Testimony delivered to the New York State Assembly Standing Committees: on Codes; Judiciary; and Correction, as well as the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus

Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice - May 7, 2015

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Statement of Elizabeth Glazer
Director, Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice
New York State Assembly
Assembly Standing Committee on Codes
Assembly Standing Committee on Judiciary
Assembly Standing Committee on Correction
New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus May 7, 2015

Good morning, Chairpersons Lentol, Weinstein, O’Donnell and Aubry and members of the Standing Committees on Codes, Judiciary and Correction and the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus. My name is Elizabeth Glazer and I am the Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

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 achieving three main goals: reducing crime, reducing unnecessary arrests and incarceration and promoting fairness.

My office takes seriously the notion that public trust is the heartbeat of public safety. When a neighborhood trusts the police, they will report crimes and give the police information that permits police to arrest perpetrators and further boosts the neighborhood’s confidence in law enforcement. When this circle breaks down, however, a divisive culture is encouraged and a vicious cycle of “us/them” is put into motion, undermining safety. Additionally, when individuals feel that they have been treated fairly and that their voice has been heard, even if it does not carry the day, they are more likely to recognize justice outcomes as legitimate and comply with the law going forward.

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 333. Some crimes are now virtually extinct, like car thefts, which fell 96% from 1990 to 2013.

As crime drops to lower and lower levels, investment in traditional “boots-on-the-ground” deterrence methods brings with it a bigger social cost, particularly in the erosion of public trust. This is the lesson from the overuse of stop and frisk and the aftermath that we now see playing out, especially in communities of color where the concern both about over-policing and under-policing is acute. To the extent that crime reduction is simply about controlling behavior and managing risk, we now know that there are a number of strategies beyond traditional law enforcement that can lead to lower crime while building trust and creating the strong neighborhoods necessary for enduring crime reduction.

In New York City, we are working to systematically transform the criminal justice system so that we lighten its touch while promoting crime reduction. Restoring public trust and entrenching principles of legitimacy throughout the criminal justice system are the cornerstones of this strategy. If people trust the system to work and to do so fairly, this creates an enduring virtuous cycle that relies on informal social controls – neighborhood cohesion – rather than constant vigilance by police. I want to talk to you today about three of the ways we are putting these principles into practice: Justice Reboot, the Mayor’s Action Plan on Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice and the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety.

Justice Reboot, an initiative announced last month by the Mayor and New York State Chief Judge Lippman, seeks to promote confidence in the fairness of the justice system by solving two outdated and unnecessary problems: a summons process that is frustrating and difficult to navigate and case delays that result in months or years of pretrial detention.

Nearly half of all criminal court cases in NYC courts are processed through summons courts, meaning that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers every year cycle through a process that can be confusing and arduous, perhaps undermining confidence in the system. Evidence of this can be found in the fact that nearly 40% of those issued summonses fail to appear in court, which can result in the issuance of a warrant.

On April 14th, we announced a package of reforms that may seem small at first: a redesigned summons form, extended hours in summons courts, and collecting and posting data on summons enforcement. But the impact will immediately reshape the summons process and the experience of hundreds of thousands of people processed through it each year. The new forms makes it much clearer when an individual needs to appear in court, a text and robo-call reminder system will nudge individuals to show up for their court date, and extended hours will make it easier for individuals to answer their summons while also meeting other commitments like work and childcare. These changes are intended to drive down the warrant rate for failure to appear and, by making the summons process easier to navigate, promote people’s confidence in the system. Additionally, the new summons form will collect race data and the NYPD will publish this data and other data on summons enforcement citywide, unprecedented transparency that has received national attention and will also promote confidence and public trust.

Additionally, on April 14th, the Mayor and Chief Judge announced a commitment, within 45 days, to calendar for trial or plea all cases where the defendant is being held at Rikers and the case has been pending for longer than a year. Within six months, the City and courts pledged to resolve 50 percent of these cases. These immediate reforms, alongside ongoing work to systemically speed up case processing times, will reduce the average daily population in Rikers Island jails. Defendants who are detained in City jails for extensive periods while waiting for trial are the single biggest contributor to the size of the jail population. Just 5 percent of all defendants dismissed from Rikers Island in 2014 filled 44 percent of the jail’s beds—because these inmates each spent over 270 days on Rikers waiting for their trial. The vast majority of defendants spent much shorter periods in city jails. People lose faith in the system when justice is delayed, and this strategy will restore confidence in the effective functioning of our criminal justice system.

Another way my office is working to promote confidence in the effective functioning of the criminal justice system 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. By equipping law enforcement and corrections officers with more training and more options for effectively interacting with people with behavioral health needs, this action plan will advance the goals of deescalating interactions with law enforcement and improving relationships between the police and communities.

To promote public trust and joint problem solving among governments and communities, the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety, announced last summer, brings together ten City agencies, law enforcement, community groups and non-profits to jointly identify public safety priorities, implement strategies to address them, and monitor progress. This $210.5 million initiative focuses on the 15 housing developments that drive 20% of the New York City Housing Authority’s violent crime and 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. 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.

These are just two of the ways that NYC is working to promote confidence in government, improve the quality of criminal justice, and continue to make NYC the safest big city in the country. Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today. I would be happy to answer any questions.

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