The need for reforming the New York City Police Department and how it works with the communities it protects is just as relevant now as it ever was, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said Tuesday.
“I’m still a reformer. The council is still demanding reforms within the NYPD — that work’s not done,” she told Metro.
Those reforms, which the speaker previewed in February, include a series of proposals aimed at low-level offenders, trading arrests and jail time for summonses or desk appearance tickets.
“But we still want enforcement,” said Mark-Viverito. “Just not necessarily in the most punitive way. People are still being held accountable for their actions.”
While there are no bills currently introduced, Mark-Viverito said her office is exploring changes to the law that would decriminalize certain offenses, such as being in a public park after dark or drinking from an open container. Those crimes could instead be treated in civil court and potentially fixed with a fine.
And for those who are arrested and taken to Rikers Island, the speaker proposed a $1.4 million taxpayer-funded bail fund — not unlike the BronxFreedomFundcreated by the Bronx Defenders—to help those low-risk New Yorkers who cannot afford to post as little as $500 for minor offenses and can spend up an average of 24 days in detention.
Mark-Viverito admitted any changes to policing procedure will require lots of negotiating with the NYPD, which she expects to resist changes but said is more amenable now than before.
“We had an administration the last time around where both the commissioner and mayor could give two s—s about what the communities were asking for,” she said. “Deaf ears. Completely. That’s not the case now.”
Mark-Viverito added she was optimistic that the council will finally get the additional cops they pushed for last year and were denied by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who argued at the time that crime was at an all time low at the current headcount of about 35,000. It stood at about 41,000 in 2001.
Exactly how many more cops New York might get in the new budget is unclear as negotiations between City Council and the administration only began weeks ago.
Mark-Viverito and Bratton appear to be equally hesitant on at least one reform circulating in Council chambers. She demurred on her support for the Know Your Rights Act introduced last fall, which would require cops obtain consent from individuals before a voluntary search.
“I still have my concerns,” Mark-Viverito said, referring to earlier comments that the changes could hamper police work. The current dynamics, Mark-Viverito said, are very different from the last time the Council tried to changing policing in the last throes of the Bloomberg administration.
At the time, Mark-Viverito’s predecessor Christine Quinn oversaw votes on bills aimed at declawing the controversial use of stop-and-frisk that members including Mark-Viverito said disproportionately punished communities of color.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his top cop Ray Kelly fought the legislation turned laws until their exit, when a newly inaugurated Bill de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton agreed to drop lawsuits against the bills in favor.
“That’s why we were forced to do legislation — because we did not have a willingness form either the mayor or commissioner to engage in productive conversations with communities,” she said.
Earlier this month, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton also offered equal praise to the council.
“We’ve been agreeing to disagree on certain issues, but there’s been a lot of agreement,” Bratton told reporters after a hearing in which a small group of protesters were booted for disrupting his testimony.
Mark-Viverito said the small crew of dissidents aren’t representative of residents who want both safe streets and fair policing.
“The call for reform continues,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that we can’t can’t also say we need more resources for the NYPD to do their job effectively.”