October 23, 2020

How the NYPD Hired White-Owned Firms to Help Repair Relationships With Blacks and Latinos

After a judge ruled in 2013 that the NYPD had violated the rights of thousands of Black and Hispanic young men with unlawful stop-and-frisks, the department began hiring consultants to help change its policing and patch up tattered community relationships.

The NYPD brought in a Tampa firm to train cops on how to address implicit racial bias. A California lawyer group arrived to fix training on how to perform stop-and-frisks legally. A Seattle firm crafted a report on how to better teach cadets to avoid racial profiling.

All of these entities had one thing in common: All were white-owned.

An examination by THE CITY found that over the last decade, 96% of the $321 million the NYPD has spent on dozens of consultants for a wide range of services has gone to white-owned firms.

Consultant firms with Black, Hispanic, Asian or female owners won $14 million in prime and sub-contracts from the NYPD over the last decade. That’s just 4% of all contracts, with Black-owned firms getting less than 1% of the consultant awards, records show.

THE CITY looked at the contracts in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police —  killing that helped spur a social justice movement that has included calls to “defund” the NYPD.

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Brooklyn), who chairs the Subcommittee on Oversight of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs), called findings “both ironic and alarming.”

“If we want diversity to trickle down, then we need more diverse people in leadership positions, and we need the advisors who are working on solutions to implicit bias to be from the communities most impacted by it,” she added. “Black-owned businesses should be the top recipients of these contracts.”

Mixed Grades

Since 2010, THE CITY found, only one Black-owned firm, Leverage Assessments of The Bronx, has won a prime NYPD consultant contract. Under a one-year $150,000 deal in 2018, Leverage provided psychological examinations of recruits applying to be cops.

Leverage CEO Kyana Beckles questions the logic of hiring white-owned companies — among them some multi-billion dollar corporations — to help the NYPD fix its fractured relationship with so many Black New Yorkers.

“I think that the natural inclination might have been to hire someone from the neighborhood who is looking to see change,” she said. “I have some white folks I love dearly and there are some great white-owned companies out there doing really great work, but they don’t have the same skin in the game as maybe someone like myself who grew up in an overpoliced community.”

“There’s a certain level of empathy that they wouldn’t be able to address,” she said.

The department has made strides to improve its hiring of contractors performing other non-policy tasks, such as doing construction or providing supplies, over the last two fiscal years, according to a letter grade system compiled by city Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The percentage of all NYPD contracts awarded to MWBEs rose from 15% in fiscal 2018 (Grade of C) to 22% in fiscal 2019 (Grade of B), records show.

But the grade for NYPD’s record of hiring Black-owned businesses in both those years remained the same: a dismal F.

“Black-owned businesses need a seat at the table as we work to make our city more just and equitable,” Stringer told THE CITY. “If we want a real economic recovery, we need an inclusive economy that supports local wealth creation. That’s why every city agency needs to be fully committed to uplifting our MWBEs who have suffered the most during the economic shutdown.”

Stop-and-Frisk’s Legacy

NYPD consultants are hired for a variety of reasons, from designing precinct station houses to installing devices that detect gunshots in neighborhoods. Consultants test the water quality at the police academy in College Point, Queens, and create an automated summons enforcement system. Many consultants perform tech support.

But the NYPD also hires consultants to help craft policies aimed at improving the department’s interactions with Black and Hispanic New Yorkers — a complex task following the reign of ex-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, whose devotion to stop-and-frisk dramatically increased the number of stops from 97,000 in 2002 to 685,000 in 2011.

Nearly all of the people stopped by cops during Kelly’s tenure were Black or Hispanic young men, and nearly 90% of them were neither charged nor issued a summons.

The number of stop-and-frisks rose from 97,000 in 2002 to 685,000 in 2011.

When de Blasio arrived at City Hall in 2014, the number of stops had begun to drop and a federal monitor was overseeing reforms ordered by the court.

The new mayor promoted what he called “neighborhood policing”  — getting cops to cultivate relationships with the communities they serve. He also pressed to increase the diversity of its uniformed force, which is a majority people of color but remains predominantly white in the top ranks.

The NYPD decided to seek help from outside consultants, offering a potential opportunity to bring in Black and Hispanic voices to advise the mostly white leadership of the department.

Such an effort would have fit right in with de Blasio’s oft-stated vow to increase the numbers and amounts of city contracts awarded to MWBEs: minority-and women-owned business enterprises. He set a goal that 30% of all contracts go to MWBEs by 2021.

But the pressure to hire MWBEs apparently did not take hold at the NYPD in the aftermath of the stop-and-frisk case known as Floyd v. City of New York.

