Criminal Justice

Reimagine, Reduce, Reinvest: Achieving Justice and Safety by Focusing on Community Needs 

New Yorkers deserve to live in a city that is safe, inclusive, and equitable for everyone. Over the last decade, we have consistently ranked as the safest large city in the United States. And yet, protests against racial injustice, repeated instances of unjustified police force, tragic increases in gun violence, and the longstanding over-representation of people of color and individuals with mental health challenges in our courts and jails demonstrate that the current system is not working as it should.

The way forward is to reimagine a public safety system that is accountable and community-driven, reduce over-policing and over-incarceration, and reinvest in services that provide safe and healthy communities for all New Yorkers. New York City’s justice system has to work for everyone by prioritizing safety, inclusion, and racial equity. Criminal justice policy should advance justice, promote civic engagement and transparency, and emphasize data and technology innovation in a manner that uses public resources wisely and fairly.

But it isn’t enough to outline bold policies. Our next mayor must have a plan for getting them done—and paid for. By the end of his second year in office, Shaun Donovan will invest $500 million annually in community-focused public safety and racial justice initiatives, primarily by redirecting funds currently allocated to law enforcement and corrections. He will dedicate roughly $3 billion or 20% of the city’s public safety budget for these efforts by the end of his first term, directed to the neighborhoods with the greatest needs and guided by community input.

Crime and violence are caused primarily by cycles of trauma, systemic absence of opportunity, and lack of legitimacy of governing institutions. Too often, responses have revolved solely around law enforcement, ignored these driving forces, and made matters worse with heavy-handed, racially-disproportionate enforcement. Too often, we have asked police and public safety personnel to address social and community issues they are not equipped to handle, such as mental health, homelessness, and school safety.

We will reduce over-policing and over-incarceration, close the Rikers jails, and ensure that individuals have access to affordable housing, health care, job development, and critical social services to help prevent contact with the criminal legal system and cycles of incarceration. We will also establish a comprehensive, citywide response system for mental health emergencies so that police are not asked to assume the role of a mental health professional or social worker.

Our plan will focus on:



Focusing Law Enforcement Resources on Guns and Serious Crime, Rather than Health and Social Challenges that Police are not Equipped to Solve

Recent incidents of police violence in New York City and across the country have put a spotlight on the wide-ranging tasks we ask police officers to carry out, and have left many questioning whether the police are suited to handle some of these situations. As mayor, Shaun will facilitate a wholesale evaluation of the policing within our City to identify circumstances where truly dangerous conditions exist that warrant armed police response. 

By focusing their efforts on those problems and reallocating resources for issues like mental health response and school safety toward social services professionals with more appropriate skill sets, we can ensure that police officers have the tools they need to do their jobs well and that all New Yorkers are getting the support they need from those best equipped to help them.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Targeting the out-of-state gun pipeline, working with other mayors, governors, and the Biden administration

New York City has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation—but most of the guns in our city are trafficked here from other states. To reduce the prevalence of illegal guns on our streets, the Donovan administration will make closing the out-of-state gun pipeline a top priority and target police resources accordingly

We will work closely with the Biden administration and mayors, governors, and law enforcement officials in other states to disrupt and restrict out-of-state guns from illegally entering our city.

Fast-tracking gun cases

Felony cases in New York City generally take twice as long as cases in the rest of the state, and COVID-19 has only slowed the process. Quick and certain resolution of prosecutions are a powerful deterrent, so there is a clear incentive to ensure that gun cases are resolved efficiently and without delay.

To this end, the Donovan administration will emphasize effective collaboration between police, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), courts, and district attorneys to ensure that gun cases are resolved rapidly and fairly.

Establish a non-police mental health first responder system

People with mental illness are 16 times more likely to die in a police encounter, and in New York City at least 16 people with mental illness have been killed by the police in the last five years alone. More than half of the people jailed at Rikers have a mental health treatment need, and nearly 20% have a serious mental illness.

In order to ensure that New Yorkers are getting the help they need in moments of crisis, we must move mental health response entirely into the domain of public health and away from law enforcement, and adjust City resources accordingly.

This means creating a dedicated mental health crisis hotline to divert calls from 911 and investing in frontline mental health crisis resources to respond to these crises, including social workers, counselors, and emergency medical technicians. This effort would follow the example of successful, decades-old models like CAHOOTS in Oregon, where in ~25,000 mental health crisis calls in 2019, only 150 (0.6%) required law enforcement back up. This approach would expand and improve the city’s mobile crisis teams as first steps toward a longer-term and holistic approach that goes beyond traditional crisis intervention. By the end of Shaun’s first term, police will no longer be the default response to mental health emergencies.

