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Interview

The New Challenge of Policing New York: A Conversation with NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea

Dermot Shea Commissioner, NYPD
Rafael A. Mangual Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, Legal Policy, Manhattan Institute; Contributing Editor, City Journal
Tue, Aug 25, 2020 EVENTCAST

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The New Challenge of Policing New York: A Conversation with NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea

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Interview

The New Challenge of Policing New York: A Conversation with NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea

Dermot Shea Commissioner, NYPD
Rafael A. Mangual Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, Legal Policy, Manhattan Institute; Contributing Editor, City Journal EVENTCAST 01:00pm—02:00pm
Tuesday August 25
Tuesday August 25 2020
PAST EVENT Tuesday August 25 2020

Recent legislative and administrative policy shifts have impacted everything from pretrial detention and discovery to enforcement tactics and the prosecution of both minor and serious offenses. These shifts present new challenges for those tasked with policing America’s biggest city. So too have the protests and riots that rocked New York in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody. It seems NYPD officers engaged in enforcement actions are increasingly met by angry, sometimes violent, crowds and suspect resistance.

Those challenges are even more pronounced, given recent crime increases. The city closed 2019 with a small-but-noticeable increase in annual homicides; and 2020 has seen that trend accelerate through a turbulent first-half. Through the end of July, shootings were up 76 percent, and homicides were up 30 percent, year-to-date. What’s driving these upticks? How will the NYPD navigate the challenges posed by recent policy shifts? How should the Department balance the public’s appetite for reform with the need for order maintenance and public safety? Join Manhattan Institute senior fellow and deputy director of legal policy, Rafael A. Mangual for an important discussion exploring these and other questions with the 44th Commissioner of the NYPD, Dermot Shea.

Event Transcript

Rafael Mangual:

Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Rafael Mangual. I'm a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor of City Journal. I want to thank you all for tuning in to this Manhattan Institute eventcast.

Rafael Mangual:

Before I get started, I'd like to invite all of you to submit any questions that you have for our featured guests directly into the chat or comment boxes of whichever platforms you're watching us on. I will do my best to get to as many as I can during the last leg of our event. With that, a few minutes behind schedule and I apologize for that, let's begin.

Rafael Mangual:

I want to start by going back 30 years when New York City was in the middle of its bloodiest year ever, one that would end with 2262 murders. Now, that year 1990 also ended with robberies, burglaries, and grand larcenies all breaking six figures.

Rafael Mangual:

Our guest today, Commissioner Dermot Shea joined the NYPD just a few months later in April of 1991 when he was assigned to the 46 Precinct in The Bronx. Now, in 1990, the 46 saw 82 murders which for context is just two fewer than the 84 that occurred in the entire borough of The Bronx last year.

Rafael Mangual:

Now, what followed was a prodigious climb through the department's ranks, an impressive career whose upward trajectory was matched only by the impressive downward trajectory of the city's violent crime through 2019 which is when he was named the 44th commissioner of the New York City Police Department. Now, I'm a betting man. I'd confidently wager that those two trend lines are not unrelated which is why I'm so grateful that he agreed to share his perspective on such important issues with us all today.

Rafael Mangual:

I hope all of you at home will give us a warm virtual welcome to our guest of honor, Commissioner Shea. Thank you so much for being here.

Dermot Shea:

Rafael, thank you. Thank you for having me. The honor is mine. I look forward to a spirited conversation today about something that I'm quite proud of and the work of the men and women of this department and New York City overall. I look forward to it.

Rafael Mangual:

Well, fantastic. Let's jump right in. I led into your introduction by highlighting some of the crime numbers from the early 1990s in part because I think a lot of people have either forgotten what it was like back then or they just weren't around to see what the battle days were like.

Rafael Mangual:

I was hoping that you can start us off by just telling us a little bit about what The Bronx and the city more broadly was like when you first got onto the job and what are some of the kind of more notable similarities and differences that you think cops would be dealing with today?

Dermot Shea:

Yeah. I came on in April of 1991. As you said, I got out of the police academy at the end of, I think it was October of 1991 and was stationed to the hybrid section of The Bronx. If you're familiar with The Bronx, it's a little bit north the Yankee Stadium there. It was an area one square mile. I think there was 90 murders in 1991 in that square mile. Yeah. It's unbelievable when you think about it in today's terms.

Dermot Shea:

Rafael, there's really no comparison in terms of what the street looked like. It was just complete poverty. Burned out buildings were still quite frequent. Garbage piled up on the streets. It was a time when there was so much crime that I think there was as much crime as there was. There was probably just as much not reported because there was a feeling that reporting it didn't do anything.

