Nov. 22, 2022 By Michael Dorgan
Three Queens council members who are members of the Commonsense Caucus say their legislative colleagues are out of touch when it comes to tackling crime and have called on them to get tough on improving public safety.
Council members Bob Holden, Vickie Paladino and Joann Ariola want their fellow lawmakers to take a hardline approach to crime which they say is spiraling out of control. Major crime in New York City is up nearly 27.5 percent this year compared to the same time last year, according to police data.
The lawmakers told the Queens Post last month that residents are living in fear with many afraid to walk the streets or take the subway— such is the severity of the situation. Others have left the city altogether, according to Holden.
The caucus members say it’s time for city and state lawmakers to start sticking up for law-abiding citizens by taking legislative action, engaging with their local police precincts and calling out crimes in their districts when they see them.
“I lived through the 70s and 80s and we’re going back to that,” said Holden, a Democrat who represents the 30th Council District in central Queens.
“My constituents are all worried. My wife, who is Asian American, will not set foot in the subway.”
Cause of Crime
The lawmakers argue that much of the city’s crime spike can be attributed to what they call “far-left policies” such as bail reform laws, the denigration of the police and their powers, as well progressive district attorney’s not prosecuting crimes.
These policies, the caucus members claim, have empowered criminals and led them to believe they won’t get punished. Many crimes, the lawmakers say, are caused by repeat offenders.
“It’s out of control because it’s absolute lawlessness,” said Paladino, a Republican who represents the 19th Council District in northeast Queens.
“If you don’t have a city that backs their cops or wants to do anything to change it then that’s a problem. And then we have our District Attorneys who aren’t doing their jobs either, they’re not prosecuting so it’s a turnstile system and it’s failing miserably.”
Many crimes too, the lawmakers argue, are being carried out by the mentally ill who they say should be forced to get treatment. Instead, many of these people are sleeping in the subways and roaming the streets putting residents at risk, the caucus members say.
However, many progressive lawmakers challenge this narrative and say that the city is in not in the midst of a crime wave.
They say that murders are in fact down by more than 12 percent from this time last year– and that crime is down compared to the Giuliani and Bloomberg years of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Furthermore, they say that the rate of defendants being released under bail reform and then violently reoffending has seen little change since the reforms went into effect at the beginning of 2020. The rate went from 3 percent in 2019—prior to the reforms—to 4 percent in 2021, according to a report issued by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Additionally, progressive Councilmember Tiffany Cabán has played down concerns about subway attacks, tweeting in September that violence on the system is a “one-in-a-million event.” She said that while the attacks were concerning, “let’s not let fear-mongering politicians and corporate media outlets scare us into thinking we have a dangerous, scary public transit system.”
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Oct. 31 that New York City is one of the safest cities in the country and shared a study that found Queens is the seventh safest county in America.
However, Ariola, a Republican who represents the 32nd Council District in south Queens, said that progressive lawmakers are dismissing glaringly high crime statistics in the name of ideology.
“Too many on the far left would prefer to simply bury their heads in the sand and pretend that crime doesn’t exist rather than admit that many of their policies have been abject failures that are putting the safety of everyday New Yorkers at risk,” Ariola said.
“Common sense would say that the entire city should be uniting to get a handle on the out-of-control crime levels we are experiencing right now, but unfortunately political agendas seem to be trending over common sense in this day and age.”
Embrace the Precinct Commanders
Ariola, Holden and Paladino, said they regularly meet with the commanders of their local police precincts to help fight crime in their districts.
They said they also hold press conferences or take to social media to address their constituents when there is crime in the neighborhood. They want more lawmakers to follow their lead by embracing neighborhood policing and calling out crimes when they see them instead of staying silent.
However, Ariola believes that may be wishful thinking given the political climate.
“The optics of being seen to support the police in any way is something that many progressive politicians fear more than anything,” Ariola said.
“After years of working to take power away from the police, they don’t want to be seen working with those very same people that they’ve vilified for years. They’d rather allow crime to spread and maintain their image as anti-cop crusaders, instead of actually working to protect the people living in their districts.”
Taking Aim at Moderate Democrats
Holden said that many moderate Democrats are afraid to speak out against crime for fear of being attacked by the far-left faction of the party, who are more vocal and better organized.
“They won’t stand up to the high crime because that is pro-police and they don’t want to be seen as pro-police,” Holden said.
Holden said Democratic State Senator Michael Gianaris, who has held that office since 2011, is an example of a lawmaker who is really a moderate but legislates to appease progressives.
“Michael Gianaris to me is kind of like the poster boy of what’s happened to many of our elected officials,” Holden said. “They are disingenuous, they’re not being true to their constituents and they’re playing to the far left.”
However, Gianaris shot back when he was notified of Holden’s statement and said that Holden is out of touch with Democrat ideals.
