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Statement of Police Commissioner James P. O'Neill Before the New York City Council Committee on Public Safety on the Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year 2020

March 19, 2019

Council Chambers, City Hall
Remarks as Prepared

Good morning, everyone. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Mayor's Preliminary Budget for the 2020 Fiscal Year. It is a pleasure to be here and to testify before the City Council's Committee on Public Safety about the outstanding work the members of the New York City Police Department have been doing, and continue to do, around-the-clock each day and night.

When I testified before this body one year ago, we spoke about continuing to build trust and strengthen relationships, in every neighborhood, between the NYPD and all the communities we serve — and about driving home the fundamental notion that public safety is a shared responsibility; the underlying premise being: Earning and putting into action the full and willing support of all the people we serve. Sharing the responsibility for our collective public safety is not only essential to safeguarding New York City, it is imperative in driving crime and disorder down past the record-low levels we have already achieved. It is this crime-fighting approach that shapes our Neighborhood Policing philosophy — keeping New Yorkers safe, and making sure they feel safe, too. The bottom line is: We need the public to know that each of us has a stake in keeping all of us safe.

Before highlighting some key budget items, I will update you on our core mission and several significant public-safety initiatives. And I will be as brief as I can, so our team can field as many of your questions as possible in the time we have available this morning.

First, I would like to thank New Yorkers for the outpouring of support they showed the NYPD following the February death of Detective Brian Simonsen of the 102nd Precinct Detective Squad. Like all NYPD members who have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the people we serve, Detective Simonsen was killed while doing what we asked of him — and that was fighting crime and keeping people safe. There is no more selfless act than that. What Detective Simonsen did for this great city — and what his family, and all line-of-duty families now must endure — will never be forgotten by any one of us.

In 2019, with every New Yorker entitled to safety, I believe the NYPD is at a turning point, a moment of opportunity never before seen in this city. We stand on the threshold of taking our nation's safest big city, and making it safe on every block, on every street, in every neighborhood — a city in which every neighborhood is as important as every other, where every child can grow up free of the threat of crime. We can now do this because Neighborhood Policing has been institutionalized in every precinct, and every public housing command and, as of last month, three-quarters of all transit districts — with the rest coming in the spring. The NYPD also launched Neighborhood Policing in New York City schools in the Bronx East sector at the start of the school year. We can do this now because the NYPD is ready to partner with every organization, every city agency, and every person in the city of New York. Let there be no mistake: We have now come within sight of this possibility because of how far we have come in the last 25 years. 2018 was a major milestone in this history, and it makes the next level of policing possible.

In 2018, as you know, New York City experienced another remarkable year in reducing violence and property crime: Overall index crime is at its lowest level here since 1957 — more than 60 years ago. Robberies, burglaries, and auto thefts have all continued their downward trends. 2018 was the second year in a row we had fewer than 300 murders — again, less than any year in New York since 1951, when there were half-a-million fewer people in our city. Our current murder rate of 3.4 per 100,000 residents is among the lowest in the nation. Also in 2018, we recorded the lowest number of shootings in New York City's modern history — for the third year in a row. On five separate occasions, the city went five or more days without a recorded murder, including for nine consecutive days, spanning November 25th to December 3rd. And for the first time ever, the NYPD recorded three straight months — October, November, and December — below 20 murders.

We did see a substantial increase in reported rapes over the last year. We know that part of this is attributable to the NYPD's substantially increased outreach efforts to help survivors report what happened. We now have advocates inside every police station house, specifically for domestic-violence victims and victims of other crimes. Last year, we saw an increase of more than 300 walk-in reports at precincts for sexual-assault complaints. We also know that — and this is a belief shared by survivors' advocates, with whom we regularly meet — that rape has been, and continues to be, our number one underreported crime. In fact, about a quarter of the rapes reported in 2018 took place prior to 2018. To me — and to the entire NYPD leadership — that means we are successfully building trust with survivors. And it is crucial that we continue on that path; this historic underreporting is beginning to be addressed in a substantial, and vitally-important way.

