Stringer unveils sweeping public safety vision to combat surge in violent crime, cut bureaucracy at One Police Plaza, refocus resources in precincts to address gun violence
Surge in shootings, violent crime comes as NYPD crime-solving rate hits historic low — with NYPD detectives solving less than half of homicides for the first time since 2002
With growing administrative and executive bloat at 1PP and declining precinct resources, Stringer proposes scaling back One Police Plaza, refocusing NYPD resources on solving serious crime, preventing gun violence, and investing in communities
Stringer: “At this critical moment, when the future of our city hangs in the balance, we can’t afford reactionary leadership… The next mayor must redefine our approach to public safety with a comprehensive, decisive, and forward-thinking plan — and that’s exactly what I will be ready to do on Day One at City Hall.”
New York, NY – City Comptroller and mayoral candidate Scott Stringer today unveiled a sweeping vision for public safety to refocus NYPD resources and responsibilities on addressing serious and violent crime. Standing at One Police Plaza, Stringer outlined a series of reforms that would decisively stem the recent uptick in shootings and assaults by bolstering proven crime-solving, violence-prevention, community investment programs while cutting back on bureaucratic bloat.
Stringer’s proposals include:
Tackling the bloated bureaucracy centralized at NYPD headquarters;
Shifting resources from overly specialized, siloed units towards successful programs at the precinct level;
Investing in proven programs like NeighborhoodStat, Cure Violence, Operation Peacekeeper, and Ceasefire;
Cracking down on the flow of illegal guns into the city;
Redrawing police precinct boundaries where necessary;
Moving oversight of 911 to an independent agency;
Putting an end to reactive, “complaint-oriented,” 311 policing; and
Building out alternative responses and services for mental health, homelessness, substance use, and quality-of-life issues.
Comptroller Scott Stringer said: “Public safety is foundational to our recovery as a city, and I will be the Mayor to lead the greatest city on earth out of its greatest crisis. At this critical moment, when the future of our city hangs in the balance, we can’t afford reactionary leadership. And we can’t afford to turn back the clock to the Guiliani era of policing. The next mayor must redefine our approach to public safety with a comprehensive, decisive, and forward-thinking plan — and that’s exactly what I will be ready to do on Day One at City Hall.”
Stringer’s public safety reforms come as the city faces a year-over-year surge in shootings and homicides — even as overall levels of crime continue a downward trend. As of May 9, 505 people have been shot citywide in 2021, compared to 275 victims by the same point last year — in the midst of the pandemic lockdown. Compared to last year, major crimes are down 6% citywide and up 8% at NYCHA complexes.
At the same time, the Police Department has been solving a historically low share of crimes. Clearance rates for major crimes are at historic lows, with NYPD detectives solving fewer than 50 percent of homicides for the first time since 2002, according to quarterly data from the NYPD and the annual data that it reports to the FBI. Clearance rates for “larceny theft” are currently hovering near 10 percent — their lowest since 1995 — and overall clearance rates reached a lowly 21.1 percent for all major crimes in the third quarter of 2020. Equally troubling, these solve-rates vary widely among various communities within the five boroughs, with 84 percent of all homicides involving white victims solved between 2013 and 2017 versus only 63 percent of those among Black victims.
The City’s failure to solve crimes undermines the legitimacy of the police department and enables the cycle of violence to continue. The police must be accountable to the communities they serve, providing some closure to victims and their families and an opportunity for justice and healing.
Stringer’s new proposals follow a comprehensive report released by his office in February, “Blueprint for Public Safety,” which outlined public safety reforms that would move responsibilities away from the NYPD, address serious crime and the recent increase in shootings, strengthen accountability and civilian oversight of the NYPD, and reinvest police dollars into communities. Last June, Comptroller Stringer detailed ways to achieve recurring savings of more than $1.1 billion from the NYPD that could be reinvested in communities. Some but not all of these proposals were adopted by the City Council and the Mayor.
