Council Member Donovan Richards Appointed To Chair Public Safety Committee

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CITY HALL –
On January 11th, 2018, the New York City Council announced that Council Member Donovan Richards has been appointed to chair the Committee on Public Safety for the 2018-2022 term. The committee handles oversight over the NYPD and the Civilian Complaint Review Board, along with hearing and voting on legislation related to public safety. He was also appointed to be a Deputy Leader for the new term.

In his previous term, Council Member Richards chaired the Environmental Protection Committee from January 2014-July 2015 and the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises from July 2015-December 2017. He will continue to sit on those committees along with Economic Development, Public Housing, and Transportation.

Richards originally went into politics at 18 years old after the loss of his childhood friend to gun violence. As Council Member, he has been a key supporter of the Cure Violence initiative by working with local precincts and community organizations such as Rock Safe Streets and Sheltering Arms in the Rockaways. The coalition has led to the lowest crime numbers on the peninsula in decades.

He also secured $70 million for the new 116th Precinct in Rosedale, which has been a need for the community for more than 40 years. The precinct will begin the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) early this year.

Council Member Richards states, “It is an honor to take over the Committee on Public Safety and be a part of City Council leadership in my final term,” said Council Member Donovan Richards. “We look forward to working with the NYPD, CCRB and legal service advocates to ensure they have the resources and that there’s a fair balance between civil liberties and safety. We commend the work of the NYPD that has led to us being the safest big city in the nation, while we continue to improve police-community relations by increasing accountability and transparency. I’d like to thank Speaker Corey Johnson for this honor and former Public Safety Chair Vanessa L. Gibson for all of her work over the last four years in this critical committee.”

On Wednesday, February 5th, Council Member Richards held his first public oversight hearing as Chair of the Public Safety Committee. The topic of the hearing was the NYPD’s handling of protests. The NYPD entity responsible for policing protests and crowd control is the Strategic Response Group (SRG), who is also responsible for policing terrorist attacks and similar emergency situations. One big question that Council Member Richards had for the NYPD was why the policing of peaceful protests and the policing of terrorist attacks were lumped together as part of SRG’s responsibilities. He questioned whether the NYPD anticipated the same level of threat to public safety from a peaceful protest as they would from a terrorist attack. As is typical of such hearings, the NYPD’s responses were often evasive and indirect.

The hearing was sparked by events that took place on January 11th at a rally protesting the detention of immigrants rights activist and leader Ravi Ragbir by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Ravi Ragbir is a Trinidadian immigrant and resident of Far Rockaway. The event escalated into violence between police and protesters, ultimately leading to eighteen arrests, including two City Council Members, Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) and Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan).

The hearing ended up focusing on the extent to which the NYPD does or does not collaborate with ICE. As the SRG was not originally assigned to that particular protest, many Council Members at the hearing contended that they ended up there at the request of ICE. The NYPD swears up and down that they do not cooperate with ICE in fulfilling detainer requests for undocumented persons except in the instance of 170 different extreme felony crimes. However, City Council members present at the hearing maintained that answering any ICE request in any capacity is still cooperation. In the words of Council Member Richards, “We must have public safety in our city that ensures that the NYPD can do their job without violating the public’s civil liberties during protests. We must also be a true sanctuary city, where our immigrant communities can entrust law enforcement, not to work with those who want to tear apart an America representative of everyone.”

As tensions surrounding immigration issues become increasingly contentious in the national political climate, we can only expect the number of immigration-related protests in NYC to increase. The Rockaway Youth Task Force therefore commends Council Member Richards in taking this step towards creating public transparency and accountability concerning both the NYPD’s policing of protests as well as the ways in which actions taken by the NYPD work to support, whether directly or indirectly, the priorities of ICE.