As you know, last year we conducted a complete overhaul of our entire Special Victims Division — now led by Deputy Chief Judith Harrison. We are renovating and upgrading facilities, adding more highly-trained personnel, and fine-tuning our response to survivors of these horrific crimes to make sure we provide every service and every comfort they need. And our Special Victims detectives are working to fully investigate both past and current-year sex assaults with a thoroughness and sensitivity that provides all survivors with empathy, closure, and justice. The NYPD will never rest in our determination to drive down the crime of rape, one of the most heinous of all violent offenses. And we, therefore, will never stop looking for ways to innovate and improve our practices in this area.

2018 was also a major milestone in another way: Five years ago, the NYPD charted a course toward furthering the steady-crime declines we saw in the previous two decades. We deliberately pivoted away from a largely enforcement-driven approach, toward a more precise and targeted paradigm. The core of the plan was, and continues to be, our Neighborhood Policing philosophy — a total shift in the NYPD's crime-fighting model that puts our members in closer connection with people all across the city. And police officers are using their great capacities of heart and mind to solve problems, where possible, without enforcement actions. Our cops now regularly work the same shifts in the same sectors. They are getting to know their neighborhoods, their community residents, their local problems, and their local criminals. They are getting the time and latitude to work at solving local crime and quality-of-life concerns. And the result is a more-flexible, more-responsive, more-measured, and more-effective police presence. Investigations are also more focused, with patrol cops playing an expanded role in gathering evidence and information, and precinct detective squads working in closer coordination with specialty squads like Gang and Narcotics to bring in more and even stronger cases against violent criminals. And because we involve our six local district attorneys, or the U.S. Attorneys for the Southern or Eastern Districts, from the outset, we are able to pre-indict many offenders before they are arrested, charge them appropriately, and see their cases through to meaningful prison sentences.

We also support our new approach with major improvements in training and technology, all implemented in the past five years. Perhaps most importantly, we decentralized and democratized technology and data-access in the department, equipping all officers with smartphones that connect them to databases, to the public, and to each other. We have gone from cops who lacked email addresses or any other way than a police radio to communicate in the field, to officers who now have instant access to a wide range of information and functionalities, and who regularly share their cell phone numbers and email addresses with local residents and businesses. The short-term results are in and, unlike a lot of five-year plans in world history, ours is actually working. Neighborhood Policing has pushed both crime and enforcement down substantially. Overall crime declined by 14.2 percent, and murders by 11.9 percent. Shooting incidents are down 31 percent. Compared to the five-year period prior to these last five years, the average for murders now is 30 percent lower, and the average for shootings is 29 percent lower. We are not just achieving massive declines in violence — with our intensified and focused investigations of gangs, we are sustaining those declines over the longer term. And in other categories: Robbery is down 32.6 percent in five years; burglary is down 33.3 percent; auto theft is down 26.4 percent. It may be hard to believe, but there were more than 140,000 auto thefts in New York City in 1990; last year, there were just over 5,000 — a reduction of about 96 percent.

Neighborhood Policing continues to be a paradigm shift for the NYPD in its goal of combining greater police community relations while continuing to drive down crime spikes, in real time, wherever and whenever they may arise. Part of the success of our hyperlocal focus is due to our Build-the-Block meetings held in every sector of every neighborhood. Led by designated Neighborhood Coordination Officers, not by commanding officers or other superior officers, the purpose is to meet with constituents to identify public safety challenges that are unique to specific neighborhoods, and to discuss potential solutions. The meetings are strategy sessions between local police officers and the people they serve, where relationships are fostered, problems and crime are discussed, and a process for feedback is developed. To date, NCOs have held more than 1,500 Build-the-Block meetings to address problems, help fight crime, and build stronger relationships between officers and community members. New Yorkers can find the next Build-the-Block meeting in their neighborhood at: BuildTheBlock.NYC.

