As prepared for delivery

Commissioner Joe Ponte

Graduation Opening Remarks

Nov. 4, 2016


             Family, friends, distinguished guests, welcome and thank you for being here today.


             New York City First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris we are honored that you could join us on this historic day and I want to thank you and Mayor de Blasio for your continued commitment to the hardworking men and women of this department.


             I also want to express my heartfelt thanks to Pastor Bernard and the Christian Cultural Center congregation for once again granting us the honor of holding our graduation ceremony in your esteemed house of worship.


             This morning, I would also like to welcome Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark.


             DA Clark, we are happy you could join us today on this historic occasion and I want to thank you and your staff for your steadfast support.


             Some of you with us today may not know that in September, DA Clark’s office partnered with us to establish a new Bronx District Attorney’s Office on Rikers Island.


             When I came here in April 2014, the prosecution of inmates who committed crimes took far too long and this new bureau is an integral part of the culture of safety that we are establishing throughout the Department.


             This partnership was established to deliver swift and certain prosecution of any inmate who would dare assault one of our officers.


             The Assistant District attorneys and support staff stationed at this new bureau will also work hand-in-hand with experienced DOC investigators to prosecute inmate-on-inmate jailhouse crimes.


             And we’re doing so much more.


             In 2015, well before this new bureau opened, we beefed up the Correction Intelligence Bureau by adding a dedicated Arrest Unit with a staff of 9 to put together priority cases to present to the Bronx DA.


             More recently, we established a professional evidence collection section, to ensure that all the evidence collected at our crime scenes is properly catalogued and stored in optimal conditions.


             Both approaches have been working very well and the arrest numbers tell the story.


             Total inmate arrests at DOC rose 93% in FY16 compared to FY15.


             We will not tolerate our officers being assaulted and we are sending a message that those who commit these outrageous acts will pay a heavy price.


             Now back to why we’re all here today.


             Academy recruits, promotees and appointees — Congratulations!


             After weeks of rigorous OJT and in class training, including lessons on: new defensive tactical training, de-escalation techniques and crisis intervention skills, including Safe Crisis Management and Mental Health First Aid. You have made it through and now join our law enforcement family.


             Officers, you are about to embark on an exciting and rewarding career in one of the most vital and challenging professions in New York City.


             And now is a great time to tell you about some of your DOC family members. These are people you will work with and learn from. And they too will learn from you.


             They demonstrate what it means to be one of New York City’s Boldest.


             Officers like Peter Rabassa, a 29-year-department veteran, who works at the Anna M. Kross Center (AMKC) our largest jail.


             As a seasoned vet, he’ll tell you like it is - including how it used to be at Rikers back in the day.


             He has seen it all, been through it all and can testify to how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go to return this agency to its rightful place as the nation’s leader in the corrections field.


             In fact, Officer Rabassa recently met with me, Mayor Bill de Blasio and a group of his fellow frontline staff, to discuss how, after years of working at Rikers, he and his co-workers have seen firsthand how our new anti-violence reforms are transforming lives and making the jails safer for both staff and inmates.


             To hear that meant a lot to me personally because if he feels safer and more supported on the job, that’s what matters to me most as a Commissioner. It is my number one priority.


             Then there’s 20-year veteran Officer Lora Green of the Emergency Service Unit.


             A single mother to her son who is in his third year of college.


             Beyond her everyday duties, Officer Green puts in extra hours to go all over the city with our Recruitment Unit spreading the DOC message to aspiring correction officers.


             She says talking to people about working here is not only a rewarding job. It’s something she enjoys.


             She’s probably responsible for bringing a few of you new officers on board.


             Its officers like Rabassa and Green, who can impart wisdom and guidance, that make being a Correction Officer so much more than just a job.


             They make it a family.


             And like any family there will be good times and bad, but through it all, you help each other out no matter what.


             You too will play a part is helping out your fellow brothers and sisters.


             And let me tell you again - you are already making history. You are part of the largest graduating class in the 120-year history of this agency.


             There are more than 700 of you--our largest class ever.


             Give yourselves a hand for that. Give these new officers a hand for that.


             That’s unprecedented in and of itself, but you represent something bigger than a record or a number.


             You represent help. Help your fellow officers desperately need.


             You represent an officer spending more time with his or her family.


             You represent an officer being able to have a hot meal or a decent meal break at work.


