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Officers Will Take Breaks From 911 Calls in New Community Policing Program

By Jeff Mays | March 3, 2015 12:07pm | Updated on March 3, 2015 1:20pm
 An NYPD officer talks on his radio in Times Square.
An NYPD officer talks on his radio in Times Square.
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Andrew Burton/Getty Images

NEW YORK CITY — The NYPD plans to introduce a comprehensive community policing project in four precincts in Queens and Upper Manhattan where officers will spend a third of their time away from responding to 911 calls in order to better get to know the neighborhood, officials said.

The move is the latest in a series of steps the city has taken to improve the relationship between the NYPD and communities.

"A police officer walking the beat is the most powerful way to communicate a community-oriented approach," said Susan Herman, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for collaborative policing, while speaking before a City Council hearing Tuesday on community policing.

Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on a program of improving the relationship between police and communities of color.

The four precincts involved in the pilot program, which will launch next month, are the 33rd and 34th precincts in Washington Heights and Inwood and the 100th and 101st precincts in Rockaway.

Officials said the precincts were chosen because they had some issues but were not the most problematic in the city. They are also located geographically on opposite ends of the city.

Herman said the precincts will be divided into neighborhood-based sectors. Each sector will have a dedicated cadre of officers assigned to it who will be tasked with "identifying public safety problems and needs that the police department can help address."

For one-third of their time, officers will not have to respond to 911 calls but will instead meet with local residents and community members.

'What this model does is get everyone involved," said NYPD Assistant Chief Terence Monahan and allows officers to have "ownership of a neighborhood."

It was not clear how the time would be taken.

The pilot will also include an officer who will act as liaison between police and the community in each precinct.

"He's going to be the main contact, sort of the quarterback of the sector," said Monahan.

Vanessa Gibson, chair of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, urged the panel to make sure to include local stakeholders who know the residents and problems of the area well.

Asked how the officers will be chosen, Monahan said commanding officers in the precinct will pick from the best.

"They are going to pick their best officers for this job," he said.

The plan already raised concerns from Councilman Brad Lander who questioned how the officers will be trained to do outreach during the time they are not responding to 911 calls.

"I'm worried people will default to the ways they are taught to police," said Lander.

Another group, Communities United for Police Reform, was scheduled to testify before the council.

They issued a statement questioning the initiative in light of the NYPD and mayor's continued support of 'Broken Windows' policing where smaller crimes are targeted to prevent larger ones.

“So-called ‘community policing’ cannot produce community safety when disproportionate enforcement and aggression in our communities continue,” said Priscilla Gonzalez of Communities United for Police Reform.

“Discriminatory and abusive NYPD practices such as broken windows policing, blanket surveillance of Muslim communities and brutality without departmental consequences must end."

Herman defended "Broken Windows" policing.

"We see that people of New York believe in quality of life and are complaining about the kind of things we are responding to," she said.