We are happy to be back following our holiday hiatus. Unfortunately, 2021 is not turning out to be what anyone had hoped for. This is not a happy time. Trump supporters—among them white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and QAnon followers—stormed the Capitol on Wednesday in an attempted coup. Meanwhile, Covid-19 continues to surge. Deaths are hitting record highs, but life-saving vaccination efforts are moving at an alarmingly slow pace.
Since there is so much going on, Allegedly’s focus this week will be Sean Piccoli’s follow-up interviews with mayoral hopefuls about policing.
Stay safe, everyone.
The Allegedly Original
New York City’s Mayoral Hopefuls on Policing: Part Two
By Sean Piccoli
With the New York Police Department under pressure to justify itself, and a mayoral election coming up, Allegedly is asking candidates for City Hall how they will deal with the country’s largest municipal police force.
Policing was the subject of street protests that spread across the country starting in May after the death of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis police. Demonstrators in New York City chanted “no justice, no peace” to protest cops who brutalize people of color, and an aggressive NYPD response to the marches—pepper spraying, clubbing, and mass arrests using a round-up technique called “kettling”—spurred even more criticism. A formal investigation found that police used excessive and indiscriminate force against peaceful protestors who were out past curfew.
At the same time, shootings in a city traumatized by Covid-19 were reaching numbers not seen in more than a decade. On top of the toll of the pandemic, homicides in New York soared (even as other categories of violence fell), according to the NYPD’s own year-end statistics. As NYPD officials were criticized for over-policing protests, the department also heard accusations—which it denied—that cops sat on their hands where more serious crime was concerned in 2020 and allowed gun violence to spiral as payback for having their methods questioned.
A department that had prided itself on being a national model for public safety started the new year with its budget slashed and its status changed to an “election-year issue.”
In Allegedly’s first canvas of would-be New York mayors, four of the ten candidates we contacted talked about how to keep people safe while protecting the city’s most vulnerable, most-policed populations from being harmed by the criminal justice system. Earlier, we posed the same questions to candidates for Manhattan District Attorney.
For this final installment of interviews on policing with mayoral hopefuls, four more candidates followed suit, taking two questions each on police reform and racial disparities with five minutes allotted for each answer. Their replies are presented in the chronological order in which they were interviewed for this article.
Four candidates did not participate—Eric Adams, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, and Andrew Yang—despite multiple attempts to reach them through their campaigns’ representatives.
“We need to have clear and consistent consequences for police officers if they aren’t following the rules. They have a code of conduct. They have a patrol guide that they are supposed to follow. And we need to have zero tolerance for folks who don’t follow it.”
Plans for change:
Stop kettling peaceful protestors. “I was out during those nights in late May and June, and I’ll tell you that kettling doesn’t work. It instantaneously turns a peaceful protest into a confrontation.”
Require new NYPD recruits to live within the city limits. “And increase community policing so there is less of an us-versus-them mindset.”
Increase the recruitment age to 25 from 21. “We’re asking police officers to confront our most challenging moments, and we need to make sure that they have the experience that maturity gives you.”
Embed medical professionals with police officers responding to 911 calls for mental health episodes or domestic violence. “It needs to be a partnership, not an either-or.”
Reconsider which metrics govern police raises and promotions. “Shouldn’t it be that crime is lower in your community, not how many arrests you make?”
Invest more in education and job training. “We need to start upstream. If you look at folks on Rikers Island, a disproportionate amount are dyslexic and therefore that creates trouble in school from the very beginning. Make strategic investments in education to break down those barriers. We have to make sure there are options from school into jobs, and break the cycle of the school-to-prison pipeline, as it’s been called. But we still do need to have an effective police force.”
Change the culture of the NYPD. “I’m the only candidate with the practical experience of running a uniform agency, and what that means, and how you actually achieve culture change, and how you do the training to really transform from a warrior culture to much more of a guardian culture.”
“I was the first mayoral candidate to call for defunding the police. I understand that language is still being debated or framed as problematic and not unifying enough. But I’m not quite sure how many more reports or videos or testimonies we need to support the idea that the institution that is supposedly charged with public safety is doing disproportionate and undue harm to some communities over others, and just in general is not putting the safety of New York City residents at the forefront.”
Plans for change:
Redirect a “significant percentage” of police funding to community services. “In many of these communities, what is needed are some of the basic resources to live in dignity, whether that’s stable housing or mental health supports, access to recreation and those kinds of things.”
Establish a Community First Responders Department as an alternative to police. “So rather than having a man with a gun respond to the homeless person who’s created a little encampment on the corner, you could in fact have a homeless services specialist intervene and de-escalate if necessary, and then help to connect that person with the appropriate services and supports so that they in fact could move off the street.”
