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Economy ∙ Criminal Justice

A Safe and Fair City

We need a New York Police Department (NYPD) that is focused on protecting New Yorkers. A high-functioning police force that serves racial justice goals is the aim. That requires top-down and bottom-up reform. We need accountability at every level – accountability when the NYPD fails to solve crimes, and accountability when officers engage in misconduct and violate New Yorkers’ civil rights. New York City taxpayers now pay hundreds of millions of dollars a year in civil settlements – funds that can be far better spent on our schools, parks, mass transit, and affordable housing.

The NYPD right now has about 36,000 officers, nearly 20,000 civilian employees, and a budget of around $10 billion. Several oversight agencies – such as the Civilian Complaint Review Board – are tasked with ensuring the NYPD is complying with the law and treating all New Yorkers equitably. Given the size of this bureaucracy, real change will require years of sustained effort. 

At the same time, good police officers need to feel supported. Violent crime is rising, as are certain hate crimes, and we need officers to protect against any further increase. As such, it isn’t enough to solely penalize officers engaged in misconduct. Officers are frequently put in traumatic situations and the City must ensure they feel supported after appropriately responding to dangerous incidents.

Ultimately, a Yang administration will seek to reorganize the NYPD to rebuild trust between officers and New Yorkers, particularly communities of color, to refocus the NYPD on crimes that matter, and to ensure New York recovers not as it was, but how it deserves to be – a safe City firmly grounded in equality and respect.

Create a Deputy Mayor for Public and Community Safety with a direct line to the Mayor.

Currently there are multiple City agencies with oversight of the criminal justice system and community safety across the continuum of violence prevention to reentry – the NYPD, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), the Department of Probation (DOP), the Department of Correction (DOC), and countless agencies with law enforcement embedded in them – from Homeless Services to the Department of Education. As a result, we lack a citywide strategy for violence prevention, violence interruption and responding to violence after it has occurred. A Yang administration will ensure that New York City has one coordinated response to keeping New Yorkers safe. By appointing a Deputy Mayor for Public and Community Safety, Andrew Yang will ensure that the City has a coordinated strategy at the highest level of City government.

Appoint a Police Commissioner with a background beyond NYPD experience.

Andrew Yang will appoint a NYPD commissioner whose career is not primarily in law enforcement. A commissioner will need to be able to advance the culture and support a vision for how the NYPD can be fully integrated into a larger public safety strategy. The commissioner must have a broad perspective of the NYPD’s role in New York and establish clear measures of policing success. That means refocusing the NYPD to protect against and solve violent crimes throughout the City while continuing to evolve.

Pursue a residency requirement for new officers in the state legislature.

A majority of NYPD officers live outside NYC. NYPD officers are exempted from residency requirements and are allowed to live in nearby suburban counties, such as Suffolk County, even though NYC municipal workers are required to live in the five boroughs, including civilian workers in the NYPD. A Yang administration will seek state approval to repeal this carveout so that all new officers are required to live in New York City. If we are committed to the ideals of neighborhood policing, we should have our police live in our neighborhoods. They should be a part of the civic fabric and understand the communities they protect and serve.  

Prevent the rise in hate crimes.

Hate crimes have become an epidemic in New York City. Whether the rise in anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-semitic crimes in recent years, or the rise in anti-Asian crimes since the pandemic, the NYPD must serve as true partners to the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) to prevent hate crimes, targeting prevention efforts where misinformation and disinformation is spreading, proactively protecting houses of worship and neighborhoods that police intelligence determines to be at risk of heightened violence, encouraging communities to report hate violence without the fear of retribution, and full police engagement in arresting those who commit or conspire to commit acts of violence. 

Invest resources into neighborhoods stricken by gun violence and ensure crimes are being solved when they occur.

In 2020, the City reported 1,531 shootings, nearly double the previous year’s total. Shootings and the overall rise in crime are overwhelmingly concentrated in communities of color, which have been hit hardest by the pandemic. A 2020 report by the Center for Court Innovation, which studied the experience of young people of color who live in public housing revealed that “current public safety efforts, where law enforcement is the primary response to violent crime, exacerbate young people’s sense of urban siege.” The same study revealed that the majority of people who carry guns had had someone close to them shot—most often a close friend or family member. 88% percent of participants had been arrested, more than half before age 16—mostly for charges like marijuana possession, robbery, and fare beating; almost two-thirds had been incarcerated. Criminal records and poverty pushed some participants to alternative survival strategies like drug dealing or robbery, which sometimes involved carrying a gun.

