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The following remarks were delivered by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on March 28, 2012:
Thank you President Travis for that kind introduction. You are one of the leading voices in our city on matters of public safety, and it is a true honor to be recognized by you. And thank you to John Jay College of Criminal Justice for giving me the opportunity to speak here today.
New York has always been a city ahead of its time. Our city has historically been home to innovative leaders who have understood that the status quo, in good times and bad, must continually be challenged. Change can be difficult and reforms are often met with great resistance, but progress is what has enabled our City to remain the envy of others around the world.
Public safety in New York is one area over the past 40 years where innovation and reform have served as the cornerstones for progress. Patrick Murphy was a legendary NYPD Commissioner who revolutionized policing, in New York and other urban centers around the country. Upon becoming Commissioner in 1970 he set out to end corruption, reform abusive police tactics, and increase community engagement. Murphy was a visionary, and it is largely because of him these goals sound commonplace today.
Following Murphy’s tenure, several Commissioners, including Ben Ward, built on the changes begun under Murphy, but also confronted a worsening crime situation.
New York City in the late 1980’s and early 90’s was very different than the place we know and love today. Crime rates were soaring. The crack epidemic had swept through the city, a wave of gang violence erupted, and many New Yorkers feared entering the City’s subway or walking through Times Square at night.
And then began an extraordinary twenty year turnaround. We’ve gone from living in one of the most violent cities in the country – with 2,245 murders in 1990 – to one of the safest.
Our city emerged from this challenging time to become a leader in crime prevention and counterterrorism because our police force has undergone multiple, transformative changes.
Our city’s success at reducing crime is unparalleled.
Since the high water mark of ’93, murder rates have declined 72 percent. Burglary has declined 82 percent. Vehicle theft is down 91 percent.
The changes responsible for the turnaround were not always easy – some of our most successful reforms met hard resistance when they were first proposed. Yet, despite the opposition our City’s leaders persevered because they understood change and innovation were necessities in making our streets and communities safe.
I witnessed the beginning of this turnaround while working for Mayor Dinkins with the development of the “Safe Streets, Safe City” program. This effort, which was implemented by former Commissioner Lee Brown, focused on reducing crime by hiring new uniformed police officers to serve on the city’s streets. This practice not only made police presence more visible, it made our city’s police officers more accessible and approachable for the communities they served.
Beginning in 1991, the Safe Streets, Safe City program brought on an additional 6,000 police officers. Increasing our police force was one of the most important commitments that we made as a city, and the dividends of this investment have been reaped over the past two decades.
To advance the “Safe Streets, Safe Cities” concept, Commissioner Ray Kelly – during his first term as NYPD Police Commissioner – began diversifying the police force so officers across the city would reflect the cultural richness of the city they were charged with protecting. Commissioner Kelly set a path to make sure we have a force that looked like New York.
When Bill Bratton assumed the role of Commissioner, he committed to lowering crime in the city and developed a new plan for managing the NYPD that led to the development of COMPSTAT. This was a new strategic management system that focused on reducing serious crime by empowering – and holding accountable – precinct commanders. Equally important, it better connected police to the communities they serve.
Along with instituting COMPSTAT, Commissioner Bratton increased low-level enforcement. He rightfully understood that increasing force levels was the beginning, not the end, of making neighborhoods safer.
But as a result of the leadership and forward thinking of each Commissioner I’ve discussed, and the Mayors who appointed them – David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani – the NYPD emerged as a more professionalized police force – a force that focused on innovation and evidence-driven accountability.
Following the start of a successful turnaround in the 90’s, our City encountered the unthinkable on September 11, 2001. The devastating attacks on our city opened our eyes to new global enemies and forced us to address threats that previously were all but inconceivable.
Then-incoming Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYPD took this massive challenge head on. Commissioner Kelly led the NYPD’s colossal shift into one of the largest counterterrorism forces in the world. He recently noted that when he resumed the position of Commissioner in 2002, “it was clear the city could not simply defer the responsibility of counterterrorism to the federal government. We'd have to work with them. But it was obvious we would need to make systemic changes in how we protect the city.”
Since the attacks on our City in 2001, the NYPD reports that 14 terror plots targeting New York City have been foiled. This is a reminder that the threats we continue to face – more than 10 years after 9/11 – remain serious. It also informs us of the impressive job Commissioner Kelly has done in transforming the NYPD to confront these threats and his unwavering commitment to keeping our city safe.
