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Gotham Gazette

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Citizens Union

Public Safety

Comissioner Bernard Kerik and the three priorities


It has been a good six months for Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. The police department released data showing that major crimes (murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny, and auto theft) for the week ending Feb. 25 were at a nine-year low in New York City -- 2,731 this year versus 7,438 in 1993. This represents the fewest major crimes for a one-week period since the police department began its weekly reports in 1993.

On Feb. 21-- the six-month anniversary of his having taken over the department -- Kerik gave a talk sponsored by the Manhattan Institute at the Harvard Club. He systematically walked the audience through the three priorities that had been set up by Mayor Giuliani: continuing the emphasis on crime reduction, boosting police morale, and improving community relations.

FIRST PRIORITY: KEEP REDUCING CRIME

Crime has gone down 63 percent over Giuliani's eight years. Homicide is down 70 percent. These are dramatic drops. On appointing Kerik, Giuliani's challenge to his new commissioner was: How low can you get it? How much further can you make crime decline?

Kerik noted that last January "all the naysayers said it was over." But he disagreed. "People who understand principles of accountability and Compstat," he said, referring to the police department's much-praised computerized crime-tracking system, "wouldn't give up so quickly." This year to date, crime is down about 9 percent over last year, he added.

SECOND PRIORITY: IMPROVE POLICE MORALE

Kerik says he believes in listening "to the people at the bottom, because information goes through so many filters before it gets to you." The number one issue for uniformed police officers is not money, he argues, nor their contract, but how they are treated by their superiors, which is badly. "Cops don't like the way they're talked to, how they're treated by bosses. And if you embarrass or insult a cop in front of peers or prisoners, what is the cop going to do? Take it out on a prisoner or the public, that's what. Supervision has to be changed."

As Michael Meyers pointed out in his column in the New York Post, "Accountability is the name of Kerik's plan, and it starts with the supervisors -- sergeants and up. That's why there have been transfers, retirements, and shake-ups." The important transfers have been duly noted by the press. Late on Friday, Feb. 23, a slow news day, the police department announced that Kerik was transferring the commander of the Narcotics Division to the second post in the Housing Bureau, and replacing him with Assistant Chief William Taylor. After calling Taylor a "highly respected veteran detective commander," the New York Times commented that Kerik, who himself had served for fours years as a narcotics detective, has focused attention and energy on anti-drug efforts. In his first month, said the Times, Kerik undertook a detailed review of narcotics arrests while questioning whether undercover narcotics officers could not be used more effectively than in making low-level arrests.

Yet almost as serious as supervision to the cop on the beat, argued Kerik in his speech, is the deplorably poor physical condition of so many police facilities, particularly precinct houses and their locker rooms and showers, which Kerik said were often "disgusting." As a first step, he returned to a strategy that he had used successfully while at the department of corrections: he went after federal surplus property. He sent 20 tractor trailers to the federal warehouse in Virginia to bring back chairs, desks, sofas, lamps, rugs, and electronic equipment. The point was to improve facilities, and in doing that, to show cops that someone cares.

Patrol cops were also chagrinned about the scarcity of vehicles. When Kerik asked his department how many spare cars were available, he was told none. After a ruthless search of the inventory list he found 380 cars that had been set aside for priorities like special events. "Turns out we have an inordinate number of special events," said Kerik wryly. He took 200 of these found cars and sent them to the precincts. He started getting little notes from cops: thank you for the cars. The found cars had the nice side benefit of raising response time, which had stalled because some precincts lacked the necessary cars.

Kerik's emphasis on the beat cop is seen as an important step forward by Cooper Union Professor Fred Siegel. "This is a guy who came up through the ranks," says Siegel. "He can relate to ordinary cops because he was one. This is really who he is. Put that together with his personality--he likes catching bad guys--and you've got the right guy for the job."

The problem is that no commissioner, no matter how determined and how competent, really rules the police department. As Thomas Reppetto, head of the Citizens Crime Commission and author of a book on the history of the police department, points out, the department's organizational culture is more determinative of police behavior than either the commissioner or the mayor. "The organization is forever," he says, "and mayors and commissioners come and go. That doesn't mean that a commissioner can't do things to change and improve the department. Commissioner William Bratton, for example, showed that the department could be much more effective fighting crime. But it does mean that powerful institutional forces must be overcome."

The police department is a semi-military organization, says Reppetto. It is set up on an industrial model, with tight control over the worker and little discretion at lower levels. While many American corporations over the last decade have "flattened out the pyramid and given greater discretion to individual employees," notes Reppetto, the police department has barely tempered its hierarchy.

THIRD PRIORITY: STRENGTHEN POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONS

Kerik's take is that "cops have gotten a bad rap over a couple of controversial incidents," and that community relations should be addressed just as systematically as crime reduction. "We need to create measurements on how we interact," he said, "and create a mandate for precinct commanders to interact with the public." Noting that he has a very low tolerance for failure, he said his warning to all commanders is that if you're not good at your job you'll be removed.

Saying he needs to know what the cops are really doing in the communities, he highlighted a survey he commissioned from the Vera Institute of Justice. Noting that he hired the Institute (where I am a consultant) for its independence and expertise, he said the survey will elicit views from people who "have had an encounter with the police." There would be relatively little point in surveying those actually arrested, said Kerik, since we pretty much know how they would feel. But, he asked, what about those who are stopped but not arrested? particularly those who are stopped and frisked? We know that's a negative interaction, so we want to ask them what they think."

The Vera survey will also include victims of crime, and people aided by the police, in addition to those who "encounter" police officers in more aggressive circumstances. The results of the survey may help some police officers make what Kerik calls an "attitude adjustment."

Surely this is a first--a police department commissioning a survey of citizens who have had negative encounters with the police. Kerik sees it as a natural next step. "We're a service organization," he says. "We have to think about consumer satisfaction, and we have to capture real information."

Fred Siegel calls the logic of the survey "a brilliant step forward. The police department is saying: just because someone is released after being stopped doesn't mean our obligation to them is ended. We're concerned about what happened and what they have to say."

YET ANOTHER MURDER

Kerik left the Harvard Club to go immediately to A press conference announcing the arrest of the 15-year old boy who is being charged as an adult in the killing of Ismael Marzan in Central Park.

The following day, Mayor Giuliani appointed Kerik to a new five-year term, though there is little but symbolic meaning in the move: police commissioners serve at the pleasure of the mayor, and of the five known candidates for mayor, only City Council Speaker Peter Vallone has said that Kerik is on his short list.

Commissioner Kerik has eight months to show New Yorkers what he can do.

Julia Vitullo-Martin, a long-time editor and writer on urban affairs, is the former director of the Citizens Jury Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. She is now writing a book entitled The Conscience of the American Jury.

