Communities, Families Beset by Policing & Police Killings Make Call in Albany for New York State to Lead Nationally with Accountability & Transparency Reforms
Community groups and the surviving family members of New Yorkers killed by police were in the capital to call for Albany leaders to set a national example by advancing comprehensive reforms to address the national crisis of failed police accountability and transparency. Specifically, the group called for the governor and legislative leaders to adopt a requirement for comprehensive collection and reporting of police data by departments across the state within the state budget, as well as for the governor to issue an executive order to establish a special prosecutor for police killings.
"Our state leaders have a moral imperative to respond to the unnecessary deaths of so many New Yorkers killed by police over the past several decades with concrete and substantive reforms,” said Monifa Bandele of Communities United for Police Reform. “The collection and public reporting of police data must be comprehensive and complete, and justice requires that the governor establishes a special prosecutor for incidents of civilians killed in police interactions. New York should lead nationally by adopting these longstanding recommendations of advocates that were just recently endorsed by President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.”
“In the aftermath of so many senseless and heart-wrenching tragedies, New York must once again lead by addressing systemic and deep-seated injustices directly and with clear solutions that will change our system,” said Senator Bill Perkins. “We can begin to move our state and nation forward by advancing the most comprehensive police reporting requirements in the country and by finally and formally creating a Special Prosecutor in cases of civilian deaths in police incidents—forever ensuring that that the investigation and prosecution of police officers who kill unarmed and innocent human beings will be truly independent, detached and without local bias.”
The group marched through the capital during a visit that included a press conference outside of the Senate Chambers and meetings with legislators to highlight the importance of reforms that can begin to address broken elements of the justice system. The action in the capital follows an Assembly hearing on criminal justice reform last week, where advocates called for a strengthening of Governor Cuomo’s police data reporting proposal and the establishment of a special prosecutor for police killings. Valerie Bell – the mother of Sean Bell, who was unjustly killed in a 2006 police shooting – testified at the hearing about the need for a special prosecutor and how that differs from the governor’s proposal.
“When officers unjustly killed someone they should be prosecuted and sent to jail, just like anyone else would, but this never happens,” said Iris Baez, mother of Anthony Baez. “That's why the police keep acting like they are above the law. Too many mothers of Black and Latino children have been fighting for justice for too long. That's why we're calling for the Governor to establish a special prosecutor today.”
Twenty family members of eighteen New Yorkers killed by the police wrote to Governor Cuomo in February, demanding that he issue an executive order to establish a special prosecutor for all cases of police killings. The concept of using a prosecutor that is “external and independent of local district attorneys” was endorsed in the recently released report by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which was established by President Obama in response to the police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and other Americans.
“Over and over the existing system has failed to hold police officers accountable for unjustly taking the lives of New Yorkers,” said Loyda Colon, Co-Director of the Justice Committee. “Some of the families have been fighting for justice for decades, while officers continue to kill our loved ones with impunity. This is not a matter of politics or public opinion, it's a matter of life and death. The families and all New Yorkers need change now and the Governor can accomplish this by enacting an executive order to establish a special prosecutor for all cases of police use of deadly force.”
“It cannot be denied that in New York State and nationwide, relations between our communities and police are severely strained,” said Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson. “President Obama’s Task Force recommended the use of special prosecutors in cases where an unarmed civilian is killed by a police officer. This proposal is intended to ensure that these unique prosecutions are free from taint and bias.”
The New York City Council Progressive Caucus wrote the governor in support of this reform, while national civil rights organization ColorOfChange launched an online petition directed at Governor Cuomo, calling for its implementation.
“Police accountability and transparency are matters of life and death for people of color in New York and across the United States,” said Alyssa Aguilera, Political Director, VOCAL-NY. “The recent wave of mass protests demonstrates that Americans are ready for bold reforms to our criminal justice system, and we need our elected officials by our side. We need comprehensive data and reporting so that we know how police operate in our communities and we need a special prosecutor to keep them accountable in all cases of police killings.”
“An ‘independent monitor’ to review local prosecutors’ Grand Jury presentations long after the fact and perhaps conduct an independent investigation late - if at all - is not enough to secure swift justice for victims of police misconduct,” said Justine Luongo, Attorney in Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice for Legal Aid Society. “We join the 18 families who wrote the Governor last month in continuing to demand an immediate Executive Order creating a special prosecutor’s office followed by legislation re-establishing a permanent Special Prosecutor’s office in New York State.”
Advocates and community members also called for more comprehensive data reporting, enhanced transparency through public release of the data, and stronger individual privacy protections for New Yorkers during last week’s Assembly hearing. They urged that New York leaders build upon the foundation set by Governor Cuomo’s including a police data reporting within his proposed budget. And make the state a national leader on the collection and public reporting of policing data.
