We must roll back the power and size of the police, provide new and better resources for poor communities of color and also increase protections from abuse. The following agenda, which is an evolving document, relies on three pillars, each of which contains a number of specific demands as outlined by several grassroots community groups:
The City Council and the Mayor came together in 2016 to increase the NYPD headcount, adding 1,297 extra police officers to the America's largest police force during historic lows in crime. This despite protests in the council chambers and a campaign, Safety Beyond Policing, that demanded the city instead use the the funding in the budget that would go to more cops (a price tag that is now known to be around $200 million/year) to instead fund other, more vital needs.
The city should work to drastically reduce the NYPD headcount, starting with the nearly 1,300 extra cops hired through the FY2016 budget. Through attrition, the number of police officers can be reduced by the thousands with no effect on crime levels. Beginning in 2001, the size of the NYPD went down from 42,000 to about 35,000 as crime continued to decline. The city should move to reduce the size of the department to 30,000 by 2025 and 20,000 by 2030. The amount of money saved would amount to billions that could be spent elsewhere.
Approximately 50% of the nearly 300,000 arrests in NYC in 2016 were resolved at the first court date, many with dismissals, ACDs or other non-jail dispositions. These numbers suggest that that there are not significant public safety justifications for arrests. In the Broken Windows era, the NYPD has arrested literally millions of people as the result of behaviors that do not even rise to the level of what most New Yorkers would consider a legitimate crime. Quality-of-life arrests should be eliminated in favor of non-punitive interventions like service referrals or, at most, warnings.
Being given a summons can be just as punitive as an arrest. Summonses are not the answer and in fact create a connection to the criminal justice system that is often hard to break. Worst of all, summonses represent financial sanctions inflicted in poor communities of color who cannot afford to pay them. Imagine being given a $100 summons for not paying a subway or bus fare when you're living paycheck to paycheck or don't have any income at all.
Civil summonses, though avoiding criminal implications (at first), inflict the same types of financial punishments on people and can also result in lost work hours as they mandate people to appear in court or to perform community service. Worst yet is that neither the city nor the state is not required to provide legal representation in civil court. In fact, civil summonses oftentimes mean higher fines that are, on average, harder to beat in court. There should be no criminal or civil summonsing for non-violent, quality-of-life infractions.
Lawsuits and research reports have proven that summons practices of NYPD have resulted in disproportionate harm to communities of color. In a recent federal lawsuit settlement, the City of New York agreed to pay up to $75 million dollars as a result of nearly 1 million criminal summonses issued between 2007 and 2015 that were given out despite there being no legal basis for the summonses. Given this history, it is inappropriate for the city to continue to threaten people with summons warrants .
Recent announcements by elected officials and city prosecutors that they would work to clear summonses that were at least 10 years old do not solve the full scope of the problem. The primary targets of police harassment and enforcement are Black youths aged 16-24. No one in this demographic would be helped with a warrant-clearing effort for summonses from 10 or 20 years ago.
Throughout the city, District Attorney Offices have heavily penalized people who've been accused of multiple misdemeanors. New Yorkers who are accused of three misdemeanors during a single year, including charges related to quality of life policing and arrests made to fulfill quotas, are often forced into jail by high bail amounts and prosecutors’ refusal to offer any plea deal during the early phases of a case.This is a city-wide policy known as "Operate Spotlight" and must be ended completely and immediately.
Neighborhood group Queens Neighborhoods United (or Queens Barrios Unidos) has fought for the rights of street vendors, many of whom are often the targets of the city and the NYPD. They have tied the enforcement efforts against vendors to the push for privatization of public spaces and the gentrification of communities of color.
QNU believes that no vendor, almost all of whom are immigrants, should be arrested or ticketed. They also demand that public spaces not be privatized, which is often the end goal of business improvement districts (BIDs). Completely removing, and not simply increasing, the city's nonsensical cap on vending permit stickers would remove the criminal stigma against vendors and allow them to work legally. Instead, QNU says, provide legal and business resources for vendors in a way that would help them flourish.
Last year, the City Council approved legislation that allowed the Department of Transportation to create so-called "activity zones" in Times Square in order to restrict the actions of costumed performers, most of whom are immigrant workers. Performers are not allowed to work for tips except in certain zones, which raises a number of constitutional questions. The move would allow the DOT, buoyed by the enforcement power of the NYPD, to control the movements of performers under threat of arrest or summons. This legislation should be repealed and the freedom to move freely in all public plazas should be immediately reinstated.