Rockefeller Drug Law Reform


Elaine Bartlett was a 26-year-old mother of four living in East Harlem when she was sentenced to 20-to-life for selling four ounces of cocaine to an informant. It was her first offense; the same transaction sent the father of her two daughters to prison for 25-to-life. The couple had no previous involvement with the drug trade and had no idea that their crime could result in such severe punishment.

Jan Warren was single, pregnant and desperate for money when her cousin asked her to carry nearly eight ounces of cocaine from Newark, New Jersey to Rochester. She had no prior arrests. The judge said the fact that New York state law mandated a fifteen-to-life sentence for the offense was "a travesty" of justice and that he didn't want to pronounce the required sentence.

Unlike Bartlett and Warren, Arthur Beaty was addicted to drugs when he ran afoul of New York's tough drug laws. A married father of two with no prior arrests, he was sentenced to fifteen-to-life for selling 4.5 ounces of cocaine to an undercover police officer.

Though Bartlett has been freed by a rare clemency decision by Governor Pataki, the others remain in prison. Now, however, for the first time in decades, they have hope. This year may offer the best chance to change New York State's draconian drug laws -- but advocates fear that proposals for change that don't go far enough could derail real reform.

LEGACY OF A LOST ELECTION

The drug statutes, known as the Rockefeller laws, were passed in 1973. Then-New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller was preparing to run for higher office and wanted to burnish his tough-on-crime credentials. He had previously tried addressing New York's heroin problem by expanding treatment, but drug use only continued to increase. And so he proposed life sentences without parole, no plea bargaining and no exceptions for anyone caught dealing drugs.

His aides pleaded that this was unworkable, that it would flood prisons, clog courts and probably wouldn't even solve the problem. He compromised. Instead of life without parole, there would be a 15-to-life mandatory minimum for possession of more than four or sale of more than two ounces of cocaine or heroin. Lesser weights would result in lighter sentences. But second offenses on these crimes would result in sentences of 8 1/3 to 25 years.

TOUGH LAWS FAILED TO PREVENT CRACK EPIDEMIC

The Rockefeller drug laws-- now 28 years old-- are amongst the toughest in the country. They failed to prevent New York City from becoming the epicenter of the American crack epidemic in the early 90's when drug use, drug trafficking and violent crime rates reached record levels. Twenty-one thousand prisoners are currently incarcerated under Rockefeller law provisions, more than half of them non-violent. A mind-boggling 94 percent are black or Latino according to statistics compiled by the New York City Legal Aid Society, despite the fact that most of New York states drug dealers and users are white.

In fact, the statutes initially included lengthy sentences for possession and sales of marijuana, but these were repealed in 1979 after an outcry from white middle class parents who found that their sons and daughters were facing long stretches of incarceration.

GOVERNOR PUSHES REFORM BUT ADVOCATES WORRY

For the first time, this year Governor Pataki is proposing significant reforms. He has advocated reducing the mandatory 15-to-life sentence for what are called A1 felonies to 10-to-life, which could be lowered to 8 and 1/3 to life on appeal. He would allow diversion of second felony offenders for lesser drug crimes to treatment with permission from the prosecutor. And, the changes would be retroactive, so people who have already served long sentences could be eligible for early release.

But will these changes actually make it through the legislature-- and do they go far enough?

State Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubrey, who chairs the Assembly's Corrections Committee, has sought to change these laws for years. He sees the governor's plan as a good starting point for negotiations, but adds, "There's still far too little judicial discretion, it doesn't reduce sentences far enough and it hasn't provided a sufficient budget for drug treatment."

'ONE SHOT AT THE APPLE'

Aubrey does believe, however, that the laws will be changed this year and that this is the best opportunity reformers have ever had to make a significant difference. "Logic would seem to indicate that this is a one-shot deal." he says, "No one has a crystal ball to say that, but it is such a politically volatile issue and usually in those cases, you have just one shot at the apple."

He adds, "Given the momentum of public opinion, we need to maximize this opportunity to ensure that the changes are adequate."

While Democrats have long advocated reform, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has frequently tabled it, as a way to try to ensure re-election for upstate Democrats whom he believed couldn't afford to be seen as soft on crime. Governor Pataki had advocated a reform plan in 1999, but it was limited to sentence reduction only on appeal and linked to the elimination of parole for all felons, which was something Democrats refused to support.

Current supporters of ending the Rockefeller drug laws include everyone from the Catholic church (Cardinal O'Connor spoke out against the laws just before he died) to hard-line former drug czar Barry McCaffrey, the Legal Aid Society, the ACLU, the NAACP, Al Sharpton, Human Rights Watch, the Correctional Association and drug policy reform organizations like the Lindesmith Center and the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice. New York State's highest court, the Court of Appeals, as well as many other judges have expressed grave reservations about the fairness of the laws. Public opinion polls also show support for reform. According to a Quinnipiac College poll, 69 percent support judicial discretion rather than mandatory sentences for drug offenders.

LIKE NIXON TO CHINA?

But the Rockefeller laws have become one of many "Nixon goes to China" issues in politics where only Republicans have the tough-on-crime credentials to make changes typically favored by liberals. Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno has expressed support for repealing Rockefeller as has John Dunne, a former Republican State Senator who helped write the laws and who also served as Assistant Attorney General for Human Rights under President George Bush.

As a result, Robert Gangi, Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York and a long-time advocate for change, believes that the chances for significant reform are high. He cautions that there is a danger that only "cosmetic" reforms will be passed, and that this could set back real change indefinitely. "That's why we're holding a major rally on March 27th in Albany called "Drop the Rock.'" he said.

DISTRICT ATTORNEYS FIGHT CHANGE...

The only support for keeping the laws comes from the powerful District Attorney's Association. "We don't support reduction in sentencing," says Robert Carney, President of the association. "If you take the minimum away, it removes the leverage that prosecutors have to obtain pleas and information about drug trafficking networks. We've solved murder cases using these laws."

Aubrey, for his part, doesn't buy it. "Their opposition to judges having discretion is troubling to the very concept of how justice is supposed to be applied." he says. "We keep moving away from judges as judges"

EVEN TOUGHEST JUDGES WANT DISCRETION

Supreme Court Justice Leslie Crocker Snyder has presided over a special court to prosecute major narcotics cases, and as a former prosecutor and possible candidate to succeed Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau, she tends to take tough positions on crime. She is known on the street as "the Dragon Lady" because of the lengthy sentences she imposes. But even she supports overturning Rockefeller. "I'm more suspicious of total discretion for judges than most and I still believe strongly in law enforcement," she says, "but more emphasis is needed on treatment."

Though complete elimination of mandatory sentences -- which is what most advocates would like to see -- is unlikely, most Albany observers believe that the governor's proposal leaves room for negotiation and could lead to significant improvements. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will make the next move -- choosing which changes to fight for, and which to concede. Advocates hope that this time, the horror stories of first-time, non-violent offenders spending lifetimes away from their families -- not to mention the huge financial costs and lack of impact on addiction -- will be heard and remedied.

