Police Commissioner O’Neill’s ABNY Remarks

OCTOBER 11, 2016


Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill delivered the following remarks this morning when he spoke with members of the Association for a Better New York (ABNY)

Thank you, Bill [Rudin], for that introduction and for the warm greetings from ABNY. Good morning everyone. I am glad and grateful to be here today, so early in my tenure as Police Commissioner, because of the essential role played by ABNY in the life of the city since it was founded by Bill’s dad during the fiscal crisis 40 years ago. You know, recently I’ve been thinking back on my career and what has transpired since I first joined the Transit Police Department in 1983. It is certainly one of the greatest honors of my life to be named commissioner of the NYPD. And it’s been an equally great honor for me that I’ve been able to spend my entire police career here in New York City, watching this place we all love so much grow and improve in so many ways.

By the time I had a few years under my belt and had been promoted to sergeant in the Transit Police, David Dinkins had been elected mayor.

Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for being here this morning. Mayor Dinkins instituted his “Safe Streets, Safe Cities” program. He knew that we needed more police officers at that time, and got the state to dedicate a tax to hire thousands more cops to expand the city’s force.

Mayor Giuliani was elected when I was a lieutenant and I’d started to understand what being a leader was all about. We were accountable for our own actions, for the actions of the men and women who worked so hard under us, and for every single crime that occurred. Under Mayor Giuliani, Commissioner Bratton devised CompStat, the revolutionary method of tracking crime that was invaluable in showing us how and where we could best-use our resources.

After 9/11 – when I was commander of the 25th Precinct in Harlem – Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly carried on our work with CompStat, and went even further by forming a large, well-equipped unit that is widely considered the foremost city counterterrorism bureau anywhere in the world. And we’ve prevented numerous planned attacks on New York since then.

Mayor de Blasio also recognized that in order for us to move forward, the NYPD had to evolve and come up with newer, even-better methods of keeping this city safe. We’ve put cutting-edge technology in the palm of every police officer’s hand, spending hundreds of millions on that technology and other equipment that help us do our jobs more effectively and more safely.


And for the first time in a dozen years, working with the mayor and the City Council, we added new police officers – approximately 1,300 more cops – to our rolls. As Commissioner Bratton often pointed out, the NYPD has received everything it’s asked for from this mayor. And I can tell you, NO other city on Earth has made more of an investment in keeping the public and its cops safe.

So, as I look back on the span of my career, I see that in the last two decades, serious crimes here have dropped more than 75% and murder more than 80%. During the same time, New York City’s population rose by more than a fifth, and ridership on our subways nearly doubled.

On any given weekday, the subway system that was my training ground now sees, on average, more than SIX million riders, and just SIX reported index crimes – that’s one crime a day per one million riders.

Citywide, this September was the safest of any September in the entire CompStat era, with total index crimes reported DOWN 12.1% from September 2015.

We have been achieving those kinds of results on a regular basis recently, both in crime and in time categories: The lowest robbery, burglary, and auto theft numbers since the mid-1960s. The lowest murder totals since 1957. The safest summer in more than 20 years.

What has happened with murders and shootings in the past three years is particularly striking. The three-year average for murders is 36% lower than the average for the previous 10 years. The three-year average for shootings is 25% lower. Even in the context of historically low violence, we are sustaining further declines.

But we won’t stop. To see such dramatic, lasting results of our efforts is simply amazing, especially as other large American cities – Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., to list a few – are experiencing increases in their homicide rates.

The results of all this work are well documented. Over the years, tens of thousands of lives have been saved in New York City. Very real tragedies have been averted. Families have been kept intact.

Thanks at least in part to greater public safety, record numbers of tourists are flooding our streets, restaurants, parks, and Broadway shows. Massive real estate investment has tracked the pathways of public safety from Manhattan to the outer boroughs – with median home prices in Manhattan and Brooklyn currently at higher levels than the peak of the 2005-to-2008 housing bubble.

But while the NYPD achieved what many said was unachievable – making New York the safest big city in America – we have to acknowledge that we did so sometimes at the expense of vital support of some of the communities we swore to protect.

We did so sometimes in ways that inflamed old wounds, especially among people of color. And those wounds run very deep.

Surveys have revealed a decades-long gap between whites and communities of color on approval of their police: A persistent 10-point gap between Latinos and whites, and a stubborn 20-point gap between whites and blacks.

