De Blasio Touts New Neighborhood Policing Strategy: “This is What New Yorkers Have Been Waiting For”

Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton are providing an in-depth look at a "groundbreaking" new policing strategy they say will put more beat cops in neighborhood precincts to improve the relationship between officers and the communities they serve.

"I think it will not take long for New Yorkers to realize this is what they've been waiting for," de Blasio told NBC 4 New York in an exclusive interview Thursday. "This is what they've been wanting for years." 

Earlier this week, de Blasio announced that funding for an additional 1,300 officers had been secured in the budget to supplement the nation's largest police force of 35,000 uniformed officers. An additional 400 civilian posts currently filled by officers will also be filled by new hires, allowing those officers to take enforcement jobs in the streets.

The neighborhood policing strategy will be based on pilot programs already in place in four high-crime city precincts — two in Queens' Rockaway peninsula and two in upper Manhattan — in which precinct-based units focusing on complaints about neighborhood conditions were disbanded, freeing up officers to regularly patrol their sectors, officials said.

In that model, hand-selected, seasoned officers committed to the neighborhoods they police — dubbed Renaissance cops because they'll be part detective, community affairs officer and intelligence investigator — will be exempt from chasing 911 calls one third of their time to meet with principals, past victims and others in order to develop rapport and gain community trust.

"We're talking about officers who now come in and become part of the community, who really become partners with the community," de Blasio told NBC 4 New York. "Everyone's going to get to know each other. The officer is going to be the same officer in the same community on the same schedule." 

The mayor said he spoke to some of the neighborhood officers taking part in the pilot program in Washington Heights. They reported going into stores and talking to owners, and letting them know they could contact them directly. They said they spoke to one small building landlord who told them about drug activity consistently happening on his front stoop, and the officers were able to "take that information and get an arrest done that ended that problem," according to de Blasio. 

"I've always believed that the goal of neighborhood policing is something we have to reach in this city," de Blasio said.

The approach sharply differs with the stop, question and frisk police tactic that, for years, had been employed by officers, disproportionately affecting black and Hispanic men. In 2011, there were 685,000 stops. Last year there were 46,000 and so far this year there have been more than 7,000 stops, according to NYPD statistics.

"I think there's a very big difference between the number of officers patrolling a community versus the tactics that those officers use," said de Blasio. 

Bratton said Tuesday the neighborhood policing plan would use staffing changes and other tactics to restore faith in a department that, in an era of historically low crime, still struggles to boost the morale of its own officers and gain the trust of mostly minority residents in the city's toughest neighborhoods.

"As important as safety is, it is not enough," Bratton said to a roomful of clergy at police headquarters. "Safety without public approval isn't public safety. We want a safer, fairer city everywhere, for everyone." 

Bratton had been pushing for new police hires while de Blasio as recently as a few weeks ago insisted the city didn't need more police. 

He explained to NBC 4 New York: "At the time of the executive budget, this plan was not fully fleshed out. But also, I needed to see the cost savings." 

The new strategy is the latest in a string of initiatives Bratton has announced since taking charge of the nation's largest police force 18 months ago. After the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island last summer, he vowed to retrain the entire force to teach officers how to de-escalate confrontations.

But subsequent protests over the deaths of black men in police custody and the fatal shooting of two NYPD officers in their patrol cars last December coalesced into a crisis for the NYPD and strained both officer morale and community relations.

De Blasio said Thursday that he believes the new strategy will help police morale. 

"It's going to be a chance to prove what they can do in this field," he said. 

He added: "I think there's a very big difference between the number of officers patrolling a community versus the tactics that those officers use." 

Bratton said at a news conference detailing the strategy Thursday, "We are putting our best, our brightest and most dedicated into this initiative throughout the city, and I'm very optimistic, as I was back in '94, when nobody thought we could get crime down."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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