Testimony before City Council Public Safety and Finance Committees: FY18 Executive Budget

May 22, 2017 |

Good afternoon Chairs Gibson and Ferraras-Copeland, and members of the Committees on Public Safety and Finance. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today about my Office’s Fiscal Year 2018 Executive Budget. 

When I testified before you in March, I outlined several of the criminal justice system reforms my Office is spearheading, including Project Reset, our pre-arraignment program for 16 and 17 year olds, which we are expanding to adults this Fall; the Summons Initiative, which has dramatically reduced case intake; our warrant forgiveness program, Clean Slate, which is scheduled to occur again on June 17;  and the Criminal Justice Investment Initiative, which is allocating $250 million in forfeiture funds to community-based programming throughout Manhattan and beyond. 

Since then, we have announced an investment of roughly $12 million to support victim services in underserved communities. Ten community-based organizations received funding to serve survivors of crime who face significant barriers to accessing services, including immigrants and non-native English speakers, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. We know that securing justice for victims doesn’t end in the courtroom and this investment seeks to support individuals as they continue heal. 

We have also recently released $15 million for reentry services, supporting men and women returning from incarceration. Through these solicitations we seek to both enhance the capacity of existing organizations and solicit new and innovative ideas to break the cycle of recidivism for New Yorkers transitioning from jail and prison back into the community. 

While these forfeiture funds put my office in a fortunate position to make major investments in criminal justice reform, we are, however, limited by statute as to what we can spend these funds on. Specifically, these funds are not baselined and may not be used to fund staff salaries. Therefore, DANY must continue to rely of city tax levy support for our personnel costs. As I explained in March, my office is seeking the additional funds necessary to offer our most junior ADAs a competitive salary that reflects the level of responsibility bestowed upon them. The starting salary of an Assistant District Attorney in my Office is $62,500, a considerably lower starting salary compared to other public service lawyers. Given the twin burdens of tremendous law school debt and the cost of living in New York City, it is extremely challenging for young people to accept positions at such a low salary.  We are unfortunately heading down a path whereby the only individuals who can accept an ADA position within our office are those of privileged backgrounds and therefore, the applicant pool is less likely to reflect the population it is seeking to serve. We will continue to work with the Mayor’s Office and OMB to address this critical issue and I ask for your support. 

Second, I’d like to take a moment to provide some early insight into our experience with the NYPD body-worn camera pilot and highlight the potential budgetary and technological challenges the deployment presents to our office. I have long supported the use of police body cameras, which increase the civility of interactions with residents, reduce false complaints against officers, and provide potentially vital evidence for criminal investigations and prosecutions. My office will meet our legal obligations to provide this material in discovery, as we do with all evidence. We are confident in our ability to effectively utilize and produce body camera evidence and are pleased to participate in the NYPD’s pilot which started on April 26th in the 34th precinct. Since the pilot began we have downloaded 140 videos associated with arrests and are learning a great deal about the necessary operational and security protocols that will need to be in place as the program expands. Of particular concern is the storage capacity we will need to properly store this critical evidence. We are currently developing forecasts for additional funds necessary to meet the technological demands of this program and I ask that the City thoughtfully considers the associated needs of the district attorney’s offices as it moves forward with the body-worn camera program.

Lastly, I’d like to briefly discuss the physical state of the Manhattan Court Complex, an issue that has been under discussion, without any real resolution, for more than 20 years. DANY currently occupies over 300,000 square feet of space in 80 Centre and 100 Centre Street. This space is the work site of over 1400 professionals and approximately 550 visitors each day, including law enforcement agencies, victims, witnesses and the public. In addition, 100 Centre and 111 Centre Street are home to Manhattan Criminal and Supreme Court, which are visited by thousands of people every day. These buildings have never been renovated or modernized in any significant way. The residents of Manhattan and the public service professionals who serve them deserve court facilities that properly reflect the respect and dignity we hold for the criminal justice system. We understand that the Mayor’s Office is currently working with an architectural firm to develop a comprehensive plan for the Manhattan Court Complex, which will be finalized later this year. However, it must be noted that this is the third such plan to be developed for the Manhattan Court Complex; the previous two iterations failed due to lack of stakeholder support and funding. Today, I ask for your support in ensuring that this plan does not meet the same fate as its predecessors. I am hopeful that the City will adhere to its commitment of funding the necessary capital costs to complete this work within a reasonable timeframe. 

Before I complete my remarks, I would like to remind the Council of a critically important issue to law enforcement, the concealed gun carry legislation being proposed by our federal lawmakers. As I described in March, this legislation would require each state to recognize the concealed carry permits of gun owners of all other states, effectively dismantling more restrictive local gun-carrying restrictions in New York. This means that tourists and visitors from other states could bring their guns while visiting Times Square, the plaza at Rockefeller Center and other heavily trafficked New York City locations. Police Commissioner O’Neill and I have made it clear that we, along with other police chiefs throughout the country, oppose this legislation because it would put the lives of officers and residents at risk. Law enforcement has no way to verify that someone presenting an out-of-state permit is in fact a law-abiding visitor to their state, thus turning routine interactions with out-of-state visitors into potentially dangerous situations for officers and civilians. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, “The National Rifle Association calls the reciprocity bills its highest priority” right now. I strongly urge you to support local law enforcement in speaking out against this proposed legislation, ensuring that New York City continues to be the country’s safest big city. 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today, and thank you for the continued support of my Office.