We must also invest in community-based housing and support programs to build on crisis response. People in crisis often need transitional and supportive housing programs, primary health care, community-based mental health and social services like Fountain House, and help with substance abuse challenges as a next step to help stabilize during and after a crisis, and to create on-ramps to longer-term recovery. These programs must be sure to focus on those too often unheard and unseen, like the elderly, who have specific mental health needs. 

We also will expand funding for mental health and addiction Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) programs and pre-trial diversion programs, and commit to priority decarceration of Riker’s Island for people with mental health conditions, especially serious mental illness. 

The Donovan administration will address the failures of the federal government to provide federal funds for needed inpatient psychiatric treatment, which is only one part of the needed multifaceted response to people in crisis. In the meantime, we will work with the State to establish a Mental Health Care Crisis Response Fund to cover this inpatient psychiatric care deficit as we advocate for federal reform.

Remove police from schools and provide resources for transition

In order to ensure the best possible academic outcomes for our students, we must dismantle practices that focus on policing and disciplining students and make schools unsafe for many students of color—contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline. We must remove police from schools, starting with schools that employ multiple School Resource Officers (SROs), following the example of cities like Minneapolis, Oakland, Denver, and Portland. 

Some of the savings should be reinvested in Positivity, Prevention, and Relationship Response Coordinators, trained in child development, de-escalation, and understanding how trauma and life experiences impact behavior, to create a positive learning environment. Current SROs will be supported in transitioning to these new roles if they are interested and ready to participate in the necessary training, or in being absorbed into the New York Police Department if they prefer to remain in law enforcement.

Removing police officers from schools is just a start; we must remove all vestiges of prison culture: eliminating metal detectors, on-campus arrests, and handcuffing (except in the extremely limited circumstances where student and educator safety is actually and immediately in danger), and incident reporting for routine student behavior that leads to police intervention and police records. These practices create a hostile climate instead of a supportive learning environment, and lead to police records that launch students—especially students of color—into the school-to-prison pipeline. 

Read more about this and other education initiatives within the Donovan Education Platform.

Create a task force to identify additional areas better served by non-police responses

In addition to building a mental health first responder system and removing police from schools, the Donovan administration will immediately convene a task force dedicated to identifying additional areas in which non-police responders—such as trained mediators or other social services professionals—might achieve better outcomes. Areas for investigation will include substance use issues, noise complaints, traffic enforcement, and situations involving unhoused persons, and will extend to dispatch procedures and requirements for follow-on services in addition to initial responses.

The task force will be composed of community and social services representatives, public health providers, and directly-impacted people, as well as representatives of City agencies. Its work will be informed by an extensive data analysis of 911 calls and emergency responses, as well as by stakeholder and community engagement and best practices from other jurisdictions. The task force will be charged with releasing a blueprint for action by the end of 2022, including strategies for shifting agency resources and responsibilities and piloting novel approaches.

Stop crackdowns on immigrant New Yorkers

Immigrants have historically been the lifeblood of our city, and today that is just as true as it has ever been. As we work to rebuild following this crisis, we must make sure we’re supporting our immigrants, rather than putting them at risk or standing in the way of their success. In that spirit—and the spirit of directing resources toward causes that will actually help our city—the Donovan administration will stop police crackdowns that disproportionately impact immigrant New Yorkers trying to make a living, like delivery workers and street vendors. We will also prioritize protecting New Yorkers from federal immigration enforcement as they seek to access critical services at hospitals, courts, and other government buildings.


Prioritizing Community-driven, Health-focused Approaches to Public Safety

As we reimagine New York as a city that works for everyone, reduce barriers to equal opportunity, and reinvest in initiatives that are truly constructive, the safety and stability of our neighborhoods has to be a top priority. This begins with actively involving our neighborhoods in creating real public safety, as well as focusing on long-term solutions to the underlying causes of violence.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes a public health approach to violence reduction that focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of violence in a long-term and sustainable way. This is in contrast with an approach that is focused on responding to crime and violence solely via arrest and prosecution, but does not seek to understand and deal with their causes. 

In order to ensure safety while reducing the NYPD footprint and over-incarceration, we will implement a citywide, cohesive public health approach to violence. 

The Donovan administration will use police and incarceration as last resorts, and will focus on solutions that get at the heart of New Yorkers’ needs, empowering our residents instead of obstructing their paths toward better lives.

As a starting point, we will invest at least $500 million annually in these solutions, including community- and health-based anti-violence efforts, reentry and supportive housing programs, and other initiatives aimed at providing communities with the resources to build safe neighborhoods. These investments will be funded primarily through savings from reduced corrections and police spending.

