Testimony delivered at “New York City Council Fiscal Year 2016 Preliminary Budget, Mayor’s FY ’15 Preliminary Management Report and Agency Oversight Hearings”

Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice - March 12, 2015


Statement of Elizabeth Glazer
Director of Criminal Justice, Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice New York City Council
Committee on Public Safety
March 12, 2015

Good morning, Chairperson Gibson and members of the Public Safety Committee and Chair Ferreras of the Finance Committee. My name is Elizabeth Glazer and I am the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Jean-Claude LeBec, our Director of Budget and Operations, and Migdalia Veloz, our Agency Chief Contracting Officer, are here with me to answer questions.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice advises the Mayor on public safety strategy and, together with partners inside and outside government, develops and implements policies aimed at reducing crime, reducing unnecessary arrests and incarceration, and promoting fairness.

Three basic ideas are at the heart of the work my office does: first, that public safety is the cornerstone of civic life. When people feel unsafe, businesses do not thrive, children do not play outdoors and fear triumphs over hope. Second, safety can only be had when there is public trust. This is the core of the bond that people must have with their governments and is essential to safety. Finally, while public safety is about the job that the police, prosecutors, defenders and the court system perform, it cannot be about the criminal justice system alone.

These three ideas are not just fine talk. They are rooted in science and are fundamental to my office’s work.

In New York City, we have the good fortune to have experienced one of the steepest and most enduring drops in crime of any city in the nation. Since the early 1990’s, murders have dropped 83% from a high of over 2200 to last year’s 328. Some crimes are now virtually extinct, like car thefts, which fell 96% from 1990 to 2013. The NYPD led this effort with the then remarkable idea that we could control crime – an idea that we now take for granted.

Traditionally, we have relied upon police – “boots on the ground” – to achieve these reductions in crime. But to the extent that crime reduction is simply about controlling behavior and managing risk, we now know that there are a number of different strategies that can lead to lower crime while building trust and creating the strong neighborhoods necessary for enduring crime reduction. These approaches require both that we look at the entire context of crime, not just what the players in the criminal justice system are doing, and that we steel ourselves to be clear-eyed about who poses a risk to safety and who does not. Taking that seriously means that we calibrate our strategies to address risk, whether through incapacitation or programming or something else.

Understanding what works for whom and when drives how my office thinks about our investments and the strategies that we develop. Since I became director, every contract issued by my office has reserved 5% of its operating costs for assessment and evaluation. We have also been lucky enough to be the beneficiary of a significant investment by the Arnold Foundation in the creation of Crime Lab New York. Crime Lab is a group of researchers and data scientists committed to using science to reduce crime. Crime Lab is at work side by side with us to identify the best interventions and investments we can make to reduce crime and increase social good. Those innovations are about the criminal justice system but also how other systems affect crime. One program that, with the council’s help we have now started in New York, looks at the power of tutoring algebra to reduce crime. In random controlled trials in high crime neighborhoods in Chicago, the program paired at risk ninth graders with tutors for daily tutoring in algebra. At the end of the eight month course, the students achieved a two to three grade jump in academic achievement while violent crime arrests declined by 44 percent, compared to participants’ peers.

Finally, we have been lucky enough to bring on board Eric Cadora as our research director. Mr. Cadora is nationally known for his path-breaking work on “million dollar blocks,” the short hand for the work he has done showing the millions of dollars we invest in some of our poorest neighborhoods for jails, prisons, probation and parole. We know that these are also neighborhoods in which other indicators of distress are high and we invest significant resources in funding services related to health, education and other areas.

These examples, algebra and crosswalk of crime and other disciplines, are what I mean when I say we must look at the context of crime. The job of my office is to look at the criminal justice system as a whole – and beyond. Having a system-wide view is both the most valuable piece of the work my office does and often the greatest challenge. Although the system is hydraulic – pressure on one point affects every other – we do not often look at it as a whole: we are a collection of not just mayoral agencies but independent elected officials, like the District Attorneys, and other branches of governments, like the courts. And even when we may wholly fund pieces of the system – for example, the defenders – they have a separate and independent obligation to serve to their clients that is an important component of the larger justice system functioning well. As we understand more and more about crime – that it is not simply about the criminal justice system – it is critical that our strategies also have a strong intersection with our partners in health, education, urban development and other areas. We can fight crime through strategic arrests but also with better lighting, more algebra and neighborhood cohesion.

The hallmark of this approach in my office is the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety. Announced last summer, it is a $210.5 million initiative that focuses on the 15 housing developments that drive 20% of NYCHA’s violent crime. The effort brings together ten City agencies and includes law enforcement, community groups and non-profits. It recognizes that crime goes down not only through smart criminal justice strategies but also when physical conditions are improved and neighborhoods are strong.

The initiative has focused on policing strategies but also on the role that the built environment, programming and resident engagement have on neighborhood cohesion and thus enduring crime reduction. A significant investment in security enhancements – lights, cameras and locked doors – began yielding results almost immediately and, we anticipate, will continue to do so as more of the improvements are implemented. This includes a $50 million investment by the council and the administration and an additional $89 million by the Manhattan District Attorney. Moving forward we will look at other kinds of physical improvements as well.

In addition to physical improvements, the initiative has invested and will continue to invest in programming. For the first time in 30 years, community centers were open late each night, serving 23,300 youth during these extended hours. Opportunities for jobs – almost 1000 Summer Youth Employment slots – and play – Parks Department programs that attracted over 38,000 participants – were an important part of the effort. Building on what we learned from last summer, we are currently working with our fellow agencies to develop programming for this summer and through the year.

Perhaps most important, however, is the implementation of a neighborhood “compstat.” While this is still being built, the effort focuses on ensuring that there is a regular method for neighborhood residents, police and other city agencies to identify and solve together key issues of concern. Regular meetings with the participating agencies and residents to review data and track results will ensure that the City is able to evaluate progress in real time and deliver results. We plan to operationalize and scale up this program during the next year.

The initial returns on these investments in NYCHA neighborhoods are promising. Violent crime declined 5.9% and total crime declined 4.7% between July 1st and December 31st 2014. This is work that will continue and become stronger in coming year as we address the enduring power and importance of place.

Another way my office has invested in system-wide public safety priorities is the $130 million Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System, a comprehensive roadmap to drive down crime while also reducing the number of people with behavioral health issues in the criminal justice system. On any given day in New York City jails, approximately 7 percent of those detained suffer from serious mental illness, 38 percent from a broader array of mental issues, and more than 85 percent have substance use disorders. A recent study showed that the behaviorally ill were often “frequent flyers,” cycling through the system often for short stays for low level offenses that added up to 300,000 bed days.

We are working hard now to implement some important recommendations from the Task Force that will have positive effects in reducing crime and incarceration for the mentally ill and for the system as a whole. These efforts include: a shift to understanding better at arraignment who poses a risk and who does not, implementing a tripling in supervised release slots so that those low risk defendants can be supervised in the community rather than detained in jail; improving connections to Medicaid and benefits upon release from jail and implementing almost 300 supportive housing slots proven to reduce returns to jail, shelters and hospitals of the frequent flyers.

Finally, an important part of all this work is the Anti-Violence Umbrella Group – an idea that came out of the work the council did in its Task Force to Combat Gun Violence and that was jointly funded by the Administration and the Council in this last budget. This effort expands the number of Cure Violence sites, making the linking of services a key component. In the coming year, we look forward to strengthening this effort by bringing together all the different kinds of anti-violence efforts in the city so we understand, with particularity, what works where.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today. I would be happy to answer any questions.