Redesigning and Decentralizing One Police Plaza
In recent years, the NYPD has become excessively centralized, specialized, siloed, and unresponsive to the needs of communities and — it has been given responsibility for far too many social service and quality-of-life incidents, primarily in response to 311 and 911 calls and protocols. In order to reduce this bloat and insularity at One Police Plaza and refocus resources on reducing gun violence and solving serious crime, it is time to redesign and decentralize the department.
Stringer’s plan includes:
Scale back headquarters and shift resources to the Zone Commands, precincts, and successful, community-level crime-fighting programs like NeighborhoodStat, Cure Violence, and Ceasefire, as well as to education, social service, employment, youth, and housing agencies, as the City definitively adopts a multi-agency, public health approach to violence.
Disband ineffective, overly specialized units and shift detective resources and oversight towards precincts.
Move oversight of 911 to an independent agency to provide a more holistic, intergovernmental response to emergency service and first-response and stop diverting police officers to the more than two million 911 and 311 non-crime complaints each year.
Build out alternative responses and services for mental health, homelessness, substance use, and quality-of-life issues.
Stem the flow of guns into New York City by investing in proven gun violence control methods, including more aggressive use of gun trace data to determine where guns are flowing from and where they’re being distributed within the city.
Stringer noted that despite dramatic decreases in crime over the last decade, the NYPD’s budget has steadily increased — especially its spending on upper management. Between 2011 and 2019, major crimes fell by 10 percent, felony arrests by 11 percent, misdemeanor arrests by 56 percent, and criminal summonses by 82 percent. However, this dramatic reduction in crime and frontline police activities did not translate into departmental savings. Instead, it accompanied new bloat: the NYPD budget grew by $1.1 billion, and overtime rose significantly. Over this same period, while Operations staffing — including in precincts and borough commands — fell by 4 percent, Executive Management personnel rose by 37 percent (from 2,859 to 3,910) and its budget rose 74 percent (from $408 million to $711 million).
As a result, the top-heavy department proved slow to respond to the recent spike in shootings precipitated by the dislocations and destabilization of the pandemic.
Delivering True Public Safety
While tackling bloat centralized at One Police Plaza, Stringer’s proposals would more effectively distribute resources to local communities, precincts, and proven programs that interrupt cycles of crime, poverty, and incarceration, and keep young people away from violence.
In full, the restructuring plan will include the following components:
Shift resources from One Police Plaza and Bureau Chiefs to local precincts and multi-agency public safety programs. The department has tilted too far toward specialized, centralized, siloed units and task forces managed at One Police Plaza by competing Chiefs and Bureau Chiefs. Specialized units like the Strategic Response Group and Critical Response Command — which now encompass nearly a thousand officers — have expanded far beyond their original missions and have encroached on the duties of both frontline officers and the Emergency Services Unit. Meanwhile, the Investigations Bureau, despite earlier efforts at unification in 2016, remains far too siloed and detached from precinct activity, resources, and oversight. This approach fails to recognize that (1) issues of guns, gangs, narcotics, and other crimes are often overlapping and do not take place in silos; (2) centralized units with overlapping responsibilities lead to turf wars that undermine intelligent and collaborative responses to public safety and public health issues, and (3) most incidents occur in very small geographic areas, among a very small number of people, so a centralized One Police Plaza approach fails to respond to community needs. For instance, among the 77 police precincts, just 12 accounted for 45 percent of shooting victims and 40 percent of homicides in 2020. In total, there were 85 blocks with three or more shooting incidents over the past year and 10 blocks with five or more incidents.
Moving forward, Scott will work with the NYPD to downsize, reorganize, or disband certain centralized units and shift investigative, intelligence, and tactical resources and responsibilities to new Command Zones as well as to local precincts. Resources will also be shifted to education, social service, employment, and housing agencies as the City definitively adopts a multi-agency, public health approach to violence.
