Media update: Do Police Help or Hurt Domestic Violence Survivors? New City Council Members Take a Stand, by Jessica Washington, The City
Divisions among domestic violence advocates in New York City about what role, if any, police should have in addressing domestic and gender-based violence have been playing out for years against the backdrop of the larger defund the police movement.
At one end: organizations with deep relationships with the New York Police Department and other city law enforcement bodies have argued that the NYPD has an essential role to play in ensuring survivors’ safety.
On the other end, grassroots organizers urged investing some of the NYPD’s $10 billion-plus annual budget into resources like housing and income security for survivors.
Late last month, some of these tensions spilled out into the open at a City Council hearing chaired by Astoria representative Tiffany Cabán, who became a star in the defund movement when she came within just 55votes of becoming Queens district attorney in 2019.
At the hearing, Cabán and allies called out ways they contend New York City’s law enforcement-centric approach often acts as a barrier to survivors who seek support but may have reasons to avoid the police — including immigration status, past negative interactions with law enforcement, or a history of incarceration.
“What’s clear is that the number of people who experience gender-based, intimate partner and domestic violence dwarfs those who access victim and survivor services,” said Cabán.
At issue in the hearing was a resolution sponsored by Cabán and Councilmember Mercedes Narcisse (D-Brooklyn) in support of a state bill, sponsored by Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblymember Demond Meeks (D-Rochester), that would get rid of a requirement that crime victims cooperate with law enforcement in order to access financial compensation.
Currently, to access financial compensation from New York State, crime victims must report the crime to police within a week, with some exceptions, and continue to cooperate with police and the local district attorney’s office. Narcisse and Cabán argued that this prevents many gender-based violence survivors, who may be fearful of working with police, from claiming benefits.
“Unfortunately, this is yet another segment of our criminal justice system where social inequities rears its ugly head,” Narcisse said at the hearing.
Gender-based and domestic violence organizations have been pushing to end the link between law enforcement cooperation and survivor assistance.
“It’s a huge barrier to get resources and to get actual support,” said Theodora Ranelli, an organizer with Project Hajara, a gender-based and domestic violence organization serving the Muslim community in Queens. “Most domestic violence survivors don’t call the police or report their abuse. So that’s leaving out a lot of people that need resources.”
Barriers to Resources for Survivors
Many survivors Ranelli works with don’t call police, she said, because in their experience they’re often unfairly targeted for arrest because of xenophobia, racism and misogyny. Ranelli says some immigrant community members also associate law enforcement in their home countries with dictatorships.
Sanctuary for Families, which had a representative at the hearing and regularly partners with the NYPD, also support efforts to remove the law enforcement cooperation barrier. “You should not have to show police involvement to show that you are a victim of gender-based violence,” said Judy Harris Kruger, executive director of Sanctuary for Families.
Whether or not more police make survivors safer is a separate issue from whether survivors should be required to cooperate with police to access the Victim’s Compensation Fund, she contends.
“I believe they have a role regarding victims’ safety,” Kluger said in an interview after the hearing, speaking of the NYPD. “There are situations where the police need to respond and intervene. Because as far as I’m concerned, victims’ safety is paramount.”
Cabán and many of the organizers in attendance argued that rather than investing in policing, making sure investments are made in resources like housing, child care and transportation would go a long way towards helping survivors, many of whom are financially reliant on their abusers, which is a significant barrier to leaving.
“Every dollar that we are putting into police means that’s it’s one dollar that we’re not putting into all of these other areas that we know would directly and immediately serve survivors,” Cabán told The Fuller Project and THE CITY.
An analysis conducted by Janie Williams, an organizer at Survived and Punished NY, a group that works with incarcerated survivors of gender-based and domestic violence, found that the $7.8 million in overtime pay in 2020 for the police precinct with the most overtime in New York City could fund the housing, child care, mental health and transportation needs of 140 survivors for a year.
“The money that we take in investing in these carceral systems of abuse and violence — that’s the NYPD, jails, prisons, we can funnel that money into actually listening to survivors about what they need,” said Williams.
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