These initial commitments will set the floor for a broader effort to direct roughly $3 billion—at least 20% of our City’s public safety budget—to community-focused initiatives that advance public safety and racial justice, guided by a process of public input and an advisory committee that will include directly impacted people and community representatives. These investments are only part of the administration’s overall vision for a safe and equitable city, and are part of the broader citywide agenda for public health, housing, education, and economic opportunity.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Invest in community-based anti-violence programs

There is strong evidence that existing community-led approaches to safety are producing results. And yet, New York City currently invests between $25 million and $35 million on these programs, less than one-third of one percent of the $10 billion that we spend on police. The City should begin by tripling its investment in community-led approaches to violence reduction, expanding current programs and developing new ones modeled after successful initiatives and directed toward neighborhoods where violence is most prevalent.

One effective model is Cure Violence, which aims to prevent violent behavior before it occurs, utilizing “violence interrupters” as alternatives to law enforcements. A recent John Jay study of South Bronx and East New York neighborhoods with Cure Violence programs demonstrated positive impact of the program as these communities experienced statistically significant reductions in gun injuries and shooting victimization.

In another recent example, the NYPD Precinct in Brownsville recently “withdrew officers” from regular patrols in a high traffic and crime section of Mother Gaston Blvd. Instead of police, community-based violence prevention groups were tasked with managing public safety in the area, and non-profit and City entities set up sidewalk tents to deliver educational, job, and housing services to residents. The NYPD credited this approach with significantly reducing crime in the area during the one-week trial and providing a framework for reimagining public safety.

We will also expand hospital-based violence intervention programs, which seek to engage with victims of violence in the hospital, offering long-term programming and support services to prevent retaliation.

By combining a number of successful community-led violence prevention programs, our city can more effectively reduce and prevent crime while decreasing our reliance on the police.

Provide better and more accessible services for victims and communities

The program models discussed above are strategies to respond to and reduce crime and violence without exclusively relying on law enforcement. They are important components of a public health strategy to violence reduction.

However, these programs do not necessarily address the root causes of violence, which can often be found in structural inequality across our various systems including health care, education, housing, and the economy. By making targeted investments into the communities that have been most harmed by violence, New York City can begin to address some of these systemic harms. 

These efforts will go hand-in-hand with initiatives outlined in the Transportation, Education, Housing, and Economic Development platforms aimed at improving opportunities and quality of life for all New Yorkers, in recognition of the basic fact that thriving neighborhoods are safe neighborhoods.

Other cities already are beginning to move in this direction: Los Angeles recently passed Measure J, which requires allocation of 10% of unrestricted county funds to non-law enforcement initiatives for racial justice and community development; Los Angeles committed to reinvesting $150 million of savings from the LAPD in Black communities. Asheville, NC passed a reparations bill focused on increasing minority homeownership, growing generational wealth, and closing gaps in other areas. And, in Colorado, state and community-based organizations have taken money out of the corrections system and invested it into local communities. 

Focus resources on meeting resident’s needs in NYCHA developments

Established in 2014, the Mayor’s Action Plan is an approach to violence reduction focused on the 15 public housing complexes where violent crime is highest. It creates an NYPD-resident-agency collaboration aimed at addressing underlying causes of crime and actively engaging the community on public safety needs. These efforts can include physical investments in public spaces and infrastructure, as well as investment in opportunities for employment, mentorship, and healthy lifestyles.

The Donovan administration will expand and prioritize these efforts, investing more heavily in the current programs and extending them to additional developments

Conduct more thorough public health studies on gun violence at the city level

For decades, Congress has restricted CDC research on gun violence. In 2019, Congress appropriated $25 million to gun violence research, a pittance compared with the number of gun deaths in the United States.

New York City can step in where the federal government is falling short. In the Donovan administration, City agencies will initiate and fund research on the causes and prevention of gun violence through a public health lens. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will collaborate with researchers, non-profits, and other relevant City agencies—including the Department of Social Services and the Department of Education—to study and report on the causes of gun violence. We will invest in and prioritize community-led and community-centered research as part of these efforts, recognizing that those closest to the problem are closest to the solutions.

Through this effort, New York City can serve as an example to cities across the country, collaborating with other mayors to mobilize resources and pool efforts to better understand and address gun violence as a serious public health problem.


Rebuilding Accountable, Credible, Effective Public Safety Institutions 

Safety and justice can only be achieved when communities trust the public institutions that are charged with protecting them, and when these institutions are accountable, credible, effective, and racially-just.

Today, New York City is grappling with a crisis of legitimacy in our police department, including the decades-long legacy of over-policing in neighborhoods of color and the harsh police response to this summer’s protests against racial injustice. 