 

Lessons and Legacy of Amadou Diallo


The sad saga of the Amadou Diallo case in the American criminal justice system has come to an end with the Jan. 31 announcement by the Justice Department that it would not prosecute the four New York City police officers who had shot and killed the young West African immigrant in February 1999.

Familiar as they are, the facts of the case and its journey are worth recalling. On the evening of Feb. 4, 1999, four white plainclothes officers from the Police Department's Street Crime Unit were investigating a rape in the Bronx. Seeing the 22-year-old Diallo standing in front of what turned out to be his Bronx home, the cops mistook a wallet he was holding for a gun, and fired 41 shots. Diallo was hit by 19 bullets, and killed.

The next day the Reverend Al Sharpton called the shooting "a police slaughter." Nearly simultaneously, U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White said her office would investigate the case, along with the Bronx district attorney, Robert Johnson. On Feb. 16, 1999, D.A. Johnson convened a grand jury to begin hearing evidence.

Demonstrations erupted throughout the city, the largest probably being the March 3 rally on Wall Street demanding the indictment of the officers. Six days later, twelve protestors outside police headquarters were charged with disorderly conduct. Rallies seemed to happen almost daily. More than 1200 people were arrested, including actors Susan Sarandon, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee, and politicians including Congressman Charles Rangel and former Mayor David Dinkins.

Looking bellicose but using conciliatory words, Police Commissioner Howard Safir announced on March 26 that he would modify the Street Crime Unit, requiring officers to wear uniforms.

On March 30, several hundred police officers demonstrated in support of the four cops--who were indicted the next day for second-degree murder. The four officers entered pleas of innocence.

Citing pretrial publicity and suggesting that a fair trial could not be held in the Bronx, a state appeals court ruled on Dec. 16 that the trial should be moved to Albany.

On Feb. 1, 2000, the jury was seated. Four jurors were black, as was the forewoman, who once lived in the Bronx. All four officers were acquitted of all charges on Feb. 25. Almost immediately U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White in Manhattan and the Justice Department in Washington announced that federal prosecutors would review evidence for civil rights violations.

One day short of a year later, the Justice Department announced that its civil rights investigation had concluded that no federal charges were warranted.

The Diallo family still has a $81 million civil suit, its last legal recourse, against the city and the four officers.

Several hundred mourners gathered on Feb. 5 outside Diallo's Bronx building to mark the second anniversary of his death. Otherwise things have been very quiet.

What are we to learn from this terrible saga? Should the trial have been conducted in the Bronx, where the killing occurred? Should federal prosecutors have taken the case? Should the family persist in a civil suit? In sum, what recourse is there to a family whose beloved and unquestionably unarmed son was gunned down by New York City officers standing on his own street, in front of his own home--where he had every right to be? Do the procedures and prerogatives of our justice system yield justice, and if not, what should be done?

Trial by jury: What it entails

At the time of the indictment, many--perhaps most--legal observers thought the officers would follow the usual practice of police officers accused of capital crimes and request a trial by judge rather than by jury. (Technically the defendants "waive" their right to a jury trial and "consent" to a bench trial.) This is a defendant's right under New York law--although it is an unusual and controversial one which should, in my opinion, be reexamined by New Yorkers and their legislators. Prior to the officers in the Diallo case, only one police officer charged in the Bronx with a civilian death had chosen a jury trial since 1977.

Instead, the defense attorneys for the officers took a different route. They argued that pretrial publicity and protests had made it impossible to find impartial jurors in New York City. The appeals court agreed, and moved the trial 140 miles north to Albany. The result was an outcry on the part of New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs.

From both a constitutional and a political point of view, moving the jury trial from the Bronx was unfortunate. The founders of this nation saw the jury as both a needed protection for individual rights and a means of ensuring communal support for judicial procedures. The judicial system cannot function fairly or efficiently without communal support. Just as elections are the central means by which the people participate in the legislative and executive branches, so juries are the central means by which the people participate in the judiciary.

Even more important, the jury trial is the nation's chief means of ensuring that the morals and standards of the community will be heeded in criminal proceedings--and not just any community. The U.S. Constitution is specific. The Sixth Amendment guarantees that in "all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed." In this language, as well as in American tradition, the district in which the crime was committed has been as important as the state. A jury trial is the right of every American--and the right of every American community, including the Bronx.

Should the federal government have agreed to prosecute?

Federal prosecutors spoke up so quickly after the not-guilty verdict that many New Yorkers concluded that a federal prosecution would follow. In fact, this was never a strong possibility.

A dual federal prosecution--familiar to much of the country because of several notorious trials, including the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles--is based on the constitutional reality of dual sovereignty, which says the federal government and state governments are independent sovereigns.

This constitutional reality is backed up by a piece of Reconstruction-era legislation that authorizes federal prosecution of criminal cases in which a state refused to prosecute public officials, including cops. The Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 was passed after the Memphis riot of 1866, when policemen went untried and unpunished for beating and killing black people. Federal law was extended to cover private citizens as well as public officials after the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964.

Until recently, the feds have been very cautious about undertaking dual prosecutions. Following what is known as the Petite Policy, named for the 1960 Supreme Court decision that laid out the groundwork, they will prosecute only after state proceedings have failed to "vindicate vital federal interests."

To intervene, the Justice Department must show a substantial federal interest. Prosecutions against the mob or corrupt state officials are good examples, as are the 1964 "Mississippi Burning" cases.

In addition, the state prosecution must have left the federal interest "demonstrably unvindicated." In other words, if a conviction failed because of incompetent state prosecution or the jury's disregard of evidence, the feds can enter.

None of that applies in Diallo. No serious observer doubts the integrity of the jury, the efficient, fair character of the trial itself or the essential competence of the Bronx district attorney.

Finally, the feds must believe that the defendants' conduct constituted a federal offense and that the evidence will be sufficient to obtain a conviction. But the problem for them in Diallo is the same that faced the state and D.A. Johnson: proving intent on the part of the four police officers. This probably could not be done, and the federal prosecutors withdrew.

Does this mean the end of the line for justice for the Diallo family?

No. This means the end of the line within the criminal justice system, but we have another system altogether--the civil justice system. Simply because a defendant has been found not guilty in criminal court does not free the defendant from potential civil damages.

Nor are civil suits thwarted by the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment, which protects citizens only against a second trial by the government, not by fellow citizens.

Because civil suits have a far lower evidentiary standard-- preponderance of evidence rather than beyond reasonable doubt-- they are often won after a criminal case has been lost. The most famous recent example: O.J. Simpson.

The four officers were found not guilty of murdering Diallo by a criminal jury. Whether they caused his wrongful death remains to be determined by a civil jury.

