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Community Policing's Backstage Battle

March 5, 2018

A behind-the-scenes battle is roiling the upper ranks of the NYPD over neighborhood policing, a signature policy of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner James O’Neill.

A number of top brass are questioning the policy’s effectiveness and are resisting its implementation. Also, there appears to be a lack of communication among O’Neill, Chief of Department Terrence Monahan, and precinct commanders over how to implement it.

 “It’s not working the way they want it to. They’re not getting the engagement they want. They’re trying to figure out how to get it back on track,” a police source familiar with the situation says of the strategy, which aims to build relationships between cops and the communities they police.

“There is a breakdown in communication between what O’Neill and Monahan are trying to accomplish and what is happening in the field. There is bad communication between O’Neill’s office on the 14th floor and the patrol forces. The PC is frustrated. But because crime continues to fall, they can maintain to the public that neighborhood policing is working,” the source said.

Clouding the picture is a recent decision by the privately funded non-profit Police Foundation. After spending up to $5 million to support neighborhood policing policy with advertising, surveys and consultants, it refused to extend the contract of the policy’s most prominent consultant, John Linder.

Traditionally, the foundation follows the policies of the police commissioner. It is unclear whether the foundation has reached the limit of its funding or whether NYPD brass communicated displeasure with Linder to the foundation. Through a spokesman, Police Foundation President and CEO Susan Birnbaum declined to provide an explanation.

Complicating the situation is the continued influence of former Commissioner Bill Bratton, now an executive with the global CEO advisory firm Teneo Holdings. Specifically, department officials critical of the neighborhood policing efforts cite O’Neill’s hiring of Bratton’s Teneo colleague Judy Pal as an assistant commissioner. Bratton did not return a phone call seeking comment.

“I am working through some neighborhood policing projects with Chief Donahue and Chief Spinella,” said Pal. Raymond Spinella is O’Neill’s chief of staff. John Donahue was recently appointed chief of strategic initiatives, a job formerly held by a civilian deputy commissioner.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialBut, says a top police official, who asked for anonymity, “Nobody knows what she does.”

Adding to the tensions is the future role of Linder, a longtime Bratton acolyte. Twenty-five years ago, when Bratton served under Rudy Giuliani, Linder would fly in from Corrales, New Mexico, where he lived, and sleep on a couch in Bratton’s office while preparing Bratton’s crime-fighting strategies that literally changed the culture of the NYPD.

Beginning in 2014, when Bratton returned, the Police Foundation awarded Linder four annual consulting contracts totaling more than $1 million that focused on community engagement in the aftermath of the Mayor Michael Bloomberg/Commissioner Ray Kelly era of stop-and-frisk.

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittReferring to neighborhood policing, Linder told NYPD Confidential: “What O’Neill is doing is taking the concept of community policing to a new level by trusting the cops. Following the Knapp Commission reforms of the 1970s, the department feared that relationships with the public might lead to corruption.

During the Bloomberg years, some commanders believed that higher levels of enforcement activity [i.e., stop-and-frisk] would lead, ipso facto, to lower crime. Now there’s a 180-degree turn away from that. Part of the new model is precision policing — focusing on individual criminals, not geography or demographics.”

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialLinder acknowledged the resistance throughout the department to these changes. “Parts of the organization still have to be converted to the new model,” he said. “Operationally some may not see how they fit into neighborhood policing. Take narcotics units. Are they really acting to root out the drug problems they see? Or are they still just making arrests?”

Police sources say O’Neill is considering hiring Linder, whose contract with the Police Foundation will end in May.

Says Linder: “My role is under discussion.”

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