How police protect and serve the public, especially communities of color, is one of the most contentious issues in our country. While the debate rages on, the NYPD has been making moves to make sure all city residents get the same protection. But have they gone far enough?
There was outrage on the streets for months after the 2014 illegal police chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, followed a few weeks later by the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown halfway across the country.
With frustrations at a boiling point, two NYPD officers were shot and killed in uniform. In an exclusive interview, Police Commissioner James O’Neill told me the tragedies became a turning point. “It was a very difficult time to be a police officer, with the demonstrations every day, Liu and Ramos were brutally assassinated on December 20th,” O’Neill said.
“It was a dark time for the NYPD. I think it was a dark time for the city and I think it was a dark time for the nation, too.”
Public outrage over racial profiling and excessive force intensified with federal scrutiny and outside investigations. That ramped up the pressure to make a drastic change, according to Charles Tucker Jr., a St. John’s University Law School professor.
“From a community standpoint, it represented an opportunity for the NYPD to be accountable,” Tucker said. “They’re looking for someone to be accountable in these instances.”
City Hall got that message. Since then, the mayor said every NYPD officer has been retrained in de-escalation techniques, stop-and-frisk has dropped 93 percent, and complaints against officers have dropped to the lowest level in 15 years. All at the same time, serious crime is at the lowest numbers in decades. It is a “180” from the old “Us vs. Them” approach. The cornerstone is neighborhood policing.
“It’s not a political strategy, it’s a real policing strategy,” O’Neill said. “If you look at the old model of policing, if you were in a sector car, all you did was answer radio runs eight hours a day. You had no time to make a connection to anyone.”
Now it is all about the connection. And nowhere is that strategy more visible than in the Brooklyn North command, where officers routinely check in with local businesses and residents. Assistant Chief Jeffrey Maddrey said keeping people safe is the top priority, with community engagement a close second.
“What I tell my officers, is to be the first,” Maddrey said. “Be first to stick out your hand, and say hello, and shake a hand to greet people.”
O’Neill said neighborhood policing is not just about feeling good. It is a key part of their crime-fighting strategy, along with precision policing as opposed to wide-net sweeps, new investigative techniques, and improved technology. He said the new model is in keeping with the times.
“Giving the police officers discretion, the ability to make decisions, solve problems with the community — if anything that’s what I’m most proud of,” O’Neill said.
Police themselves have changed, with the majority being ethnic and racial minorities and more than half living in the five boroughs. But critics say in some areas, the police department needs to be more proactive in disciplining officers who cross the line.
Street Soldiers held a groundbreaking town hall to discuss these issues with rapper Fat Joe, NYPD Chief of Patrol Terence Monahan, Council Member Jumaane Williams, and Police Officer Eric Morales.
FEATURED CAST: LISA EVERS, Host and Executive Producer,
Street Soldiers https://twitter.com/lisaevers
COMMISSIONER JAMES O’NEILL, New York Police Department https://twitter.com/NYPDONeill
CHARLES TUCKER JR., Partner, Tucker Moore Law Group https://twitter.com/sirchase27 https://twitter.com/tuckerandmoore
ASSISTANT CHIEF JEFFREY MADDREY, Commanding Officer,
Patrol Borough Brooklyn North https://twitter.com/NYPDBklynNorth
CHIEF TERENCE A. MONAHAN, Chief of Patrol https://twitter.com/NYPDChiefPatrol
COUNCIL MEMBER JUMAANE WILLIAMS, 45th City Council District https://twitter.com/JumaaneWilliams
POLICE OFFICER ERIC MORALES, 79th Precinct