By Brian J Pape, AIA
The city’s newly adopted laws to combat sex traffickers, but avoid entangling their victims or those selling sex in the criminal justice system, have gotten the brunt of publicity about police, it seems.
But against a background of horrendous events nationwide, involving various police departments, we recently got news of a very different type: news of real police reforms.
Dermot Shea, the NYPD police commissioner, writes in the New York City Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Draft Plan: Part 2 (March 12, 2021), “The killing of George Floyd last year in Minneapolis was shocking and reprehensible. It amplified difficult but necessary conversations about race and the policing profession.
“At the New York City Police Department, like all police departments, we must look in the mirror and seize this moment in history if we are to truly achieve our country’s guiding, yet unrealized, vision of equality and justice for all. In keeping with the philosophy behind neighborhood policing, the NYPD will continue to develop better ways to police in conjunction with the people we serve.
“And by strengthening relationships and building trust, we will surely write our own moment in history—a time we turned the corner, found each other, and began to achieve these goals anew.”
These aspirational words are followed by a letter from Fred Davie, Board Chair of the CCRB,
“As the independent, civilian oversight agency for the New York City Police Department (since 1993), the Civilian Complaint Review Board deals with…a painful legacy of racialized policing that too often manifests itself in the cases we see, cases alleging unnecessary force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, and offensive language.
“Now, we stand at a new moment of possibility. New Yorkers are engaged and ready for the reforms we need to make New York City a leader in civilian oversight.”
This article is a summary of the New York City Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan (the plan) published on the city website.
The plan is a response to Governor Cuomo’s New York State Executive Order 203, and the result of a full community and stakeholder engagement process from the city council. It includes dozens of pages of detail, and 135 specific points in the implementation section, called the Reform Initiative Tracker, to allow the public to follow progress.
The plan focuses on five goals:
- Decriminalization of poverty. Responsibilities of law enforcement officers have ballooned over the past few decades, including assignments to address social issues (such as homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse) with criminal justice responses, ultimately criminalizing poverty. True police reform must be paired with comprehensive and radical economic and budget justice; the city will develop a health-centered response to mental health crises, rather than send regular police officers to these 911 calls; there will be a transition of school safety agents from the police to the Department of Education. (In addition, concerns such as enforcement of street vending would be transferred to the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.)
- Recognition and continual examination of historical and modern-day racialized policing in New York City. Addressing the legacy and harm of racialized policing in New York requires a recognition and public acknowledgement of the department’s troubled history and current challenges regarding race, so that past harms can be investigated and subject to accountability measures. Training materials will educate new recruits, supervisors will proactively monitor discretionary officer activity, and there will be augmented racial bias training for NYPD leadership. The NYPD will enhance positive reinforcement, formally and informally, to change culture.
3.Transparency and accountability to the people of New York City. To earn the trust of all the city’s communities, the NYPD must be transparent while holding members accountable. The NYPD will ensure that “at-risk” officers (the official description of those who exhibit problematic behavior) are identified, and that swift, appropriate interventions occur. New York City has an extensive set of internal and external accountability and oversight mechanisms, including the Commission to Combat Police Corruption (CCPC), the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), and the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD (OIG-NYPD). The plan proposes strengthening some areas and engaging in structural reform of others, such as pension forfeiture used as disciplinary penalty for the most egregious instances of misconduct.
- Community representation and partnership. Many New Yorkers have discussed perceptions of the police as an occupying force in their community, and a desire to see officers who understand the cultural nuances of their community. The de Blasio administration has tripled the city’s funding for Cure Violence programs and increased their reach significantly, with funding to support the Anti-Gun Violence Youth Employment Program. All officers who are new to a precinct will undergo an intensive course that includes field training to better understand the neighborhood and meaningfully engage immigrant communities.
- A diverse, resilient, and supportive NYPD. The city aims to develop the most diverse and resilient law enforcement agency in the nation. Applicants who are city residents are moved upwards to develop a police force that can closely identify with the public they serve. The Patrol Guide, which contains all the rules that NYPD officers must follow, will be streamlined to become more user-friendly and easier to navigate.
This remarkable plan for police reform was made possible by the mayor and first deputy mayor, the Office of Criminal Justice, the Community Affairs Unit, the Legislative Affairs Unit, and the Law Department. More than 85 meetings and town halls were held since October 2020 (a full list is on the website); these included nine public listening sessions over several months to get testimony and feedback from a broad range of New Yorkers including advocacy groups, clergy, racial justice advocates, youth groups, ethnic and religious organizations, small business owners, the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, people with disabilities, housing communities and providers, crime victims, policy experts, prosecutors, academic leaders, and many others. NYPD uniformed and civilian members of all ranks, ages, races, genders, orientations, ethnic backgrounds, and assignments participated along with leaders from the NYPD’s police unions and 36 different fraternal organizations.
Check out the full Policing Report posted online at nyc.gov., then search for “police reforms” or try https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/222-21/city-council-passes-comprehensive-police-reform-resolution-confront-legacy-racialized. Complaints can be emailed to email@example.com.
This is an historic moment; true reform is possible with the public’s participation.
Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board Landmarks Committee and Quality of Life Committee, is co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, is a member of the AIANY Historic Buildings Committee, and is a journalist, specializing in architecture subjects.