RIKERS ISLAND, New York (WABC) --Correction officers are reacting to New York City's plan to shut down Rikers Island over the next 10 years, saying they can't wait a decade and need something done now to address the violence and danger they face every day.
The officers say they're worried about their safety on the job right now, an issue they worry is being put on the back burner under the current proposal.
Elias Husamudeen represents correction officers at Rikers, and he and other union leaders sharply criticized a new report compiled by a special commission that was the driving force behind Mayor Bill de Blasio's decision to close the complex and instead shift to smaller, community-based jails. They claim the 150-page Lippman report is long on rhetoric and short on dealing with reality.
Husamudeen insists officials need to focus on present problems at Rikers, including protecting his members as well as inmates and civilians, instead of the future.
"I would like for Lippman and this commission to tell me what we're going to do today to solve our problem today," he said. "Not what we're going to do to solve our problem 10 years from now. Not that we're going to make high-tech jails that are like the Starship Enterprise. I'm interested in today. What are you going to do to protect correction officers, and inmates, and civilians, today. I don't see where this report does anything for my members at all other than predict that in 2027, they're going to cut the work force."
Roughly 10,500 officers work at Rikers, with the goal being to lower that number to roughly 3,700 while cutting the number of inmates in half.
Another new report by a federal monitor revealed that guards at Rikers continue to use brutal force against inmates at an "alarming rate," something on which the city says it's working.
That report claimed inmates have been unnecessarily struck in the head and kicked while restrained in handcuffs, subjected to chokeholds, pepper-sprayed and slammed against walls, causing injuries, "only to be followed by delays in providing needed medical attention."
"Often these incidents are not reported accurately and in some cases not reported at all," the report said.
The report analyzed the city Department of Correction's performance between Aug. 1, 2016, and Dec. 31, 2016, and found supervisors failed to "rein in excessive force and implement seriously the reforms ordered by the federal court."
The independent monitor was installed after a 2015 agreement to settle civil litigation over pervasive brutality at Rikers.
Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte on Monday released a statement saying the department "is moving quickly to fix the issues the monitor identifies."
"We recognize much more hard work lies ahead, and we look forward to working diligently with the monitor and his staff to establish a culture of safety" at the department, Ponte said.