The Street Crime Unit

Whatever happens with the civil case, Amadou Diallo does leave an important legacy for New York--and that is greater public and federal scrutiny of the police and revised procedures instituted by newly appointed Commissioner Bernard Kerik.

A few weeks after Amadou Diallo's death, a federal investigation began of the Street Crime Unit's aggressive tactics. The unit's supporters said that it had swept thousands of guns off the street and reduced violent crime in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx. But U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White's office demurred. Under civil rights legislation that had been passed in 1994 after the videotaped beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers, White's staff investigated whether New York officers had systematically deprived blacks and Hispanics of their rights by stopping them based on their race.

The city voluntarily turned over its databases holding stop-and-frisk data, plus arrest and complaint information, from 1994 through the first three months of 1999. But it withheld more recent data, preventing investigators from assessing the many changes in procedures introduced by the police department since the Diallo shooting.

The Police Department, for example, began using new stop-and-frisk forms last fall that required more detailed explanations for stopping or searching anyone on the street. While the forms are generally being applauded, the department refused to release the data from the new forms.

Under federal law, federal prosecutors must negotiate with the police department before bringing suit to force changes. The city's tactic may be to withhold data until it has a cue from the new Republican administration in Washington of how a newly constituted Justice Department will regard such suits.

Civilian Complaint Review Board

In a move reminiscent of Nixon's going to China, Mayor Giuliani announced on his radio show late in January that police officers accused of misconduct would no longer be prosecuted by the Police Department. Instead, accused officers would be charged and prosecuted by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the independent agency that now evaluates civilian complaints of abuse. (By "abuse" the board means such things as excessive force, discourtesy, offensive language or abuse of authority. The board does not usually handle criminal matters.)

Noting that the mayor had been one of the harshest critics of civilian oversight of the police, the New York Times called this a "major turnaround." (In his 1992 mayoral campaign, Giuliani had opposed the board's creation.)

Almost no one had been happy with the previous system by which the review board investigated cases, but then referred them to the police department for prosecution. Critics of the police argued that far too many legitimate cases simply languished after referral. Under the new system, the board will investigate and prosecute, but the police commissioner will retain discretion on punishment, which can range from a loss of vacation days to firing.

The commissioner has promised to release an official plan in early spring.

Commissioner Kerik has also announced--and then followed through on--a new policy of encouraging his commanders to attend important community board meetings. Commanders (many newly appointed) all over the city have startled community activists by appearing in their midst, signaling "a police-community warmth that we haven't seen since the early days of the Lindsay administration," says a member of the West Side's Community Board 7.

And while the Police Department is stalling federal prosecutors on the data they want, it is also presenting a data-friendly face to the general public. The department has started posting crime figures for each of the city's 76 police precincts on both the department's and the city's official websites.

The statistics are now posted for most precincts. In late March, the commissioner hopes to post precinct maps showing where crimes are being committed.

Perhaps the Lindsay Administration analogy has some merit. Mayor Lindsay tried decentralizing the police and (unsuccessfully) making police precincts coterminous with natural neighborhood boundaries. Commissioner Kerik is going one better: having commanders introduce themselves to their neighborhoods and giving neighborhoods the data to evaluate just how well those commanders are doing.

Finally, in releasing his semiannul management report, Mayor Giuliani noted that the number of police officers firing their guns had declined to 174 in 2000, down from 194 in 1999, the year Amadou Diallo was killed. In fact, the number of police shootings had been declining--and declining substantially--for most of the Giuliani administration. This is to be applauded, as is the city's 2.8 percent decrease in what are called index crimes--murder, rape, robbery, and car theft.

In his remarks, however, the mayor said nothing of Amadou Diallo-who nonetheless remains in the thoughts of many New Yorkers during this February, the second anniversary of his death.

Julia Vitullo-Martin, a long-time editor and writer on urban affairs, is the former director of the Citizens Jury Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. She is now writing a book entitled The Conscience of the American Jury.

School safety


A new statewide law, the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Law will take effect. Though it is credited with being the most aggressive legislation of its kind in the country, violence in New York schools remains an issue. In recent months, the Governor's Task Force on School Violence has examined the issue of teacher and student safety in depth. Former teacher and Lt. Governor Mary Donohue concluded, "It's not the schools' fault," during a forum at Southside Elementary School on implementing the new law designed to make schools "safe havens for learning."

Much of the law focuses on empowering teachers and schools to combat violence. Districts must develop plans and disciplinary actions for dealing with threats and incidents of violence. Teachers will now have the ability to remove disruptive students, and principals and superintendents have the right to suspend students for up to five days. (Suspension was formerly the domain of the Board of Education, which had to allow administrators the power.) All students will now receive instruction on civility, citizenship and character. And a new statewide system to report acts of violence will be put in place.

There are some more controversial aspects, however. The law will also require all new school employees to be fingerprinted and undergo a police records check, and cost the employee $74. Moreover, the courts will be required to report students' convictions.

Jessica Sounds Off:

Former Commissioner Howard Safir is still costing the city money. Though he stepped down as Commissioner three months ago, the city continues to foot the bill for his security detail. Though the NYPD would not reveal how many officers were assigned to Mr. Safir, the NY Post reported the number to be as high as 13. Safir now works for a corporate investigations firm, ChoicePoint Inc. The Mayor, Commissioner Bernard Kerik and former NYPD commissioner Robert Kelly asserted that such security was standard practice. Former Commissioner Bratton, credited with making New York the safest large city in the nation, commented that he never felt the need for additional security.

Jessica Green is a student of public policy at Columbia University's Graduate School of International and Public Affairs.

Election Special: Who's Tougher on Crime?


Though candidates always promise to get tough on crime, most this campaign season have replaced any actual discussion of crime policy with more pressing "me" issues (such as: How will I benefit from the surplus? How will my health care improve?) Living in relatively crime-free times has helped pushed crime down on the list of priorities. New York City, since the reign of Police Commissioner William Bratton, has enjoyed some of the lowest crime rates in decades. New FBI statistics show that New York led the nation's 10 most populous states over the past five years in reducing violent crime. America as a whole is experiencing the lowest level of such crime in a generation. In a policy arena where life is generally good and voters are happy, there is no political need for extensive debate -- and, except for the usual ideological battle over gun control, there has been little.

But, whether they are being discussed extensively or not, there still are a number of issues facing New York.

Gun control. This ever-present debate serves as a proxy for the candidate's view on the acceptable level of government intervention in private citizens' lives. Alive and well in the Senatorial race.

Death Penalty. This is important not only as a window into the candidate's beliefs about justice and morality, but also because it is often closely related to his/her views on punishment versus rehabilitation, and the appropriate number and size of prisons.

DNA Testing. Recent proposals, including one from Howard Safir in an article in City Journal, advocate the creation of a DNA database of all criminals. The widespread use of DNA testing, and the permanent storage of this information in criminal databases, raises serious questions about privacy and ethics that lawmakers should carefully examine.