Neighborhood Policing is, without a doubt, the most radical, top-to-bottom, operational change the NYPD has embarked on in nearly 25 years. What we have learned is that if we want everyone who lives and works in our communities to trust and respect their police officers, each of us in leadership roles also must trust and respect our police officers. We had to allow our men and women in uniform to be decision-makers and problem-solvers. We needed them to take ownership of, and great pride in, all the people and all the areas of New York City they protect. And, collectively, we always need to treat everyone we serve equally and fairly. In short, our style of New York policing is a game-changer for our profession and a model for the rest of America.

On the enforcement side during the past five years, street-stops by our officers are down more than 90 percent citywide — even as we improve monitoring and supervision to make sure that all stops are being reported by the officers who find them necessary to make. Overall arrests are down 37.3 percent, and summonses are down nearly 79 percent. Marijuana misdemeanor and violation arrests are down 71 percent. As we believed we could in 2014, we have shown that we can drive crime down significantly with a far less-intrusive enforcement profile. While arrests and summonses for quality-of-life violations and minor crimes are way down, felony arrests — for rape, assault, grand larceny and burglary — are all up. And while many misdemeanor arrest categories have fallen steeply, Detective Bureau arrests are up nearly 20 percent in the last five years. Detective arrests are based on exhaustive investigations that specifically direct our enforcement efforts — with laser-like focus — on the serious crimes and the serious offenders, who are a relatively small percentage of the population.

As a result, the crime reductions New York City has achieved in the past few years are categorically historic. Simply put: The city has not been this safe in three generations. Some observers believed we would never be this safe. Some assumed that more than 2,200 murders in 1990 was just the price of doing business in New York City — that nothing could be done about it. But the people who wore police uniforms in New York City knew otherwise. And they knew that reversing the decades-long trend of rising crime and violence would take time, and they knew that it could not be a solo effort. They understood that reclaiming our neighborhoods required the coordinated efforts of the entire police department and, ultimately the full partnership of the millions of people who live and work here.

It can also be said that 2018 was a milestone in the NYPD's historic 25-year crime-fighting period: The murder rate is a tenth of what it once was; total crime has been cut by 78 percent. We say that we are the safest large city in America, and we certainly are when our citywide crime rate is compared to the other biggest cities in the country. However, there are still stubborn pockets of crime — and especially violent crime — in New York. In fact, in 2018, there were six precincts with violent crime rates more than twice as high as the rest of the city. The 40th Precinct in the Bronx had the highest overall rate, including the second-highest robbery rate and the third-highest assault rate. The 73rd Precinct in Brooklyn had the third-highest rate, including the second-highest murder rate and the highest shooting rate. Other precincts — the 41st and 42nd in the Bronx; the 75th in Brooklyn; and the 25th in Manhattan together lead the city in violence. So, let me be clear: Even these six precincts have seen huge drops in violent crime since the early 1990s. But we will never be satisfied with that. We can always do better. And we must do better. The NYPD and our city have a moral obligation to these precincts, because everyone who lives and works in New York City deserves to live in safety — free of fear. Our achievements do give us reason to make the following declaration: We vow not to rest until every block, in every neighborhood, enjoys the same level of safety and well-being as the rest of the city. One's zip code must never be the primary determination of one's safety. And it is our pledge to ensure that every neighborhood is safe, regardless of where in New York City one calls home. This is our job, and we owe it to every single New Yorker. But this job can only be accomplished in partnership with the rest of the city, inside and outside government. For this reason, I have begun to convene action meetings in each of the six precincts I mentioned earlier, where violence is double the citywide average. The meetings include various elected officials and heads of our partner agencies at the city, state, and federal levels; plus business owners, clergy, service providers, and community leaders — the people on the ground who are the backbone of this important work. And we have been meeting with the cops in these commands to ask them what they think their police department can do better, and how best we can develop new solutions and get them whatever help they feel they need. Out of these meetings, change is coming. Change in how we police, how we partner with our fellow city agencies and elected officials, how we partner with neighborhood residents, and how we partner with business and civic leaders.