A Landmark Case

In her August 2013 decision on Floyd, then-Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered the NYPD to implement specific reforms aimed at transforming how cops interact with the Black and Hispanic communities. Starting in 2015, the NYPD began bringing in outside voices to confront the judge’s requirements.

That year a non-MWBE firm, California-based Think Legal360, won a one-year $175,000 contract to rewrite training on stop-and-frisk activity and update cops on how to properly fill out the stop-and-frisk form known as the UF250. That deal was extended for another year and another $175,000 in 2016.

The department in 2016 also hired Polis Solutions, a white-owned Seattle firm specializing in advising police departments on criminal justice reforms. Polis got a $99,910 seven-month contract to help the NYPD “rebuild public trust and safer communities.”

Contract documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Law state that Polis was to create new training materials to “help the department make sure that the (Floyd) court-ordered training [is] more likely to actually result in stops that are conducted in a legal and procedurally just manner and in a manner that takes substantive steps to mitigate implicit bias.”

Polis’ co-founder and CEO, Jonathan Wender, who is white, said the firm’s “mandate was to take a systematic look at the NYPD training at the recruit level.”

“The report covered a lot of territory,” Wender said. “The question of implicit bias and how it is addressed is a narrow subsidiary niche of a much wider discussion.”

In 2018, the NYPD awarded a Tampa non-MWBE firm, Fair & Impartial Policing LLC, a two-year, $4 million contract to provide “implicit bias” training to cadets and veterans. The contract — which was awarded without competitive bidding — was extended in January for a total of $6 million.

CEO Lorie Fridell, who is white, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Finn Institute for Public Safety, a non-profit, non-MWBE research group based in Albany, won a $98,974 contract in 2016 to create metrics that would allow the NYPD to monitor its compliance with the Floyd ruling. Finn director Robert Worden later presented the group’s findings at a conference on policing in Cincinnati last year.

Major Firms Tapped

The NYPD also turned to major white-owned firms for help on policing issues.

In late 2017, the department hired Miami-based Price Waterhouse Cooper LLP  — with a net worth of $42 billion in FY 2019 — to help draft a “neighborhood policing strategic plan.”

The contract’s original amount of $479,000 soon rose to $832,625, documents show.

Price Waterhouse Cooper did not respond to a list of questions.

One of the areas Price Waterhouse examined was how to help the department diversify its ranks. The NYPD has for years struggled with this issue and while it’s increased the percentage of Hispanic and Asian uniformed staff, the ranks of Black officers have diminished over the last decade.

And as THE CITY reported last month, the NYPD has remained stubbornly white at the top: 75% of the uniformed staff holding a rank above captain is non-Hispanic white.

In August 2017, the department hired yet another white-owned national firm, Texas-based KPMG LLP,  handing it an $846,150 contract to advise on recruitment — including what was described in contract documents as a “diversity metric.”

KPMG did bring in a woman-owned business, Libera Inc., as a subcontractor for $91,000, records show.

‘A Power and Politics Play’

The department has also come under fire for its approach to reigning in gang-related violence, with some within the Black and Hispanic communities charging that a series of sweeping arrests netted some young men with no gang affiliation.

In response to these critics, the NYPD last year hired the non-MWBE police support group, the National Police Foundation, to examine “the impact of NYPD targeting crews.” Under the terms of its $94,000 contract, the group was to focus on how these sweeps affected several sites where 25 takedowns had taken place in 2017, records state.

And in late 2016, the department awarded a $137,000 research grant to Rutgers University, yet another non-MWBE contractor, to look at crime patterns and figure out “how various combinations of risk factors exacerbate or mitigate the risk of a future shooting, robbery or felony assault,” documents state.

The department has hired a handful of minority-owned consultants, most of which are Asian-owned tech firms.

‘As much as they talk about fairness, it ultimately comes down to relationships.’

But two of these companies do address how cops behave on the beat: Asian-owned Tri-State Counseling & Mediation and Black-owned Leverage Assessments of The Bronx both won contracts to perform “pre-employment psychological assessment” of cadets entering the academy.

In late 2018, Tri-State won a $100,000 contract, making it one of 27 Asian-owned consultants hired by the NYPD since 2010.

Around the same time, Leverage notched a $150,000 contract — the only Black-owned consultant hired as a prime contractor by the NYPD in the last 10 years.

“It also goes back to how government contracting is done,” Leverage CEO Beckles said. “Government contracting has always been a power and politics play, and as long as the majority is still in control of our government and political structures, they will be the ones who get those contracts. As much as they talk about fairness, it ultimately comes down to relationships.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

The Article was originally published on How the NYPD Hired White-Owned Firms to Help Repair Relationships With Blacks and Latinos.