As we look back at the major transformations in policing that have taken place, we can start to see where the future of public safety in New York City lies.
Further ensuring our city’s public safety requires us to dispel the belief that we must choose between a large, effective police force and a force that works in partnership with the community. This is a false dichotomy. I believe we can and we must do both. This must serve as the foundation for policing as we move towards the future.
The brave men and women who make up New York’s police force are the foundation to our city’s security and safety. I have a profound respect and admiration for the members of the NYPD who put their lives on the line every day to serve and protect. In my own Brooklyn neighborhood I have worked closely with the 78th precinct, which serves the area where my family lives, and with the surrounding precincts – the 66th, 72nd, and the 76th. I’ve seen the balance, the care, the precision with which police officers serve our community, often in complicated and dangerous situations.
On September 11th, 2001, many of the men and women on the force today ran into the twin towers while everyone else was running out. They did not stop to ask questions, they did not think twice. Their orders were clear and their commitment to protect and serve was valiantly on display. On that tragic day we lost 23 members of the NYPD.
343 Firemen and paramedics also lost their lives on that tragic day.
Sadly, these numbers only tell part of the suffering and struggle faced by our police force.
We now know that the collapse of the buildings created a toxic environment for the first responders serving in the hours, days, and months in the recovery and clean-up efforts at Ground zero and related sites. The “World Trade Center cough” quickly became a trademark of the health risks associated with this service. Unfortunately, the health implications do not end there, and many of New York’s finest are also developing rare and deadly cancers as a result of their serving on and following 9/11.
The City and the Federal Government have a responsibility to fulfill their commitment to these men and women. This is why I was outraged to learn the City was refusing to turn over critical NYPD medical data that can help these officers get the support and care they need as they battle cancer.
That is why I took up the fight, along with the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and others, to pressure the City to stop dragging its feet and finally do what it must to facilitate this important medical study. I’m saddened to say it took multiple threats of legal action by my office to get the City to finally agree last week to turn over data the doctors conducting research at Mount Sinai can finally use. Still, the fight is not over, not until every NYPD member and every first responder gets the help they need.
The men and woman of the NYPD, those who have been at the front line of policing, are the heart and soul of the force. They sacrifice every day to serve our communities. They are at the core of our past successes and are undoubtedly the key to our future security.
Since 2000, the NYPD has been reduced by roughly 6,000 officers. Every city in this country is facing budget constraints, and some have chosen to make cuts to their police departments. New York City does not have the option of making further cuts. The threats to our city are too great and the fear of regressing to the disorder of the past are still real—we must hold the line on the size of our police force.
Another success that should be lauded is the gun buyback program. It has been an enormous success, taking over 7,000 firearms off our city’s streets. Initiatives like the gun buyback program are successful because they rely on partnerships within communities. By aligning law enforcement with families, community leaders, and clergy members, we send a clear message to young people that crime and gang violence are not the answer. Despite crime being on the decline, gun violence has been on the rise. Programs like the gun buyback program are an important part of the fight to reverse this trend.
I also want to commend Mayor Bloomberg on his national effort to take guns off city streets with the establishment of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. This bipartisan coalition is doing important work and sending a clear message that illegal guns will not be tolerated on America’s streets. Mayor Bloomberg was right to recognize that the polarizing rhetoric surrounding the debate over gun ownership was clouding the fight against illegal guns, and thanks to his work, cities from across the country are now working together to find innovative and effective policies to address this growing problem.
We have come a long way from the disorder of the past, but challenges remain. The names Abner Louima, Amadou Diallou and Sean Bell left scars that still underlie the attitudes of some toward law enforcement in communities across the city. It is time to again review our city’s crime fighting tactics comprehensively. We need effective oversight, driven by regular studies on the methods we are using to pursue public safety. This oversight needs to focus on two questions:
First: Which of our policies and practices are effective?
And, second: Are our actions focused on encouraging positive and productive relationships between police and the communities they serve?
In order to address these two matters, we need to transform again the culture of policing, update it for the challenges we face in this decade, and understand the relationship between crime reduction and respect for communities and civil rights. By embarking on a new phase of improved public safety in New York City we can better ensure that all communities feel equally protected, equally served, and equally defended.
An important area where police tactics have created destructive fault lines between community and police is the practice of Stop and Frisk. This is but one tool that police have to combat crime and keep our streets safe, yet data shows a growing overreliance on Stop and Frisk tactics.
