Reforming the police and increasing accountability and transparency in the NYPD dominated a telephone town hall held by Rep. Nydia Velazquez on Thursday.

Velazquez, who represents New York’s 7th district, opened the call stating now is not the time for sympathy; it’s the time for change. That change meant diverting money from police departments to social services nationwide: “There would be far fewer deaths in this country,” she said.

She detailed the police reform bill introduced by Democrats, which would make changes to qualified immunity, require increased training and data collection, ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, and call for an end to racial bias in policing, adding, it was a good start to making police officers and departments more accountable.

“We need to reimagine how policing is done in this country,” she said. “Recently police have been lashing out indiscriminately at those protesting. There is a growing trend of militarization of the police, and when they are equipped like an army they treat people in their community like they need to be subdued.”

Demanding accountability

Constituents were able to ask questions of Rep. Velazquez and the panel, and many of those focused on how to reform the NYPD.

“We need to reimagine how policing is done in this country,”

Panelists included New School Professor Maya Wiley; Brennan Center’s Liberty & National Security Program Codirector Faiza Patel; Ambulatory Care at NYC Health and Hospitals Senior Vice President Dr. Ted Long; New York SBA Deputy District Director John Mallano; Legal Aid’s Civil Law Reform Unit Attorney-in-charge Judith Goldiner and MTA Board Member Andrew Albert.

One constituent said her son was Black and suffered from autism, and she wanted to find out how to get involved with her own police precinct to help with reform. Another said how her students had been racially profiled by officers after Halloween, and she wanted to know how leaders planned to ensure accountability in civil actions, which she said had got them nowhere.

Making departments pay for legal proceedings from pension funds rather than the general fund could raise their stakes in proceedings, said Professor Wiley, and what was required was civilian oversight through a civilian police commission.

Reopening the city

Although police reform dominated much of the town hall, Dr. Long, executive director of the test and trace corps at NYC Health and Hospitals, detailed the test and trace efforts in NYC, and said the city aimed to test every resident to control and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“The most important thing is we will help you,” he said. “We will do food delivery, help with medication, if you need to go to a hotel we will arrange transportation. We will even give you free pajamas when you come through the door.”

With more businesses reopening on Monday in phase 2, MTA Board Member Albert said the MTA was cleaning trains 2 to 3 times a day and would keep doing so into the future.

He said the department was also testing new technology such as ultraviolet light to kill viruses on trains’ surfaces, antimicrobial treatments that removed germs for 90-days, and air filtering systems that could be installed in heating and air conditioning units.

Rep. Velazquez ended the call asking anyone with questions or who needed help accessing resources to call her office

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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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