Focus on local input

NEW YORK — Several hundred localities required to redesign policing strategies within the next several months should get to work, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday, renewing his call for departments to act, or forego state funding, for the second time in a week.

The governor declared the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative executive order June 12 mandating each of the state’s 500-plus police agencies publicly meet with people in their communities to reinvent policing strategies.

Each police force statewide must develop a plan by April 1, 2021 — the state’s next budget deadline — to be eligible for state funding. The municipality that oversees the law enforcement agency must certify, adopt and enforce the plan as a local law.

To date, 146 jurisdictions have developed or are in the process to accept new policing strategies — or less than 1/3 of state agencies.

“You should start doing it now because April is around the corner and this is not going to be a fast process and it’s not an easy process,” Cuomo said Tuesday during a briefing in his Manhattan office.

The executive order applies to every community with a police department.

“It’s a real opportunity — redesign your public safety function,” Cuomo said. “Why is every answer to every 911 call a person with a gun? Why is the only answer to a 911 call an arrest?”

The governor wants New York police agencies to be redesigned to have adequate mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence response plans, he said.

“When the only thing you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” the governor added. “When all you have is a gun and a badge and an ability to arrest, that is your only solution to that issue. That has to be redesigned.”

Redesigning a community’s public safety plan can be a fun and exciting opportunity, Cuomo said, trying to encourage officials to start the difficult conversation.

“Politicians like to avoid controversy — that’s what politicians like to do,” he said. “...If you don’t have a redesigned public safety function by next April, you’re not going to get state funding ... You can’t survive without state funding. It means you’re bankrupt.”

Violent crime, including homicides, shootings and burglaries, have exponentially increased in urban areas nationwide in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Department of Justice made a motion Sept. 21 to label New York City an anarchist jurisdiction on the heels of President Donald Trump’s Sept. 2 memorandum directing department officials to review withholding federal funding to states and localities permitting anarchy, violence and destruction in American cities.

“New York is very concerned about crime. They should be. That’s a fact,” Cuomo said. “New Yorkers are not wrong. There’s a crime problem, then we have to address it.”

City shooting victims have more than doubled this year. Black and brown New Yorkers represent 86% of victims, the governor said.

“That’s why the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island — that’s why they’re concerned,” he added. “The crime problem in New York City is real. If you deny a problem, you will never solve it.”

Tensions have mounted between communities and police, especially in urban areas, following recent international Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations, some of which included violent incidents or looting of businesses, following the death of George Floyd. The 46-year-old unarmed black man died Memorial Day after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Demonstrations continued after Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron only asked for wanton endangerment charges against the three Louisville Metro Police officers who fired a total of 32 bullets into Breonna Taylor’s apartment while serving a no-knock warrant on March 13.

“The tension post-George Floyd’s murder between police and the community has never been higher,” Cuomo said. “This is not just a New York City phenomenon. But it has to be resolved, and it’s not going to resolve itself on its own.”

Cuomo called on city officials to begin work with the New York Police Department, the nation’s largest police force with more than 35,000 people and a $10 billion budget. The city has not started redeveloping its use-of-force or policing strategies to date.

“Each community has to do it,” the governor said. “New York City is different than Buffalo, than the Adirondacks or Suffolk County. You design the approach that works for you. Mental health experts, community representatives, redesign your public safety plan.”

Any official can lead the charge, or the state will provide a neutral third-party to reinvent the city’s police strategy.

Some police agencies and officials have said they recently updated their public safety plan or policing code, but the governor said Tuesday the outdated plan is inadequate.

“I don’t care what you did in the past, it’s not working today,” Cuomo said. “You have to come to the table to make it work because this situation is not sustainable.

“...People are dying — that’s a fact,” Cuomo continued. “It has to be resolved.”

Tribune News Service contributed to this report.

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