Memo to NYPD: It’s About Time You Met The Community Without A Gun Drawn
Aug. 24, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — You may have heard of a “radical new idea” that has come out of New York recently. The NYPD has unveiled a new approach to law enforcement called “community policing” that intends to bridge the current enormous divide between police and the communities they police. The way this new form of policing works is as follows: cops will work with their communities and communities will work with their cops. How could such a complex plan not work?
Numerous groups including New Yorkers Against Bratton and Communities United for Police Reform have voiced strong opposition to the idea of community policing, calling it little more than a broken-windows pig dressed up with euphemistic lipstick. On the other side, Bratton and his boys in blue have lauded the possibility of this new program, citing it as the only real possibility to rebuild trust. The NYPD has begun a pilot program to test out the new method in two adjacent precincts, the 100 and 101 in Queens and the 33 and 34 in upper Manhattan.
What the NYPD has discovered from these programs might surprise you. Police officers have begun to walk around the neighborhoods they are assigned to, interacting with people about more than just whether or not they have any weapons or drugs on them. As the New York Times noted,
The theory, in part, is that if officers are given ample time and steady beats, they can learn about local concerns, address percolating problems of crime and disorder before they boil over and, in doing so, improve frayed relations with skeptical communities.
It should surprise all of us that the NYPD has not been doing this already. Apparently, the current policing model is primarily reactionary. The police get called once a crime has occurred and they react. But reacting to crime and working within the community to prevent crime are not mutually exclusive ideas. So why has the NYPD chosen to remain out of the community for so long?
One of the biggest reasons is that the police see society as the problem, not them. Cops are there to deal with the criminals and anyone who gets hurt in their pursuit is collateral damage. There are also plenty of cops out there who have taken the easy way out, who find that group of powerless people and arrest them over and over again on trumped-up and made-up charges because it is easier than being a real police officer. When these cops hand in their quota sheets at the end of the month, the numbers are always there, even if the actual crime was not.
Add to this the fact that many New Yorkers have had at least one bad experience with the police, and it begins to become clear that the fractured relationship between police and community has a lot more to do with anti-community policing than stubborn people disliking cops for illegitimate reasons.
As our country has blown past 740 people killed by police this year alone, the “most cops are good” argument has lost a great deal of its shine. It is becoming clear that the people who hold to that view are the people who have had the least amount of contact with the police. The kid who lives in the Rockaway projects in Queens who gets stopped and frisked every other week sees them differently, and many would say more accurately.
This whole notion that “community policing” is an opportunity for the police and the community to admit their respective mistakes and make nice is quite misguided. One side has been the abuser in this relationship. All the community wants is for police to stop being abusive. Stop arresting their children for nonsense, or nothing. Stop busting down doors to make minor pot arrests. Stop tossing their children against brick walls. Stop making black drivers get out of their cars after simple traffic stops. Oh, and the big one – stop killing.
To these communities, stop and frisk is terminology used by people who have never had it happen to them. The communities that are being stopped and frisked, they call it harassment.
And much like the stop and frisk debates of two years ago, the New York Times discusses “community policing,” in a very academic, sanitary way.
It has been endorsed on the national level by President Obama’s task force on 21st century policing. “There’s a lot riding on it,” the police commissioner, William J. Bratton, said recently of the concept, which will soon be expanded from four test precincts to more than a dozen others across the city, made possible by the addition of 1,300 new officers. Other departments around the country, from Boston to Los Angeles, have tried versions of community policing over the years with varying levels of success.
Can we dispense with the notion that community policing is a new idea? In fact, it is barely an idea at all. This whole roll-out gives police commissioners and politicians the opportunity to look like they care enough to do something, but it is actually quite meaningless. How is it not already a cop’s job to get to know the people of the community he is policing? If a cop is not doing that, then that cop is not doing his job and should no longer be a cop.
What the publicized push for community policing has accomplished, though, is that it exposed the sorry excuse for policing that currently exists in this country. Police do not respect the communities they police. Be it online groups where police officers openly advocate for a bomb to go off during Brooklyn’s annual West Indian Day Parade, all the way down to being treated like an inconvenience when you walk into a police precinct needing assistance. Cops do not hide the fact that it is us against them, and they are “us” and we are “them.”
The Times article goes on to give an example of police officers insulating themselves from the community.
On a recent afternoon, for example, six officers left the station house to attend a community meeting two and a half blocks away. They could have walked through the bustle of Mott Avenue. Instead they drove in a marked police van, parked and went inside. When it was over, the officers, known as neighborhood coordination officers or N.C.O.s, piled back into the van, made a U-turn and drove back.
Police might be the only people in New York who would take a car to go less than three blocks. We are a city of walkers. That is the beauty of this place. You pass a thousand people every day and it is a powerful reminder that you really aren’t that special. Cops sure could use a dose of that.
The other part of this rather simple anecdote is that contributes to distrust is that Cops are very much a “do as I say, not as I do” bunch. The cops who took the van were able to make the decision to drive a few hundred feet because they, unlike regular people who live here, knew they would not have to worry about finding parking. Bus stop? Sure. Double park? Why not. Fire hydrant? Screw safety. Moves that would get the rest of us towed or ticketed, cops do with no concern. Oh, and that U-turn they pulled to head the treacherous 2 ½ blocks back to the precinct? Also illegal.
But then the article gives the following example of the good side of community policing.
In June, cops learned of a woman in the Arverne View apartments who had a FedEx package — lotion and a cellphone case — stolen from the hallway in front of her apartment. The theft was assigned to the precinct’s detective squad, Officer Ruoff said, but as a minor crime it was a low priority. So the officers followed up with the building’s security, found video of the thief, and learned that she was known to stand in front of a nearby deli most mornings with a beer. They found her two days later and made an arrest.
Again, it must be asked. What did these cops think their job was before they were assigned to this revolutionary new pilot program? A crime was committed, they solved it and they arrested the perp. That is the definition of policing.
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of community policing leading to anything positive. I fully support having police officers interact with the community in more ways than just reading someone his rights. But I find it troubling that we are expected to applaud the NYPD for running a pilot program to see whether or not they are going to try to do their job the way we have been asking them to do their job for years.
So, the way I see it, a proper program would be this. Tell cops to drop the military gear, first and foremost. It is pretty intimidating and it almost always hurts us as opposed to protecting them. Then, walk around. Be a person. Get to know people. You might find out that we are not nearly as scary as you think we are. And then you might learn that this whole time, we weren’t the scary ones, you were. And then you can call yourself a community policer.
 If you do not visit this site, you should. I check it often and I am always shocked by how much that number increases between each visit.
Main image via Flickr/DiddyOh