“Only through transparency can we understand the impact of policies that rely on aggressive enforcement of low-level offenses,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “With that, we can address the problem of racial profiling and begin to restore the trust between police and the communities they are supposed to protect. New Yorkers have a right to know whenever a person dies at the hands of the police; the race, ethnicity, and gender of people charged with low-level offenses; as well as information on where law enforcement activity is happening most across the state. New York must pass this basic transparency bill to affirm loud and clear what the world has been waiting to hear from our state government in the aftermath of the killing of Eric Garner: black lives DO matter.”
The call for improving upon the governor’s budget proposal follows the endorsement of the concept in the recently released report by President Obama’s Taskforce on 21st Century Policing for law enforcement agencies to increase transparency through the improved collection and public reporting of policing data. The task force specifically recommended agencies “to collect, maintain, and analyze demographic data on all detentions (stops, frisks, searches, summonses, and arrests),” as well as “officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths.”
The presidential task force’s recommendation came the same week as the U.S. Department of Justice’s found systemic civil rights violations of Black residents by the Ferguson Police Department and criminal justice system, which further highlighted policing practices across the country that have a discriminatory impact.
Data on the use of stop-and-frisk in New York City over the past decade highlighted stark disparities in who was impacted by the practice and demonstrated its ineffectiveness in protecting the safety of city residents. A limited glimpse into data on the enforcement of non-criminal violations in New York City, as a result of disparate enforcement through “broken windows” policing, has indicated a troubling racial disparity as well.
New York community members and advocates have specifically called for the following improvements to the governor’s proposal:
- Report on the race, ethnicity, age, and sex of those suspected of all violations and misdemeanors, as well as for all arrest-related deaths. While the budget proposal requires the collection of demographic data on those arrested or cited for offenses that do not require the taking of fingerprints, it fails to require demographic data collection on the enforcement of misdemeanors that do require fingerprinting and arrest-related deaths.
- Capture data on and provide separate analysis of arrests, appearance tickets, and summonses. Summonses are omitted from the demographic reporting requirement in the current proposal. It is also unclear whether the term “summons” encompasses only summonses as defined in the Criminal Procedure Law, which are issued by courts, or whether it refers to tickets issued by NYPD officers, which are colloquially called “summonses.” This should be clarified to ensure the collection and reporting of data on the enforcement of low level offenses to understand how and when a person is arrested versus being ticketed for a minor infraction.
- Identify the offenses New Yorkers are being charged with and the dispositions of these enforcement actions. The current proposal fails to identify the underlying offenses for which arrests are made and appearance tickets and summons are issued. In New York City, over 25% of the summonses issued in 2013 were for alleged open container violations, with disorderly conduct and riding a bicycle on the sidewalk in a distant second and third, respectively. The data further indicates that as many as 20% of violations tickets are dismissed as facially insufficient. These statistics raise important questions about how state and local resources are used and whether officers need additional training on enforcing these lowest level infractions, which statewide reporting can help to answer.
- Include geographic indicator for enforcement activity. The current proposal does not indicate where arrests are made or appearance tickets and summonses issued. Mandating geographic reporting will help complete the picture of low level enforcement throughout the state. In some jurisdictions, such as New York City, it may be possible to gather precinct data in reports from the police department.
- Protect privacy on minor charges. OCA is the more appropriate agency to implement these reforms than the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), where the current proposal places the responsibility. The OCA is better positioned to collect and report on data about low level enforcement without jeopardizing individuals’ privacy or risking any linkages between the data being gathered and an individual’s criminal history records. Non-criminal enforcement already carries outsized collateral costs for New Yorkers; our state must not create a data-reporting scheme that risks compounding those costs by linking violations to criminal history reports.
- Require data on low level enforcement to be made publicly available. To further the public’s interest in government transparency, the data collected pursuant to these provisions must be widely and easily available. To that end, the information reported should be published online in a publicly accessible place.
Across the country, the recent police killings of people of color – primarily Black and Latino – have brought scrutiny on police use of force, the lack of data collection, and the failure of the justice system to subject officers to legal consequences. National experts have recognized that lack of police data collection and reporting, as well as the fact that local district attorneys – who collaborate with and depend upon police departments on a daily basis – have a systemic conflict-of-interest, are impediments to justice.
 Criminal Court of the City of New York, “Annual Report 2013,” 33-35 (July 2014), available at: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/COURTS/nyc/criminal/2013%20Annual%20Report%20FINAL%2072214.pdf.
 Id. at 33.
About Communities United for Police Reform
Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and policing practices based on cooperation and respect– not discriminatory targeting and harassment.
CPR brings together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those unfairly targeted the most by the NYPD. CPR is fighting for reforms that will promote community safety while ensuring that the NYPD protects and serves all New Yorkers.