Enormous racial disparities are evident throughout our law enforcement system, from the rates at which people are subject to police stops to the rate at which they are arrested to the rate at which they are incarcerated. Spend an hour in a city arraignment court and you will ​see​ that the system almost exclusively impacts people of color.

The City’s main jail complex on Rikers Island is a sprawling 400-acre penal colony that has become synonymous with brutality. Whether from the threat of violence, COVID-19, punitive segregation, or isolation from family and other visitors, people leave these jails worse off than when they entered.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Remake a police department that is accountable, transparent, and responsive to community needs

The NYPD faces a crisis of legitimacy triggered by brutality and over-policing, primarily in communities of color.

This crisis is not just an issue of police accountability. It is also a problem of public safety, because police cannot do their job effectively when they lack the trust of victims, witnesses, and whole communities. 

To truly solve this crisis, we have to recognize that today’s broken relationship between communities and the police occurs in the context of more than a half century of abandonment of many communities, primarily communities of color. For decades, when there was instability and crime in these neighborhoods, the City called in the police, instead of answering their real needs. To get at the root of the problem, my administration will prioritize community investment as the best solution for instability and crime, rather than turning to the police as the default answer to every problem—as described in the policy principles above.

While reforms to the structure and culture of the police department alone cannot solve the challenges we face today, they are crucial.

Organizational culture is set at the top. In order to ensure that the New York Police Department’s approach is fully aligned with the values of the Donovan administration, Shaun will:

  • appoint a commissioner who shares his vision for public safety—one that is community-focused and racially just—and hold this individual accountable for the results
  • build a leadership team at the police department that represents the city’s diversity and understands the imperative for culture change
  • hold precinct commanders accountable for misconduct by officers under their command and replace leadership when necessary—officer behavior that threatens public safety or disrespects the communities they serve must be corrected, and if not, leadership must be replaced
  • hold individual officers responsible for bad acts that too often go unpunished today, including by following the determinations of the Civilian Complaint Review Board and by enforcing a clear, publicly-available set of disciplinary standards
  • adopt the recommendations set forth in the Department of Investigation’s report on the police department’s disproportionate and violent response to the protests against racial injustice following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and
  • consent to the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee the police department’s practices with respect to public protests to ensure that these unacceptable responses to New Yorkers exercising their First Amendment rights are never repeated.

Ensure any surveillance technology is used responsibly and transparently

In addition to these policies, my administration will also focus on ensuring that the police department’s use of surveillance technology is responsible, transparent, and consistent with democratic values. While advanced technology can help deter and prevent the real threats from organized crime and terrorism that we face in New York City, it can also pose serious risks—as in recent cases in which facial recognition technology has led to false accusations against Black men.

To balance the need for security against the risk for abuse, advanced technologies have to be limited to uses that are truly needed for public safety, and they must always be deployed in ways that align with our values as a democratic city and our rights as New Yorkers. The police department cannot be the sole arbiter of these issues. The NY POST Act, passed earlier this year, is a good start. 

To protect all New Yorkers, my administration will be transparent about the use of surveillance technologies, establish a civilian oversight panel to ensure that these technologies are used properly, and disclose instances when they are misused.

Track and publicize data on racial disparities, policing, and public perceptions of safety

To do their job effectively, the police department has to understand how officers are interacting with community members, the racial impact and distribution of these interactions, and how community members perceive the police and their own safety. New Yorkers should also have this data, so they can exercise their rights as informed citizens. 

Historically, however, the police department has narrowly focused data gathering on enforcement actions and crime reporting.

New York CIty can and should be a national model for police transparency. My administration will collect and track data on police interactions and public perceptions of safety and policing, including calls for service, police stops, use of force, officer misconduct and discipline, and racial disparities. We will use surveys to examine how perceptions of public safety vary by demographics and neighborhoods. We will use this data to guide our actions regarding training, deployment, and allocation of resources. 

We will also publicize this data, so that New Yorkers can hold the administration and the police department fully accountable for the results we deliver.

Close the Rikers Island jails

My administration’s approach to incarceration will be based on two premises. First, the system of incarceration that we have is closely linked to racial injustice in our society, including the decades-long legacy of disinvestment and discrimination in these same neighborhoods. The numbers are shameful and staggering: 90% of the people at Rikers today are Black or Latinx. 

Second, incarceration should be reserved only for the most necessary cases. Putting people in jail can do serious harm to them and their families and communities and is often counterproductive. Removing people from their lives, work, educational opportunities, and family and subjecting them to the chaos and brutality of Rikers usually only worsens the problems that led them into trouble in the first place. 