The NYPD must be an integral partner in solving the gun violence epidemic, but not the only solution. That means increasing cops on  the street – and around the subways  – at least  temporarily when there are spikes in serious crimes. 

A Yang administration will also seek to ensure the NYPD is actually solving crimes. The clearance rate for murders dropped 16% between 2019 and 2020. In fact, a key way of building trust between communities and the police is for officers to show they are able to solve serious crimes. One way to do so is to bolster the detective ranks and ensure officers are not simply staying in their cars or behind their desks instead of getting out in the neighborhoods.

In addition, in recent years, the City has scaled its support for Cure Violence and other gun violence intervention programs as some of our most important interventions in addressing the epidemic. The Cure Violence program recruits and supports trusted, credible community messengers to interrupt violence before it begins, and mediate conflict when it arises. A Yang administration will further scale up Cure Violence so that every precinct with significant gun violence is ultimately covered.

When an incidence of gun violence occurs – be it between community members, at the hands of police, or in a domestic dispute – communities also need to be supported through the trauma that results. The Yang Administration will invest in coordinated responses by community based organizations, mental health providers and hospitals to violence and support restorative justice practitioners, following the innovative strategies of organizations like Common Justice.

Overhaul oversight of the NYPD.

Following the NYPD’s deplorable reaction to the protests over the summer, the City’s independent Department of Investigations released a series of recommendations about how to better conduct oversight of the NYPD in a real and meaningful way. A Yang administration would supplement disciplinary power from the NYPD Commissioner so that the CCRB or an independent disciplinary committee is able to make a final determination. However, that increased responsibility will require greater resources from the outside board. At present, the CCRB board is composed of members appointed by the Mayor, Council, Public Advocate, and NYPD Commissioner. These positions need to be full-time. 

Further, a Yang administration would push to do away with the requirement that individuals have to physically go to the CCRB officers in Lower Manhattan for in-person interviews. Instead, they should have teams meet individuals in locations throughout the five boroughs that are more convenient. As it is, only about one-half of civilian complaints are fully investigated.

Expanded mental health counseling for officers.

According to some studies, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects 19 percent of police in the US, 24 and 34 percent suffer from symptoms associated with PTSD. Under a Yang administration, new officers will automatically receive regular counseling for the first two years of their service. As officers respond to dangerous and traumatic experiences for the first time, it is essential they are able to appropriately emotionally cope with the stresses of their profession.

Expand our capacity for a mental health response.

Expand mental health co-response teams

In 2017, New York City reported that there were 169,000 mental health emergency 911 calls were received by the NYPD in 2017 – approximately one call every three minutes, were made by people needing help and where there was no indication of violence. The majority (56%) of these calls result in the individual being transported to the hospital, highlighting the need for partnership between law enforcement and public health workers. In February 2021, the NYPD is expanding co-response teams, sending social workers out with police officers, specifically to respond to 911 calls of people who are in mental health distress. This program is based on similar models in Eugene, OR and Denver, CO that have reduced police response to people in mental health distress overall, and should be expanded citywide. 

Invest in the capacity of a Mental Health Emergency Response Unit

The NYPD does not have the capacity nor skill set to respond to many people in emotional distress or who are experiencing mental health crises, particularly those in the disability community for whom interacting with law enforcement is difficult. We are encouraged to see the recent announcement by the City that for the first time, mental health professionals and crisis workers will be dispatched through 911 to respond to mental health emergencies. A Yang administration would scale this pilot program up so that it expands beyond the current two high-need communities in which it is set to begin operating February 2021. As we expand the pilot we should continue to model our system off the CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping out On The Streets) program in Eugene, Oregon, which has diverted 5-8% of calls from the police.   

Auditing the use of surveillance technologies.

Investigative reporting revealed the broad use of facial recognition by the NYPD. To date, there are no real guidelines around the use of how new surveillance technologies should be used. The Council took an important first step by passing the POST Act, which required disclosure of the NYPD’s use of these technologies and an annual audit following the development of policies of such tools. A Yang administration will then look to develop policies around the findings that carefully balances their benefits in preventing and solving crimes with the need to protect our civil liberties.