New York has hundreds of task forces to deal with issues ranging from domestic violence to the opioid crisis, but if a task force doesn’t meet, there’s no chance it will accomplish anything substantive.
New York’s Domestic Terrorism Task Force, which was created in 2020, has never convened, even though the wording creating it states it’s required to meet four times a year.
In light of Saturday’s mass shooting in Buffalo, New York state Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said this is an egregious oversight.
“It was back in 2020 in the budget and it was set up to examine and evaluate and determine how to prevent mass shootings by domestic terrorists,” Barclay told Capital Tonight. “It seems like this is exactly what this might have prevented in Buffalo or New York City."
On Saturday, after posting a hateful and racist screed online, an 18-year-old radicalized suspect traveled from the Southern Tier to Buffalo specifically to allegedly murder Black individuals. He allegedly killed 10 people and wounded three at a Tops supermarket.
In April, a man was charged with opening fire on subway riders on a train in Brooklyn. His gunfire wounded 10 passengers. Another 13 people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation after he detonated two explosive devices.
Minority Leader Will Barclay told Capital Tonight that a task force designed to look into these kinds of incidents might find a way to stop them before the shooting begins.
“One, we have to look at why this is happening in the first place, and two, how to prevent it. It seems relatively straight forward. Obviously, nothing is straightforward, but those would be two of the main questions,” he said. “And again, I don’t want to say they necessarily would have come up with a solution that would have prevented these tragedies. I don’t think that would be fair. But who knows? It’s certainly a possibility.”
The Assembly minority’s appointee to serve on the task force is John Hart, who is a deputy chief of the intelligence bureau of the NYPD.
“Maybe if we had his insights on this task force, he clearly has the ability to understand what’s going on in the criminal justice arena when it comes to domestic terrorism,” Barclay said. “This just seems particular tragic.”
When Gov. Kathy Hochul was sworn in, there were six vacancies on the nine-member Domestic Terrorism Task Force. Since taking office, the governor has selected and appointed all three gubernatorial nominees. The task force only reached a quorum in March of this year and, despite several legislative vacancies remaining, is scheduled to convene in the coming weeks.
The task force is one component of Gov. Hochul’s comprehensive and expanding strategy to combat domestic terrorism, violent extremism and the epidemic of gun violence. The task force will recommend strategies and tactics to help prevent mass shootings by domestic terrorists — with input from both internal and external experts, but lacks the dedicated staff and resources needed to implement those strategies.
On Wednesday, Gov. Hochul announced a new unit to be housed within the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services’ Office of Counter Terrorism. This unit will have the resources, funding and personnel needed to combat domestic terrorism, including bringing to fruition many of the strategies and best practices recommended by the task force.
Further, the governor’s office, in consultation with the Legislature, is considering legislation to extend the task force so that its work can continue beyond the current statutory expiration.