Mayoral candidates gathered on March 19 in Jamaica, Queens to discuss crime, safety and that dreaded policy; ‘stop, question and frisk’.
Candidates present for the forum included former Mayoral Candidate Bill Thompson, NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, NYC Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. and Supermarket tycoon John Catsimatidis.
The forum covered a wide range of crime issues and asked candidates to state their strategies for driving down the crime rate. de Blasio would focus on reversing the eroded relationship of the police and community, predictive policing and redirecting the youth.
Comptroller Liu wants to focus on more than driving down numbers. His strategies would include additional police officers financed through lower overtime costs and reduced claims against the city. He would also focus on greater economic development and ending the stop, question and frisk practice.
Thompson’s strategies would include a return to community policing which received audience applause. He also would like more officers and a focus on the youth.
Lhota would include additional community involvement, transparency and increased sensitivity and training.
Speaker Quinn's strategies would include additional police and ensuring that law enforcement is comprised of the correct components including prosecutors and the Medical Examiner. She also cited better coordination between the various groups allowing for the sharing of information.
Carrion's strategies would be to remove illegal guns from the streets, restore the community policing model and a focus on global terrorism. Catsimatidis’ strategies included a mobile cop on the street. To move around they would need a “a bicycle or a tricycle,” he said to a chuckles. He also felt there should be monthly meetings between the police and community.
The question of safety in the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) reached the forum by way of a South Bronx housing resident. While crime has decreased across the board in New York City, in NYC Housing, crime as increased approximately 15%. Candidates were asked what would they do in their first year to improve security in NYCHA?
Thompson would get rid of the Board and make its Chairman accountable to the Mayor. There is money currently available for security cameras that Thompson felt should be used immediately. His comments that residents of NYCHA should be treated with respect gathered audience applause.
Carrion also wants NYCHA to be accountable. He wants to focus on safety and believes that increased policing pushes crime further inside lobbies, corridors and the like. Initiatives like the clean halls program and community policing are items he would incorporate.
Speaker Quinn agrees that NYCHA management needs fixing. She suggested bringing together city agencies that are connected to NYCHA for solutions.
Liu would put a police officer in every building and referred to the previously mentioned funding for the cost. de Blasio felt NYCHA residents need to be made a priority.
The question of whether the candidates would retain Commissioner Ray Kelly drew boos and hisses for Speaker Quinn who sided to keep Kelly.
Speaker Quinn defended her decision to retain Commissioner Kelly based on his good works with hate crimes, rapes and driving down the overall crime rate. Speaker Quinn acknowledged that Kelly fell short on stop, question and frisk where he “massively over relied” on the policy. de Blasio said respectfully, “you can’t teach and old dog new tricks”. He would not retain the Commissioner.
This question led directly to the most anticipated discussion of the forum, stop, question and frisk policy. Candidates were asked if they had been a victim of the policy, to which no hands were raised. The question to candidates from Brandon Gibson, who had been stopped at least twenty times some at gunpoint and once after coming from church, was their best estimate as to how effective the policy has been.
Liu believed it has not been effective despite its overuse. His comment that the practice should be “abolished” drew applause. Lhota said “it should not be abolished. It should be controlled”. He cited that officers should be trained and should tell those being stopped the reason why they were being detained. Speaker Quinn believed that the policy is not a critical strategy in lowering crime but that it should be left “as a tool to use when it is necessary”. She called for monitoring of the practice by an Inspector General.
John Liu and Bill Thompson both became heated during the discussion. Liu was heated about the practice being a “deep humiliation,” he said. Thompson became stern when explaining the challenge of having a teenage son who needs instruction on how to behave if stopped. The remarks of Catsimatidis drew several heckles and hisses on the subject.
Catsimatidis referred to murder statistics across the country with New York’s being the lowest at five out of every thousand. “God Bless Our Police Department,” he said. “People leave their guns at home,” he said referring to the threat that they will be stopped, questioned and frisked. Catsimatidis put forth the notion that police should be rated akin to baseball players. Those officers with the best scores should have the capability of engaging in stop, question and frisk.
As the subject shifted to school safety, all the candidates agreed that students should have a safe corridor from which to travel to and from school.
At the end of the forum, audience participants saw Speaker Quinn, Comptroller Liu and Bill Thompson as the strongest contenders. de Blasio was closely followed behind that group and a wide consensus that felt candidate Catsimatidis was out of touch.
The forum was held at First Presbyterian Church just off Jamaica Avenue at 164th Street. The election for NYC Mayor is in November.