Dermot Shea:

Gunshots were common. Burned out cars were common. That's a tough place. When I think back now, it's the same as then. You would go to some jobs. You would just shake your head and say, "What a terrible situation that when you see good hard-working people and trying to raise a family in that environment and all the obstacles that they had."

Dermot Shea:

When you look fast forward 20, 30 years later on what the city has turned into and the growth and still, obviously, we have pockets of problems an we still have poverty and a lot of issues, societal issues, but New York City has really just been turned around. We have our obstacles this year for sure. Hopefully, I'm not a bad luck charm, but it's been a tough year, but New Yorkers are resilient. We have a great police department, and we're going to get out of this. It's just a matter of, I think, taking care of some small things.

Dermot Shea:

Things are always a little dark, but we need some thickness. We need to start getting the ship moving in the right direction, but we'll get that.

Rafael Mangual:

Well, as you mentioned, we've really come an incredibly long way since the battle days of the 1990s. I grew up in Brooklyn in a neighborhood that's now quite gorgeous, but it wasn't so much when I was a young kid.

Rafael Mangual:

When we think about just how night and day the city's sort of 30-year trajectory has become, what would you say or that maybe the two or three most important tools or tactics that were utilized by not just the NYPD, but by the criminal justice system more broadly that help bring that change about and make life livable in so many more parts of the city for so many hard-working families?

Dermot Shea:

Yeah. Well, on the policing side, I think I have a unique perspective because, for a number of years going back, I ran the CompStat. I saw both sides I used as a young lieutenant, I attended CompStat. It wasn't a fun place to be back in the... That was 1998, I think, was the first time I attended a CompStat. CompStat came in in roughly 1994, '95.

Dermot Shea:

I attended first time in '98. Then years later, to be trusted by Bill Bratton and put in charge of running the CompStat. I came full circle. There's no comparison. I think that when I look back and you look at back when crime was so rampant in the early 90s, late 80s, early 90s because I grew up in Queens, there was a lot of low-hanging fruit in those early years.

Dermot Shea:

I think the biggest change was the mindset of, yes, we can do something about this. I think that the police department led the way in many ways in taking an attitude of it doesn't have to be this way, we can do better. And over years then of taking affirmative steps and dealing with some of the smaller issues in crime and smaller issues then became parts of larger overall strategies that were put into place and, over the years, really transformed the streets. That's number one. It was the little things.

Dermot Shea:

It was the mindset. It was that the feeling that the police can make a difference. You started to see then other partners in law enforcement. You started to see prosecutors. We didn't do it alone by any stretch of the imagination, but in those early years, there was a lot of low-hanging fruit.

Dermot Shea:

I think fast forward 20, 25 years later when I started to run CompStat, it was a different [inaudible 00:07:47]. We needed different strategies. We started to use technology more. It was coming out of a period of different societal beliefs about mass incarceration, and we had to get a different mindset. I think that when you stand here today and look back, that's one of the frustrating things from my view that we have evolved over time as a police department in terms of changing.

Dermot Shea:

Sometimes, we've made mistakes, but we've also recognized mistakes. We consider ourselves a reforming agency. We're having a great debate take place right now across the United States about law enforcement and policing in general. Many people are coming up to us and saying, "Well, you need to do things differently. You need to reform, and here's some things that you need to put into place.

Dermot Shea:

When we look at that list of reforms that we have to do, we come back and say, "Well, we actually did that already." I think policing is a bit of an evolution. It's not something that you put a plan into place and carry out the plan. It's something that you have to be constantly evaluating because what works today may not work tomorrow.

Dermot Shea:

In fact, I can guarantee it probably won't. The laws are changing, societal attitudes are changing. The environment around us is changing. We have to be just as nimble. I think you're seeing some of that right now. Different laws being passed, tools maybe being taken away, but you're not going to put your hands up in the air and say, "We can't do it anymore."

Dermot Shea:

Just this morning at this desk, I shared a meeting with some great minds in the police department on, "Okay. What are we doing? What are we going to do to drive the violence back down?" We know we have a pretty significant spike of gang violence in parts of the city. We will adapt, and we'll continue to push it down.

Rafael Mangual:

Yeah. I mean getting into that uptake, it's no sugar. This is on the minds of everyone. I'm sure that it's a major concern of our audience here watching live. Through August 15th, murders in the city are up 30%. Shootings are up 82%. This past June was apparently the worst on record since 1995 for that month.

Rafael Mangual:

Now, even if you look at the two-year increases, they seem to be right around the same. As you mentioned, a lot of that violence is concentrated in relatively small parts of the city and probably being committed by a relatively small cohort of bad actors, but I have a couple of questions here. One is, is it fair to say that what we're seeing now is more than just a blip?

