New York Focus The Intercept

Kathy Hochul Is Ready to Spend Millions on New Police Surveillance

New York state legislators have just days to question phone hacking, forensics, and fusion centers before the budget passes.

Read the full piece in New York Focus and The Intercept

In January, when New York City Mayor Eric Adams released his highly publicized inaugural “blueprint” to combat gun violence, it set the stage for political commotion. His plans for ramped up policing — including new gun detection technology, increased patrols, and the redeployment of a notorious plainclothes unit — have drawn condemnation from advocates and activists, and praise from mainstream pundits, fueling the ongoing debate over cops’ role in communities.

Around the same time that Adams released his plan, New York’s governor, Kathy Hochul, unveiled details of her own policing initiatives to crack down on gun crime — but hardly anyone seemed to notice. Embedded within the dozen bills and hundreds of line items that make up her plan for next year’s state budget, Hochul’s administration has proposed tens of millions of dollars and several new initiatives to expand state policing and investigative power, including agencies’ ability to surveil New Yorkers and gather intelligence on people not yet suspected of breaking the law.

Among Hochul’s proposals are a new statewide system of police intelligence gathering centers, which would engage in mass surveillance, and whose model hinges on the use of unproven forensic science. Other proposals include funds for new law enforcement social media surveillance personnel, the expansion of existing police intelligence gathering and sharing efforts, and most likely technology that downloads the full contents of people’s cellphones, on top of millions of dollars for more street policing.

Several of the initiatives would be housed under New York state’s primary fusion center — one of at least 80 secretive intelligence hubs created during the post-September 11, 2001, expansion of domestic surveillance — as well as other similarly opaque police intelligence bodies. Those entities fall under the purview of two state agencies, but they would work in close conjunction with federal, state, and local law enforcement.

Budget negotiations have turned chaotic due to Hochul’s last-minute push to roll back New York’s bail reform statute — drawing one state legislator to compare her to the bullish former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and another to go on a hunger strike. The budget is supposed to pass by April 1, but the legislature could still hold it up as a way to kill the bail reform rollbacks or include programs the governor wants to leave unfunded.

Yet Hochul’s proposals for increased surveillance — many of which directly mirror points in Adams’s plan — have been met with seemingly no resistance from the state legislature.

In their own budget proposals released earlier this month, which deviated from the governor’s on several key issues, the state Senate and Assembly adopted Hochul’s police intelligence and analysis line items, allotting at least as much funding as Hochul requested.

Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani said that he was unaware of the surveillance provisions before New York Focus and The Intercept contacted him, and that he hasn’t heard of any budget negotiations about them. “I think this is a problem with the process at large, where everything is so rushed,” he said. “It’s a race against time to figure out what has been put in here and how to counter it,” and lower-dollar items get lost in the more than $200 billion bigger picture.

In response to a list of questions, Avi Small, a spokesperson for the governor, provided a generic statement that the governor’s office has sent to several other news outlets, including New York Focus, referring to Hochul’s “bold initiatives to embrace this once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in our future.”

Neither Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins nor Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie replied to emailed questions from New York Focus and The Intercept, nor did four other legislators’ offices, including progressives and those on relevant committees. Three others declined to comment, expressing that they were unfamiliar with the details of the budget items.


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