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Shea: NYPD officials to go on a police reform listening tour

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea spoke at a news conference Tuesday about a new task force created to help reform the NYPD.  Credit: Corey Sipkin

The New York Police Department announced Tuesday it would launch a listening tour across the five boroughs to gain community input on police reforms as the department looks to comply with a state-mandated reform initiative after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, speaking at a news conference at police headquarters in Manhattan, said the effort would involve the assistance of groups such as the New York Urban League.

"This is your police department and this is a unique opportunity to really have your voices heard, to really shape policies," said Shea, adding: "This is about reimagining, if you will, policing in New York City. How do we make policing more equitable, fair without sacrificing public safety?"

Shea was joined by Juanita Holmes, NYPD chief of collaborative policing, who said there would be a total of eight borough-level meetings — held virtually with limited in-person attendance — beginning on Wednesday in Staten Island and concluding on Oct. 30 in Manhattan.

Homes said Staten Island was chosen to kick off the effort because it was the location of the death of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 after police placed him an illegal chokehold. Garner was captured on bystander video calling out "I can’t breathe" 11 times, which became a rallying cry for widespread protests at the time. Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who placed Garner in the chokehold, was never criminally charged and wasn't fired from the police department until five years after Garner's death.

But it was the May 25 killing of Floyd — who similarly told police he couldn’t breathe as Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on his neck and kept it there for several minutes in an encounter that was also caught on bystander video — that ignited a new wave of nationwide protests and renewed calls for reform.

In June, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order requiring every police agency in the state to evaluate its policies on use of force, bias training and citizens’ complaints, among other issues, or risk the loss of state funds. The NYPD’s plan must be approved by the City Council by April 1.

The NYPD receives 2% of its funding from the state, according to the Citizens Budget Commission. The NYPD has already seen its $6 billion budget cut by $1 billion amid calls from critics to defund the police.

Also at the news conference was Arva Rice, the president and chief executive officer of the New York Urban League, who said she was "heartened" by the governor's order, calling it a "powerful accountability tool," but also "skeptical," citing longtime racial disparities in policing.

"Make no mistake, I recognize that the acceptance of this role may not be unilaterally accepted by those that the New York Urban League serves," said Rice. "But at the Urban League, we believe that this role presents a unique opportunity to influence the future of policing in New York City and to address the ongoing racial disparities in law enforcement."

Jennifer Jones Austin, the chief executive officer and executive director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, said her group would also help the police department put together an action plan based on the community input.

"Perhaps the most crucial step in the process of reforming policing is to listen to and embrace the choices of community members, ensuring that their experiences, collective wisdom, and proposed solutions are heard and ultimately reflected in reform, must be our aim," Jones Austin said.

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