Make the NYPD Commissioner An Electable Position
Make the NYPD Commissioner An Electable Position
Why this petition matters
The overwhelming civil unrest and peaceful protests of the past few weeks, coupled with the NYPD’s decades-long history of racism and brutality, has made the need for both immediate & long-term change to New York’s criminal justice system more urgent than ever. Ultimately, to bring about an immediate change, we must look at possible top-down approaches. One area to do this is by reconceiving the selection process for Police Commissioner. New York City has recently shown that it can reimagine & implement a new selection process for its officials by switching to ranked voting for city official positions. I am calling for the position of Police Commissioner to be elected by the people, rather than appointed by the Mayor.
The Police Commissioner, as the head of the New York Police Department, sets the precedent for the culture of the department and its relationship with citizens. The commissioner, according to the NYC Charter (§ 432, 434), has “cognizance and control of the government, administration, disposition and discipline of the department, as well as, has the power to appoint and at pleasure remove seven deputies and subordinate officers.” While the position does face the threat of removal by the Mayor, there is no direct accountability to the citizens.
Point six (§ 6) in the New York City Charter, states that “The mayor shall appoint the heads of administrations, departments, all commissioners and all other officers not elected by the people, except as otherwise provided by law.” Per this language, the role of Police Commissioner can be made an electable position if the citizens will it to be by passing a new law.
Commissioners are civilian administrators, so the role is more about administration, than it is about being a cop. If we want to imagine changing the police department, electing a public administrator that understands & wants to implement towards this change will be of great help. Addressing its current form, in order to make the NYPD more immediately accountable to its citizens, during this crucial moment where Americans are questioning the fundamental purpose of the police force, I am suggesting that we change the role of Police Commissioner from an appointed one to an elected one & impose a 4 year election cycle for this position.
We can make this change by either demanding the city council create a new law or by amending the city charter through the Charter Revision Commission. By giving the tax-paying people of New York the ability to vote out Commissioners that don’t seem to have their constituents in mind, we will have more say in holding the NYPD responsible to citizens and more say in putting in an official that works for the interests of the people.
On June 22nd, Commissioner Shea, testified that the officers who drove into a crowd of protesters on May 30th were complying with department standards. That should not be the standard. Furthermore, he called Attorney General Letitia James’ “description of running over peaceful protesters—[unfair]". Despite a slew of videos showing protestors being subjected to unnecessary police violence, Commission Shea feels that the NYPD has "exercised extreme, extreme discretion right from the start” [of the recent protests].
Commissioner Shea has also publicly expressed support for mild forms of police reform like plans to divest some funds from the NYPD to community programs or taking police out of schools. However, Mayor de Blasio wants cops to remain in schools. (Source) Instances like this make it difficult to understand what the commissioner is ultimately prioritizing: politics or people. Police Commissioners have to answer to many different groups: the mayor, the citizens, the police force & police unions but can only be removed by the Mayor. It should be up to the people to decide if real change was done at the end of a commissioner’s term & decide to reelect. After all, police are supposed to be there to serve the people. Making this an electable position by popular vote will bring another crucial layer of accountability as citizens continue to collectively fight for ultimately changing the system. A commissioner interested in serving the people would be in support of this layer of accountability.
I’ve spent the past few weeks learning all I can about each level of the government with the intent of identifying more ways citizens can actionably bring immediate & measurable change in conjunction with our efforts for long term upending. [Find the document I made on that here: https://bit.ly/2NzrDPE] Having never studied civics, I learned things like that cities are incorporated communities that have petitioned the state for a municipal charter (a local constitution). Meaning that all of the city’s rules & organizational structures can be changed to meet the needs and desires of the citizens. For example, in 1993, citizens voted on a referendum to the NYC charter to establish term limits on elected officials. (Source) Which is political mechanism of accountability that is unanimously accepted as correct today. Even after Bloomberg extended those terms in 2008, another referendum was passed in 2010 to reinstate the original 2 4-year terms. (Source)
As conversations about shaping the future of our country continue, it’s highly important to educate & re-educate ourselves about the system we currently have, in order to properly assist in creating the new system we’re fighting for. With that being said, I hope this specific call for change in NYC serves as a model for a measurable action in other cities (which are all built on amendable charters too). Again, read the document here.