Rafael Mangual:

If it is, what are the driving forces of that? You said you mentioned sharing a meeting, developing strategies about... Before you get to strategy, I think you have to identify the source of the problem. Does the department have a sense of what that might be?

Dermot Shea:

Yeah. Boy, this is complicated, would be an understatement, Rafael. I think context is important here too . Yu brought out some of those numbers. In the early 90s, we had 2200 murders. We had 5000 shootings a year. At the peak, Rikers Island back then, I think, the peak was about 21,000 prisoners in Rikers Island. A lot of crime, in response to that, a lot of policies and incarceration. They drove down the crime certainly. Then, you fast forward decades literally. I took over. I came into this building in, geez, 2011 and '12. We were looking at shootings in the range of 12 to 1300 roughly a year, I think.

Dermot Shea:

One of the things I'm probably most proud of is how we developed strategies in this new day and age to really use data, to identify who's doing the most crimes, taking CompStats to probably a new level with technology and data and putting systems in place and breaking down silos internally and sharing information to really identify patterns as quickly as possible, also to recognize that arrests are meaningless without meaningful prosecutions and ultimate outcomes because we don't want to make 10 arrests of the same individual.

Dermot Shea:

We want one arrest. We want that arrest to stick. We want that person to be if it's appropriate incarcerated. Convictions and working with prosecutor's better. Over those four or five years, we got to a place where we drove down incarceration which is lost. We drove it down significantly in New York City.

Dermot Shea:

We drove shootings down from over a thousand to under a thousand to under 900, to under 800. We drove homicides down under 300. We drove index crimes down under 100,000. These are numbers, but they're really people. We got the precision piece so good over the last four or five years here where we drove the incarceration in Rikers Island last year down to about 7000 people from a peak of 21.

Dermot Shea:

That's the good news. Ultimately, really precise in getting New York safer and having less people in jail. That's the lead into this year. The first major thing I would put my... There's a lot of different things that took place. Challenges, you have to adapt the challenges and the laws, but probably the biggest one that took place last year was the Bail Reform Law in New York State.

Dermot Shea:

Lord, there's been so much said about this, and people dig their heels in on each side, but I think if people are fair, number one, when I talk about Bail Reform, I always make the point. We were for reforming Bail Reform because we don't think it's appropriate for somebody to be in jail because they don't have money, and somebody else gets out of jail and they don't have money for the same offense. That's not right.

Dermot Shea:

The way that it was meant to go and there was a lot of different pieces in the Bail Reform Legislation that people don't even understand, so it changed discovery rules. It changed the rules for what laws, what penal law charges can you even ask for bail. If you can ask for it, you have to ask for the least restrictive matter.

Dermot Shea:

Really, everything was done and designed in a manner that would lower the incarceration rates. That's ultimately how the law was crafted. It was very effective. It also did things that people don't realize that we're dealing with today where instead of having the police department having policies on who can be issued desk appearance tickets for minor crimes and we make those decisions and say, "Well, we'll give a desk repair and stick it for a low level theft."

Dermot Shea:

But if you do that same crime over and over many times, we may make a decision that you're not going to get a desk appearance ticket anymore. You may have to go see a judge. That was taken out of our hands. That was legislated. We're dealing with the repercussions of that. Some would argue that's exactly what we meant to do. It's a good thing.

Dermot Shea:

Incarceration came down. I think my main response to that would be we need balance. What happened was when that law was signed and judges and prosecutors started to react to what was coming January 1st, you saw a pretty significant about... I think it's been a while since I talked about this, but I think it was about a 20% drop in the prison population jails in New York City, Rikers Island in one month.

Dermot Shea:

From November 30th to January 1st, 20% of the jail got put onto the street. Again, I would argue context when there was 21,000 people in Rikers Island, there was a lot of people that were swept up. When we had reduced it to 7000, we were getting more and more to a core group of people that were responsible for the most crime in New York City.

Dermot Shea:

When you let 20% of those out in one month, I would ask the people that advocated for that, what was put into place to ensure that they would not be reoffending? What social programs? I hear the term supervised release. Lord, I'm tired of hearing it because I think it's a buzzword at this point.

Dermot Shea:

What was really done to provide supervision and alternatives to those individuals that would give them the best possible chance to live a different life?

Rafael Mangual:

What I hear you saying really is that the department's position is not one that is opposed to reform rather that you could actually continue to police well and effectively by being more precise in how you deploy resources and get more bang for your buck. However, it is necessary that the other parts of the system are working with the department to ensure that the few folks on whom the department is concentrating are actually seeing consequences.

Rafael Mangual:

We started off the discussion by talking about some of the differences and similarities. One thing that I do see as just a more casual observer of this sort of issue is that it seems to me that what we're seeing a lot more of is these repeat offenders who are getting arrested for these higher profile offenses, shootings, homicides who have pretty extensive rap sheets, who are out on parole, out on bail awaiting disposition of a pending case.