My administration will focus on ensuring that jail is used only as a last resort, in situations where there are no other alternatives. We know from experience over the past two decades that we can do this and keep the City safe. We will invest in communities and programs to prevent violence and instability, work with the DAs and courts so that only the most serious cases result in incarceration, and build mental health resources and capacity so that we stop using our jails as a warehouse for impoverished people with mental illness. We will advocate for policies in Albany that advance these priorities, including parole reform so that people are no longer jailed for allegations of non-criminal, technical violations of parole rules.

For those who are incarcerated, my administration will recognize that nearly everyone who is locked up, even those accused of the most serious charges, will ultimately return to their communities. To this end, we will stop solitary confinement and reorient the culture and operations of our jails. We will be committed to the safety, health, and welfare of the staff and people who are confined in jail. 

Removing all incarcerated people from Rikers Island before the end of 2027 will be a high priority, because the location and condition of the jails there contributes to the dysfunction, inhumanity, and incredible costs of today’s jail system—nearly $500,000 per incarcerated person per year. Closing Rikers is the only acceptable path forward for our city and a smaller, more humane, more accessible, more accountable jail system will ultimately save lives, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars each year, if not more, that will be reinvested in communities.


Investing in the Well-being of Returning Community Members to Stop Cycles of Arrest, Prosecution, and Incarceration

In order to make New York City safer for everyone and reduce incarceration, the Donovan administration will reimagine how to help people who are coming home, so that they succeed in our communities rather than end up returning to jail and prison. 

The best way to accomplish this goal is to invest in the programs and services that build stability, address health needs, and provide opportunity to these returning community members. 

When people continually cycle through arrest, prosecution, and jail, the justice system is not working as it should. We all are worse off for it. The enormous costs of justice involvement, from policing to the courts to jail and prison, fall on city taxpayers.

The Donovan administration will prioritize long-term solutions that provide stability and pathways to success for people who are leaving jail and prison, so that rather than wasting our City’s resources on cycles of incarceration, we are using those resources to help build safe and healthy communities. We will advocate in Albany for legislation to advance these priorities, including reforms to establish automatic expungement after a certain period for most convictions.

We are committed to the following actions:

Providing access to housing, including Section 8 vouchers, to end the prison-shelter pipeline

People returning from jail and prison consistently report housing as their number one need. Without stable housing, it is difficult to reacclimate to society, gain employment, access health care, and reconnect with family or build support networks.

As one measure of the problem, in 2017, 54% of the people who were paroled to New York City from state prisons went directly to the shelter system. These shelters are often insecure and chaotic. For all returning community members, secure housing is particularly crucial if they are to reach and maintain stability.

Rather than funneling people who are returning from jail and prison into the shelter system, providing stable housing (and comprehensive services when needed) will reduce harmful contact with the justice system, incarceration, and the public health system, resulting in significant cost savings over the long run.

Building on a program that Shaun piloted as Commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Donovan administration will provide Section 8 vouchers to people leaving jail and prison to ensure that they can access housing, thus providing a platform for success in the community. We also will work with NYCHA so that people returning from prisons or jails can more easily access public housing.

In addition, the Donovan administration will invest at least $30 million annually in new funding to establish 600 additional supportive and transitional housing beds to help provide stable housing for people with a history of homelessness and people with mental health needs. These investments will supplement the City’s existing commitment, as part of the Close Rikers plan, to expand the Justice Involved Supportive Housing program.

Establishing an office responsible for improving outcomes for people leaving jail and prison

In New York City, no single agency or point of responsibility exists to help people leaving jail and prison succeed, to assist them in navigating the many government and non-profit resources that may be available, or to help ensure that they do not return to confinement. Instead, without a dedicated stakeholder responsible for returning community members, there is little accountability for delivering success.

My administration will establish a dedicated reentry office to coordinate housing and services for people leaving jail and prison. This office will be responsible for working with New York City, State, and nonprofit agencies to marshal and provide resources and assistance to help people succeed.


Reinvesting Savings from Right-sizing Criminal Justice Institutions

The initiatives outlined above—from refocusing police resources and taking more community-led approaches to safety to closing Rikers and reforming the NYPD—will result in significant annual savings that can and should be directed toward marginalized communities to address long-term needs. As a starting point, the Donovan administration will utilize these savings to invest $500 million in community-focused public safety and racial justice initiatives annually by the end of our second year in office, setting up a broader effort to invest roughly $3 billion by the end of our first term.

It is our responsibility to direct these resources toward improving the opportunities available to and the quality of life within communities most impacted by historical divestment and mass incarceration. By working closely with communities, we can ensure that savings are reinvested to address the specific needs of each community.

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