The numbers are astounding: In 2011 a record number of stops were made, more than 680,000. Less than 1% uncovered illegal weapons and 87% of those stopped were Black or Latino.
There is no question that Stop and Frisk is a valuable and necessary policing tool, but only when it is used in moderation. Former Police Commissioner Bratton recently compared the use of Stop and Frisk to chemotherapy, noting that a dose that is too high can be fatal but that the right amount can save lives.
He said, “the challenge is to do it appropriately…applied in the right way, it can have the effect of reducing crime.” I couldn’t agree more with that assessment.
In December of last year a moving and informative OP-ED written by Nicholas Peart , a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College, appeared in the New York Times. Mr. Peart talked about his experience living in New York City as a young black man. He wrote about being stopped, frisked, searched, ID’d and let go three times, and a fourth experience where he was stopped on the street near his home, handcuffed, and placed in the back of a police car while the police attempted to enter his home where his sister and two younger siblings were. Ultimately, the police realized they had the wrong person and let him out of the car – but not before imparting a deep and lasting fear and mistrust of the police.
Mr. Peart, who is working with a neighborhood organization in Harlem to educate young people about their rights when they are stopped, went on to poignantly note, “The police should consider the consequences of a generation of young people who want nothing to do with them – distrust, alienation and more crime.”
It is clear that when we have over half a million stops occurring within one year, we are doing more harm than good. When those who are stopped are disproportionately young men of color, then questions concerning profiling demand answers. It is clear that this practice – as it is now employed – strains the links between police and communities and magnifies the distrust that must be overcome in the interest of public safety.
Despite well-known, recurrent complaints about the overuse of Stop and Frisk, the NYPD has not shown a clear willingness to reassess this strategy.
We need to immediately reform Stop and Frisk to address the problem of overuse. My message is clear: Mayor Bloomberg, the frequency with which we use this policing tool can be turned on a dime – it is a matter of policy. It can be altered by a directive from you. I call for you to step in right now to reverse our course and commit to substantially lowering the number of unwarranted stop and frisks. We have used COMPSTAT to identify and address crime on a precinct and borough level. The Administration should apply that management process on stop and frisk. Every commander should be responsible for making sure that all stop, question and frisks are warranted. Holding our precincts accountable will undoubtedly lower our number of unwarranted stop and frisks.
For many weeks, our city has intensely debated the limits within which the NYPD's counter-terrorism efforts must exist. There has been particular concern about the relationship between the police and the Muslim-American community. This is another instance in which we must avoid a false choice between security and liberty.
We live in a city that has for centuries been synonymous with diversity, tolerance, open-mindedness and progressive values. We have been the teacher of the world in these areas, a place people in less free lands yearn to live in. We are known for our embrace of every kind of person the world has ever produced, and for the famous welcome they received as they passed our most cherished symbol, the Statue of Liberty.
So we are a people historically and intrinsically devoted to liberty, and we are also a people who know we live right in the crosshairs of a malicious international terrorist network. No group of people knows more about embracing our freedoms. And no group of people has more reason to be concerned for our security.
A free society is not easy to manage, and it's not easy to protect. Our police are citizens; they too understand the balance that has to be struck. It is a challenge confronted daily, hourly, by police departments all over the country, including in places where it is impossible to believe there could be a terrorist attack. The challenge is intensely magnified here in New York, in the most likely place for that attack to occur.
Our police have done an exemplary job of protecting us. In ways big and small, the NYPD deserves immense credit for the part it has played in preventing another attack. And there will long be a need for our police to continue playing that role.
Accordingly, I defend without question the NYPD's obligation to pursue specific and credible threats.
And yet I think all New Yorkers need assurances that the police know when to put the brakes on, when to say no. I, for one, was reassured by the speech Commissioner Kelly gave at Fordham University and by several conversations I had on this topic with the Commissioner. Based on what I've learned, I believe that the NYPD is currently limiting its work to the pursuit of specific leads and that there is a substantial legal review process connected to those decisions. But I also feel the need to invoke the famous Ronald Reagan quote about the need to "trust but verify." It is my job, like others involved in oversight, to keep asking tough questions and to keep ensuring the rules are followed. I also have come to believe that neither the NYPD nor the city government in general is working closely enough with the Muslim-American community.
We need an immediate and sustained effort to better communicate with leaders of this community, with a particular focus on how we can improve services for Muslim-American youth.