The NYPD's Vice Unit was doubled last year despite long-held concerns over its abusive and discriminatory reputation among sex workers and the public. Similarly, the NYPD Peddlers Unit has often been the tip of the spear in harassing and arresting vendors, sometimes even confiscating their belongings. The Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) has, for years, called for the disbanding of these units, which do more to preserve the harmful effects of Broken Windows than to actually improve public safety.
When someone dials 9-1-1 or 3-1-1, far too often police officers are the first to arrive. This often leads to terrible outcomes for vulnerable people, like homeless New Yorkers and those who may have mental health issues. The Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) says that "removing the 911 unit from the NYPD and providing dispatchers with a list of mental health and social service organizations and community involved clergy for every neighborhood in the city. Professionals with years of training and preparation would arrive on the scene – the decision that physical restraints are needed would rest with them. Such a considered approach would save lives rather than take them."
The NYPD continues to pursue a quota system, requiring the nearly 23,000 patrol officers to make particular numbers of arrests and summonses whether there are issues in a particular or not. Police officers use Broken Windows policing to meet these quotas set by the department as "performance goals", since they don't admit to these quotas by name since it is against New York State law to have a quota system. Groups like PROP and the ANSWER Coalition NYC point out that these quotas are most often met by predatory policing practices in communities of color. Over the years, a variety of whistleblowing cops have expressed their concern about this type of enforcement. The outcome of the quota system is disproportionately negative for people of color. It's no secret that the NYPD already takes a hands-off approach when it comes to publicly intoxicated Yankees fans on the Subway or white residents drinking wine during picnics in Central Park. Att most they offer them simple warnings. By contrast, the NYPD metes out summonses with zero tolerance to poor communities. Therefore, the practice must be acknowledged by city and fully abolished.
The philosophy of "zero tolerance" often begins for New Yorkers of color when they are in school. What can be described as a Broken Windows approach to education has been pointed out and criticized by educators. This is made worse when so many public schools in the city have an excessive number police officers stationed within the school to enforce rules and, in some cases, physically restrain and even arrest children. Similar to Broken Windows for the greater public, there are no correlative relationship between enforcement and and 'crime' within public schools. And, also like Broken Windows, most enforcement targets Black and Latino students.
There should be no NYPD police officers in public schools.
Several groups across the city have come together for multiple days of action since early 2016 as part of the #SwipeItForward campaign. By swiping in New Yorkers of color for free, these efforts have helped to keep people safe from the NYPD's #1 Broken Windows arrest: fare-evasion. There have been over 50,000 fare-evasion related arrests in the last two years, around 90% of which are of people of color, as well as hundreds of thousands of summonses, according to PROP. Addressing the needs of the community by helping them get on the train or bus helps us get to the real issues within our communities, like poverty.
A fully funded program, not unlike the subsidized programs already available to students and the elderly, providing unlimited metrocards to those most in need would help people much more than an arrest, a night in jail or even a costly summons. For the amount the city invested in more cops, roughly $200 million/year, we could fund free transportation access to tens of thousands of New Yorkers
City performers, including those who perform in the subway and above ground, are too often arrested and ticketed by the NYPD. Instead of criminalizing these performers, the overwhelming majority of whom are Black and Latino, the city should provide spaces and resources to explore and support their talents. A city program where spaces are available to performers under the age of 25 so that they can train and also film videos to help promote themselves would be much more helpful than committing resources to punishing them.
Public urination is often showcased as a symbol of of the type of disorder that Broken Windows policing purports to deter. New York City has only 600 public comfort stations in a city of over 8 million, with several hundreds of thousands more people either commuting into the city or visiting/touring on a daily basis. These 600 restrooms are not even open 24/7 and are often, especially in public playgrounds and parks in poor neighborhoods, not properly staffed or maintained.
The way to deal with public urination is to expand access to public restrooms. Poor and homeless New Yorkers are affected most by arrests and ticketing for this 'offense'. The city and the MTA, which has only 145 restrooms for its 5 million plus daily commuters, should at the very least commit to building new fully-staffed restrooms that are open 24 hours a day. The city should have at least 3000 bathrooms before 2020.
The city should immediately invest resources in repairs for public housing, which are often plagued with unsanitary common areas, dark staircases and actual broken windows. There is also a serious need for spaces for young people in public housing to play and recreational space. Far too often, NYCHA community center doors are shuttered for years on end. With the money saved from reducing the NYPD headcount by 1,300 officers, the city could pour an extra $200 million into NYCHA's budget so that it can make needed repairs and also, crucially, open and staff every public housing community center in the city.
