On January 1, 2014, New York City will inaugurate its next mayor. The new administration will take office following 12 years of relatively consistent and, at times, progressive policy innovation in public agencies that influence the lives of low-income and working class families. In this issue of the Watch we report on large steps taken by the Bloomberg administration in juvenile justice, probation and children’s services, among others. We also look at the New York Police Department, one of the largest city agencies—and one that advocates a vision radically different from most others in city government, holding tightly to its aggressive strategy of high-intensity control, surveillance and street stops in the city’s poorest communities.
Following are recommendations and solutions proposed by the Child Welfare Watch advisory board for initiatives that may still need adjustment, as well as suggestions for dramatic change in the methods and philosophy of the NYPD.
CITY HALL AND THE NYPD SHOULD INVEST SIGNIFICANT RESOURCES INTO REPAIRING RELATIONSHIPS WITH COMMUNITIES THAT EXPERIENCE AGGRESSIVE POLICING.
People need the police to help keep their neighborhoods safe. They want police to be their partners, not a force of occupation of which every young man must beware. The city’s public housing developments experience a drastically disproportionate rate of police surveillance. Aggressive policing has bred resentment, anger and mistrust of the police.
The city needs to recalibrate the balance between aggressive crime deterrence and efforts to partner with communities, investing in work that builds positive relationships with residents of the neighborhoods that experience high levels of both crime and police surveillance. Police should sharply reduce the use of stop-and-frisk, which makes communities feel targeted and mistrustful. The mayor’s office and the NYPD should seriously consider policing strategies that have proved effective elsewhere at involving community members in the fight against crime, and preventing violence by targeting the small number of people in any community who engage in dangerous behavior.
In local precincts, valuable efforts are frequently made to develop positive relationships between police and community leaders. For example, commanders meet with public housing residents to discuss emerging crime patterns and police activity; officers participate in youth programs and violence prevention programs; Community Affairs officers work with residents when serious crimes take place.
But these efforts take far too low a priority in the department’s operations. The NYPD spends just $12.8 million per year on its Community Affairs Bureau—a tiny fraction of the department’s total $4.5 billion budget. Repairing the damage of overly aggressive patrol tactics can’t be the project of a marginalized bureau. It will require buy-in and support from the top ranks of the Police Department and City Hall.
Ironically, public housing provides a hopeful example: In 2009, the New York City Housing Authority called together a task force on safety and security made up of high-level officials and elected tenant representatives. In response to residents’ complaints about police harassment, the task force negotiated changes to the way police are trained, emphasizing the need for reasonable suspicion to make a police stop. In the two years that followed, trespassing stops on public housing grounds dropped by almost 60 percent. There’s no evidence that cutting down on trespass stops tied the NYPD’s hands when it came to enforcement: Even as the number of trespass stops fell sharply between 2010 and 2011, the total number of arrests on public housing properties remained nearly identical. These changes by no means solved the problems of distrust and alienation between police and public housing residents. But they do suggest that, in an area negotiated between the NYPD and residents most impacted by police policies—and where department leadership sat down to hear residents’ concerns and collaborate on resolving them—there was meaningful change.
THE DEPARTMENT OF PROBATION SHOULD MAKE GOOD ON ITS COMMITMENT TO WORK WITH COMMUNITIES, CREATING INFRASTRUCTURE FOR SHARED DECISION MAKING AND PARTNERSHIP.
The Department of Probation has engaged in a large-scale effort to integrate its programs into the neighborhoods where most probationers live, working with community organizations to provide services and supervision that allow both juvenile and adult offenders to stay in their homes, rather than being incarcerated.
Working in partnership with communities is a challenging task, particularly for a criminal justice agency that has traditionally focused on supervision and compliance. The DOP must continue to demonstrate that it is genuinely willing to share decision-making capacities with community residents, and to work with neighborhood organizations that do not conform readily to traditional models of criminal justice. For example, the DOP must carry out its commitment to create resident advisory boards for its new, neighborhoodbased probation offices, where community members can have a say in the restorative work that probationers do.
In the past year, the DOP has hired dozens of service organizations to work with juvenile and young adult probationers, providing everything from job training to intensive daily supervision. The DOP must ensure that some of those opportunities are available to the local, neighborhood-based organizations that help keep communities strong—not just the large service agencies that have more experience winning city contracts. The city should make some money available for technical assistance, aiding small organizations that may need administrative help to apply for and maintain government grants.
THE STATE LEGISLATURE SHOULD PASS, AND GOVERNOR CUOMO SHOULD SIGN, A BILL THAT WOULD TRANSFORM THE TREATMENT OF 16- AND 17-YEAR-OLDS IN CRIMINAL COURT.