Beyond reforming Stop and Frisk and improving the force’s communication with the Muslim-American community, we also need a better methodology for handling civilian complaints.
Our city has long wrestled with the creation and maintenance of an appropriately endowed oversight body that is perceived as legitimate in the eyes of both the police and the citizenry. This endeavor has roots in 1955 when the first investigative body was established in New York City. Its history since then has been contested: in its original iteration, the CCRB remained under the sole purview of the NYPD. Efforts for reform were pushed by Mayor Lindsey and then Senator Robert Kennedy who acknowledged the importance of having civilian members of the board with oversight capabilities.
It was not until 1986 that the CCRB had any direct civilian oversight through non-uniformed membership. Even still, these reforms were hamstrung. It took an additional seven years before the CCRB emerged as the oversight body we are familiar with today. These reforms – pushed through in 1993 – emphasized the necessity for subpoena authority, civilian representation, and the capacity for disciplinary recommendations.
When I ran for Public Advocate three years ago, strengthening the CCRB was a central part of my campaign platform and I spoke about it in communities across the city. Two years ago, Councilmember Dan Garodnick and I stood on the steps of City Hall demanding the Council take immediate actions to appropriately empower the CCRB. I called on the Council to pass my legislation (Intro 166), which would require the CCRB to have an independent budget, and pass Councilmember Garodnick’s bill that would authorize the CCRB to prosecute cases.
I was heartened to learn yesterday that Speaker Christine Quinn, in partnership with Mayor Bloomberg, has finally taken a step in the appropriate direction by giving the CCRB power to prosecute.
Yesterday’s announcement was an important first step, but it is just half of the solution. Over the last few years, Mayor Bloomberg has unwisely proposed and the City Council has agreed, to slash the CCRB’s budget. CCRB Chair Daniel Chu testified earlier this month in front of the council about the profound impact these cuts have had. He said, "Through budget reductions, the CCRB lost 24% of its authorized headcount in recent years, from 192 positions in fiscal 2008 to 146 positions in fiscal 2013. The 2013 budget now stands at $9,750,143, which is approximately 20% lower than its peak budget of $12 million in fiscal 2008."
The CCRB will only be effective if its budget is restored and not subject to political whim. I call on the Mayor and the City Council to make a clear commitment to the importance of the CCRB by passing Intro 166 and finally giving the CCRB an independent budget. Absent this important action, the reforms announced yesterday cannot succeed.
To deepen the transformation towards bringing community and police together, we have to pair the reforms I’ve discussed with smart strategies to reduce violent crime and gang violence. Right now, homicide rates are incredibly concentrated in poor communities and among young men. It is imperative that we explore new, preventative tactics and programs to address this very serious challenge.
I appreciate Governor Cuomo’s decision to implement six trial programs across the state based on David Kennedy’s “Ceasefire” crime fighting approach to minimizing gang violence.
Kennedy’s approach, which has been employed by cities across the country since the 1990’s, implements a three-pronged approach that has proven highly successful. This model engages communities, and offers aid and assistance to help gang members and other offenders begin productive lives. Lastly, it institutes credible, aggressive consequences as an effective deterrent. Those who do not cooperate with this strategy and who engage in violence face the consequences.
Since its inception, this tactic has successfully reduced violence in urban areas across the country. In Boston, where this approach was first implemented, the city experienced the “Boston Miracle” where a 50% drop in homicides citywide and a two-thirds reduction among men aged 24 and younger was observed. On average across the cities that have implemented this approach, reductions in gun homicides range between 30-50%.
Kennedy’s Ceasefire approach is effective precisely because it relies on a partnership between the police and the community to address violent crime.
NYPD should follow the Governor’s lead and explore how we can expand this to additional communities across our City.
Those who say moving towards a greater level of community policing jeopardizes our level of security are presenting a false choice. The choice is not between a large force focused on fighting crime and combating terrorism versus a force focused on fostering cooperation from within the community and respecting the rights and aspirations of every law-abiding New Yorker.
There is a third way, and that is where the future of public safety in New York must head. This third way demands a large force, and is based on the very real truth that connecting police to communities enhances – not inhibits – the NYPD’s ability to fight crime and combat terrorism.
It is time for all of us to understand that police effectiveness and community engagement are mutually reinforcing. This philosophy – that true community policing is the pathway to public safety – has guided my twenty years of public service and should serve as the guiding principle of our police force as we, together, face the challenges ahead. Thank you.