It is now our mission to do all we can to help heal those old wounds without re-opening them, and to gain through partnership a new level of public support and public action that achieves our common mission of public safety.

Members of every community should feel they are understood by their police, and know they are treated fairly. We need all New Yorkers to view their police through a lens of trust.

To address these realities – the realities of success against crime, but the alienation of some communities – we’ve done several things:

We changed CompStat to no longer drive ever-higher numbers of stops, arrests, and summonses – and instead distinguish those individuals who are a threat, from those who are not.

We know that it’s only a small percentage of the population that commits most of the violent crime. And that’s the group we’ve been homing in on with laser-like precision-policing.

Our targeted enforcement of gangs, crews, and those who sell drugs, steal identities and manufacture and sell fake credit cards, shoot at each other, and commit other crimes, has proven highly successful.

We’ve plucked these troublemakers from their comfort areas, where they’ve terrorized good, hard-working people. And we’ve stabilized neighborhoods where residents and workers were once fearful of walking down their own streets.

So, while doing this, we have lowered our arrest and summons activity by 20%, while increasing the percentage of stops that lead to gun seizures.

We’re now focusing our resources on the specific people involved in violence and crime. And when you do that, you’re going to meet with pushback and increased resistance. It’s probably this intensified scrutiny of criminals that has led to the 22% increase in assaults on police officers this year.

But to close the gap in trust and approval of police, we have to do more than eliminate unnecessary enforcement activity. We have to fundamentally change the way we do our business.

The NYPD’s Neighborhood Policing Program marks the first time any police department, anywhere, is totally reorganizing to deliver the same cops, in the same neighborhoods, every day. So, now we will know members of the community, know the problems, and work together to solve them.

Neighborhood Policing is now up and running in more than half of the city, and in all of our commands that cover public housing.

The public will soon have the names, email addresses and – increasingly – the cell phone numbers of the individual police officers who patrol their streets every single day.

This is not a repackaged version of prior generations’ “community policing.” This is very much a crime-fighting model – because fighting crime is what we get paid to do. It’s what you need us to do. At the same time, we are strengthening the relationships between cops and the people who live and work in every neighborhood.

As I tell all our officers, rookie and veteran alike: New Yorkers in every neighborhood want to see you. They want the police to help them. They’re glad we’re there on their streets.

So how does the NYPD now chart the way forward, now get to the next level of where we need to be?

On the front page of Friday’s New York Times, many of you may have read about 28-year-old Jessica White in the South Bronx. Jessica was sitting, watching her three young kids play on a metal slide just outside their apartment building, when gunfire rang out. Jessica leapt from the playground bench and tried to collect the children – a boy and two girls, ages three, five, and nine.

But a bullet tore through Jessica’s chest first, killing her. Her children were not injured, but are scarred by what they witnessed, and now have to grow up without a mother. Of little solace is the fact that Jessica was NOT the intended target of a cowardly young man with a gun.

But that happened in June. And we still haven’t made an arrest. Has the NYPD failed Jessica? Or has the entire city failed Jessica? That’s a very tough question for anyone to answer.

What I do know is that the men and women of our Detective Bureau – particularly in the Bronx – work extremely hard. They have many cases to investigate, and they’re absolutely the best in the business.

But their interviews of people in the area after the killing yielded almost no new information. And while we did get some tips called in to us after Jessica’s murder – in many instances, NYPD posters advertising a reward for information, and wanted posters showing the gunman’s getaway car, were ripped down from telephone poles, lampposts, and public housing development walls.

The whole thing reminds me of another case, one that was before my time in law enforcement – the 1964 stabbing murder of Kitty Genovese on Austin Street in Queens. The story goes that some neighbors – possibly many neighbors – heard or saw Kitty get attacked twice by the same man, but did not call the police. The incident became known as an example of urban indifference, and helped bring about the 9-1-1 system we have in place today.

In both instances: This is not the New York any of us wants, or aspires to be. The clear message is: We need every member of the public to help us. This is a shared responsibility.

What I’m proposing today is a way for us to find that way forward, together. I want to show the country – and Jessica White’s family – what a galvanized city can deliver: a safe place to live and work for everyone, in every neighborhood, on every corner, in every playground.

This is the next phase of the NYPD: I’m asking all New Yorkers to engage with their police. Together is the only way we can complete our mission.