Further, the NYPD has devised a five-point plan to address surges in crime and violence as they appear. The plan calls for adding up to eight additional officers in so-called hot spots in each of several precincts identified on a rolling basis throughout the five boroughs. The officers will be assigned to high-visibility posts and backed with resources from our Strategic Response Group. Other portions of the plan call for stronger gun prosecutions — particularly in Brooklyn, where we are closely collaborating with District Attorney Eric Gonzalez — and expansion of our Ceasefire anti-gang outreach initiative, helping parolees, and conducting intensive investigations when guns are used in domestic-violence crimes.

All of these partnerships stand to generate the creative and innovative solutions that will bring down crime in these communities. Brownsville can and should be as safe as Brooklyn Heights. Crime can and should be as low in the South Bronx as it is in TriBeCa. We get there when we all come together, talk frankly, and recommit ourselves to this mission. At the NYPD, we view this as an urgent mission for everyone in these communities, and all over our city, to come together as one to ensure that every square block of New York City is free from both the threat, and the fear of, crime. How we get there is the next evolution of policing in New York. That means continuing to fight — in partnership — for every block, in every neighborhood, every day. And the question is: What can we all do together to advance this noble effort? New York needs everybody throughout the five boroughs to share the responsibility for public safety. Crime, fear, and disorder are not only police problems. New York needs all of our ideas, and all of our actions — now. And that goes for the entire public safety spectrum — from traditional crime to terrorism, to the seedbed-activities that can draw young people down paths of criminality.

Our city will always face challenges. Challenges that test our crime-fighting strategies at the most local of levels, and challenges that test our intelligence-gathering and preparedness at a citywide — and even a global — scale. And that important work continues around the clock, every day of the year, with our analysts, our cops, and our many partners on the FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force. It was the first JTTF in the nation, formed in December 1980. And now it is comprised of 300 investigators from 56 agencies — 113 of whom are NYPD cops. Additionally, the NYPD's Critical Response Command works 24/7 protecting sites and infrastructure around the city. And cops in our Strategic Response Group are at the ready to rapidly respond to any emerging threat, be it an active-shooter situation or other terror incident. Along with our elite Emergency Service Unit, they are all informed by our first-rate Intelligence Bureau, which continues to be the industry-leader in detecting, deciphering, and responding to an always-fluid threat stream.

This is a new era, in so many ways. We know, for example, that the legalization of marijuana is coming. And we need to determine how and when laws about use and possession are enforced. I have concerns about home-cultivation, for instance, and driving while impaired — because there is currently no instant test for marijuana levels in the human body. I also have great concerns about people under 21 years of age smoking marijuana. We are also facing pushback from some quarters about the definition of who constitutes a threat to public safety when it comes to fare evasion in our subways. One thing is clear to me, however: This city and its police must always control access to the transit system. To abandon our efforts there would be both irresponsible and highly dangerous. Marijuana and fare evasion are just two examples of the changing playing field. But our future also presents an entirely new possibility. It is now possible to think about how we can equip and enable our cops to help kids avoid a first act of criminal behavior. And we will prove that when the public and the police work together, we can make positive, lasting change in our society. That change begins when people are safe. And it is sustained when they feel safe, too. Our aim is to keep raising the bar for fair and effective policing in this country year after year, again and again. And we are doing it with the help of New Yorkers in every neighborhood. And I ask each of you, and the people you represent, to continue to think of ways that — together — we can make every single part of this city as safe as our safest streets are today.

Turning to budgetary issues, the NYPD plans to again apply for, and obtain, federal assistance to protect members of the public and critical infrastructure, including the Financial District, the transit system, bridges, tunnels, and ports.

Although we have already started planning for the Federal Fiscal Year 2019 preparedness grant-funding process, the applications guidelines for the Homeland Security preparedness grants have not yet been released. This is because the recent federal government shutdown — including the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency — delayed the approval of the FY19 appropriations. The NYPD relies on these funds to help protect all New Yorkers and visitors to our city against terrorist attacks, and to strengthen our homeland-security preparedness. As our nation's top terror target, New York City has been the target of about 30 terror plots since the devastating 9/11 attacks. These plots have included a suicide-bomber in a subway passageway beneath Times Square, the fatal truck attack on pedestrians and bicyclists along the West Side Highway, plans to place bombs among the festive crowds watching the July 4th fireworks over the East River, and an ISIS plot to capture on video the beheading of a woman in Manhattan.

