On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office revealed plans for an expansion of the NYPD’s Neighborhood Coordination Officers program. Two patrol areas in the downtown area– including the 9th precinct on the Lower East Side and the Housing Bureau’s PSA 4 in the East Village– are among a dozen new locations where the NYPD will apply its latest neighborhood-based policing strategies which they say will allow police officers to work more closely with the community and identify special concerns.
During the announcement, the Mayor explained that New York City has a “responsibility” toward the rest of the country to provide “a model for respectful and compassionate neighborhood policing.” He added that the NYPD’s outreach program, so far, has been “groundbreaking.”
The program’s expansion comes at the heels of the surprising resignation of Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, whose commitment to “broken windows”-style policing was an ongoing point of contention with seemingly everyone but the Mayor. Bratton’s theory shot to full-on controversial status after the death of Eric Garner (the Staten Island man died after a police officer put him in a chokehold after Garner was reportedly caught selling loosies). Even CompStat, long touted as Bratton’s greatest achievement in his 45 years of police work, began to lose favor, and a February New York Times piece suggested that the department’s quota system (which it has long denied even exists) was creating some serious problems.
This summer, Bratton suffered two more serious blows when the city’s Department of Investigation released a report that indicated, despite the commissioner’s claims, broken windows was not effective in curbing serious crime. Finally, some of the NYPD’s top brass were arrested in June for their role in a “vast corruption case.” But one of Bratton’s biggest failures, as his critics have noted, was his inadequate approach to addressing ongoing and growing racial tension.
Bratton announced his departure on the same day that the expansion of the community policing program was introduced to the public, which seemed like a strong enough hint that the city’s pushing the NYPD in a new direction. Although Bratton’s tenure coincided with record declines in crime, the police department has suffered from heightened public mistrust, particularly among minority groups, in addition to a tense relationship between the rank-and-file officers and the City. However, many elected officials and police officers hope that the NCO program can change this.
In fact, the NYPD notes that their Neighborhood Coordination program aims, to “bridge the gap between police and minority communities,” specifically, and emphasizes the importance of “earning and increasing trust within poorer, minority communities.” Officially launched in May 2015, the policing approach aims to bring patrolling officers and area residents together, in hopes of fostering greater cooperation and something like community policing. When the expansion goes into effect in October, the NCOs will cover 51 percent of commands citywide, according to the statement released by the Mayor’s office. “When New Yorkers know their local officers and trust their local officers, we are all safer as a city,” de Blasio said.
This is how it’s supposed to work: the same two officers are assigned to the same sector each day in a process called “true sector integrity” (which, yeah, definitely sounds like some sci-fi speak) and are specifically trained to communicate and cooperate with community members to address local issues. According to the statement released by the Mayor’s office, “NCOs are also provided mediation training to improve their conflict resolution skills.” The 9th Precinct has been divided into four sectors with eight officers in total, so that the two officers per sector will become closely connected to the blocks and the people that live on them. Businesses, local churches, senior homes, schools, families, and individuals will all be engaged with the officers on patrol.
Perhaps the most dramatic shift from Bratton’s broken windows policing is the idea that cops should spend a significant portion of their work day “off the radio,” or dealing with issues outside of crime.
Tension between police officers and civilians continues as the message of the #BlackLivesMatter movement has proliferated and media attention turns toward the killing of young black men at the hands of police officers and the rampant inequality found in US prisons, where a disproportionate number of people of color are faced with incarceration at some point in their lives. But for many community organizations in the East Village and Lower East Side, the expansion of the NCO program into their neighborhoods has been met with optimism. Dale Goodson, from the North Avenue A Neighborhood Association, explained that although he didn’t think that the program would alter his association’s mandate too much – they focus primarily on noise reduction and street life – he still believed the program would be valuable for the East Village community as a whole.
“It sounds like a good way to get stronger community relationship,” he said. “Hopefully it will just add to the quality of life on the streets.”
Diem Boyd, the founder of the L.E.S. Dwellers, is also optimistic about the changes the NCO program could bring to the Lower East Side. Boyd, whose group has on more than one occasion been called the “party killers” due to their fight against what they perceive to be an over-congestion of liquor licenses, hopes that the increased dialogue between police officers and community members will help make their voices heard.
“For far too long, a large segment of the population has felt marginalized and pushed off to [call] 311. which offered little to no relief,” she said over email.
“We had been aware of the [NCO] pilot program from its inception, and viewed it as a positive approach to close the gap between community and police officers by fostering trust and inclusion and building bridges to solve pressing community issues,” she continued. “When the cops get to know the neighborhood and the neighborhood gets to know the cops, everyone has a reason to get involved, investing attention and energy into solving problems and creating stronger, safer and more livable communities.”
Captain Vincent C. Greany from the 9th Precinct, which will be rolling out the program in October, also affirmed that the plan was a positive development. “The residents that know about it are excited,” he said. “It is something that most neighbors have wanted for a while, and also something most officers have wanted.”
The vast majority of complaints in the neighborhood, Greany explained, are related to grand larceny (the theft of personal belongings such as handbags or cell phones), construction issues, and noise complaints– he said that he believes the program will be able to help address these problems specifically.
When there are complaints “in residential buildings, we have started to have the residents and management come together with us to work on long-term solutions, instead of simply writing someone up,” he said. “That’s just putting a band-aid on the problem.” The NCO program, he insisted, will be even more effective in implementing these sort of conflict resolution strategies.
The model for the Neighborhood Coordination Officers program was created by the NYPD Chief of Department James P. O’Neill, who de Blasio has named as Bratton’s successor. O’Neill believes that a personal relationship between cops and community members will help alleviate the distrust and fear many people may have developed of the officers. “It’s all about our communities personally knowing their local cops, and trusting those cops to help them and their neighbors lead better lives,” he said in a statement.
City leaders seem confident that O’Neill’s approach to policing will bring positive change to the department and the communities it serves. As Council Member Vanessa Gibson from the Bronx, who also serves of the Chair of the Committee on Public Safety and represents part of the Bronx, explained in a statement: “The NCOs are redefining police-community relations in areas where tensions have often run high, fostering newfound trust between officers and civilians.
North Brooklyn’s Assembly Member Joseph R. Lentol echoed the sentiment: “At the heart of strained police and community relations is the distrust between the two. By putting our police officers on the streets and entrenched in the community we can rebuild this trust.”