Recent reporting from the Epoch Times raises doubts about the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) new community policing push. While it seems too soon to deem the community policing program a failure, the Epoch Times’ reporting does raise an important question: whether the NYPD will recognize the value in truly working with the community on issues of policy, as opposed to making such decisions on the community’s behalf.
Last summer, New York City police commissioner Bill Bratton rolled out a Neighborhood Policing Plan designed to bridge the divide between the police and the community they serve. The Plan calls for “[g]enuinely collaborative efforts among sector officers and community residents. . . . They will be sharing responsibility for gathering information, identifying problems, and jointly planning local measures to address crime and other issues in the sector. Communities will have a voice, at the most local level, in how they are policed.”
What Bratton has preached at the community level, he also appears to be practicing within the NYPD itself. As the New York Times reported in September, Bratton made moves to alter departmental culture by delegating authority to commanders in the field in order to ease up on internal disciplinary issues. Bratton’s plan for police discipline follows the community policing model in that it gives local commanders autonomy to tailor disciplinary decisions to meet local circumstances and needs. Ideally, the NYPD will see the value in doing the same in terms of decisions about how local communities are policed through their Neighborhood Policing Plan.
According to the anecdotal concerns reported by the Epoch Times, however, the results on the community policing front are mixed. The Epoch Times notes that some residents have deemed the new plan “at best minimally impactful, and at worst, an excuse for NYPD to hire more officers.” In particular, the article notes that police are continuing to issue summons for minor infractions, and stopping and searching community members without explaining why. The Epoch Times notes that “months into the program, some residents at the pilot locations still see officers as untrustworthy outsiders.”
Building trust takes time. Given how recently the project was launched, it may be counterproductive to doom it before giving it a fair shake.
The most important question is not whether there still are problems, but rather how the NYPD handles them going forward. Will there be a dialogue between the community and the police about how to address these difficulties? Or will the police make unilateral decisions about what’s best? We hope that the NYPD’s relationship-building will be focused on creating a true and open dialogue with the community.
One of the great challenges facing policing accountability today is empowering communities to make choices hand-in-hand with the police. Bratton’s emphasis on the police and community working as a team is an important first step—and one that we should give time to develop, while keeping a critical eye on how it plays out.