Don’t dispatch police to deal with 911 calls for people in crisis when crimes or violence are not involved. “The reality of it is that police are neither trained nor really interested in responding to these types of situations. That’s not what they signed up for. And so by divesting and reinvesting, and providing appropriate services services that can respond in accordance to the situation at hand—we’re actually unburdening them.”
Continue to scrutinize the criminal justice system to eliminate inequities in which crimes are prosecuted, who gets bail and how sentences are handed down. “In terms of decriminalizing certain things, refusing to pursue certain things legally … that’s a place where the mayor can play a significant role in terms of shifting the culture.”
“It’s clear that we have the evidence that the city can both reduce crime and reduce the reach of the criminal justice system into people’s lives. It shouldn’t be as intimate as it is today, especially in communities of color.”
Plans for change:
Launch a full review of the police budget as part of an overall reassessment of policing. “The NYPD has to have what I call R.A.P., respect, accountability and proportionality. And the role of funding and culture has got to be recast. … NYPD will remain critical to the city being safe and secure, and that’s an important part of our platform. But we need to aggressively change the culture within NYPD and the scope of policing.”
Don’t send cops alone into situations for which they don’t have training. “We need to ensure that mental health, homelessness and drug addiction experts are part of the first responders to 911.”
Support ways to reduce violence that don’t always depend on the presence of police. “We’ve got to increase our investment—which has worked—in the violence interrupters and the other community-based programs.”
Fix the parole system. “We need parole reform to ensure we’re not simply setting people up for minor violations and then sending them back to prison. I’d work with Albany to get that fixed.”
Re-evaluate who gets arrested, charged and issued summons for lesser offenses with a view toward keeping more people out of the criminal justice system. “Black folks—black kids—are disproportionately arrested and detained, at 2 1/2 times the rate of the white kids or Asians and Pacific Islanders. More of them are killed or injured during policing incidents, more disproportionately imprisoned, and have longer sentences. There is a presumption of guilt that we need to address.”
Prepare people who will exit the criminal justice system to return to society. “There are people who clearly need to be separated from society for our safety. But we need to make sure that that’s done humanely. And while they’re incarcerated, we need to be offering services that prepare them for what happens when they re-enter, and right now those systems are lacking. Recidivism rates in many ways are way too high."
Initiate a “cradle to career” program of education, jobs and youth activities for young, at-risk New Yorkers. “You give me a job, you give me dignity that keeps me away from having to commit acts that I would otherwise not commit. Give me summer jobs, which are part of our overall program of how you fix the economy.”
“Does more policing equal more safety? When we look at the staffing of the New York City police, whether it’s just the street patrol or also including civilian employees, New York City ranks in the top four in the country in terms of the number of police officers per population. And even with the uptick in crime, we are still an outlier in terms of the number of police officers per violent crime as measured by shootings.”
Plans for change:
Retool CompStat, the controversial crimefighting data program, to show where the city needs resources. “Instead of CompStat being used solely for the police department to organize armed response to potential crime, CompStat should be used as an indicator of areas where we have community distress, and that would actually motivate a much more intensive and coordinated response from all the different components of government that would actually decrease that community’s stress and lead to a more healthy community.”
Deploy rapid response teams alongside police that have training in crisis de-escalation, mental health issues and social work. “So these have to operate 24-7-365 like the police do, and that’s really one of the administrative and operational hurdles that we’re going to have to come across.
Re-evaluate how police are equipped for their work. “Do we need a more militarized police when 96 percent of police calls across the country are nonviolent? Do we need an increase in surveillance? … Do we need armed responders for every 911 call?”
Collect more actionable data on how police act. “We know that black men are 2 1/2 times more likely to be killed by police during their lifetime … [and] black people fatally shot by police were twice as likely to be unarmed as white people. So we know that there’s been this disproportionate, unequal application of policing, particularly to black communities, and we have to be able to react to that.”
Emphasize restorative justice and alternatives to jail. “Not every crime is equal. Not every alleged perpetrator is equal. We have first offenders. We have nonviolent crimes. We have youth crimes. And those folks need to be treated differently than people who have repeat criminal records.”
Find ways to lessen the trauma of imprisonment. “We need to think also about how we preserve the mental health of the prisoners. Some of them are obviously there because they’re very hardened criminals. But for many of them the process of being in jail actually makes them worse when they come out. So we need to think in that whole life cycle how do we actually reintegrate people back into their communities?”
Reassert civilian control over the NYPD by hiring more investigators for the Civilian Complaint Review Board to reduce their backlog and enlarge their role in scrutinizing police, and reduce the police commissioner’s power over hiring, firing and discipline. “This relationship has to be in its proper balance … and what we’ve seen under [Mayor Bill] de Blasio is a complete lack of respect for the mayor and his control, and the sole control of disciplinary actions held in the hands of the police commissioner. That needs to change.”