The bill that is widely considered to have a chance of passing will be based on 2012 legislation submitted at the request of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. This bill would create a new system for handling young alleged lawbreakers who are currently treated as adults in the criminal courts. If it passes, the law would apply only to young people charged with nonviolent crimes, limiting the overall impact. Nonetheless, it would be a large step forward. First, the bill would allow local probation departments to adjust the case of any 16- or 17-year-old charged with a nonviolent crime, as they already often do for younger teens. The young person may agree to take part in an alternative program or participate in community service. If probation can’t—or won’t—adjust the case, the alleged offender would be prosecuted by the local district attorney in a new “youth division” to be set up in the criminal part of the state court. Following a guilty plea or conviction, the judge would have the same options she now has for all delinquents, including placement in a residential program, an alternative program run by probation, or some other combination of services and oversight. Regardless of how the case is resolved in the court, a teen prosecuted in the youth division would end up with no criminal record and her arrest record would be sealed.
Once this process is successfully established, advocates, courts and the legislature must press forward to incorporate 16- and 17-year-olds charged with more serious crimes. No 16- or 17-year-old should be automatically, summarily treated as an adult criminal.
PROSECUTORS SHOULD MAKE FULL USE OF THE PILOT DIVERSION COURT PROGRAMS IN CRIMINAL COURT.
Even without the legislation described above, many counties in New York State have already established versions of these pilot adolescent-diversion court programs for 16 and 17-year-olds charged with nonviolent crimes. These programs give young people the chance to avoid permanent criminal records and receive age-appropriate services that can help prevent future crimes. There is a great disparity among the counties in the percentage of eligible young people who participate in these courts. In Nassau, for instance, about 81 percent of all eligible young people take part. In Queens, that number was only 9 percent as of June 30, 2012. Each county’s court officials, district attorneys, and defense attorneys set their own policies around who the courts will and will not see, and district attorneys frequently act as gatekeepers, deciding which young people they will agree to send to these courts. We recommend that all eligible young people be sent to these courts.
AS ACS EXPANDS EVIDENCE-BASED PREVENTIVE SERVICES, IT MUST CONTINUE TO INVEST IN PROMISING PRACTICES AND SUPPORT PROGRAM DESIGN AND RESEARCH.
“Evidence-based” models are a valuable element of the ACS preventive services system and investment in such programs makes good sense. Yet they should not crowd out other innovative or potentially effective but inadequately researched programs. Research in this field is far too scarce for ACS to not also be looking for and investing in innovation. Ideas for effective preventive services emerge from practice and innovation, and there must be room for such ideas to flourish. What’s more, most of the evidence for Multisystemic Therapy, Functional Family Therapy and related models is based on their use in juvenile justice systems, not child welfare, and it is not assured they will succeed in achieving the goals of the child welfare system, including child safety, permanency, and well being. Even the evidence for such programs in juvenile justice is mixed; they must be studied closely in their use in child welfare. Meanwhile, longstanding case management programs may or may not be cost effective—we don’t know for sure. More attention must be paid to defining the most promising practices of these programs—and developing evidence of their effectiveness.
CITY HALL AND THE CITY COUNCIL SHOULD ENSURE THAT EVIDENCE-BASED PREVENTIVE SERVICES ARE AVAILABLE TO FAMILIES NOT INVOLVED WITH CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES.
When services are reserved only for families who have already been investigated by child protective services (CPS), then parents are more likely to see the preventive service systems as punitive and as an extension of the foster care system, and less likely to see them as a valuable source of help. The availability of preventive services should be driven by community need, not only by the rate of CPS referrals. By making these services available to families who are encountering difficulties, but who have not come to the attention of CPS, they can help fulfill preventive service’s most lofty mission—to serve and protect families before they are on the brink of extreme crisis. This may require a greater investment—but it is an investment of the sort that government should value highly, given the fact we know these programs can make a difference.
CITY HALL MUST INVEST MORE HEAVILY IN COMMUNITY SUPPORTS.
The evidence-based programs ACS is adopting for child welfare are primarily clinical, short-term interventions that work with individual families who fit a specific profile, such as families with teens who have a substance abuse issue. As we invest in these services, we must also invest more heavily in the core infrastructure of community supports including afterschool programs, child care, and educational and housing supports. These are the services that persist when a family has completed a clinical evidence-based intervention, or when a young person returns home from foster care or a juvenile justice facility. They are the supports that are critical to the success of the new juvenile justice homes that have recently opened in New York City, and to those young people who have been diverted from the criminal justice system altogether. Investing in supports that strengthen and are rooted in communities acknowledges the critical role played by our families’ natural support systems in helping young people grow up healthy and safe. Without this infrastructure, more time-limited interventions may be futile.