Violence Against Women. General (though meritorious) federal legislation, in the form of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), glosses over a local problem: How to deal with the backlog of DNA samples taken from women after they were raped, known as rape kits.

Rockefeller Drug Laws. Many have identified these antiquated laws for first time, non-violent drug offenders as excessive. Lawmakers must address the severity of these laws, and examine the policy implications.

To their credit, both major-party candidates for United States Senator from New York have addressed many of these issues. But their positions are steeped in centrist politics. Centrist politics is political code. It means, the more you can straddle both sides of the issue, the more likely you will win support from both Democrats and Republicans. Both Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio have adopted this strategy, each coming from opposite sides. Clinton's policies are left-leaning, certainly, but of course, she's not soft on crime. Lazio's voting record, on the hand, paints him as an enlightened politician - tough, but not draconian. The net effect of these strategies is to confuse voters, as the differences between the candidates are blurry at best.

Both candidates are supporters of gun control, though Clinton proposes a number of stringent measures that Lazio does not support. Congressman Lazio broke with the Republican party to vote in support of the Brady Bill, and has voted to mandate background checks. He also supports mandatory instant background checks at gun shows, and a ban on certain semi-automatic assault rifles. In his support of gun owners' rights, the National Rifle Association gave Lazio a D-. Still the Long Island congressman opposes gun licensing and registration, which he feels are too "intrusive."

Unlike her opponent, Clinton has proposed a national licensing and registration system of all gun purchases and transfers, which would require photo identification. She also advocates a national database of ballistic fingerprinting, mandatory child safety locks, raising the age to purchase a gun to 21, and limiting gun sales to one a month.

In addition to stricter gun controls, Clinton also supports a number of different policies, skirting both sides of the ideological divide. She has promised to help secure $60 million in federal funding to address and analyze the backlog of rape kits in the state. She has also spoken out against violence in entertainment, and supports the use of the V-chip. Though Clinton did not receive an endorsement by New York City's police union, the Policemen's Benevolent Association, she states that the Department of Justice should make its own decision as to whether to monitor the New York Police Department, without interference from elected officials. (Aside from calling Amadou Diallo's death a murder, which she later retracted,. Clinton has said little about the controversial behavior of the New York Police Department.) Lazio outright opposes federal oversight of the NYPD.

Rick Lazio's voting record shows an equally mixed record on crime. In addition to supporting the Brady Bill, Lazio also supported President Clinton's 1994 Crime Bill, which funded 100,000 new officers across the nation. And while he supports DNA testing in death row cases, Lazio has voted to encourage states to prosecute teens 14 and older as adults, to federalize juvenile crime, and to increase punishment of juveniles guilty of committing crimes with guns.

In other matters of crime policy, the candidates' views are much more similar. On the mom-and-apple-pie side, Lazio and Clinton both support the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which funds a variety of programs to combat domestic violence, and would re-authorize it if reelected. Both support hate-crime legislation, and expansion of the scope of groups protected under the law.

In contrast with their somewhat liberal views on gun control, both candidates support the death penalty, though Clinton would mandate legal counsel and forensics testing for death row defendants. The two candidates also agree that New York should receive more federal funds to increase prison construction. So much for centrism.

Jessica Sounds Off:

Clinton and Lazio are both to be commended for engaging in discussion about critical crime policy issues. One question remains unanswered by both: Will they repeal the Rockefeller laws? These laws, created to address a serious drug crisis that no longer exists, mandate a minimum 15 year sentence for first-time non-violent drug offenders. At a time when prisons are filling up faster than we can build them, this law should be revisited and reformed. Resources devoted to incarcerating these people could better be used in treating and rehabilitating them. Hillary and Rick: When will you take a position?

Jessica Green is a student of public policy at Columbia University's Graduate School of International and Public Affairs.

The Courts of New York Explained


 



Also in the series:

The Judges Game
Gotham Gazette's newest interactive game lets you see if you've got what it takes for the Brooklyn bench.

A System in Need of Reform
Patronage, payoffs, complexity, and appointments vs. elections in the New York judiciary.

It's been called a mosaic, a jigsaw puzzle, a bureaucracy and a mess. There are many plans afoot to reorganize the courts of New York, all facing political battles that may be all but insurmountable. Meantime, exactly what the court structure is eludes most New Yorkers and even many reporters who cover the courts.

All New York courts are part of the New York State Unified Court System, but because of its large population and volume of cases, New York City also has local courts. Each of the five boroughs, in other words, has both city and state courts. The city courts are Civil Court and Criminal Court. The state courts are Supreme Court, Family Court and Surrogate's Court. All five boroughs (which are also counties) have all of these courts.

But this is too simple, because there is also something called the New York State Court of Claims, and of course the entire Federal judiciary, which is separate.

CIVIL COURT

The Civil Court hears private, non-criminal lawsuits which have a monetary value of no more than $25,000. Under the Civil Court umbrella are also Housing Court and Small Claims Court. Housing Court was created three decades ago to hear nothing but landlord-tenant proceedings involving non-payment of rent, breach of tenancy, housing conditions. Small Claims court hears monetary disputes involving up to $3,000.

CRIMINAL COURT

The Criminal Court is the first judicial stop for all arrested persons. This is where the charges are read to the accused (though this is theoretical, because they are almost never actually read), and bail is set or the defendant is Released on (his or her) Own Recognizance, or, in court parlance, ROR'd. What happens then depends on whether the charge is a violation, a misdemeanor or a felony.

A violation, the least severe charge, can be something like disorderly conduct. A misdemeanor might be shoplifting, possession of stolen property (nothing too valuable), very small amounts of drugs, or simple assault. If the charge is a violation or a misdemeanor, a plea is entered: Guilty or not Guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty, the judge can impose the sentence right then and there. If the defendant pleads not guilty, Criminal Court hearings and a trial will be scheduled.

If, however, the charge is a felony, such as murder, arson, robbery, burglary, most weapons possession charges, and most drug charges, no plea is entered. If it's a narcotics case it might be steered to a hybrid narcotics "part" (jargon for courtroom) for disposition without presentation to a grand jury. Almost all other felonies, however, will be presented to a grand jury, a jury empanelled specifically to hear a brief presentation of evidence and vote on whether or not to indict. (A grand jury differs from a regular jury, because a grand jury must weigh whether there is sufficient evidence to determine that a crime has been committed at all, and sufficient evidence to charge this particular person, while a trial jury must determine whether evidence has been established beyond a reasonable doubt to convict this person of this crime.) In most cases there is an indictment, and People versus John Doe becomes a Supreme Court case.

SUPREME COURT

In Supreme Court the accused will be re-arraigned, new bail will be set and a plea entered. There are then further proceedings, including hearings, "plea bargaining" (a reduced charge in exchange for a guilty plea) or a trial. If there's a conviction or guilty plea, the judge will impose a sentence.

