Statement on Gun Safety

For Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

by Howie Hawkins, Green Party candidate for Mayor of Syracuse,

In regard to gun safety laws at the state and national levels, I will speak up as mayor in support of closing the loopholes for gun shows and background checks and in opposition to the proposals before congress to impose concealed carry reciprocity between states and to remove restrictions on gun silencers.

In regard to what we should do to reduce gun violence at the city level, all categories of crime have been going down in Syracuse since the 1990s and in the last few years — except shootings, most of them by youth unattached to jobs or education. In fact, an AP study reported on the cover of USA Today on September 8 this year found that Syracuse ranked 6th in the nation among all cities of 50,000 people or more for teenagers wounded or killed by gunfire.

I will take a two-pronged approach to address this crisis in our city.

First, I will hire 30 youth outreach workers to help the active shooters and other at-risk youth get on a positive path in life. The outreach workers would connect with these youth and help them to access jobs, education, job training, counseling, and/or drug treatment, depending on the individual’s needs.

Second, I will implement community policing where all officers are assigned to walking beats, where we get to know them and they get to know us. Their mission is to build relationships with the neighbors and businesses on their beat and focus on solving problems and de-escalating conflicts before they get out of hand.

My model for this approach is Richmond, California, where, under Green Party mayor Gayle McLaughlin between 2006 and 2013, a new police chief was hired committed to community policing and youth outreach. Richmond is a high-poverty, working-class city, much like Syracuse, with 80% people of color. It had a reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in America for its high murder and crime rates. It’s murder rate for decades had been over 40 a year in a city of 110,000, much higher than Syracuse’s rate, which had a record 30 murders in 2016 in a city of 145,000.

The reforms in Richmond corresponded with major reductions in violence and crime. The murder rate dropped 75% over the eight-year tenure of Mayor McLaughlin and Chief Magnus, from 42 in 2006 to 11 in 2014, the lowest on record. Other violent crimes dropped by 23% and property crimes by 40% between 2006 and 2014.
The new police chief, Chris Magnus, replaced aggressive paramilitary “street teams” with real community policing – not a small group within the department for public relations, but every officer assigned to specific neighborhoods to patrol defined beats on foot or bike and build relationships with the residents and businesses.

To address gang-related crime and shootings, an Office of Neighborhood Safety was established with a $1.2 million budget and 12 staff to work in concert with police and community and church groups in reaching out to active shooters in gangs and give them a choice: accept help (with a modest stipend and access to education, employment opportunities, counseling, and drug treatment) or expect close scrutiny and consequences for any criminal activity.

Promotion in the police department was tied to successfully building positive relationships with the neighborhood, not on volume of tickets and arrests. To encourage officers to live in the city, police officers were offered free apartments in public housing projects paid for by the city budget. The current president of the police officers' union is one who chose to live in public housing. 92% of Syracuse police officers live outside out city.

Many officers who didn't like the community policing approach left. Over Magnus' tenure, he was able to personally select 90 of the department's 140 officers and 42 of 46 supervisors. In Syracuse, 37 years after the 1980 federal consent decree requiring Syracuse to hire minority officers, the police force is still 90% white in a city that is half people of color and is far behind other comparable cities in the composition and diversity of its police force.

The police force in Richmond grew from 20% to 60% people of color over McLaughlin/Magnus tenure. 20% of the officers were women by 2014. There was less than one officer-involved shooting per year over the same period. No residents were killed by a police officer in Richmond between 2008 and 2014. In nearby Vallejo, with similar demographics and crime rates, 6 residents were killed in police encounters over the same period.

I want to bring this community policing and youth outreach approach to Syracuse.


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Howie Hawkins is the 2017 Green candidate for Syracuse Mayor
Hawkins for Mayor