Rafael Mangual:

Yet, we do seem to have a little bit of disagreement between the department and some of the city's prosecutors in terms of how to approach incapacitating some of these kind of repeat customers where we're seeing a lot more pre-trial diversions of gun offenders, for example. We're seeing lower sentences being sought. We're seeing just yesterday actually in the New York Daily News [inaudible 00:18:55] published an op-ed arguing that we should not bring back broken windows and that we shouldn't ask prosecutors to pursue lower level offenses even if that person is repeatingly blowing their second chances.

Rafael Mangual:

A couple of questions that come to mind here is how can the police department be maximally effective without the kind of support that you're talking about from the other parts of the criminal justice system? In other words, do some of these decarceration efforts that are sort of efforts aimed at decarceration for its own sake, do they risk eroding some of the benefits of good policing? And is there something the department can do about that or do we really need more collaboration along the lines of what we saw during the great crime decline?

Dermot Shea:

Yeah. That's a great observation, everything that you just said. I will say that I'll start from this point. When you look at the five prosecutors in New York City. Then, we have a special narcotics part. We have an eastern and a southern district, but I'll stick to the five local prosecutors and even I'll expand it beyond to whether it's defense attorneys or advocate groups.

Dermot Shea:

I think we all want the same thing for the most part. We want to see safety. We want to see programs that work. Certainly, there are differences of opinion at times, but I think that, overall, there is a very good working relationship on multiple levels really down to whether the work actually takes place to a lower level than me between the police department and different units in the, for example, Brooklyn or Manhattan DA's office or The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island.

Dermot Shea:

Are there differences of opinion? Yes. Do we all want the exact same thing and work together very effectively nearly every single day? Yeah. That's the case too, but I think you hit on something where when you talk about the entire system, I did an end-of-year review of crime statistics a couple of years ago, and I'm probably going back about four years.

Dermot Shea:

I talked about what a successful year we had that particular year. I made the statement that, it was in Brooklyn. I said, "I believe that the next future like seismic gains in crime reduction in New York City if everything else stays equal is when we really get it right looking at the entire criminal justice system."

Dermot Shea:

I think that the mistake a lot of people make is talking about crime or statistics. They say, "NYPD, what do you think?" The NYPD is a driving force. We'll take the lead, but we're one component. You really have to look at what happens then from the arrest, the decisions on how to prosecute the arrest. You mentioned pretrial diversion. .When is it appropriate? When is it not? How do those decisions really affect crime? Which programs work and which don't, because it's logical to think that some programs work better than others?

Dermot Shea:

Then going beyond that too, when we make decisions about probation, how do we monitor individuals? How do we make sure that people that are responsible for the most crime are held accountable? Accountability doesn't have to mean behind bars, but maybe it's an effective program in probation where they really can change behavior.

Dermot Shea:

Accountability is key here, but between probation, parole and all the different pieces of the system, how they work together? I'll tell you that there is a lot of collaboration. In the CompStat meetings that take place today, if Jack Maple was alive and sitting here today, he would be probably pretty impressed on how we've shifted over the years.

Dermot Shea:

We spent a great deal of time in those meetings now talking about individual people that are committing significant amounts of crime and how the different pieces of the system work and can work together to fix what affects New Yorkers. That type of work does go on. It's something that is a work in progress, I would say.

Dermot Shea:

I think that we all want to know what system works the best either we're diverting someone to drug treatment or an anti-violence program or any of the others.

Rafael Mangual:

You mentioned that there's a lot of collaboration that that there's a lot of agreement, but there are also some differences of opinion. Again, as an outside observer, it would seem to me that one of the sort of core differences of opinion surrounds the issue of public order and its importance to the overall crime-fighting mission of an organization like the NYPD. A lot of energy gets devoted to crime statistics like shootings, homicides. A lot of attention gets paid to things like riots.

Rafael Mangual:

But one of the lessons of New York's crime decline that I took away from one of the Manhattan Institute's most noted scholars, George Kelling, and he worked on this issue a lot with people like James Q. Wilson and put his ideas into practice through Bill Bratton was that public order matters. If people see disorder in their street, they're going to internalize that psychologically. That's going to affect how they engage with the community whether they engage with the community.

Rafael Mangual:

When we see sort of disorder prevail, we see streets get surrendered to criminal elements over time. What I want to get from you is how important is public order maintenance going to be to the future of policing in New York City and how do you prioritize that and recognize its importance as an issue while, again, we have the sort of dedication to not pursuing these charges when they are leveled?