All of this is done in the Criminal Division of Supreme Court. Supreme Court also has a Civil Division. The civil actions and proceedings cover any monetary dispute over $25,000, be it commercial, personal injury, libel, employment, civil rights, or a real estate matter, and often involves a great deal of money. It's also the place to go if you're looking for an injunction, restraining order, documents under the Freedom of Information Law. Supreme Court is the only court that can grant divorces.

The Supreme Court of New York is not what it is in most other states or in the federal judiciary, i.e., the highest court. It's simply the statewide trial court of general jurisdiction.

FAMILY COURT

Though Family Court cannot hear divorce cases, its jurisdiction sometimes overlaps with other courts, both criminal and civil. Family Court judges can hear matters involving child support, foster care, delinquency, family violence, adoption.

SURROGATE'S COURT

Surrogate's Court has exclusive jurisdiction over wills and estates. Like Family Court, it also considers adoptions.

COURT OF CLAIMS

The Court of Claims has traditionally heard monetary claims against the State of New York. In recent years, however, a large number of additional Court of Claims judgeships have been created to handle the huge increase in drug-related felonies. Appointed by the governor for a term of nine years, these judges are assigned to Supreme Court, usually designated Acting Supreme Court justices, and then have nothing to do with the Court of Claims itself.

APPELLATE COURTS

Verdicts, decisions, judgments and orders of all of these trial courts can be appealed to higher courts. Appellate Term judges hear appeals from the lower, city courts -- Civil (including Housing and Small Claims) and Criminal Court. Appellate Division judges hear appeals from Supreme Court (Civil or Criminal), Surrogate's Court, and Family Court.

There are two Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court in New York City. One is on Madison Avenue in Manhattan and covers New York County and the Bronx. The other is in Brooklyn Heights and covers the three other boroughs (and Westchester and Rockland counties) Both are architectural gems.

Beyond that there's the New York Court of Appeals in Albany, which is the real supreme court of New York, hearing appeals from decisions of the Appellate Division.

THE JUDGES

New York City judges can be elected or appointed, depending on the court. Civil Court judges, who must live in New York City, are elected either countywide or from a particular judicial district within a county, a throwback to a now non-existent municipal court system. (Now, regardless of which district elected them, all Civil Court judges hear cases from within the entire county in which they are sitting). They are elected for a ten year term. . But Civil Court judges do not necessarily preside over Civil Court alone. They can also be assigned to Criminal Court, occasionally Family Court, or as acting Justices of the Supreme Court, (Criminal or Civil). Though Housing Court is part of Civil Court, Housing Court judges, unlike Civil Court judges, are not elected. The state's Chief Administrative Judge, Jonathan Lippman, appoints them for five-year terms.

Criminal Court judges, as city judges, must also live in the city; the Mayor appoints them for ten-year terms. They can also be designated as Acting Supreme Court Justices (usually in the Criminal Division).

A Supreme Court justice -- the only judge who is actually called Justice -- is elected by the voters in the county but must first be nominated by a political party. The procedures and politics for getting to that point differ from county to county. A Supreme Court Justice must live in New York State, and is elected for a term of 14 years.

Every judge wants to be one of the Supremes, sit on the bench of the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

The Supreme Court justices are the pool from which appointments to the higher Appellate Term and the Appellate Division are made. But the members of the New York State Court Of Appeals, the highest court, do not have to have served as judges in any court. When former Governor Mario Cuomo appointed the current Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, Judith S. Kaye, she had been an attorney in private practice.

There can be no simple guide to New York's courts. As complicated as this basic structure seems, there are so many exceptions to the rules and procedures that it is actually even more complicated.

Emily Jane Goodman is a New York State Supreme Court Justice

 

Kerik's Recipe for Success


During Howard Safir's tenure as police commissioner, the city enjoyed some of the lowest crime rates in recent history. That decrease in crime, ironically, might create some greater challenges for Safir's successor, Bernard B. Kerik, who took over the New York Police Department in August after two and a half years as New York City's correction commissioner.

Kerik has sixteen months, under Giuliani's watch, to earn himself some credibility - a difficult task in the face of the criticism and bad feeling that Safir inspired. In addition to crime fighting skills, Kerik will need extraordinary diplomatic skills. These will help him accomplish three critical tasks:

Overcome departmental opposition

First and foremost, Kerik must put to rest notions that he is unqualified, and any resentment this may cause. Critics are quick to point out that Kerik does not have a college degree. To qualify to enter the department, officers must have earned 60 college credits; all positions above lieutenant require a college degree. That Kerik does not have a degree, critics maintain, sends the wrong message - especially at a time when the department is struggling to find qualified candidates.

Some also object that Kerik spent only eight years on the force, never ascending above the rank of officer; other qualified candidates for commissioner, such as Joseph Dunne, have spent their entire career on the force, climbing the ranks.

Keep cops on the force and recruit new ones

Twenty years on the force earns a cop the right to a $40,000-a-year pension, and in the next four years, one in four cops, or about 10,000 officers, will be eligible for retirement. In the last two months, First Deputy Police Commissioner Patrick Kelleher and Chief of Personnel Michael Markman have retired, as did Sgt. Richard Romano, a twenty year veteran featured in the NYPD's latest ad campaign to recruit new officers. "Monetarily it doesn't really pay now," the sergeant explained, "with the incentive you get to retire."

As officers retire and others are promoted, the demand for new officers continues. The NYPD has had trouble recruiting new cops for the past four years, and the numbers aren't getting any better. The most recent recruitment effort, which included letters to all eligible candidates from the last four exams and 27,000 follow-up phone calls, yielded a mere 1,600 new recruits. Last year's recruitment efforts, which cost $10 million, produced 10,301 test-takers, or roughly $1,000 per applicant. The police union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA), cites low wages as one of the main obstacles to recruiting more officers. Starting salary is $31,300, growing to $49,023 after five years. The PBA continues to lobby aggressively for higher wages, including a high profile media campaign. Kerik must address these issues of compensation, to keep the grumbling PBA happy, and to ensure a steady influx of new recruits.

Improve police/community relations, especially with minority communities

Improving race relations is not the sole responsibility of the police commissioner. Still, to survive politically, Kerik will have to reach out to minority communities to diminish feelings of mistrust and anger that have mounted during Safir's tenure, thanks to activities such as racial profiling, which the US Commission on Civil Rights found was a factor in NYPD stop and frisks. Some community leaders are disappointed that former Brooklyn precinct commander Joseph Dunne was not chosen to be commissioner. Dunne, who was instead appointed first deputy commissioner, has a long track record of working with black leaders. Councilwoman Annette Robinson, who is black, said that passing over Dunne represents a lost opportunity to work with minority communities: "I don't know that the mayor felt there was a need to build bridges. Joe Dunne could have done that. I am saddened that he was not give that chance." Kerik, quick to defend himself, says he has not been given a fair chance, and will make efforts to visit various communities. Indeed, the day after his appointment, he and Mayor Giuliani attended Sunday mass at Bright Light Baptist Church in East New York, Brooklyn.

