How community can get a voice in choosing local police leadership: BP Adams says mayor should make it happen

August 11, 2020 Editorial Staff
Community board members mull proposal for community input on precinct commanders
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Should community activists get a chance to weigh in when the NYPD is picking the local precinct commander?

That’s exactly what’s been proposed by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams who wants the city to allow some community board members, along with members of precinct councils, to have a say in the selection of local precinct commanders.

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However, local activists are not necessarily as eager as the borough president to embrace the concept.

Meeting as a committee of the whole via YouTube, some two dozen members of Community Board 14 — which includes Flatbush, Midwood and portions of Kensington — voted on August 5 to support in concept the effort spearheaded by Adams to create hyperlocal panels empowered to review qualified candidates chosen by the police commissioner, and give input as to which among them would be best suited to serve their community.

Board member Jonathan Judge brought the motion to “authorize the chair to submit a letter to the borough president and mayor endorsing the general concept of involving community stakeholders in a review of candidates being considered for appointment to police precinct commanding officer positions and to continue the conversation with interested boards and stakeholders in shaping that process to a fully detailed proposal.”

Legislation creating the panels was introduced in the City Council at Adams’ request by Councilmember Donovan Richards. But, Adams has said he hopes that Mayor Bill DeBlasio moves on his proposal, to “create(e) community review panels comprised of community board leaders, precinct council members and local elected officials that would be able to approve precinct commander candidates, or veto certain applicants by a supermajority vote,” via executive order, which would eliminate the need for the panels to be created by law.

The proposal, which emerged in the wake of the unrest following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, was backed by the chairs of Community Boards 4, 5, 16, 17 and 18, as well as representatives of the 71st, 73rd, 77th, 79th and 88th Precinct Community Councils who joined Adams at a June 8 press conference announcing the proposal.

There are 59 community boards in New York City, and their members, who are unpaid volunteers, advocate for the communities within their borders and provide advisory recommendations to city officials on a variety of subjects. Precinct community councils serve as a way of bringing residents and police together; their members are also volunteers.

“The events of the past two weeks have underscored the need for real civilian oversight mechanisms in the NYPD,” contended Adams, a former NYPD captain, at the press conference. “The images and footage of police using excessive force on peaceful protesters is deeply disturbing and confirms what many Black and Brown New Yorkers have long been saying about how their communities are policed. Community policing is just a slogan if we aren’t, in fact, listening to what a community wants and needs. We must have voices at the local level providing input on candidates to ensure they are representative of the neighborhoods they serve.”

As explained to CB 14 by Ryan Lynch, Adams’ chief of staff, the panels would be independent of both the local community board and the precinct council, though members would be drawn from both. New York City’s precincts are wholly contained within community board boundaries, though some community boards (CB 6 and CB 18 in Brooklyn) have more than one within their catchment area. CB 14 contains the 70th Precinct within its boundaries.

The intent, Lynch stressed, is to “create a concept where we can engage the community more in police oversight,” and he said that Adams, whom he described as a “reformer in the stop-and-frisk era,” is also open to the idea of piloting the effort in neighborhoods where the community board and precinct council are supportive.

As Adams has envisioned the proposal, Lynch said, the NYPD would “provide three qualified candidates. The panel would be able to interview [them] and receive background information [about them],” to determine, “which one meets the needs of the community. Is the person reflective of the community? Does the person have the same philosophy of policing as the community?”

However, the idea of giving the panels veto power via supermajority over candidates proposed by the NYPD appeared to be a sticking point for several members of CB 14, who expressed concern that it could turn into a popularity contest.

CB 14 Third Vice Chair Joe Dweck worried that, “People not familiar with police processes are going to want to make decisions based on the popularity of the candidates.

“The involvement of the community is the key thing,” he later said. “This is crucial. We need to have a better way of involving the community with the cops. It’s a laudable goal. I don’t know if this is the right way.”

“Is there any way we can move forward without veto power, say we prefer x or y candidate over z candidate?” asked Judge, who expressed support for the idea of community boards “play(ing) a more robust role” in the process.

“Accountability is always going to remain in the NYPD structure,” Lynch assured board members.

The brutal assault on Abner Louima by police officers in the 70th Precinct station house in 1997 clearly overshadowed the discussion for some board members. “How horrific it would have been to have been involved with that,” said Nicole Angulo. “How heavily involvement would weigh.”

Nonetheless, she added, “It would be an honor to have that kind of responsibility and accountability. I feel the borough president is giving us a chance to do that, and we’re thinking about the worst-case scenario instead of the best-case scenario.”

Beyond CB 14, Gardy Brazela, the chair of CB 18 and president of the 69th Precinct Community Council, said he is personally supportive of the proposal. “I think it could work, and it would show the community really has input into who’s going to be the commanding officer,” he told this paper. The proposal, he added, would be going in front of CB 18 in September.

Hassan Bakiriddin, vice chair of CB 17, concurred. “On the face of it,” he said, “I am absolutely supportive. It lends oversight and allows the community to have a voice.” CB 17 will also be discussing the proposal when it meets in September.

A key, Bakiriddin added, is developing criteria, “discussing what qualities you’d like to see them exhibit for your community. No decision is going to be 100 percent perfect but having input on criteria gives you more ownership.”

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