Dermot Shea:

Yeah. I think it is very important. I think it remains certainly New York City is in a different place now than 20 or 30 years ago. This brings up conversations about broken windows and people have very strong beliefs on multiple sides. Some people take a couple of leaps, if you will, to incarceration, but to me, broken window is really about something that you alluded to. It's about order. It's about paying attention to the small things.

Dermot Shea:

I think that one of the things that we've done over the last six years is give our officers options and make them more aware than ever that when I ran CompStat, one of the things I used to say frequently was when somebody calls up and complains about something, that doesn't mean you have to write a summons. It doesn't mean you have to arrest someone, but the one thing it really does mean is that you have to address the condition.

Dermot Shea:

We have to be responsive to people that live and work in New York City. That's, to me, neighborhood policing at its core, being responsive, developing that relationship with the people that we work for and making sure that when there are issues, we address them through a wide range. It could be having a conversation with people and issuing a verbal warning. It could be issuing a... These days, it's a non-criminal civil summons because that in many ways has been taken away from us legislatively.

Dermot Shea:

But it's something that is not going away, I don't think. It's something that at times we can improve on to be quite frankly where we've moved away sometimes. The balance is, Rafael, that while we have to pay attention obviously to the more serious crimes, first and foremost, at times, there's a relationship between these minor low-level order maintenance crimes. We also recognize that we don't want the low-level crimes unchecked to be to become then the more serious significant crimes and lead to shootings.Sometimes, we see that as well.

Rafael Mangual:

You touched on something really important that I think I want to sort of transition into which was that the NYPD has a responsibility to respond to the concerns of communities. I think you are probably hearing things in two different voices. It's no secret that one of the challenges that the department faces as an institution today is the enormous amount of public anger that has come to the surface particularly in the wake of George Floyd's death under the knee of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Rafael Mangual:

But even before that, it seemed like there was a heightened sense of anti-police sentiment fermenting in the city. We saw, for example, the anti-fare evasion enforcement protests calling for the removal of police from the subways. You've spoken very forcefully about the killing of George Floyd. You've expressed empathy for the message that Black Lives Matter which is something that I think should be axiomatic to absolutely everyone.

Rafael Mangual:

That said though at both the state and city level, you mentioned we've had a host of reforms just adopted even recently in the wake of George Floyd's death in more than 10 laws signed by Governor Cuomo. We've had the city council passed the diaphragm bill, but we've also had some voices from the community calling for things like defunding the police.

Rafael Mangual:

We have not seen the organized demands from more policing in the wake of the increase in violence which is something that I think runs counter to what a lot of us expected. What I want to start by asking you is what are you and others in the department hearing from New Yorkers on the ground that you are encountering on a day-to-day basis. Is there a gap between the kind of defund rhetoric and what these troubled communities that we see in the crime data actually want from their police?

Dermot Shea:

Yeah. Absolutely. The answer is yes. I think that there is at times a disconnect between what the communities want and what you read about. That's not to say that there's not many of the things that you brought up. I think there's some long-standing issues with distrust of the police with wanting better service from the police, wanting to be treated equally and fairly.

Dermot Shea:

Those are things that we are in 100% agreement with and strive to get better at. I don't think it's choose one or the other. I think that when you see something like that what happened in Minneapolis I think everyone would agree and should agree that it was heinous to watch somebody die like that, that didn't have to die, but that doesn't mean you can't support the police too.

Dermot Shea:

I think you should call out what you see, and you can support the police. I think it's just such a unique year that we went through. I think there is a lot of raw emotion justifiably, but I think we're in a different place than we were a couple of months ago too even just a few short months ago. Where we are right now, this is what I hear on the street every day. I believe it.

Dermot Shea:

When you hear defund the police, I do not believe that that's what people want on the street. I'm specifically talking now about people of color. They rely on the police department. They will call us out when we were wrong 100%. I think that's a good thing because they they hold our feet to the fire and make us better, but we have great relationships that we've been nurturing and building for years.

Dermot Shea:

I think it was just such a unique point in time. I also think a piece of it if I was going to be honest which I am, is that people were scared to come out and say that they support the police because as soon as they did, they would have protests outside their house and be shouted down. I don't think that's healthy for anyone.

Dermot Shea:

I think we're better than that. I think we live in a country where we should value everyone's opinion. We should have healthy debates. We should sit across from adversaries and have those debates civilly and look for common ground as opposed to screaming. Maybe, I'm guilty of that sometimes myself, but overwhelmingly, what I see is people supporting the police, asking for more police, upset about what they're hearing and seeing in the media and telling me quite frankly that that's not how they feel.

Dermot Shea:

I think that that's something that we're working through right now. I think that ultimately cooler heads will prevail and will come back that pendulum in law enforcement swings from one side to the other. We need a little more firmly in that middle area where we hear each other, we're not too tough on crime, if you will, but we're not soft either. We're fair. We're working together. We're hearing and seeing each other.

