In their latest stop on the panel discussion circuit, three of the presumptive Democratic candidates for mayor made an appearance at a fundraiser hosted by the Citizens Crime Commission in midtown to discuss the city’s most pressing crime issues in the near and long term, and skimmed the surface of some potential solutions to the problems.
The three candidates–City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and City Comptroller John Liu–seemed at ease among a crowd of law enforcement bigwigs, a far cry from the previous week when all three (as well as former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who was not in attendance on Monday) were eager to show off their business credentials at the Crain’s Future of New York City conference in an attempt to be more like Mike–Bloomberg, that is.
Crime, however, is one issue where candidates can always point out room for improvement. So, despite a decreasing crime rate and positive statistics that paint New York City as one of safest big cities in the world, the mayoral candidates were able to identify several areas of crime prevention that can be improved or built upon. Where they all found common ground was in opposing the controversial policing tactic known as “Stop, Question, and Frisk”, that has been proven to disproportionately target minorities and is the subject of many legal challenges and potential key legislation.
Liu chided the Police Department on stop-and-frisk, saying it is a policy that “has no place in a Democratic society,” and that judging by the statistics of individuals who are stopped, “there’s no question that there’s racial profiling going on.” He called for ending the practice altogether.
“When you read about 700,000 people being stopped and frisked on the street, almost all of whom have done absolutely nothing wrong, you don’t expect to read about that in New York City…maybe some third world country or a country that’s ruled by a dictatorship,” Liu said.
One of the more intriguing questions posed by Citizens Crime Commission President Richard Aborn was on the subject of getting 16- and 17-year old adolescents who committed crimes out of the penal system and whether the candidates supported the use of Alternates to Incarceration programs. Quinn voiced her support for creating a “hybrid court” for non-violent youth offenders, and said that Alternatives to Incarceration programs are vital in keeping the recidivism rate down and preventing criminals from becoming repeat offenders.
“I wish it wasn’t the structure that every year, Alternatives to Incarceration [programs]…have to come to the Council and have their money restored in the budget,” Quinn said. “They should be a basic part of our criminal justice structure.”
When the subject of the discussion moved towards the proliferation of gang violence in New York City, it gave de Blasio an opportunity to channel his inner Dickens and address some of the underlying economic issues that lead young men and women to crime and the sense of twisted community that a gang provides them.
“A lot of our young people in New York City, they are living in effect a ‘Tale of Two Cities’,” de Blasio said. “There are plenty of young people in this city who are doing well, who are getting good educations, who see plenty of job opportunities ahead. Then there is a huge swath of this city for whom a quality education is still a question mark and for whom job opportunities are evasive.”
De Blasio said that addressing income and education disparities in the city would help alleviate the gang violence, but also creative police work, such as “focused deterrence”–which targets the worst culprits for investigation as opposed to the sweeping and largely ineffective stop-and-frisk policies.
The evening concluded with a question on perhaps the city’s most ominous criminal threat: cybercrime. The three candidates gave brief answers as to how they would protect the city from cyber criminals, with Quinn noting that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office has already taken the lead on the issue with the construction of a cybercrime lab.
“This lab is gonna help us figure out what’s actually happening, who’s doing it and start holding people accountable,” Quinn said. “Use technology to fight the people who are using technology as a crime.”