Police are now only half the equation. Over the last 34 months, we have shifted the NYPD away from a style of policing that had sometimes lost focus of how to best-achieve our most basic duty: Keeping people safe.

We’ve now pivoted toward a model of policing that connects better with communities – a plan that not only lowers crime even more, but forges real, lasting relationships with those we serve.

Today, we are announcing a large-scale public engagement campaign, sponsored by the New York City Police Foundation and ABNY. I would like to thank, in particular, Bill Rudin and Susan Birnbaum, CEO of the Foundation, and all the Foundation’s board members, many of whom are sitting here today – you’re our partners in so many breakthrough efforts.

The goal of the campaign is to get every New Yorker to believe we can make our city safe in every single neighborhood of the city. It’s within reach. But it depends on everyone doing what they need to do. Cops and community must work in tandem with our partners at the city, state, and federal levels.

This campaign will enlist the business community, grass-roots community groups, the clergy, academia, the entire criminal-justice system, and all relevant public and private agencies to work together with us.

It will employ the most powerful elements of traditional and cutting-edge marketing technologies to deliver what is fundamentally NOT a marketing campaign, but a movement that forges true relationships and delivers what is now possible in New York, perhaps alone among the great cities of the world.

We will ask every New Yorker to do at least one thing to help us achieve it – such as: Report crimes that have occurred, be willing to talk to district attorneys, and follow through by testifying in court. We also need to make the process of participating in our criminal justice system as a victim or as a witness SAFE and less burdensome.

This is all to prevent someone else – like Jessica White or like Kitty Genovese – from becoming a victim, too.

We will also push for more technology in New York City, the kind that will allow the public to text 9-1-1 and not just make a voice call – so that raw information about criminals, locations of guns, license plates on vehicles used by robbery crews, and more, can be sent to us confidentially, without the public having to fear retaliation where they live.

We will encourage our partners in the judicial system to set high bails for gun offenders and impose meaningful prison sentences for our most violent offenders.

We will ask all public and commercial entities to install camera systems the NYPD can access, enabling us to more-quickly view valuable footage and close more investigations.

We will ask New Yorkers to take action to prevent crimes, including acts of terrorism, from being committed; and, ultimately, to help keep young people from ever committing a first act of violence.

We will engage community members who don’t usually attend neighborhood meetings. We will ask more people to call our Crime Stoppers tip line – so far this year we’ve fielded more than 10,000 calls, but we need more.

The police don’t underestimate the difference even one person can make, and neither should the public.

This campaign will be orchestrated by Police Foundation board member Charles Phillips, CEO of New York City-based INFOR, the third-largest business software company in the world.

Mr. Phillips will appoint chairs for each aspect of the effort, and will ask a number of New York’s most accomplished filmmakers to invite participation by the creative community of New York – the famous as well as those just starting out – in contributing ideas to be chosen for production.

As the NYPD moves from a numbers-focused “arrest & summons” approach to a neighborhood-focused “partner & prevent” strategy, informed public perception must ignite common commitment to the goal of public safety achieved fairly and justly all throughout New York City.

These communication materials, distributed in one or more broadcast, print, and social media channels, will:

Depict an authentic reality in the making, that of the massive change now occurring within the NYPD in its training, management, and operations, and within our Neighborhood Policing Program, in which the entire department is being reorganized to work with community residents to identify and solve the individualized problems that give rise to fear, crime, and disorder.

Confront and reduce negative preconceptions and stereotypes of both the police and the diverse communities we serve, and

In real-time grit-of-truth, acknowledge the experiences of community residents and of police, enabling everyone to walk in each other’s shoes.

We have redefined what it means to be a New York City police officer. And the NYPD has reinvented itself. We’ve conducted a sweeping revision of our strategies, tactics, technology, and training – and we’re now asking residents and workers to engage with the criminal justice system and other city agencies to become active partners in making all neighborhoods safer, while simultaneously building trust.

Every day, the NYPD strives toward the same thing that ABNY has embraced as its motto: “Making New York a better place to live, work, and visit.”

We’re doing this while continuing to strengthen the bond between police and community, while New Yorkers do their part and remain vigilant to stop violence before it starts.

Collectively, we see the problem we are facing, and we see the opportunity in front of us. And this challenge will be met by one unified city, acting together. Please, join us. Thank you.