“This is a police force that’s very unhappy,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said in a radio interview earlier this month. “There’s no getting around it, and we are trying to deal with some of the things that make them unhappy. They think the community doesn’t support them.”
Last week, Bratton introduced a plan he hopes will fix both issues, the five “T’s” — Tackling Crime, Technology, Training, Terrorism and Trust.
The plan emphasizes a local approach to protecting neighborhoods, by working with the community to fix problems. He’s rolling out a pilot plan in two northern Manhattan precincts.
Bill Bratton (left) and Bill de Blasio (right)Photo: AP
It’s a worthy, but elusive goal: Who speaks for a community of 100,000 or more? Can a handful of people who are most vocal be allowed to veto police actions that benefit a less vociferous majority? And how can you simultaneously do enforcement without ruffling feathers?
The most obvious change in those neighborhoods will be that some officers will be taken off radio response and instead walk the sidewalks and engage residents.
If locals complain about, say, a known drug-sale location, cops could disperse groups of people, even work with the community to propose zoning changes.
By putting cops into closer contact with locals, police brass hope that problems can be thwarted proactively, rather than festering and generating repeated 911 responses.
Bratton needs to be careful not to oversell the plan. New Yorkers call for police assistance 5 million times a year, and it will not be easy to constrict these demands for service. High quality community policing is labor intensive and it is hard to see how a department that sometimes struggles to field three or four patrol cars in some precincts on some shifts will be able to shift enough officers.
Another challenge is that one resident’s issue is another person’s harassment. If locals want cops to deal with an issue, how do you make sure that encounter doesn’t get out of control?
Bratton believes improved training will help. He has not hesitated to acknowledge that the current system is broken, giving rookie and veteran cops far too little hands on training for the scope of duties they must be skilled to handle. He wisely wants to invest in more scenario-based workshops.
“BY PUTTING COPS INTO CLOSER CONTACT WITH LOCALS, POLICE BRASS HOPE THAT PROBLEMS CAN BE THWARTED PROACTIVELY, RATHER THAN FESTERING AND GENERATING REPEATED 911 RESPONSES.”
The department will complement its generally excellent firearms training, which inculcates a maximum amount of restraint by officers, with better training to resolve conflict and physically make arrests. Bratton also is recommitting to create a mentoring system where skilled officers can share the many things they’ve learned after years on patrol.
An NYPD with a competent and confident workforce will do more to foster public support and enhance community relationships than any other initiative.
Elsewhere, the “T” plan cements the NYPD’s anti-terrorism role, creating some new units dedicated to the fight, while repairing what it says are damaged relationships with federal enforcement partners. It makes it clear that police departments are the front line against acts of terrorism, active shooters and natural disasters. There is no choice here, and political ideology cannot trump this reality.
A major “T” component will be putting more information into the hands of cops on patrol and detectives working cases. Broadcasts about wanted people will be more readily available to all members of the service, and enhanced communication is vital during crisis situations. The Department is wounded still from the delayed relay of information about the gunman who slaughtered Detectives Liu and Ramos last December. Using a massive amount of data, investigators may already have suspect leads before they even get to a crime scene.
NYPD officers Rafael Ramos (left) and Wenjian Liu were killed.Photo: DCPI (2)
The human factor will remain at the heart of the relationships between police and the people they serve and protect. Support for legitimate policing will need to be built one interaction at a time. The hard truth is that law-abiding New Yorkers of all races often see dealing with the NYPD on routine matters as a real pain. They will have to do better on that.
But Bratton has shown that he can be a skilled and savvy advocate for the department he presides over, is offering a plan that promises to improve the way policing is done in our city for years to come.
Eugene O’Donnell, a professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is working on a book about street policing.