Rafael Mangual:

You mentioned that specifically from communities of color that you're hearing the opposite of what I think people might think if they just read the newspapers or watch cable news. There's actually some data behind this. A recent Gallup Poll showed that a majority of black Americans across the United States do not support defunding their local police department, but still there is this kind of dominant narrative in the media that the police pose an existential threat to communities of color.

Rafael Mangual:

As the son of a former NYPD detective, as someone who has many friends and family members within the department and within police departments around the country. I know for a fact that these are people who take these jobs specifically to help communities often that they come from because they have a streak of public service that runs through their hearts and in their families.

Rafael Mangual:

Despite all that, we see this rhetoric continuing to bubble up. My question is how does that affect the morale of the rank and file? Does that pose a unique challenge to you as a leader of a department to not just have the task of keeping crime under control, but of also corralling a department and keeping them from maybe falling victim to a sense of fear that they don't have the support to get out of their cars and be as proactive as they should?

Dermot Shea:

Yeah. Great question. Before I answer it, I just got to say I agree with you on what you said and coming out of my last answer, but I think we have to be honest too. There are times where we got to be quicker. We got to be more transparent on dealing with discipline and rooting out. You hear this term the bad apples. Almost 30 in law enforcement, I've worked with the best people that you would ever work with.

Dermot Shea:

I see firsthand what they do every day. They don't call. They don't ask who's calling when that 911 call comes. They're running towards the danger and trying to help people, but with that said, it's a tough job and not everyone through their own actions have exhibited and proven to us that they deserve the right to wear that shield.

Dermot Shea:

When that's the case, we got to make hard decisions and get rid of people that are taking it for the overwhelming majority of officers. To be fair, that has to be said too. I think we can do better. I think that the public across the country probably doesn't understand how many officers get fired. It's a small number. It's significant. If the public understood that if we did a better job of getting that information out, I think it would change the narrative a little bit.

Dermot Shea:

To your question, it's an incredibly difficult time. I think about the men and women that put on the uniform every day. There are always ups and downs in this business. It is cyclical to an extent, but I've never seen anything like I've seen this year.

Dermot Shea:

If you think of just the craziness of it, three, four months ago, we were talking about having ticker tape parades for first responders. Nobody's talking about ticker tape parades anymore. How quickly it turned, we lost 46 members of this department uniform and civilian to COVID. They've come to work every day in extremely difficult circumstances.

Dermot Shea:

Now, we're looking back and we know a lot more about this disease. Thankfully, the rates of people getting sick is down. More importantly, the people getting treatment, I think, where the doctors have gotten a lot better in terms of knowledge and how to treat, but there was a period there. I know you know this, Rafael, back in March and April when you were literally scared to come to work.

Dermot Shea:

Well, members of the NYPD were coming to work every day and answering the call. Out of that period, when many are still working from home in the public and private sector, to have that incident happen across the country and just in the almost a perfect storm, what it came out of it, and those protests were extremely difficult for the men and women of this department physically, mentally, verbally.

Dermot Shea:

I think they really handled themselves where there's some mistakes, there's always mistakes, but overwhelmingly with incredible proficiency, with professionalism and now, we're inching towards hopefully really better times. It's a tough time. I worry about the offices. I worry about all eight and a half million New Yorkers, to be honest. I do know though that it's how we're going to get out of this is together.

Dermot Shea:

Every time that we speak and talk to each other whether it's talking about problems that we have or just saying to each other thank you for what you do, I think, is a positive. I'll take the opportunity anyone listening now, mail, calls, emails and everything else, offering thanks for the officers, thank you on behalf of the entire NYPD because it does mean a lot.

Rafael Mangual:

I really, really appreciate those remarks. We're coming into the last 15 minutes or so that we've got here. I want to start getting to some audience questions. One of them that that's just coming over the [inaudible 00:39:03] is, is there a role do you think that the current sentiment might play in risking the future of the NYPD stock which is to say do you foresee not just the NYPD, but police departments across the country really having a long-term problem with recruitment and retainment as the job sort of becomes more challenging in a variety of ways?

Rafael Mangual:

We've got this new diaphragm bill that creates a new legal risk for police officers. We've got pushes to increase the sort of legal exposure on the civil side for police officers. We've got this anti-police sentiment that we've already spoken. About are you seeing this sort of affect the structure of the department at the NYPD in terms of early retirements or missing out on recruiting high-level talent?

Dermot Shea:

Yeah. Across the country pre all of this, many police departments have trouble recruiting I attend conferences. I speak to friends across the country. That is a real problem depending. I think it's regional depending on where you are for a lot of different reasons.

