Sector Officers and Neighborhood Coordination Officers change the face of patrol under the Neighborhood Policing Plan
Graffiti saturated the walls and set the tone for passersby and patrons of a barbershop in Jamaica, Queens, until Police Officers Kyle Bradley and Sean Keegan, newly assigned Neighborhood Coordination Officers (NCOs) from the 113 Precinct, organized a graffiti-clean-up event with fellow 113 Precinct NCOs and the NYPD Explorers. The NCOs made a day of it, washing away and painting over the lewd and unsightly spray-paint, as well as getting to know the Explorers and local community members who came out. The day was a success and the barbershop, in some small way, became indicative of a change coming to the neighborhood. But physically cleaning up the location was just a start.
When the report of an armed robbery came down a few weeks later, Police Officers Lynn Dilieto and Chris O’Connor, also NCOs from the 113 Precinct, responded rapidly, gathering all the information they could. When the victim explained that she had met the perpetrator through an online dating application prior to being robbed at gunpoint by him, the officers scanned through the photos on his profile, and Officer Dilieto was quick to place the perp’s face—he was a barber at the shop that they had diligently cleaned just weeks before. She quickly radioed Police Officer Andre Edwards, a sector officer from the barbershop’s sector, who went to the shop and made the arrest.
“The Neighborhood Policing Plan made this arrest possible,” said Officer Dilieto.
“Without it, we would have never been in or around that barbershop.
We get to know these people.
We see their faces every day. We get to know the good people in the community, but it’s also a new way of finding the bad guys who might have otherwise gotten away.”
The need for new methods to close the gap between cops and the communities they serve had become increasingly obvious in recent years. Typically, hard-working, law-abiding New Yorkers would only get to know the cops in their community through the lens of public spectacle and negative media attention. With that in mind, the NYPD has been systematically restructuring its patrol model. Chief of Department James O’Neill’s comprehensive Neighborhood Policing Plan (NPP) is helping New York City residents get to know cops in a brand new way.
“If you’ve seen what’s happened over the past year; maybe what’s happened over the last dozen years, connectivity has started to erode between the community and the police,” said Chief O’Neill.
“We’ve been asking our cops for 40 or 50 years now, to establish a better connectivity to the people in the community, but if you look at the way the precincts are set up, they’re really not given the opportunity to do that. Half the precinct responds to 911 calls, and on a busy Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night—even in one of the less busy commands—they’re still answering 20 to 25 jobs a night. Where in the course of that tour do we give them any opportunity to make a connection with anyone in the community? We really don’t. They’re going from job to job to job, just trying to clear the screen and doing the best they can. The other half of the precinct are our specialty guys; they’re ‘where the rubber meets the road.’ They’re doing local narcotics work; they’re doing quality-of-life policing; they’re doing domestic violence; they’re doing anti-crime work. They’re also doing important administrative work to keep the precinct running, so where in the course of their day, do they have the opportunity to make better connectivity? I would venture to say that we really don’t give them the opportunity to do that.”
In 2015, the Department rolled out the Neighborhood Policing Plan, now in 20 commands and scheduled to be in 31 by July 1, 2016. The plan is designed to greatly increase the cop/community connectivity that Chief O’Neill talks about without in any way diminishing, and while actually improving, the NYPD’s crime-fighting capabilities.
“The key to this program is that we’re re-sectoring every one of the precincts throughout the city,” explained Chief O’Neill.
The Neighborhood Policing Plan divides precincts into four or five fully staffed sectors that correspond, as much as possible, to the boundaries of actual existing neighborhoods. Sector officers assigned to these sectors work the same neighborhoods on the same shifts, increasing their familiarity with the local residents and local problems. The radio dispatchers, supervisors, and sector officers work together to maintain “sector integrity,” meaning that the sector officers and sector cars do not leave the boundaries of their assigned sectors, except in genuine emergencies. The plan seeks to foster a sense of ownership among sector officers for the people, the problems, and even the perpetrators in a particular sector; a sense of geographic responsibility and accountability.
“I feel that when we’re answering jobs ‘in progress,’ having a steady sector means that we’ll get there quicker,” said Police Officer Christen Stuve, a sector officer from the 113 Precinct. “We’ll have a better opportunity to get to the victim, do a canvas if necessary, and possibly make the arrest. Sector integrity lets us get to know the community better. We get to see the same faces. We help people out, and they remember us.”