And of course, in addition to all this, Kerik is expected to keep crime down and arrests up.

Jessica Green is a student of public policy at Columbia University's Graduate School of International and Public Affairs.

National Night Out and Community Policing


The last year has been a difficult one for the New York Police Department: the police shootings of Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond; the subsequent acquittal of the officers involved in the Diallo case; the lack of diplomacy by Commissioner Safir and Mayor Giuliani. All have increased the mistrust that many have felt toward the police for a long time.

But for the past 16 years, something out of the ordinary occurs on the first Tuesday night of August, and this year is no different. It is called National Night Out -- an evening of cooperation, communication, celebration, a series of activities throughout the country and throughout the city including basketball games between precinct teams and community groups, live music, staffed information booths, and magic shows. National Night Out is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch, the same group that sponsors Neighborhood Watch groups.

The success of National Night Out is irrefutable: Since its founding in 1984, it has grown to involve over 30 million people in more than 9,000 communities. It is part of a growing trend toward community policing - a crime-fighting strategy based on the idea that a strong relationship between the police and the community is the key to lower crime rates. Most frequently, such a relationship is forged by having beat cops patrol the same areas, often on foot, so that area residents come to know their police officers. Other basic strategies of community policing involve outreach programs and community collaboration. Both the National Center for Community Policing and Policing.com offer what amounts to a primer on community policing - - its history, implementation and results.

The NYPD runs a host of programs to involve community residents and respond to their needs. Just last month, a Staten Island prosecutor announced the opening of a community office in Tottenville. The purpose of the field office, District Attorney William Murphy said, is to work more closely with the residents to identify community needs and issues, and "to solve problems before they begin."

Staten Island is not alone. Every precinct in the City has its own programs and community policing unit. Here are just a few examples:

  • Auxiliary Police Program. The 111th precinct in Bayside is one of several precincts throughout the city where civilians are trained to be volunteers of the department. Wearing uniforms and patrolling in groups, they act as the eyes and ears of police, often at large community events where security is necessary.
  • Model Block Program. Tenants organize block associations to monitor and maintain the quality of their block.
  • Precinct Open Houses. This is meant to encourage informal interactions between police and the community.
  • Youth Programs. A variety of youth programs are in place across the City, including the "Explorers Program." Open to high schoolers, these Explorers meet once a week at the precinct. Activities range from participating in community functions, such as parades and fairs, to field trips to law enforcement agencies, to rollerblading and athletic activities. During the school year 1998-99, the Explorers program and other youth programs reached over 117,000 youths.
  • Domestic Violence Program. The 83rd precinct in Bushwick tracks all domestic violence cases reported. It collaborates with the Victims Service Agency to provide counseling and social services to battered women.

Critics say these programs are little more than a gesture, and that racism and abuse of power persist within the department. The US Commission on Civil Rights released a widely-publicized report in June which found that the NYPD was guilty of racial profiling in its stop-and-frisk practices. Among its recommendations: adopt community policing strategies -- specifically, encourage more officers to live in the areas they police.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development's "Officer Next Door" program is trying to do just that, by offering police officers 50 percent savings on a home that they purchase in designated "revitalization areas" in inner city neighborhoods across the country. There are 53 such areas in New York City. It is unclear as of yet how many officers have taken advantage of the offer.

A recently released report on the New York Police Department's disciplinary actions against officers found that, despite the greater attention brought by the high-profile cases, there was actually a 25 percent drop in the allegations of police brutality last year. Public Advocate Mark Green also produced a report, though with far more damning statistics, entitled Disciplining Police: Solving the Problem of Police Misconduct. Whether the situation of police brutality is getting worse or getting better, many suggest that one way to curtail it is through community policing.

Jessica Green is a student of public policy at Columbia University's Graduate School of International and Public Affairs.

Red Hook Community Justice Center


The defendant, charged with drug possession, walked to the front of the courtroom, her head down, her hands clasped behind her back, as Judge Alex Calabrese peered down at her, and pronounced her sentence: Job training. Community service

"There are a lot of services in this building that could help you," he tells the defendant. " And it's much more likely you won't have to come back here again." He is talking about the Red Hook Community Justice Center.

Opened just last month, the Justice Center is one of a handful of "community courts" across the country that re-envision how the criminal justice system should operate. By offering on-site services -- including drug treatment, G.E.D. classes to get a high school diploma, and job training -- the Center seeks to address the underlying problems that contribute to high crime rates. They also offer soup in the arraignment room.

At the same time, alternative sentences -- such as cleaning up a neighborhood park -- aim to make punishment visible while putting offenders to work in their communities. The Red Hook Justice Center joins the Midtown Community Court, which opened in Manhattan in 1993. A similar court in Harlem will open later this year. All three are designed to address one of the criminal justice system's most glaring failures: those arrested for low-level offences often are back on the streets in a matter of weeks or months, committing crimes.

The case of Paris Drake, a career criminal who had been arrested more than twenty times before allegedly attacking a woman with a brick in broad daylight last winter, highlighted the "revolving door" problem in New York's overburdened courts. Both Governor Pataki and Mayor Giuliani have called for tougher, mandatory sentences for low-level offenders.

More defendants in the Midtown Community Court who are sentenced to community service actually do it than in any other criminal court in the city. Yet there is also a recidivism rate that is as high as those of the other courts. Still, community court supporters say the push for reform, spearheaded by New York State Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, is building. "This language of rethinking and improving business as usual is starting to seep out," says Greg Berman, one of the Red Hook Justice Center's planners. "It's not just us."

In Red Hook, changing business as usual meant not just improving the criminal justice system, but tackling a host of other quality-of-life issues within the community. Later this year, the Justice Center will add housing and family court cases, making it the country's first multi-jurisdictional court. The Red Hook Public Safety Corps, an Americorps program housed within the Center, has already become one of the neighborhood's biggest employers. The Center's services are available not only to offenders but also to local residents who may have no connection to the criminal justice system.

"The notion of bringing courts back to the community, that courts can play a role in making communities safer, stronger-these are notions that resonate with people," says Berman, Deputy Director of the Center for Court Innovation (CCI), a joint project of the state court system and the non-profit agency, the Fund for the City of New York.

Berman and other planners at CCI began work on the Red Hook Justice Center in 1994, meeting with community members and using the Midtown Community Court as a model. Many of the Justice Center's innovations are literally built into the building. The detention rooms, for instance, where people are held before they are brought to trial, use plate-glass windows instead of bars to allow natural light to enter.