Infractions or crimes related to poverty, like petty larceny, jumping the turnstile, panhandling or even trespassing, shouldn't end in arrest. Instead, make sure that those accused of such crimes and infractions are given access to applications for resources like free metrocards, housing or food stamps. This would a service referral but it would not be mandated that they participate, so as not to create further levers of threat. There should be no criminal or financial implications for such behaviors whatsoever. These are, more often than not, people who need help--and the city should provide access to that help. No homeless person should ever face any criminal or civil consequences for being homeless. They should be given access to housing as has been repeatedly advocated for by community groups.
As performer/busker advocacy group Busk NY has pointed out for years, police officers routinely harass and arrest New Yorkers for performing underground. Despite the fact that performing on subway platforms and mezzanines is completely legal and allowed by the MTA, performers both on and off trains are target. Busk NY calls for a 'Subway Performer Bill of Rights' posted in every station, which would point this out to every police officer and member of the public. They also call for a moratorium on all arrests and ticketing of performers, including on-train performers.
Copwatch groups that document police abuse across the city have been some of the only reliable checks against police abuse. The city has hundreds, if not thousands, of cameras across the city that could also serve the same purposes. As it stands now, the city and the NYPD control footage of its own cameras and regularly keep it from the public, often forcing people to go through arduous Freedom of Information requests and litigation to obtain it.
El Grito de Sunset Park, a community watchdog group, says that all public camera footage should be immediately available to the public--especially after an arrest or incident involving the police. It is vital that the city create transparent storage systems where members of the public can access public footage without unnecessary red tape, expense, and interference. As easy as it is for the police department to access and publicize footage when they want to catch a suspect, it should be just as easy for the public to hold the police accountable. The public's right access data should be independent from NYPD or other city agencies.
Echoing the previous demand, civilian recordings of the police have dramatically increased transparency and public knowledge of law enforcement operations. NYPD itself has acknowledged the constitutional right of individuals and organized copwatchers to photograph, film and record police activity. The department has issued directives underscoring this right and directing NYPD officers not to interfere with its exercise, but unlawful obstruction, arrests, and destruction of recordings and recording devices by NYPD has nonetheless persisted.
Renowned copwatch group Copwatch Patrol Unit (CPU) says that legislation is necessary to enforce protection of the public’s right to film the police. Under a law passed in Colorado, police officers who interfere with lawful copwatching may be fined $15,000 in civil actions, in which immunity defenses do not apply. CPU says that NYC should likewise mandate strict penalties against officers who interfere with the public's right to film the police, subjecting those officers to civil liability for constitutional violations and destruction of property.
The useless and toothless Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) has proven itself to being one of the city's most miserable 'reforms' ever. Packed with political appointments and former police officers, the country's largest police oversight agency routinely recommends slap-on-the-wrist 'punishments' to abusive cops. The agency should be recreated to have elected board positions, with elections held every two years, and the CCRB should be given final word over discipline. As it stands now, the CCRB can only make recommendations that the police commissioner can (and often does) ignore. With an oversight agency that can actually punish them, police officers will be less inclined to commit acts of misconduct and to engage in needless interactions.
Precinct Community Councils are fundamentally broken. They essentially serve as private clubs for a small group of residents (most with ties to local elected officials) and as propaganda spaces for the local police precinct. Why Accountability, a Black woman led grassroots group, has had an extensive presence in precinct councils in the Bronx since the chokehold murder of Eric Garner. They say that Precinct Councils now operate with rigged elections and respond with hostility toward community inquiries about police misconduct.
In order to have real accountability, Why Accountability demands 'Community Control' monthly meetings, which are never to be held inside precincts. Every meeting should be live streamed to the public and minutes of meetings should be posted every month online and at meetings. There should be no more than 3 NYPD representatives at any meeting Additionally, council board members can never serve more than two elected terms, cannot take new positions on the board and all Council guidelines should be subject to community, not police, approval.
Protest against discriminatory and predatory policing is the right of every New Yorker. In order to ensure that new policing policies (like the emerging 'Predictive Policing' phenomenon) don't emerge and target our communities, the rights of protesters should be defended.
Stop NYPD Spying says "under the current Handschu guidelines, the NYPD is legally permitted to have informants and undercovers monitor non-public activity of groups engaged in First Amendment activities under a very low 'evidentiary' basis. That means churches, synagogues and mosques providing sanctuary to vulnerable populations and activist organizations planning non-violent civil disobedience. These guidelines give far too much discretion to the NYPD to infiltrate and surveil our communities and organizations." Stop NYPD Spying demands that "the use of informants and undercovers in groups engaged in First Amendment activities be limited to suspected serious criminal activity... and not be allowed for misdemeanors. Allegations of the existence of such criminal activities must be verified as true and accurate. Serious penalties should be imposed against the NYPD and the City for violations of such restrictions."