Reexamine and reorganize precinct boundaries. Most precinct boundaries were established in the last century, and many have become woefully out of line with the needs of the communities they are supposed to serve. For instance, while the average precinct serves a residential population of approximately 108,000, some are much larger — including the 75th precinct in East New York with over 180,000 residents and the 67th in East Flatbush with nearly 160,000. To better focus the department and address the changing landscape of communities and crime patterns, and to allocate resources more rationally, the City should undertake a broad re-examination of precinct lines and establish new lines where appropriate to better serve the needs of all communities. Additionally, ensure Command Zones are more responsive to communities by increasing the number from its current level of eight borough commands. This will better focus the department, unwind its overly centralized, rigid bureaucracy, and help the department be more responsive and representative of the communities they serve.
Create a public-facing precinct scorecard to evaluate performance and increase accountability. The City will develop a comprehensive scorecard for every precinct and post it on their websites. This will include not only local crime and enforcement statistics but also the average tenure of officers and commanders, the clearance rates for major crimes, the number of disciplinary charges and actions against officers, the number of misdemeanor arrests and summonses, quarterly survey results of community satisfaction within the local precinct, quarterly surveys of frontline officers, and other metrics. In order to hold local officers accountable, track their performance, and push them to improve, community members should have immediate access to this important information.
Triple the reach of NeighborhoodStat. The NeighborhoodStat program is a community-led strategic planning process to identify key priorities for improving quality of life within NYCHA housing developments. Residents meet directly with city agencies and stakeholder groups to discuss neighborhood-level crime data, pinpoint solutions, and realign city services and resources to better meet community needs. Priorities include investing in vibrant communal spaces, improving security features such as exterior lighting and secure locks, expanding youth development programs, and strengthening connections to neighborhood-based public benefits and supportive services. In the 15 NYCHA developments where it operates, the NeighborhoodStat program contributed to a 9 percent drop in violent crime between 2014 and 2018 — nearly double the drop in the remainder of public housing — and improved quality of life. As Mayor, Scott will triple NeighborhoodStat funding in his first year in office, add 25 additional NYCHA developments to the program, and expand NeighborhoodStat zones to the blocks abutting these NYCHA developments.
Accelerate local innovation. In 2020, the City piloted the Brownsville Safety Alliance on Mother Gaston Boulevard, where violence interrupters, local nonprofits, and city agencies blanketed a two-block hotspot with services and successfully staunched violence. The NYPD decentralization plan will help empower and encourage this type of local experimentation, working in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. As part of this effort, the City will create a new research and evaluations unit within MOCJ to evaluate local public safety and public health pilots from a holistic perspective (i.e. not just “arrests” or “recidivism” also but educational and employment outcomes) and scale up successful programs.
Don’t flood high-crime areas with rookie cops. Earlier this month, NYPD Commissioner Shea announced that the newest cadet classes would be a “shot in the arm which we are eagerly anticipating” to quell the surge in gun violence. The remarks were reminiscent of “Operation Impact,” where graduates from the Academy were directly deployed to Impact Zones in 19 “hotspots” within high-crime precincts. While this decade-long program did, in fact, spur a reduction in crime in these zones, the flooding of these areas with inexperienced cops and implicit quotas led to historic increases in summonses, misdemeanor arrests, and Stop, Question, and Frisks, and it was effectively discontinued after the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley at the NYCHA Pink Houses by an officer with less than 18 months of experience.
Instead of resurrecting this troubled program, the City should take inspiration from Los Angeles’ Community Safety Project, a partnership between the Los Angeles Housing Authority, the Urban Peace Institute, the LAPD, and other local partners, including Cure Violence outreach workers. Rather than rookie cops, experienced officers with demonstrated cultural competencies, bilingual abilities, aptitude for conflict resolution and working with a broad cross-section of stakeholders, and a commitment to serve five years were assigned to high-crime public housing developments. The results were impressive. Not only did violent crime drop by more than 50 percent in these housing developments but the number of arrests also declined by 50 percent, and homicide clearance rates soared.
Moving forward, the City should adopt a variation of the Los Angeles’ Community Safety Project, and the NYPD’s Neighborhood Policing program should be overhauled so that Neighborhood Coordination Officers are primarily assigned to targeted, high-crime zones (rather than scattered around every precinct) and are coordinating with local community partners and city agencies. Variations of the multi-agency Brownsville Safety Alliance program should be stood up in each of these zones.