“Bob Holden should be the last person to talk about poster boys since he himself is… a fake Democrat who is out of step with the values of the party he purports to represent,” Gianaris said.
“While he spews his divisive rhetoric, I have been focused on solutions, like funding violence interrupters in public housing and passing laws to fight the Iron Pipeline and stop the flow of guns into New York. Bob should worry less about my accomplishments and more about doing his own job, because his approach does a disservice to his constituents.”
Meanwhile, Holden said that the kowtowing of moderate Democratic party members to the far left, particularly on crime, led him to endorse Republican Lee Zeldin for Governor in the recent gubernatorial election.
“I would have supported Kathy Hochul if she stayed moderate, but she hasn’t,” Holden said. “She didn’t do enough on bail reform and she didn’t do enough on the mass exodus [of people] from New York City and State. We are bleeding the most people out of New York than any other state in the union.”
Holden said that high crime and high taxes have caused people to leave, and that Democrats are largely to blame since they control all the levers of power in the city and state.
The loss of people is supported by some studies. For instance, a recent report released by SmartAsset, a financial research firm, found that New York state experienced the largest outflow of high-earning young professionals in 2020 compared to every other state. New York saw a net outflow of nearly 15,800 high-earning young professionals – people under the age of 35 making at least $100,000 per year.
New Laws Could Make it Worse
However, instead of addressing these issues head-on, the caucus members say that many lawmakers are backing new legislation that could make the situation far worse.
For instance, several Queens councilmembers—including Cabán, Julie Won and Shekar Krishnan— have co-sponsored a bill that aims to disband the NYPD’s gang database.
“When the lunatics are running the asylum, one has to stop and think ‘what the hell is going on here,’” Paladino said. “And that’s exactly what we have going on right now and it’s absolutely ridiculous.”
“I know Shekar [Krishnan] and I can’t believe in my heart of hearts that he actually believes that this is okay, yet he co-sponsored it, why?”
Krishnan told the Queens Post that he considers gang violence to be a serious threat to public safety. However, he said that the main reason he wants the database scrubbed is because it contains the names of people with no ties to gangs, the bulk of whom are people of color. These individuals, he said, are then unfairly scrutinized by the NYPD.
“This database targets innocent people which makes it ineffective and counterproductive,” Krishnan said.
“The police department should focus on actual criminal activity, not arbitrarily profiling young people of color. We must utilize proven strategies that focus on crime prevention and due process.”
Holden also didn’t mince words when it came to the lawmakers looking to scrap the gang database.
“There’s a contingent in the council that is just anti-anything, anti-police, and anti-law enforcement, which is disgusting,” Holden said. “I think it’s disgusting to such a level that they’re compromising the safety and quality of life of their constituents. And I would say shame on them.”
Holden said it’s almost incomprehensible that some lawmakers would take such extreme positions on public safety.
“It’s at a point where we’re living in a sort of Bizarro World,” Holden said, referring to the fictional planet in DC Comics. “Instead of the earth being round, it was square — the cops were bad, and the crooks were good. It’s that sort of upside-down world I think we’re living in now in New York City.”
Despite the negative outlook, the lawmakers say that there are solutions, which include amending the 2019 bail reform laws, forcing the mentally ill to get treatment and clamping down on petty crime as a means of stopping major crimes.
For instance, Holden introduced a resolution recently calling on the state to change its bail reform laws and give judges more discretion when setting bail conditions for defendants who may pose a threat to public safety.
He also introduced a bill that would require the city to publish regular reports on the number of mentally ill individuals being referred for treatment. Holden says that some mentally ill individuals are not being treated properly and end up committing crimes. The bill, he said, aims to boost the treatment numbers.
Holden also called on the mayor to create more hospital beds for the mentally ill.
He suggested that Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens Village could be used to house more patients.
The lawmakers also say the NYPD needs to enforce “broken windows,” a policing tactic where police crackdown on lesser crimes like turnstile evasion as a means of deterring more serious crimes. Mayor Giuliani embraced the policy to clamp down on crime in the 1990s.
“Once you stop them you could find out they have a weapon or have outstanding warrants, so they’re arrested,” Holden said. “So, you need to handle the small things, it’s not rocket science, this has been done before.”
“We’re going to come to a point where we’re going to lose New York City. Either we turn it around and invoke the things that worked in the past or people are going to be moving out.”
Paladino agrees and also said that the police need to be given the proper tools to do their job. She said they also need more funding, saying that the police in her district are understaffed despite crime levels surging.
“I’ve lived here all my life and I haven’t seen crimes at this level before — I’ve never seen our cops so short-handed either.”
“I think everybody wants safe neighborhoods again, and it’s not going to happen so long as the police are shackled.”
“Everything is in place. I mean, we did it before, we can do it again, no question about it.”