“I was a paramedic and it exposed me to a lot of emergency situations. I’ve always liked to help people and being a police officer seemed to be the best next step.”
Justin Gelband became a police officer four years ago and was soon recognized by his supervisors at the 44th Precinct, who put him on the conditions team and later made him the Graffiti Coordinator. There hadn’t been a lot of graffiti in Rockland County, where he grew up, but he soon became very familiar with it. Tags were common in some parts of the precinct, so he initiated a program of weekly clean-up events. This grew into a partnership with Bronx Community Solutions, a non-profit organization that provides non-violent offenders with community service options to serve their sentences. The program participants helped clean graffiti for five hours a week instead of serving jail time.
“I was able to build a strong rapport with some of the local artists while I was on the precinct’s conditions team,” he said.
“They knew that I kept my word and that they could trust me. I would arrest them, but I offered them a chance to help the community with their art.”
This approach is a perfect example of the evolution of the “Broken Windows” model of policing. Today’s NYPD officers, particularly the NCOs, are asked to focus on quality of life crime, but are given the discretion to go deeper. According to George Kelling and James Q. Wilson, the criminologists who originally articulated Broken Windows, “The essence of the police role in maintaining order is to reinforce the informal control mechanisms of the community itself.” (Read more about the NYPD’s use of Broken Windows here.) Enforcement is not always necessary to change behavior; sometimes you just need to provide alternatives.
When the Neighborhood Policing Program came to the 44 Precinct, Officer Gelband became a Neighborhood Coordinating Officer (NCO). His partner from the conditions team, Officer Francis Flynn, joined him in the new assignment.
“[When] we both were asked to be NCOs, it was a lot of what we were already doing in conditions,” said Officer Flynn.
“I got involved with the anti-graffiti work and that was great, too—it all just fit together.”