A Broader Vision for Public Safety Reform
The new proposals released today build on Stringer’s broader public safety agenda which includes:
Transfer homelessness, mental health, substance use, wellness checks, and other 311 and 911 calls and responsibilities to non-police crisis response teams. In 2020, the police responded to 1,266,731 311 requests, a 344 percent increase from their 285,177 311 calls in 2010. From 2014 to 2019, meanwhile, 911 calls for “Disorderly Person, Group, or Noise” rose by 78 percent. Studies have found that when police respond to calls outside of their beat, crime can increase by as much as 10 percent in the abandoned coverage zone. More broadly, the overutilization and weaponizing of 911 and 311 to condemn unwanted neighbors, undermine nightlife and immigrant-owned small businesses, and criminalize public health issues and suffering is inappropriate. The City must put a stop to this reactive, counterproductive, confrontational, “complaint-oriented policing.” Sending police to “move people along” and “quiet down” is a poor use of City resources and fails to actually address these problems substantively.
For a large swath of calls and incidents, the City should no longer depend on the police and instead deploy those with training and experience in crisis intervention, de-escalation, social work, counseling, mediation, and peer support. These Crisis Intervention Teams will respond to a broad range of calls — not just mental health, as is currently envisioned by the City — and will not simply replace the revolving door of police and jails for the revolving door of EMT workers and emergency rooms. Instead, the City will develop an extensive network of short-, medium-, and long-term services — including drop-in centers, respite care, safe havens, and other emergency and non-emergency services — and directly weave these services into our first response system.
Overhaul 911 and redesign first response. The City’s 911 call system and call takers should be shifted to an independent office that reports directly to a Deputy Mayor. Transitioning 911 away from the NYPD will mark an important step in overhauling first response in New York and introducing a more robust and comprehensive community safety model. New York should follow the example of Washington, D.C., where management of the Public Safety Communications Center was changed from a joint operation of the Police, Fire, and EMS to an independent government agency, the Office of Unified Communications (OUC). These reforms allowed for more direct oversight by the Mayor and a more holistic intergovernmental response to emergency service and first response. As part of this effort, the City will improve training and work conditions for 911 call takers, empower and train call-takers and dispatchers to de-escalate certain low-level calls with specialty staffing to provide support services over the phone, adopt “criteria-based dispatching” and utilize other digital tools to better triage calls, and leverage historic 911 data to help redesign first response in New York City.
Improve discipline, transparency, and civilian oversight of the NYPD. The disciplinary process for NYPD officers is notoriously opaque, lengthy, and toothless, and grants too much power and authority to the department itself. Given its extraordinary enforcement duties and responsibilities, the NYPD must be accountable directly to the public it serves and submit to external review on matters of discipline.
The authority of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) should be expanded so that it has unfettered access to body camera footage and no longer concedes disciplinary decisions to the police commissioner;
A Critical Incident Review Board should be established to provide a systematic, public, and structural review of all major incidents;
Certification and decertification of officers should be codified by State law so that major offenders are barred from serving in law enforcement; and
Infractions by police officers like covering badges, obscuring license plates, and parking on sidewalks should no longer be tolerated.
Moreover, accountability cannot just occur at the “back end,” after an infraction takes place or misconduct is alleged. It must also occur at the front end, initiating public review of new rules and regulations, improving transparency and scrutiny of police activities, prescribing a “duty to intervene” among fellow officers, and reforming surveillance, technology, and data practices and programs.
Put real guardrails on overtime and shifts and stop incentivizing arrests. The NYPD must be more systematic about managing overtime. Each Command Zone should be budgeted a set number of overtime hours per month, with the Commissioner allotted 20 percent of the total overtime budget for discretionary distribution. The amount of overtime dispersed should be closely tracked at weekly Compstat meetings, with Deputy Inspectors held accountable for adhering to their precinct budget. Moreover, the number of daily and weekly hours that individual officers can work should be closely tracked and capped. Additionally, the NYPD should no longer provide overtime as a bonus for making arrests — as is common practice in the Vice and Narcotics Units. This is bad budgetary practice and, more egregiously, incentivizes excessive and even false arrests.