"We felt that the building's design should reflect the principles of the program," says Berman. "We want to communicate respect for people."

Judge Calabrese says his colleagues within the judiciary wish they had the services available to him in sentencing offenders. He cites the case of a sixteen-year-old high-school dropout who appeared before him, arrested for possession of four vials of crack.

"I thought he was someone on the wrong path," said Judge Alex Calabrese. "He was working with a drug dealer, starting to make some money, and it's tough to compete with that." As part of his sentence, the young man began job training, attending GED classes, and talking to a counselor who had worked for twenty years at the state prison in Attica. "This counselor makes a very convincing argument that drugs will land you in prison in the long run.

"I think this case would've been handled very quickly downtown. They would've addressed the charge, but they wouldn't address the underlying problem. He would've gotten his jail sentence and he'd probably get out and go back to working with a dealer. I don't think he could've been straightened out."

 

NYPD vs. Civil Rights Commission


The battle over police practices in New York is now being waged on paper. On April 27, one year after it first announced its investigation of the NYPD, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission released a much anticipated 250-page draft report. The Police Department weighed in on May 16 with an angry 700-page rebuttal.

The Commission faults the NYPD for inadequate diversity training and failed minority recruiting efforts, but its most serious charge is that police officers use racial profiling in their stop-and-frisk tactics. The report cites the Department's own records, which show that in Staten Island, for example, 51% of the people stopped in 1998 were black, though blacks make up only 9% of the borough's population.

The report dismisses the Department's claims that stop-and-frisks occur most often in high-crime, minority neighborhoods, and that officers are simply responding to descriptions of suspects as reported to them. After reviewing nearly 150,000 records of stops made in 1998, the Commission determined that officers usually acted on their own judgments and observations, rather than victim identifications.

In its rebuttal, the NYPD disparages the report as "an unfortunate exercise in shoddy reporting" and "an embarrassment to the United States government." In particular, the Department ridicules the Commission's reliance on perennial police critics Al Sharpton and the New York Civil Liberties Union's Norman Siegel. Mayor Giuliani has called the report "a political operation of the Democratic Party," neatly timed to give Hillary Clinton a boost for her Senate run. (The Commission consists of an eight-member panel of four Democrats, three independents, and one Republican. The New York Observer has reported that the head of the Commission's head, Mary Frances Berry, has made campaign contributions to Hillary.

Jerome Sounds Off:

For all the controversy it has created, the Civil Rights Commission report contains little that New Yorkers haven't heard before. In restrained language, bolstered by numerous charts and citations of hundreds of thousands of documents reviewed by its panel, the report makes some familiar accusations, but also pats the NYPD on the back in several instances.

The Commission offers some remedies that are unrealistic (officers should live in the City) or ill-begotten (the elitist proposal that officers be required to have four-years of college instead of two because better-educated officers are less likely to engage in misconduct). Another recommendation, the formation of an independent monitor to review civilian complaints of police misconduct, would in effect create a second oversight agency to monitor the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

The Commission finally gets it right when it discusses the pressure felt throughout the NYPD„from Commanding Officers to beat cops„to produce arrests. Could it be that if the Department eases up on quotas to make collars and stands down the armies of Operation Condor personnel, it will help defuse the issue of police misconduct? It may be wishful thinking, but the Mayor's newest resolution to reach out to all the City's residents may give his administration one last chance to find out.

Jerome Chou is a freelance writer. He works part-time interviewing recently released ex-offenders about their re-entry into society.

Stop-and-Frisk Searches


Stop-and-frisk searches, one of the most controversial police tactics of recent years and a hallmark crime-fighting tactic of the Giuliani-era, are under scrutiny again. Investigators for the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) have charged that police officers regularly fail to file the required paperwork after they search people on the street.

The CCRB began reviewing more than 1700 stop-and-frisk complaints in March 1999, shortly after the Amadou Diallo shooting, then narrowed its sample to 228 cases in which the Board had conducted a full investigation. Of these, the Board found that written search reports, or UF250s, had been filled out in only about half of the cases. The reports, which are supposed to record the time, place, reason for and results of each search, are meant to ensure some level of police accountability, as well as to protect officers from accusations of misconduct.

The CCRB's findings, contained in a 54-page draft report obtained by the New York Times, echo a similar report issued by state attorney general Eliot Spitzer which accused the NYPD of unfairly targeting black and Hispanic New Yorkers for stop-and-frisk searches. CCRB chairman Frank Wohl cautioned that the draft report was "extremely preliminary" and yet to be discussed by the full Board.

Perhaps more than any other police tactic, stop-and-frisk searches bitterly divide tough-on-crime advocates from those who feel the war on crime has gone too far. Aggressive searches have led to increased gun and drug seizures, and are widely credited with lowering crime rates, but many minority residents consider these searches a threat--at any moment they may be subjected to a humiliating invasion of privacy, though they have committed no crime. Tracking searches, however, may be a quixotic task. Paperwork is generally a dirty word within the NYPD's ranks; for many officers, filing reports is an unnecessary burden (see 5/1 Commentary).

Police Commissioner Howard Safir declined to comment on the CCRB's findings, telling reporters through a spokesperson "It's inappropriate to respond to a report we have not received."

Definitions

Stop-and-frisk: patting down the outside of a suspect's clothing, feeling for a weapon

Search: reaching inside a suspect's pockets or other interior parts of clothing to determine if an object felt is a weapon.

Missing Searches?

Police Action

Complaints

UF250 filed

Percentage

Frisk

228

135

59%

Search

54

18

33%

Frisk & Search

85

38

45%

Arrest

168

33

20%

Jerome Sounds Off:

To Mayor Giuliani, police coverage in the Times means more cop-bashing stories. But beat writer Kevin Flynn has published a number of articles from behind the Blue Wall, including one last month on the deteriorating conditions at the City's 76 precinct houses: crumbling walls, decrepit plumbing and electrical systems, overcrowded offices, and a backlog of thousands of repair orders.

With its numbers growing by 25% to 40,000 over the past decade, the NYPD has found itself competing with the Board of Education and other agencies for limited building maintenance funds. Now the City has earmarked over $40 million over the next four years to build two new Brooklyn station houses and renovate the Central Park station house. And Police Commissioner Howard Safir recently announced the Department would spend an additional $5 million to improve building maintenance.

The biggest story here, however, may be the timing of the Times article. This isn't the first time someone has sounded the alarm about the NYPD's falling buildings; Alan Hevesi described many of the same conditions, and recommended extensive renovations, in a 1998 report. And an additional $5 million for repairs is a drop in the bucket compared to the NYPD's $3 billion 2000 budget. But for a Department whose strategies have been repeatedly questioned this year, a report on spending priorities may have been in order.

Jerome Chou is a freelance writer. He works part-time interviewing recently released ex-offenders about their re-entry into society.



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