Lately, we have seen the horror of gun violence touch communities across America. As a nation, we’ve collectively mourned after mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. Over the recent July 4th holiday weekend, more than 220 people were shot and killed nationwide. This includes seven lives that were tragically cut short at an Independence Day Parade in Highland Park, Illinois, as well as six incidents here in New York City.
In the wake of the Supreme Court striking down New York State’s common sense gun law — which stood for over a century — I fear that these shootings may become an even more regular occurrence. We cannot simply wait for Congress to act. Inaction will cost lives. We must use every tool at our disposal to help curb gun violence.
This includes supporting law enforcement professionals who continue to do life-saving work to remove illegal guns from our streets in this incredibly dangerous climate. Earlier this month, officers from the 113th Precinct in Queens and NYC Probation Officers recovered a stolen and loaded firearm. This is just one of the dozens of illegal firearms that probation officers have had a role in taking off the street this year.
This incident highlights that public safety is a multi-agency responsibility, not just the responsibility of the NYPD. Probation officers and other law enforcement professionals also put themselves in harm’s way to keep our neighborhoods safe.
Yet, for generations, the city hasn’t valued the important work performed by probation officers. The Department of Probation, which is overwhelmingly comprised of women and people of color, faces startling pay disparities when compared with other law enforcement departments. Much of this is because the city classifies probation officers as civilians and not law enforcement officers. This prevents probation officers from reaching the top of their pay range. Additionally, the city requires probation officers to meet higher education requirements than many other law enforcement professionals.
The work of probation officers is incredibly valuable, and essential. They work with people who have been sentenced to probation by a judge, helping connect that person to community resources with the goal of keeping them from being incarcerated.
When they are successful, they give people involved with the criminal justice system a second chance. Additionally, there are cost-savings, too, a crucial factor given the city’s budgetary constraints amid our country’s economic woes. Every person who avoids prison thanks to a probation officer ultimately saves the city and state tens of thousands of dollars annually.
Simply put, you cannot have criminal justice reform or ensure public safety without dedicated, talented probation officers.
This week is National Pretrial, Probation, Parole Supervision Week, an opportunity to recognize the important work probation professionals perform every day. We urge our mayor to do the right thing and classify probation officers as uniformed law enforcement. This would not only help officers get the respect and recognition they deserve, but attract more dedicated, talented Probation Officers to the department so we can have a safer, more just city.
Dalvanie Powell is the president of the United Probation Officers Association.