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Know Your Rights
Source: WSHU
Subject: Policing and Criminal Justice
Type: Media Coverage

After A Bitter Election, N.Y. Police Reformers Are Emboldened

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In moderate areas outside of New York City this summer, police were angry. They staged a series of rallies that railed against Albany Democrats.

“Cowards,” Louis Civello screamed into the microphone. “The elected cowards that we have in the New York State Senate.”

Civello paced back and forth in the pickup truck bed he used as a stage in Smithtown, Long Island. Civello is Vice President of the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association. He had given the same vicious speech several times already this summer.

Democrats were alarmed at the hate he exhibited and shared the videos online.

But it wasn’t just Suffolk. All of New York’s police unions were this motivated. They pooled money and targeted more than a million dollars to attack several vulnerable State Senators.

The ads criticized a 2019 omnibus bill that eliminated cash bail for low-level offenders. What also angered unions — although less mentioned in speeches and ads — were a series of laws passed after the murder of George Floyd that banned choke holds, repealed what’s called 50-a which technically allows police misconduct records to be unsealed, among other reforms.

This message was amplified by a separate group, Safe Together New York, which spent nearly $5 million to target the same Democrats. One of them is Kevin Thomas from Nassau County.

“I was actually out grocery shopping and this constituent came up to me and said, ‘Senator I am seeing the slime that they are slinging on you and it’s just disgusting and I find it racist,’” Thomas said.

Thomas won his reelection. As did Jim Gaughran and Andrew Gounardes, Democrats who took criticism from police and Safe Together New York. While final counts are not yet in, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said Democrats have a supermajority.

This, and the PBA attacks, have emboldened Democrats about future legislation. They said the Police Benevolent Associations (PBAs) in New York burned their bridges in Albany.

“I have no regrets in voting to repeal 50-a,” Thomas said. “There’s going to be more coming given everything that’s been happening with the police and the community.”

However, the PBAs say those bridges were already burned by the anti-police agenda from Democrats.

Suffolk, Nassau and New York City PBAs all declined interviews. The City PBA did offer a statement that called their campaign a success because their goal was to send a message.

“They can’t pretend they didn’t get the message, because they and their big-money allies had to spend millions trying to silence us,” the statement read.

Message Received, and Shrugged Off

Some voters did receive that message. State Senator Monica Martinez lost her race. Also, several Democrats lost congressional bids thanks to the PBAs.

“By the PBA coming out early, and very vocally and very visibly, in support of Andrew’s candidacy, it really helped us frame the race,” said Russ Schriefer, a political consultant for Andrew Garbarino in Long Island’s second congressional district. The Associated Press has not declared Garbarino the winner in that contest with outstanding ballots to be counted, but his opponent, Jackie Gordon, has conceded the race.

Largely, police reform groups are undeterred in part because they aren’t focused on federal candidates and don’t have any more state reforms at the ready.

“We’re not looking to reform anymore. We’re looking to defund,” said Kendra Cornejo, an organizer with Make The Road New York.

Make The Road said their focus is on implementing reforms already passed, namely the 50-a repeal and the STAT Act, which requires public reporting of racial disparities in local policing.

But local governments outside New York City are far less progressive and more receptive to dialogue with police and their unions. Nassau and Suffolk Counties have been largely supportive of police unions.

“I think that most of my colleagues in the Legislature have always been supporters of the police department and for that matter, we’ve always enjoyed the support of law enforcement unions,” said Rob Calarco, Democrat and Presiding Officer of the Suffolk County Legislature.

Calarco said this hasn’t stopped him from making reforms that the PBA doesn’t like. But, he said, any changes will be done in dialogue with the PBA.

“When you have dialogue and discussions I think you can do those things in a productive fashion that doesn’t invoke anyone’s anger,” Calarco said.