problem in his community is rampant drug use and how it affects the safety of residents and their children. In one community council-organized park clean up, his team collected more than 5,000 used needles. He doesn’t believe it’s possible to have social workers or addiction experts respond to the volume of drug problems in his neighborhood.
“What’s the point when the individuals become violent?” he said, of responding to drug use in the community with experts other than police officers. “It’s not an NYPD issue, but there’s no way to help these individuals in a cohesive way.”
However this is what organizers like Bandele want to change. She described the last community council event she attended in Brownsville in 2019 as “frustrating” because the police were always centered in how to respond to complaints.
The divide in participation in police community councils is also generational, according to Titus. He found that younger people would be less likely to want to participate in a police community council meeting or interact with all enforcement at all, instead building community with new grassroots organizing efforts like BLM. But he believes that the volunteer-run police community councils could be a tool to change this dynamic.
Community council block parties and officers taking the time to play basketball or football in the neighborhood are, in Titus’s view, an “important step” to better policing, bringing together local business leaders, clergy, and the mothers of a community. But not everyone is convinced that this will work today.
“It’s a P.R. campaign. We do not need police officers playing basketball with kids,” Bandele said. “There are a lot less expensive ways to do sports and barbecues.”