Deputy NYC Mayor says there may be "mistakes" in Adams' crime fighting plans

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Shootings in New York City are up 17% compared to last year, and Mayor Eric Adams’ blueprint to bring those numbers down continues to get pushback from progressives in the city, who say that the former NYPD captain’s crime fighting plan relies too much on policing at the expense of increased social services and community outreach.

During a hearing by the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety this week, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Phillip Banks largely defended Adams plan, but did hint that some changes could be made in the future.

“There may be some mistakes in this blueprint that we need to adapt, and we need to modify. So we’re not standing still on anything here,” said Banks, a former NYPD chief whose City Hall appointment raised controversy because he resigned from the department in 2014 while under federal investigation.

Asked about Banks’ comments afterward, Adams praised the deputy mayor as a “smart law enforcement person.”

“If he states that there’s some things we need to look at … I’ll follow up and find out from him,” the mayor told reporters.

Don’t expect any potential changes to target the mayor’s revamped anti-gun squad of NYPD officers, however. Adams has made targeting guns a primary focus of his public safety plan, even though the vast majority of individuals arrested for possessing a gun without a license do not have any serious criminal history. In fact, in their brief to the Supreme Court arguing for New York’s “may issue” carry laws to be declared unconstitutional, a group of New York public defenders highlighted several cases of legal gun owners who were declared to be violent felons under New York law for the “crime” of exercising their Second Amendment rights. Here’s one example:

Ms. Jasmine Phillips is a combat-decorated military veteran who served in Iraq. She had never been convicted of a crime. She legally possessed a pistol in Texas for self-defense. After she and her husband separated, her husband moved to New York. To have their children spend some time with their father, Ms. Phillips and her children drove to New York.

While Ms. Phillips was parked in her car in New York, police officers surrounded the vehicle. One officer knocked on the passenger side window. Another opened the driver side car door, put her in a chokehold, dragged her out of the car, threw her on the pavement, flipped her over, and handcuffed her. She heard officers search the car and find her pistol. The prosecution later justified these acts because of a “tip.”

“The arrest was traumatizing,” she recounts. “Being separated from my two baby boys, who were three and four years old, broke my heart.” After the arrest, she was held at the precinct, and then the courthouse, without food, water, a phone call, or even access to a bathroom. After hours and hours of prearraignment detention and processing, she finally saw a judge. Like virtually everyone else accused of possessing a firearm, she was charged with violating N.Y. Penal Law § 265.03(3), a violent felony.

The judge set high monetary bail. “I felt completely hopeless,” she says. “I thought about my kids, wracked with guilt and worry about what they were going through—were they scared? Confused? I was taken away from them so suddenly. I was crushed. I also thought about my job and the home I was renting, realizing that I was going to lose both. I felt broken.”

Ms. Phillips was jailed on Rikers Island for weeks before she made bail. Because of her arrest, the Administration for Children Services (“ACS”) intervened and filed a child-neglect proceeding against her. “I lost everything: my job, my car, my home, and my kids.”

She couldn’t see her children again for a full year, missing her son’s fifth birthday.

She recalls: Through my attorneys, I petitioned the family court to allow ACS to let me see my child, but ACS was too slow to respond. I spent my son’s fifth birthday in an Airbnb, alone, surrounded by the gifts that I had bought for him. When I was finally allowed to see my children while I was in New York, ACS required that I meet with them during supervised visits in an ACS facility. It was so humiliating to have someone stand there while I tried to have some semblance of a normal, loving interaction with my kids. During one visit, my older son told me that he loved going to school. I was absolutely devastated. No one had told me that he had started pre-K. I missed his first day of school. I missed the chance to ask how his first day of school went. I can never undo that.”

After extensive advocacy, Ms. Phillips’ case was diverted and eventually dismissed. Still, the case had lasting effects: a Texas judge ruled against her in a child-custody case because of her “felony arrest.” For Ms. Phillips, that was “the lowest moment of [her] life and the most hopeless [she] ever felt.”

“There are no words to fully reach the depth of that emotion I was feeling,” she explains. But the effects of the case did not stop there, either. ACS failed to properly close Ms. Phillips’ case and, four years after the arrest, they called the local sheriff in Texas to do a “welfare check.” She was not at home when the police came by, but her landlord was. The police repeated inaccurate information about the dismissed case, provided by ACS, and the landlord then terminated the lease.

In addition, to this day, Ms. Phillips reports that her younger son continues to suffer severe separation anxiety. If I leave the house to get something from the car without telling him, he’ll run out and say, “Momma, why didn’t you tell me you were leaving?” It hurts me so much every time he asks.

In sum, Ms. Phillips’ arrest for gun possession outside of the home continues to affect her, her family, and their lives today.

Eric Adams isn’t prioritizing arresting, prosecuting, and sentencing violent criminals to prison. Instead, he wants to get “guns off the street,” even if that means throwing someone like Jasmine Phillips behind bars for the “crime” of bringing her legally-owned firearm with her from Texas to New York. And frankly, as long as New York law allows him to do so, why would he willingly change his strategy?

A focused deterrence approach would have a much bigger impact on crime rates, while likely resulting in fewer arrests, but I suspect that Adams is hoping to tout gaudy numbers of guns seized in order boost his popularity, even if those guns were taken from people who had no plans or inclination to commit a violent crime. Mistakes are most definitely being made in New York City right now, and I have no faith that the mayor is going to change course unless or until the law changes and the average New Yorker is able to access their right to keep and bear arms legally.