Public Advocate Presses NYPD On Protest Policing, Mental Health Response, And Social Media Usage At Council Hearing

May 9th, 2024

Press Release

NEW YORK: New York City Public Advocate joined Council Members to question top NYPD officials today on a range of issues at a hearing of the Committee on Public Safety today, one of the Council’s hearings on the mayor's executive budget. In addition to speaking broadly about the overall budget of the NYPD, the Public Advocate focused on mental health response – especially the shooting of Win Rozario – accountability measures the like Civilian Complaint Review Board, and policing of protests, specifically around the recent pro-Palestinian campus encampments.

“The NYPD is by far the biggest and most expensive police department in the country, and often is called for social service functions that are not appropriate,” said Public Advocate Williams in his opening. “We know that dispatching police to remove people perceived as being homeless or experiencing symptoms of mental health and acute mental illness hasn’t worked long-term in the past, and that we must invest in non-police responses to people in mental health crisis to address those in crisis and to help address substance abuse. The fatal consequences of what happens when police respond to a person in a mental health crisis was exemplified in March, again, when 19-year-old Win Rozario called 911 while in emotional distress.”

Public Advocate Williams also addressed the recent mass arrests of protesters on college campuses, which have been widely criticized for their tactics, saying “Many students, faculty, members of the media, legal observers, and bystanders have described witnessing unnecessary aggression by the NYPD against individuals who are not resisting arrest. It does seem that the scale and quickness of the police response to the encampments are not proportional to what was going on there… I’d be remiss if I did not say that I believe some of the aggression is because the mayor and others do not like the voices of Pro-Palestinian being risen up and I’m hoping that we’d take that into consideration, so we can lower the temperature when these protests are happening.”

The Public Advocate questioned officials about social media practices amid controversy stemming from several posts by top officials denigrating both protesters and elected officials. The department declined to answer any questions about their past or future social media usage, citing a Department of Investigation inquiry into the topic.

Read the Public Advocate’s full opening statement as delivered below.  

STATEMENT OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS TO THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY MAY 9, 2024

Good morning,

My name is Jumaane D. Williams, and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. I’m happy to speak at this important hearing.

The NYPD is by far the biggest and most expensive police department in the country, and often is called for social service functions that are not appropriate. The NYPD is often called to address issues of homelessness and mental health crisis. We know that dispatching police to remove people perceived as being homeless or experiencing symptoms of mental health and acute mental illness hasn’t worked long-term in the past, and that we must invest in non-police responses to people in mental health crisis to address those in crisis and to help address substance abuse. The fatal consequences of what happens when police respond to a person in a mental health crisis was exemplified in March, again, when 19-year-old Win Rozario called 911 while in emotional distress. As revealed in recently released police body cam footage, the responding officers tasered and then shot Rozario five times within three minutes of their arrival, offering no help or attempting de-escalation—killing him.

Most recently the PD has been called quickly to forcefully respond to protests on campuses. In the past few weeks, we have seen aggressive policing, quickly called on college campuses in the city in response to student encampments calling attention to the ongoing violence against Palestinians in Gaza. Many students, faculty, members of the media, legal observers, and bystanders have described witnessing unnecessary aggression by the NYPD against individuals who are not resisting arrest. It does seem that the scale and quickness of the police response to the encampments are not proportional to what was going on there. I am concerned that interactions between pro-Palestinian protestors and the NYPD will continue to escalate. Further, yesterday, the CCRB announced that nearly 40 NYPD officers are facing allegations of misconduct connected to protests surrounding the war in Gaza. I’d be remiss if I did not say that I believe some of the aggression is because the mayor and others do not like the voices of Pro-Palestinian being risen up and I’m hoping that we’d take that into consideration so we can lower the temperature when these protests are happening. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t say the mayor has yet to mention Palestine or Gaza or ceasefire since October. and I think it’s troubling not to lift up the pain of everybody in this city.  

The CCRB has been continuously underfunded by the city, making it more difficult—and in some cases impossible—for the agency to provide oversight of the NYPD. Starting in January of this year, the CCRB has stopped investigating several categories of allegations due to budget cuts. An increasing number of complaints—a 50 percent increase from 2022 to 2023—has outpaced the number of CCRB staff, resulting in backlogs and delayed investigations. At the preliminary budget hearing, the CCRB said they require 73 additional investigators and 376 total personnel to manage the current workload, with a total $37.7 million budget. With the current CCRB budget and its inability to impose its disciplinary recommendations and its lack of direct access to body camera footage, the NYPD operates almost entirely without oversight— I do know that NYPD has entered an MOU to hopefully get the CCRB that footage a little bit quicker. This is not only unacceptable but also could be dangerous. I also want to point out it has a chilling, effect that it seems the mayor now wants to replace the Chair Arva Rice for lifting up the issues and concerns about the money needed for CCRB, and for the pushback on the response of Kawaski Trawick.  

The mayor’s Subway Safety Plan has exacerbated a police overtime surge. There are millions of dollars on overtime for police officers to remove people, many times perceived as homeless or mentally ill from public spaces, or standing around in subway stations. According to the City Comptroller, for FY 2024, the City has spent $461 million through December on NYPD’s uniformed overtime, $109 million more than spent for the same period in FY 2023, and is on target to spend $925 million for the year. From 2022 to 2023, police overtime spending increased from $4 million to $155 million. There was an article that showed the number of subway crimes stayed about the same, and actually decreased in areas outside of the subway. I do know that the decrease that’s happening now and some additional money has been put in. I would say it seems that the services of the police department is the only thing that we are able to continue to say ‘The only thing we need to do is add more money and add more of it to solve the problem. I always try to point out how it might look if we had the same approach to other agencies and other programs and relieve the NYPD of some of the social services that it is doing.

It is also vital to adequately and robustly fund our public defender services. While free legal defender services for anyone who needs them are mandated by federal and local law, these organizations are consistently underfunded. It is low-income New Yorkers who ultimately face the consequences of a budget that favors district attorneys’ offices too often, deprived of the robust legal representation that they need and deserve. In June of last year, the City Council sent a letter to the mayor asking for at least $195 million for legal service providers to be added to the FY24 budget, and at the preliminary budget hearing in March, legal defense providers asked for $133.5 million in funding for FY25—however, the proposed budget for FY25 only increases funding for city-supported lawyers by $46 million. The city budget must ensure a high standard of quality legal representation for low-income New Yorkers.

Thank you very much, and I hope that we all can agree, we have to support our law enforcement to do the work that they are supposed to be doing. And the most helpful thing to do that is to stop asking them to do everything, and hopefully join together, getting funds to agencies and programs that can support. Thank you very much.   

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