Special Election Candidates Have Rival Visions on Future of Policing

NYPD patrol vehicle. Credit: Tony Hisgett

In the City Council special election for District 31, it’s not just $92 million for a new police precinct on the table, but competing paths to public safety. While some candidates are committed to regaining funding for a precinct that was lost in 2020, others are less certain that more policing will lead to a thriving district.

Some Southeast Queens residents remember being promised a new police precinct in Rosedale, the 116th precinct, back in the 1970s. It was finally announced in 2017. Queens Borough President Donovan Richards—then councilmember—advocated for $92 million in capital funding. He called it the community’s “40 year dream.” 

But in the midst of last summer’s reckoning with racist police violence, Mayor Bill de Blasio reallocated the funds to build a youth center in St. Albans, outside of District 31. That put the precinct in limbo. Some area residents saw the abrupt change in policy as yet another instance of the city ignoring their needs. Others saw it as an opportunity to reexamine the narratives around public safety in their community altogether. 

“Police don’t decrease crime. A job-ready, educated community and opportunities decrease crime,” Jon Logan said. Logan is a member of Queens community board 13 but spoke in his personal capacity.

Bill Perkins disagrees. He is the coordinator with the 116th Precinct Task Force, an organization made up of local civic associations to advocate for the precinct. 

“Everybody suffers from not having two precincts,” he said, referring to the 105th and potential 116th. “It’s about providing parity.” 

While Perkins agrees that more investment in things like education and the environment are crucial for Southeast Queens, he believes the precinct is a necessary cog in the gears of a safe district.

Kenny Shelton, a 25-year old community activist, said there’s a disconnect in the conversation around the precinct between different groups in the neighborhoods.

“It felt very disrespectful after watching us protest for months around George Floyd, around all the other cases of police brutality,  to then turn around and say, ‘Well we need a precinct’ without having a conversation with people on the ground, the thousands of youth who took to the streets in Southeast Queens alone to protest police brutality,” he said.

When the precinct was nixed this past summer, the Queens community board 13 and a number of civic associations circulated letters expressing their disagreement. Logan, the community board member, said members of these associations weren’t unanimous in their support for the precinct and is concerned that young people aren’t involved in the discussion. 

Logan has helped facilitate roundtables and virtual meetings and set up informational email lists for people who typically can’t attend such events. Perkins, of the 116th Task Force, said he has spoken to a number of young people and that the civic associations that make up the 116th Task Force are open to residents of any age.

City Council candidates have offered a range of solutions. Candidate Pesach Osina supports expanding community policing programs and ways for young people to interact with the NYPD in positive settings, such as the Law Enforcement Explorer program, which introduces teens to careers in law enforcement. Candidate Nancy Martinez said that if elected, she would make it a budget priority to regain funding for the precinct, citing concern over high crime rates. 

“We need more policing, it’s just that the police have to know how to interact with certain communities,” she said.

Marcia O’Brien, president of the Rosedale Civic Association and Community Board 13 member, said she believes more training for cops can address the mistrust between police and youth in the community. 

“It’s a package deal. You do have to do ongoing education and training,” she said. “But making a choice of not having the precinct, period, is just not the right way to go.” 

Data shows that NYPD officers who received implicit bias training showed no “meaningful change” when it came to racial disparities in arrests or other kinds of enforcement interactions. NYPD’s Crisis Intervention Training, a course intended to help officers interact with people more empathetically and de-escalate potentially violent confrontations, was suspended by the department in December 2020.

Other candidates have voiced support for reallocating funds away from the NYPD to pay for education, mental health services and jobs programs. 

“I don’t think the NYPD should be responding to calls involving the homeless or individuals experiencing mental illness,” candidate Selvena Brooks-Powers said in an email. “I believe those responsibilities should go to social services and the necessary funding should be reallocated.”

However, she also stated that she would work to secure the capital funding for a new precinct in Rosedale.

“We shouldn’t view safety and reform as mutually exclusive,” she said.

Candidate Manny Silva supported the call last summer to reallocate $1 billion from the NYPD’s budget. He said he needs to hear more voices throughout Southeast Queens regarding the precinct before committing to fund it. 

“I think once we get those resources back then we could have even further conversation about what that funding will be used for, but I am in full support of us building a community center within our community,” he said.

Candidates Shawn Rux and Latanya Collins did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Although residents and the candidates who aspire to represent them have starkly different views on how to achieve a safe community, they all agree: right now, their community isn’t getting the resources it needs or deserves.

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