How New York City mayoral candidates want to reform the NYPD

NYPD officers made a violent arrest of a black man, but will they face any consequences?
NYPD officers made a violent arrest of a black man, but will they face any consequences?
Carson Mathius/Shutterstock
NYPD officers made a violent arrest of a black man, but will they face any consequences?

How New York City mayoral candidates want to reform the NYPD

The Democratic candidates all have proposals, some with many common features.
April 14, 2021

Nearly a year after thousands took to the streets of New York City for weeks-long protests against police brutality in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the issue remains front and center. During the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for Floyd’s death, Minnesota was rocked by yet another police killing of a Black man. During a traffic stop in the Minneapolis suburb Brooklyn Center, a police officer shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright. The officer said she mistook her gun for her taser. Other instances of police brutality keep cropping up across the nation, such as the pepper-spraying of a black and Latino Army officer during a routine stop in Virginia earlier this week. 

Wright’s death sparked fresh protests and outrage in New York City, as the race for the Democratic mayoral nomination heats up. Whoever wins the June primary will likely be the next mayor of the overwhelmingly Democratic city. Eight candidates have emerged as the top Democratic contenders and each has a vision for how to approach police reform.

The city has already taken steps to change the New York City Police Department since last year’s protests. With the repeal of the state law shielding police disciplinary records, the city has begun making those public. The NYPD and the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the watchdog agency that provides police oversight, agreed to new guidelines meant to standardize police discipline. And the City Council partially repealed qualified immunity, allowing victims of police brutality to sue officers.

For reform advocates, this just the beginning of what’s needed to enact lasting, systemic change. Some advocates remain wary of empty promises after Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on a message of police reform only to leave many disappointed at the end of his eight-year tenure. “We don't want someone to make a promise, and then we're sitting around for eight years, wondering if they'll do it in the 11th hour or in the first hour,” Monifa Bandele, a board member of the Communities United for Police Reform Action Fund, told City & State. The coalition hasn’t endorsed a candidate yet, but Bandele said that advocates like herself are looking for concrete metrics and timetables for when pledges would be met. 

Broadly, Bandele said that police reform advocates are looking for candidates to commit to significantly cutting the NYPD budget, reducing the number of uniformed officers, removing police officers from schools, shifting mental health calls away from the NYPD and generally investing in programs and services that would lead to safer neighborhoods with fewer police. Although nearly every candidate has expressed support for residency requirements and diversifying the ranks – and some have made them key tenets to their reform plans – Bandele called such commitments “low-hanging fruit” that isn’t an advocacy priority. “There has to be real measures of accountability in place,” Bandele said. “There needs to be the removal of police from so many unnecessary scopes currently in their work.”

Right now, Bandele said that no candidate is totally there yet, but she said the fact that these conversations are happening is encouraging. “No candidate can avoid these issues or can not take a position on them,” Bandele said. 

Here’s what each of the leading mayoral candidates has suggested they would like to do to reform the NYPD as mayor. 

Eric Adams

A former police officer and a former Republican, the Brooklyn borough president has been met with skepticism from many reformers looking for broad, systemic change. But Adams has a history of trying to reform the NYPD from the inside: he co-founded the group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, which frequently criticized the NYPD for failing both Black New Yorkers and Black officers. The plan detailed on his website includes his commitment to diversifying the department’s ranks, creating a public list of cops with repeated complaints against them and giving the community power over who their precinct commanders are. He also has pledged to appoint the city’s first female police commissioner. His plan doesn’t make mention of some key priorities among reform advocates, including shifting mental health and homeslessness responses away from the NYPD or empowering the Civilian Complaint Review Board to engage in better oversight. Adams’ spokesperson also said that Adams opposes defunding the police, but is committed to find $1 billion in savings through civilianization of certain work, which would then get reinvested into policing initiatives like the Crisis Management System, a program that sends “violence interpreters'' to mediate potentially violent situations and connect with people likely to involved with gun violence without police intervention. Online, Adams’ plan estimates $500 million savings.

Shaun Donovan

Donovan, a former commissioner of Housing, Preservation and Development, released a 200 page policy book with details on all his campaign plans, including proposals for police reform. A key part of that plan is a pledge to redirect $500 million from the NYPD and Department of Corrections budgets towards “community-focused public safety and racial justice initiatives” by the end of his second year, with a commitment to dedicate $3 billion – 20% of the total public safety budget – to those initiatives by the end of his first term. Donovan also wants to create a dedicated mental health crisis hotline to divert calls away from the NYPD and supports completely removing any police intervention from such calls. He set a goal that by the end of his first term, police would no longer be the default responders to mental health crises. Donovan is one of the few candidates who has offered a concrete timetable for any of his proposals. Like most other candidates, he has also shied away from the terminology of “defunding the police,” although has offered proposals for divestment and reinvestment.

