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Cops or Social Workers? Maybe Both

November 4, 2019

Mayor de Blasio and his pliant police commissioner Jimmy O'Neill have finally done it. They have formally embraced a policy -- derided by former police commissioner Bill Bratton and abandoned by his predecessor Ray Kelly -- what they call Neighborhood Policing.

A recent NYPD press release says the department is unveiling an historic, first-of-its-kind community center in East New York for young people through a partnership with the department.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialThat partnership, says the release, will provide a "variety of high quality educational, recreational and social programming for young people. It will also serve as a place for family evenings, community meetings and a range of other enrichment opportunities...

"Members of the NYPD and partners from the community will work ... to provide participants with athletics, tutoring, career planning, graphic design, and digital media skills development, music exploration, conflict resolution, and more."

Now let's pause and reflect. Neighborhood Policing is de Blasio's term for what used to be called Community Policing, which has been around since the 1970s. It sounds great in theory, seeking to bring the department and minority communities closer. But it never went very far because nobody could figure out how to make it work.

Ironically, Kelly, who tried the policy under Mayor David Dinkins, brought the police and the city's black communities closer not through Community Policing but by the force of his personality. Every Sunday, unlike any of his predecessors -- black or white -- he visited black churches to recruit black officers. He didn't get many but he left a reservoir of goodwill. This played out in a perverse way on December 7, 1993, when a deranged black man named Colin Ferguson shot up a Long Island Railroad train, killing four white passengers and wounding nine others. Papers found on him at his arrest stated that he waited to begin his shooting until the train left the confines of New York City "because of my respect for Mayor David Dinkins and Commissioner Raymond Kelly."

With the election of Mayor Giuliani and his appointment of Bratton as police commissioner, Community Policing ended evermore. Their get-tough crime policy known as Broken Windows, publicly targeted Kelly and Community Policing. Bratton and his two top buds, Jack Maple and John Timoney termed the policy "social work," a term of derision in the NYPD.

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittKelly never forgave them. Yet when he returned as commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he never once mentioned Community Policing. To the contrary, his signature policy was an expanded version of policing's age-old policy of Stop, Question and Frisk. This led to some 5 million stops of young blacks and Hispanic males, 90 percent of whom had committed no crime, and which a federal judge ultimately declared unconstitutional.

Enter Mayor Bill De Blasio, who was elected largely as a reaction to Kelly and his Stop, Question and Frisk. Re-enter Community Policing, to which de Blasio gave a new name: Neighborhood Policing.

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialNeighborhood Policing officers are now assigned to every precinct. Specialized precinct level units have been disbanded, their cops reassigned to Neighborhood Policing. The job of sector cops now includes two hours of free time so they can get to know the people in their geographic sector. At monthly news conferences, the mayor has plugged Neighborhood Policing as partly responsible for the city's continued crime declines.

Yet a shootout two weeks ago at an after-hours gambling joint in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn that left four men dead suggests something else.

According to the Times, the gambling joint had been the subject of nuisance complaints by neighborhood residents. But Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison, who heads the department's Neighborhood Policing policy, said no complaints had been reported to the police.

"I need the community to work with us and stop these operations," he said at the time. [See NYPD Confidential, October 21,2019.]

None of this has stopped de Blasio from touting Neighborhood Policing. In last month's press release on the East New York community center, Commissioner O'Neill stated, "This first-of-its-kind NYPD community center is Neighborhood Policing in action."

Unanswered is whether NYPD officers are now cops or social workers. Maybe both.

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