Neighborhood Policing Doubts

October 21, 2019

Every police commissioner takes credit for the city’s 25-year crime decline that began under the mayoralty of Rudy Giuliani.

Bill Bratton, his first police commissioner, attributed the declines to his get-tough policy of “broken windows,” arresting people for minor crimes to prevent more serious crimes.

Under Michael Bloomberg, Ray Kelly attributed the declines to his policy of Stop and Frisk, which consisted of stopping virtually every young black and Hispanic male until the policy was ruled unconstitutional.

For Mayor Bill de Blasio, who increasingly speaks for police commissioner Jimmy O’Neill, there’s his signature policy of Neighborhood Policing. At every monthly news conference on the city’s continued crime declines, the mayor plugs Neighborhood Policing as in part responsible.

Under O’Neill and de Blasio, precinct level specialized units have been disbanded, their cops reassigned to Neighborhood Policing. The hope is that, in bringing the police and communities closer, neighborhood folk would alert the police to criminal activity.

Intertwined with Neighborhood Policing is the department’s attempt to strike a balance between addressing violent crime while turning a blind eye to lower level quality-of-life crimes such as public urination, street-corner drug deals, or trespassing: i.e., waking up and finding homeless guys sleeping on your doorstep.

We had a glimpse last week of how Neighborhood Policing is working, at least in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. Four men were fatally shot at an after-hours gambling joint after police said a patron, Chester Goode, who’d lost money and may have felt he was cheated, pulled out a 9-millimeter handgun and fired 15 shots, killing two patrons and the joint’s bouncer, who at the same time fatally shot Goode.

According to the Times, the club had been the subject of nuisance complaints by neighborhood residents. To whom did they complain? Apparently not to the Neighborhood Policing officers, or NCOs as they are called, who are assigned to every precinct. Nor to the sector cops, whose job includes two hours of free time so they can get to know the people in their geographic sector. And, just think, the precinct stationhouse is just a block or two away from the gambling joint.

Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison, who heads the department’s Neighborhood Policing policy, said that the gambling joint had not been reported to the police.

“I need the community to work with us and stop these operations,” he said.

Neighborhood policing may be a good talking point for the mayor. Nobody disputes that it a worthy concept. The policy has been around for decades, beginning with Commissioner Ben Ward in the 1980s and continued by Kelly under the mayoralty of David Dinkins in the 90s. Then it was called Community Policing. But in law enforcement circles, it was considered a failure. When Kelly returned as commissioner under Michael Bloomberg, he wanted no part of it. 

As the Crown Heights shooting suggests, Neighborhood Policing doesn’t appear to be any more effective in preventing crime than Community Policing was. Final results are not yet in but the indications are not good.