Kathryn Garcia

Garcia, a former commissioner of Sanitation, has often pointed to her experience leading a uniformed agency as giving her the chops to deal with the NYPD and enacting reforms. A campaign spokesperson said she was the first among the mayoral candidates to propose a city residency requirement for new recruits, which would require approval from the state government. Garcia also has proposed raising the recruitment age from 21 to 25, improving training techniques and reworking CompStat to track positive improvements and interactions. She supports embedding mental health professionals and social workers with police on certain calls, but she does not support removing police from these interactions altogether. Garcia also does not support defunding the police and a spokesperson said she plans to keep the patrol strength at current levels, but that she will find savings from efficiencies across all city agencies.

Ray McGuire

Considered one of the moderates in the race, the former Citigroup executive has offered a series of slightly more modest police reform proposals than some of his opponents. At the top of his police reform plan online, he said he will appoint a deputy mayor for public safety to oversee the NYPD, which Yang also proposes. McGuire would also increase community policing efforts. He has publicly expressed opposition to defunding the police, but McGuire said he would perform a “top-to-bottom review” of the city’s entire public safety budget to identify areas to save money. He additionally said he would require the NYPD to hand over body camera footage to the CCRB within 48 hours, but would still give the police commissioner final authority on disciplinary action with the potential of the mayor stepping in if the decision is deemed inappropriate. McGuire has also proposed creating a system of emergency social services that would respond to mental health and substance abuse 911 calls. At a March forum, he said they would respond either before or with police officers.

Dianne Morales

In what is likely the most radical of the proposed police reform plans, the nonprofit executive is the only candidate to specifically and explicitly support the movement to defund the police, with her plan entitled “Defund the police; fund the people” on her campaign website. She calls for cutting the NYPD budget in half by reducing it by $3 billion and she would analyze district attorneys budgets “with the intent to reduce them significantly.” She is the only candidate who has pledged any significant action regarding prosecutors. Morales also supports the creation of an elected Civilian Complaint Review Board, a major change to the police oversight agency that some advocates have been pushing for years. A campaign spokesperson said Morales’ proposal aligns with those advocates’ plan. She proposes the creation of a Community First Responders Department independent of the NYPD, that would send trained personnel to handle mental health and social services calls currently handled by the police. Morales would also ban the use of the NYPD’s controversial gang database, and would eliminate the Vice Squad.

Scott Stringer

The New York City comptroller laid out his plan to reform the NYPD in a report released in his capacity as comptroller. He links to that report on his campaign website, which includes many of the main tenets of the report. Stringers supports shifting mental health, substance abuse and homelessness calls out of the hands of police and into the hands of people better-trained to deal with these situations. He also committed to giving the CCRB final authority to dole out police discipline, which currently sits with the police commissioner. Although he has shied away from the defund slogan during the campaign, Stringer has reiterated his support to cut $1 billion from the NYPD over four years, which he first proposed last year as comptroller. 

Maya Wiley

A civil rights attorney and former CCRB chair, Wiley has made criminal justice and police reform a centerpiece of her campaign – although her website contains scant details about the specifics of her plans. It does include a detailed proposal on how to tackle gun violence and her measures to achieve that would be funded by redirecting money from the NYPD budget. The anti-gun violence plan would expand community-based interventions programs to deescalate situations without arrests and increase social services in schools while creating a “holistic approach” to school safety. At a forum in March, Wiley was one of a handful of candidates who committed to removing police from schools entirely, and has said she supports completely diverting all mental health, substance abuse and homelessness intervention away from police. Like most other candidates, she has largely avoided using the terminology of defunding the police, but indicated to Gothamist that she supports reducing the NYPD budget by $1 billion. A campaign spokesperson said Wiley would audit the budget to make necessary cuts, including to the number of uniformed personnel, and would eliminate the Vice Squad.

Andrew Yang

The former business and nonprofit executive’s police reform plan includes appointing a civilian police commissioner, which would be a break from traditionally appointing former officers. Like every candidate other than Morales, Yang supports a residency requirement. He supports expanding the NYPD’s mental health co-response teams – in which social workers are sent on mental health calls with officers – and a pilot program that sends just social and crisis workers. But at a March forum, he expressed reservations about removing police from mental health calls completely, saying that sometimes their presence is necessary. In response to the mass shooting in Georgia that left six Asian women dead, and a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes in New York, Yang proposed increasing funding for the NYPD’s Asian Hate Crime Task Force, which was met with ire from police reform advocates and some Asian activists supportive of reducing the NYPD budget. Yang has not taken a hard position on the defund the police movement, and has not publicly committed to reducing the police budget by a specific dollar amount.

Rebecca C. Lewis
is a staff reporter at City & State.
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