The Neighborhood Policing Plan is sufficiently staffed to permit off-radio time for the sector officers, so they are not exclusively assigned to answering calls. The off-radio time is used to engage with neighborhood residents, identify problems and work toward their solutions. Sector officers have 33 percent of their eight hour tours, or about two hours and 20 minutes each day, devoted to community-based, proactive and problem-solving activities.
“The idea here is that we don’t have separate community officers, separate conditions officers, and separate officers to answer calls,” said Assistant Chief Terry Monahan, from the Office of the Chief of Department, who worked closely on the design of the Neighborhood Policing Plan. “The sector officer plays all these roles. We want a generalist cop who knows and feels responsible for the sector, and who provides the full range of policing services there.”
Supporting the sector officers and filling out each sector team are two officers designated as the neighborhood coordination officers (NCOs). The NCOs are conceived as liaisons between the police and the community, but also as key crime-fighters and problem solvers in the sector. While they answer some calls to keep them conversant with the daily workload, the NCOs spend more time actively familiarizing themselves with the community to better respond to neighborhood-specific crime and other conditions. The NCOs immerse themselves in the community by attending meetings with community leaders and clergy, visiting schools, following up on previous incidents, and using creative techniques and adaptive skills to fight crime unique to their particular sectors.
“As with the sector officers, the NCOs are generalists,” said Chief Monahan. “They are part patrol officer, part community officer, part intelligence officer, and part detective. They are the team leaders in the sector, but the sector officers, who are in the sector around the clock, are also critically important. This doesn’t work without the sector officers.”
The plan selects accomplished, high-performing police officers for NCO positions and provides them with additional specialized training in several key areas. New NCOs complete the Detective Bureau’s course for newly assigned investigators, which teaches all facets of professional investigation. They take the Special Operations Lieutenant Course, which covers: accident prone locations, tow operations, CCTV cameras, cabarets and licensed locations, crime prevention, domestic violence, policing in public housing developments, illegal van enforcement, nuisance abatement, pawn shops and second-hand dealers, peddlers, street narcotics enforcement, and transit and subway policing. They also receive training in working with community residents, mediation, organizational skills, public speaking, crime analysis, and managing the social service resources provided by social service agencies and contractors.
“I found it refreshing to be trained in all new subjects,” said Detective Thomas Troppmann, an NCO from the 34 Precinct.
“All high-caliber stuff; I would have paid good money for this training, instead, I got paid good money to receive it.”
The NYPD is also using the latest technology to enable and empower the new NCOs and sector officers, as well as all police officers throughout the city. With significant funding support from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, the Department implemented a $140 million mobility plan that has put a smartphone in the hands of every officer and a tablet in every patrol car, thus making the NYPD the most technologically advanced police department in the country. The Neighborhood Policing Plan commands were among the first to receive the new phones and tablets. NCOs and sector officers have access to an immense amount of information on the go—including various NYPD databases, as well as other city agencies—and will be able to perform administrative functions while in the field. With this data at their fingertips and as data access expands, officers, and NCOs in particular, will become community touch points, capable of helping citizens in their sector use a wide range of private and public services.
To further support the NCOs and sector officers, the Neighborhood Policing Plan assigns precinct-wide teams of two-person response cars. The response car officers pick up calls for service when the sector officers’ workload becomes too heavy or when sector officers are engaged in other sorts of operations, such as working with NCOs to correct conditions in the community. The response cars are an essential part of the plan because they make it possible for sector officers to engage in crime-fighting operations or community-building exercises without degrading timely police response to emergency situations. Response cars, operating precinct-wide, can shore up any sector in the precinct that is temporarily overloaded without drawing sector cops from any other sector. The NCOs and sector officers can maintain sector integrity, strengthening police performance and helping to close the gap between cops and the community.
The day-to-day routine of the NCOs is always changing and evolving. The officers examine crime patterns and areas of elevated criminal activity in order to determine where they’re most needed and when. One aspect of their daily routines that never changes, however, is community interaction.