             You represent an officer being more alert and safer on tour.


             You are the class that will bring relief for officers working so much overtime in each of our facilities.


             And to our veteran staff, it’s no secret that overtime is a major issue, but rest assured: we hear you and relief is on the way. In fact, they are right here in this auditorium.


             We recognize your sacrifices, you are what makes our agency great and we can’t thank you enough.


             With this enormous new class, we’re projected to reduce daily overtime by nearly 3000 hours. That means 375 members of staff get to go home to their families, and not be stuck.

             We’re also gearing up to bring in another 2000-plus new officers in 2017.


             We anticipate a graduating class of 1200 in spring and then another large class to graduate next fall.


             So even more help is on the way.


             However, we’re not just going to bring in new officers and leave them to figure things out on their own. That only creates a burden for everyone.


             Instead, we’re re-dedicating ourselves to helping you grow and nurture your career at the department and foster mentoring relationships between new officers and those with so much personal experience to share.


             Like any family, the wisdom of those who came before you must be passed down so it is not lost. Therefore, we will be launching an extensive mentorship program between our soon-to-retire veterans and our incoming rookies.


             This program will help build and strengthen relationships among the staff and capture that sage knowledge that only an officer who has walked these jails year after year—can teach.


             Once we roll out this program in the coming months, I call upon each of our veterans, our experts, our seasoned “old timers,” to become mentors to you new officers and our future leaders.


             We’re also going to put officers--new and seasoned --on a more fulfilling and rewarding career path.


             For the first time in our 120-year history, we are making an unprecedented investment in providing professional development opportunities for staff.


             Last month marked the inception of our first Cadet Education, Empowerment & Development for Success program (CEEDS), established in conjunction with John Jay College.


             This program will provide cadets with additional professional development through trainings and mentorships and it creates a career pipeline toward leadership at the DOC.


             We’re also looking to provide uninterrupted leadership training courses for senior staff in partnership with another major NYC university in the near future.


             Stay tuned.


             Our agency is truly having a transformative year--and to our newest officers--you have definitely come on during a historic time.






***Assaults on staff had risen steadily over the past 10 years, and as of cy15, we've seen a definitive change in that direction. Furthermore, assaults on staff resulting in serious injury are down 41% when comparing the same months in calendar year 13 (Jan-oct) to that of cy16 (Jan-oct). AOS a and b are both down from Cy13 - by 41% and 4% respectively, and down from cy14 (when ponte started) 37 and 22% respectively./JT***



             The decline in violence toward officers is very important, and, we won’t be satisfied until we get these numbers to drop much much further, so we have a lot of hard work to do.


             But all of this is the result of a corps of hardworking officers—just like you.


             Without your hard work--putting these programs in place and into action--none of this would be possible.


             In closing, let me point out that everyday officers all over this Department make us proud. Members of this department have been making us proud throughout our entire 120-year history and this year we have recognized hundreds of individual officers for their contributions and commitment.


             As we celebrate the 120th anniversary of our department’s service to the City of New York, we salute the achievements of all who have come before…and all the achievements you, as our largest graduating class ever, are going to make in the future.


             We are in the midst of top-to-bottom reform across our agency. We are busy everyday with the hard work of transforming DOC into the leading correctional department in the country.


             We are pleased and proud to welcome all of the new officers gathered here today into this good work.


             We’re here to do what is right, and not what is easy. And we are going to transform lives in the process.


             When you leave here today, leave knowing this; every family in New York City will be impacted by the work you do here. We have the potential to change – and improve the lives of all we come in contact with- whether they are inmates or fellow brothers and sisters in blue.


             Look around: you are the future leaders of this agency – an integral part of the culture of safety we are standing up throughout DOC.

             Our family--which is over 11,000 strong--is on a historic path and has an extraordinary mission that—if we do it right—will reverberate around the country and around the world.


             You are now a part of this family, and this mission, and key players at a time of exciting, challenging, worthwhile and dynamic change.


             Greater expectations will be placed on you to rise to the challenge of reform. But you bring renewed energy, strength, and purpose and I believe in you.


             You have my full support to make sure that you have all that you need to do this. Not only that, you have the Mayor’s and the City’s full support.


             Congratulations on today’s achievement. It is but the first. I know there will be much more you will accomplish throughout your career.


             THANK YOU.