Dermot Shea:

We traditionally have not had that problem in New York City first and foremost because of the population here eight and a half million people were allowed to live in six surrounding counties. Now, the pool here is so great.

Dermot Shea:

We also draw from international. There is a brand NYPD. Traditionally, we have not had problems recruiting. Will that change? Substantially, I think the jury is still out. I tend to think if I was going to guess, no. We will not have significant problems in reaching benchmarks, but there is absolutely people.

Dermot Shea:

I know this definitively from personal experience, people that were pursuing a career in law enforcement that are now rethinking it. That is a real problem. I think it's going to be hopefully less of a problem here in New York City, but I think it remains to be seen. I think the way that it's all of the reasons that you said. It's a risk reward of what are the benefits. It's a great job still. It's the most rewarding job in the world. I tell this to the rookies when they come on, you can literally change people's lives. You have a front row seat to the best, but also the worst.

Dermot Shea:

That's a reality too, but the far greatly is outweighed by the good, but no one should…. Yeah, but no one should be worried about getting arrested for doing their job either. That's a real problem. It is a real concern. I think how it gets beaten back is that the people of this great city and great country will speak up and be a little more vocal.

Dermot Shea:

Right now, there is one narrative being said, but I think there's a silent majority that that sees what's going on and says, "You know what? While we want reform, while we want to hold our police officer to high standards, we also want to have public safety and make sure we're balanced in that." I think that the tide will change a little bit. I think it'll come not from the police and law enforcement. I think it'll come from the general public.

Rafael Mangual:

We've got another question here from one of our audience members. And since we've only got nine minutes left, I'm going to ask that we keep our responses to the next couple to 60 seconds so that we can try and get to as many as we can. This one actually goes to the supervised release issue. The question is what exactly gets done once somebody is released? What does that supervision look like, and how does that differ if at all from what was sort of promised by the reformers?

Dermot Shea:

Yeah. My opinion and it'll get me in trouble, but I've said it publicly before. There is many different forms of supervised release. I don't want to throw an entire blanket over the whole thing and say, "But in my experience, the term is thrown out there supervised release. When you dig down and peel back the onion, there is in fact no supervision." Are there exceptions to that? I'm sure there are, but I think that is a significant problem and needs to be further examined.

Rafael Mangual:

This is a lead into another question from the audience. The Manhattan Institute just recently lost a dear colleague and friend, DJ Jaffe, who did a lot of work on mental illness policy here in New York City. I just want to just quickly send our condolences to his family if they're watching, but this question comes in from one of our audience members and asks how the NYPD sees the role of mandatory inpatient psychiatric care to solving the kind of homelessness issue that's associated with mental illness? We've seen some really horrific murders on the subway where people have been pushed in front of trains or attacked on the street by people who are just not well.

Rafael Mangual:

There was that case down in Chinatown with an individual who had a long history of mental illness, but is that something that the NYPD is actively thinking about and what should the public know about, what your thoughts are there?

Dermot Shea:

Yeah. That's one of those long-standing very few solution problems, and are we actively engaged in that? Not really. We do a lot of work. We're very much in the camp of in support of diverting people out of the criminal justice system that have mental illness, but it gets beyond, I don't think that this is a law enforcement NYPD function. I mean there are programs and practices in place where police at times arrest people that commit an offense.

Dermot Shea:

Now, there is a practice where that can be racist by the defense attorney, the prosecutor, and the judge and is somebody fit to stand trial. That's number one. How often that happens? I don't have data on that, but my guess would be that people are just pushed through the system and now out and diverted and there is an unwillingness I think we know to commit people at times. It's something that we have to grapple with the society.

Dermot Shea:

I think we see it. We see it every day on the streets in New York City. You mentioned some of the more horrific cases where the Chinatown incident or pushing people in front of trains, but listen, people are paroled out of prison with mental illness as well. What is that follow-up? If we don't want to do inpatient where people are committed, we've moved away from that as a society decades ago. Whatever we have in place has to be effective.

Dermot Shea:

You just feel for the people because there are clearly people out there that are unstable and need help.

Rafael Mangual:

Right. While we're on the mental health issue, there's another question here from the audience. You mentioned earlier that the NYPD's kind of been hearing a lot of negative from the public and that can sort of take its toll, we know on the sort of psyche of an individual who's going to work every day and having crowds gather when they try to make an arrest and watching the news and seeing their profession be maligned and hearing from people that they care about and the communities that they serve, they're not wanted to some degree.

Rafael Mangual:

Last year the NYPD saw a really just tragic uptick in the number of suicides that officers were sort of taking their own lives in much higher numbers than we've seen in a long time. The question from our audience is what level of mental health counseling is offered to members of the NYPD? Has something been done in the wake of that uptick to make those resources more visible and more available?