The federal Homeland Security funds buy us a lot, including our Bomb Squad's Total Containment Vessel — the rolling vault that allowed the NYPD to remove the live pressure-cooker bomb planted on a street in Chelsea, and some of the 16 pipe bombs mailed to CNN in Columbus Circle and other recipients throughout New York and the country. The money also funds our Vapor Wake dogs that patrol large-scale events searching for hidden explosives, and our active-shooter training that hones the tactical skills of thousands of officers who might one day have to face a machine-gun-wielding attacker in a crowded concert venue or a school. Federal funds have also allowed the NYPD to develop and sustain our sensor and information technology centerpiece known as the Domain Awareness System, or DAS, which supports the department's counterterrorism mission; hire Intelligence Research Specialists, deploy officers to the transit system and other strategic locations citywide based on intelligence; and train officers to respond to chemical, ordnance, biological and radiological threats or incidents, as well as active-shooter scenarios. The NYPD also uses federal funds to purchase personal protective equipment for uniformed members of the service, and to purchase other critical equipment that enhances our ability to protect New Yorkers and vital transportation and port infrastructure. Regarding the Preliminary Budget and its impact on the NYPD: The NYPD's Fiscal Year 2020 City Tax Levy Expense Budget is $5.3 billion. The vast majority of this — 92 percent — is allocated for personnel costs. Highlights in the Preliminary Budget include:

  • Additional civilian staffing for the Body-Worn Camera program; this includes attorneys, media technicians, and IT personnel for a total of $6.3 million annually.
  • Cabling upgrades & facility work totaling $12.5 million, most of which is to allow precincts to better upload body-worn camera footage to the NYPD's network. The balance of funds are for improvements to 137 Centre Street, the facility for our Manhattan Special Victims Squad.
  • Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training: $5.3 million annually to continue training our uniformed members, and to improve services provided to people with behavioral-health challenges as they relate to the criminal justice system. This includes scenario-based training in crisis intervention techniques.

The Police Department's 10-Year Capital Commitment Plan contains $1.99 billion for Fiscal Years 2019 through 2029. The September Capital included additional funding for 100 Old Slip, totaling $13.3 million. This funding will allow for a comprehensive renovation of 100 Old Slip, a historic landmark building located in the heart of Lower Manhattan's Financial District. The NYPD will incorporate a public-use space in addition to running a law-enforcement operations facility.

Across the NYPD, we will continue to leverage every tool available to us to keep New York City safe, including the use of new and innovative technology. We are keenly focused on technological advances, and how they can be applied to fighting crime, creating safer and more-efficient ways for police officers to do their jobs, and contributing to the important work of building trust. Building trust with the people we serve; fighting traditional crime; combating international terrorism — none of this is easy. But cops do not take these jobs because they are easy. People join the police department to make a difference — to do good, and NYPD members accomplish that every single day. And they do it in newer, and better ways every day, too.

In closing, I can tell you our city is in much better shape today than it was when I became a cop in 1983. Those of you who lived and worked here decades ago know it, too: This is not the same city it was in the 1980s and 1990s. And each year, we make even greater headway. Together, we are proving that New York City is the place that others across our nation want to emulate. And we are setting that tone through our brand of New York policing.

Throughout the tremendous changes we continue to undertake in the NYPD, we have had the Mayor's full support. And we have benefitted greatly from the City Council's support, as well. Thank you for your ongoing partnership and assistance, and for everything you do to help us build a more effective and more efficient NYPD — always with officer safety in mind. I continue to be very optimistic about the future of the NYPD and the direction in which we head. In my experience, there is a direct correlation between the level of community support for the police and success in fighting crime and terror. And so we will continue to work tirelessly to earn the trust and confidence of all New Yorkers, and to ensure that there are even better days ahead. I look forward to working with each of you, and I thank you again for the opportunity to testify this morning. At this point, I am happy to take your questions.