The NYPD should be held directly responsible for claims filed against officers — instead of the City paying all settlements from the budget. Several years ago, Health + Hospitals was made responsible for all medical malpractice liabilities up to a maximum amount set by the Office of Management and Budget. With this disincentive in place, claims have fallen dramatically at H+H. Moving forward, NYPD Zone Commands should be held to the same standard, bearing the costs of claims filed against officers within their Zone.
Significantly reduce auto patrol and the police fleet and put an end to placard abuse and police cars parked on sidewalks. To save on car purchasing, maintenance, insurance, and gas, and to more effectively utilize officers’ time, the police fleet of 9,800 cars should be reduced by 20 percent and vehicle miles traveled by 40 percent. Effective community safety does not occur from a moving car or through a car window. Moreover, police placard abuse and the parking of patrol and private vehicles on local sidewalks undermines legitimacy and sends a clear message that police view themselves as above the law. These practices will end immediately.
Disband the NYPD Strategic Response Group. Study after study has shown that a heavy-handed, militarized police response to protests will often have a pressure-cooker effect, inciting protesters and “producing the very violence that they pretend to stop.” This has clearly borne out in New York City, including during the summer of 2020, as aggressive tactics by the heavily-armed NYPD Strategic Response Group escalated tensions and fundamentally undermined New Yorkers’ First Amendment rights. Moving forward, the SRG should be disbanded so that militarized officers are no longer engaged in policing protests, marches, demonstrations, or parades. Meanwhile, in cases of emergencies, the NYPD can return to its proven four-level mobilization protocols, which successfully mobilized over 1,000 officers to Ground Zero on September 11th.
Expand the MOCJ Crisis Management System. As part of its violence interruption programs to target and defuse escalating disputes, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice has developed an extensive system of wraparound services to support at-risk and gang-involved youth. These include employment programs, therapeutic mental health services, school conflict mediation, and legal services. Moving forward, this support system should be expanded to include housing and child care services. It should also be expanded and extended so that these wraparound services are available for the new Operation Peacekeeper and Ceasefire programs, which have a similar focus on high-risk individuals and de-escalating conflicts.
Stem the flow of guns into New York City by investing in proven gun violence control methods. While the average gun used in a New York City homicide is 12 years old, it remains important to focus on gun trafficking in order to reduce the supply of firearms in the medium-to-long term. Moving forward, the Attorney General, the District Attorneys, and the City should more aggressively mine underutilized crime gun trace data to determine where guns are flowing from and where they’re being distributed within the city. The police must also do a better job coordinating intelligence between precincts, Command Zones, the Firearms Investigations Unit, and the real-time crime center. The City should also work with the federal government to strengthen gun regulations and stop interstate trafficking. The FBI should be empowered to maintain records of all gun purchases, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives should be permitted to share more expansive gun trace data with cities and states, and background checks should be universally mandated on all private sale and gun show purchases across the country.Importantly, as the City works to reverse the troubling spike in shootings, it is critical that it relies on Evidence-Based Policing strategies and policies. Gun Buybacks, for instance, have been shown to have a negligible impact on crime and are a misuse of City resources. Moreover, as the number of gun seizures reach record highs (with First and Second Degree Weapons Possessions arrests 44 percent higher in 2020 than the 2006-2019 average), the NYPD must strictly refrain from indiscriminate stops and pretextual car searches for the sake of boosting arrest numbers. Instead, it must be laser-focused on de-escalating disputes and identifying high-risk individuals by expanding programs like Cure Violence, Operation Peacekeeper, and Ceasefire.
Scott Stringer grew up in Washington Heights in the 1970s. He attended P.S. 152 on Nagle Avenue and I.S. 52 on Academy Street. He graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in Marble Hill and John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, a CUNY school.
Stringer was elected City Comptroller in 2013. Prior to serving as Comptroller, he was Manhattan Borough President from 2006 to 2013 and represented the Upper West Side in the New York State Assembly from 1992 to 2005. He and his wife, Elyse Buxbaum, live in Manhattan with their two children, Max and Miles.