Rafael Mangual:

Is there an issue with a sense that this sort of makes you weak as a cop? I think we all see members of the NYPD as these tough rugged individuals, but clearly as you mentioned, you will get a front row seat to some of the worst things that you can imagine. What's your sort of thought as a leader of the department, number one, role that mental health is going to play in the future of policing in New York?

Dermot Shea:

Yeah. One of the things I worry about is the cumulative effect. I don't think there's enough study on this. The cumulative effect of seeing something bad and maybe it's not the worst thing you've ever seen, but those small incidents over years. What does that do in terms of post… I'm not a clinician or a doctor, but what is the effect of that on a person's psyche?

Dermot Shea:

It is something that is critical to us. We have a lot of programs in place already, both formal and informal working in collaboration with the unions, trying to reduce stigma of people coming forward and saying, "I need help." With all of that said, we still have an issue. I mean you raised last year was out of the ordinary year for us here in terms of people taking their own lives. It really brought it to the forefront, again, despite all that we already do, we recognize we have to do more.

Dermot Shea:

Coming out of that last year, we hired a psychologist separate and distinct from the existing that we have on board. There was a plan to hire even more. It's taken a hit with the defund, because our budget this year is not probably going to allow that to happen. We did get a lot of people coming forward and donating time. I mean there's too many to thank, but from the police foundation, from Columbia Presbyterian, private psychologists, et cetera, so many people that are willing to and have helped and members of the police department that volunteer on their own time to be peer counselors to look out for each other. There's a lot that we're doing and more that we would like to do.

Rafael Mangual:

That takes me actually into what I think will be the last question that we have time for from the audience, which is that you've mentioned the role that this defunding has played and kind of your plans on mental health initiatives for the department. That's something that I think is should be really sobering for people who have advocated reducing the budget of the department, but this question is on that, along those lines, which is that which areas of the NYPD do you think are going to end up being most affected by the recent $1 billion budget cut for 2021?

Dermot Shea:

Yeah. Just for clarity's sake, I mean the hiring of psychologists is more tied to just the general state of New York City right now where obviously significant budget cuts in terms of the COVID and everything that New York City. That's really tied to that one.

Dermot Shea:

With the defund movement, they did… Lord, we're in the middle of a crime wave right now, which we will get under control. I could tell you that the men and women are out there, detectives, uniform, that they're taking guns off the street. They're closing shootings, but the shame of this was how predictable it was. We came out publicly and said, "This is not what we want to do right now. It's going to hurt communities of color."

Dermot Shea:

We knew that we had, when you tie COVID into this, we canceled an academy class in April because of COVID. It wasn't safe. We did with what we knew at the time, we didn't want to risk recruits going into an academy. We had one class that was already in, we took steps to mitigate, but we didn't want to bring a brand new class in, because now that many more people into the academy.

Dermot Shea:

When you fast forward, that July class that was canceled was actually two classes. It was the April class that was canceled for COVID and it was the scheduled July. That's 1200 less cops right there. We had a 60% cut in overtime. That is six beyond significant, because what we normally do in the summer months, we put thousands of extra cops on overtime on the street every day in areas where we have predominant shooters.

Dermot Shea:

They are not there this year. That's thousands of Less. Then, the other piece of this is the attrition. When you cut the overtime, we know that it speeds up the retirement process for people that are looking at pension calculations and things of that nature. All of this has really, again, a perfect storm within a perfect storm. We're taking action to mitigate this. Shifting resources throughout the department, every cut has an effect somewhere, but we're doing what we have to do to make sure that the optimal number of police officers and detectives are on the front lines fighting crime.

Dermot Shea:

We'll worry about some of the other issues down the road. We're balancing out to make sure that the duty schedules this weekend, there was a story about some officers being moved off of weekends. That's correct. I mean most officers don't have weekends off, but for the ones that were on, we moved two thirds off just to give us more flexibility and staffing. There is a lot of steps being taken to mitigate some of these defund things, but hundreds of millions of dollars is hundreds of millions of dollars. The stream of it is, is that it's adversely affecting really the people that we're trying to help the most.

Rafael Mangual:

Well, that is all the time that we have. Before we close, I just want to invite all of you watching to take a look at the Manhattan Institute's research. Subscribe to our newsletters. If you're able, please also consider supporting the Institute at the link you see below. MI is a non-profit organization. Our work depends on support from people like you.

Rafael Mangual:

Commissioner Shea, thank you so much for being so generous with your time. Thank you so much for all that you do. Please, pass along my personal thanks to all of the officers in your command for the great work that they do. Thank you.

Dermot Shea:

Thank you very much, Rafael. Have a great day.

Rafael Mangual:

You too.

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