“We’ve conducted community visits, followed up on 311 calls and emails, addressed crime conditions and paid special attention to our problem areas,” said Detective Troppmann, who has seen great success fighting crime with the help of the local community in his sector of the 34 Precinct.
“My community is leading me to the right perpetrators through phone calls, emails and on-the-street conversations.”
Detective Troppmann, like many other NCOs, has forged relationships and shared contact information with area residents, local school staff, storeowners and tenants’ associations; all of which have led to arrests and C-summonses and contributed to a safer, tighter-knit sector. The NCOs are stronger and more effective with insightful guidance and cooperation from sector residents. Whether calling in a tip, reporting a crime, or just taking the time to introduce themselves to officers, the community is key.
Neighborhood Work Groups are being established to help guide NCOs and sector officers, and regular meetings between the parties are being organized. These work groups are genuine problem-solving sessions in which neighbors and police officers collaborate on plans and strategies for how local officers can better serve the community. Precincts are also convening community dialogues to find effective ways to collaborate with the people who live and work in their neighborhoods. The effect of the smallest bit of information regarding suspicious or criminal activity reported by an active community member to their sector NCOs could realistically range from cleaning up a highly trafficked street corner or saving a life, to dismantling a violent crew or preventing acts of terrorism.
“A lot of the people that we’re meeting, and creating Neighborhood Work Groups with, and speaking to on a daily or weekly basis—we wouldn’t have gotten to meet if we were on patrol,” said Officer Dilieto. “On patrol, when you answer a 911 call, it’s usually because something is wrong. With this program, we’re being proactive instead of reactive. We’re having a lot of drug sales going on in a certain building, so we’ve made the workers and the owner of that building into a work group. We actually go out with them, and they’re sending us video footage from their surveillance system of people smoking marijuana, showing us when and where they’re smoking. With the NPP, you’re meeting and working with the good, hardworking people in the neighborhood; you’re not just meeting the criminals.”
So far, the community’s response to the NPP has been resoundingly positive. Marissa Bernowitz, a 100 Precinct resident and board member of We Care New York, a non-for-profit, sang the NCOs’ praises. “When the program started out, they gave us these cell phone numbers that we can call or text,” she said. “I text them for everything, and they respond; off-hours too. I give their numbers to everybody. They’re also very involved in the community efforts of our non-for-profit.”
After NCOs in the 113 Precinct resolved a major issue at a local senior center, Patricia Pappalardo, program coordinator at the Rockaway Boulevard Senior Center said, “My interaction with the NCOs has been great. They have been able to resolve several issues here and gave us some really helpful advice regarding problems that we’ve had with trespassers.”
Patrick Larkin, a retired U.S. military veteran and a 100 Precinct resident, called the NPP program “extremely useful because it’s more face-to-face contact; actually getting to know these cops by name. I think that people are going to respect cops more, because they’ll see them in a new, more human way.”
“People from the community are coming to us,” said Claudio Diaz, an NCO from the 100 Precinct, “calling us on our Department phones; and actually reaching out to us with their problems, and this is something that has never happened before; and some of us have been police officers for many, many years.”
Detective Paul Candela, another NCO from the 100 Precinct added that “there’s people now that actually trust us enough that, rather than preferring to remain anonymous, are actually coming to the precinct to tell us things that we would have never known about if we hadn’t gained their trust.”
There can’t be a community without communication, and a community can’t be safe without the police. Sector officers and NCOs are starting a dialogue with their local residents about sharing the responsibility for the well-being and safety of their neighborhoods. They are the perfect middle ground, providing accountability for the police in the eyes of the public, while simultaneously fighting crime in a quick, effective and cooperative way. These officers, supported by sector integrity, as well as cutting-edge technology and training, are not only effective crime-fighters, but genuine pillars of the community.
With the help of concerned citizens, the Neighborhood Policing Plan, the NCOs, and the sector officers can and will close the divide between cops and the community, and continue to keep New York City neighborhoods safe.
“Although this is only the beginning stages and it is far from over, it is definitely heading in a positive direction,” said Detective Troppmann.
NEIGHBORHOOD POLICING PLAN
WHERE IT STARTED:
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WHERE IT IS NOW (AS OF MAY 2016):
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WHERE IT’S HEADED NEXT:
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