State of the NYPD

Prepared remarks of Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill:

Good morning everyone. Thank you for being here. And I’d like to thank Grace Hightower De Niro for narrating the video you just saw.

And thank you, Dale, for that introduction, and for everything you do – including putting together this morning’s breakfast, which you and Andy Tisch made possible. The Police Foundation relies on you. Just as it depends heavily on the leadership of its president, Susan Birnbaum, and its executive director, Gregg Roberts. Thank you both, and the Foundation staff, as well.

Thank you to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees and all the generous Foundation supporters here today. You are trusted advisors and allies to the men and women of the New York City Police Department. And it’s those dedicated people – those who swore an oath and who put on a uniform every day, along with NYPD civilians – that I want to make special mention of. They are the reason we’re here today.

What do I mean by that?

When I first became a police officer, in January 1983, things were a little different in New York City. As I look around this room, I see a few people who might also remember what it was like here in those days.

As a Transit cop, I rode the subways from eight at night until four in the morning. That’s not me up there, by the way [looking at photo on screen]. Although, I did have a great mustache in those days. But, I’m sure you know what it was like back then: Graffiti all over the subway cars, and many people worried if they’d be able to safely commute to and from their jobs.

Up on the streets, crime was commonplace. Robberies; abandoned vehicles; shootings were through the roof. And murders in New York City hovered around 2,000 a year.

The revolutionary path that led us to where we are today – 34 years later – none of this happened by accident. It’s all due to the hard work and innovation of the men and women of the NYPD, along with our law enforcement partners and the people of this great city.

Policing is a vocation that must change with the times. If we’re not innovating and evolving, we’re not moving forward. And that’s how you, at the Foundation, have been helping us – by investing in innovation to keep us on the cutting edge of policing. As a result, we have a unique opportunity, right now, to set the tone for the rest of the industry.

Over the past three years, we’ve been implementing a number of far-reaching changes in the way our department operates. We are dramatically improving our ability to fight crime on the patrol side, on the investigative side and, importantly, at the most local of levels. And as these changes take hold, we continue to make gains in every crime category – all across the city.

I want to speak to you today about those changes we’re putting in place. Many people are skeptical that instituting these kinds of internal reforms is even possible in a big bureaucracy like the NYPD. And they also doubt that change of any kind can have much impact on crime. So, they tend to minimize it and treat it as some sort of minor program – or a rehash of an old initiative attempted by a prior generation.

This is nothing of the kind.

Neighborhood policing, which we’ve been building for two-and-a-half years now, is a massive undertaking and a deep-seated change. We aren’t tinkering with patrol, or making just a few changes around the edges.

Let me be clear: We are reworking the entire way the NYPD protects New York City. And we’re redefining the role of NYPD police officer. We’re conducting a complete overhaul of a system that has been in place since the advent of the radio car in the 1940s, and the 9-1-1 system in the 1970s.

If there’s any parallel, it’s probably the development of CompStat in the mid-1990s, more than two decades ago. Like our neighborhood policing model, CompStat was a sea-change in the way the NYPD did business.

We began tracking crime closely – not year-to-year, but week-to-week, and day-to-day. We knew when and where the crimes were occurring, almost in real time. And we still do.

We established a forum: weekly CompStat crime strategy sessions, in which the leaders of the department and commanders of local precincts – and members of Narcotics, Gang, and other specialty units – could consult, plan, and work together to counter emerging crime problems.

Chiefs, inspectors, captains, lieutenants, and sergeants began taking responsibility for crime in a way they never really had before.

And we crushed crime in New York City.

The next five years after CompStat was instituted saw the biggest drops in crime in New York City’s history, and by a very wide margin. And crime did not resume an upward course after the steep drops – it continued a steady decline. In the years since, CompStat has effectively managed crime.

Today, of course, we are in a whole new statistical range. Overall crime is down 76 percent since 1993. Murders, shootings, robberies, burglaries, and auto theft are all down by 80 percent or more.

In 2016, we achieved historic lows again across many crime categories, including the lowest number of shootings in the history of our city: 998. That’s the first time it’s ever been below 1,100.

And as street stops plummeted from a high of nearly 700,000 in 2011, to about 13,000 last year, we also made fewer arrests and issued fewer summonses – while overall crime here continued to go down. Because, now when we take enforcement action, we know we’re looking at the right people.

The number of gun arrests we made last year – 3,520 of them – is 10-and-a-half percent higher than the year before.

What does all of our success mean?

It means that achieving further declines in overall crime is getting more and more difficult with each passing year. That’s one of the reasons for the major changes we’re now undergoing at the NYPD. We still swear by CompStat as the core of our crime-fighting and accountability model. But with neighborhood policing, we’re expanding the reach of CompStat’s crime-fighting and accountability to rank-and-file cops.

Despite the upward trends we’ve seen elsewhere in the nation recently, the NYPD is intent on continuing to push crime down. And we know that further declines in crime are only going to be achieved through close partnerships with individual neighborhoods, and all the residents and workers within them.

We also know that only cops on the street, empowered by neighborhood policing, can build those alliances effectively.

Truthfully, no one knows better what’s happening on a given block than the people who live and work there every day. They know who’s selling drugs in the stairwell. They know who’s firing guns on the rooftop. And they know who’s preparing to feud with a rival gang a couple of streets over.

And we need that information.

Make no mistake: This is a crime-fighting model of policing, first and foremost. We’re cops. That’s what we get paid to do: Fight crime and keep people safe. It’s our obligation, and it’s what we want to do. That’s why we took these jobs.

But we can’t do it alone. Public safety is a shared responsibility, and we need everyone’s help. This isn’t about kissing babies and checking off a box on a monthly activity sheet. This is a complete paradigm shift in how we’re protecting our city.

And it’s not just residents and local workers we want to reach. It’s you, here today. The business community, represented by the Police Foundation, can help bring about positive change. You can alter the public’s perception of their police, and you can help us rebuild trust.

The Foundation and the NYPD will soon be looking to you to help get out our message. And I hope you continue your strong history of assistance.

Nationally, with all that’s going on, cops and community must get on the same page. You already know New Yorkers can handle anything they put their minds to. We can do this. And with your help, we’re finding the way forward with neighborhood policing. This is the new way of doing business at the NYPD.

The book each of you received this morning, The Police Commissioner’s Report for 2017, has a far more complete picture than I’ll be able to describe for you today. It details this new way of policing, and highlights real-world examples from each of our eight patrol boroughs.

This report is unlike anything the NYPD has published before. It’s designed to give you a sense of just how involved our police officers are in the daily lives of New Yorkers.

Well before neighborhood policing, our cops already cared about people and the neighborhoods they served. But we didn’t give them the time or the opportunity to establish the lasting connections to take their police work to a higher level.

Now, we’ve formed a new position: the Neighborhood Coordination Officer. NCOs are connections between those who live and work in the community, and the teams of officers we call “steady sector cops.”

The sector officers are permanently assigned to patrol the same geographical areas, on the same shifts, every single day. And they are afforded about a third of their work day away from the stream of 9-1-1 and 3-1-1 calls on the radio, in order to meet and interact with the people who live and work in their areas.

Together, the NCOs, the sector cops, and the officers in “response cars” who are covering the dispatched 9-1-1 calls, are the ones who take it most personally when they see graffiti on the sides of schools, gang and crew markings on street signs, and people drinking alcohol or dealing drugs in local parks.

Because these are your streets. And this is our city.

Twenty-five of our NCOs and NCO sergeants are here with us this morning. I’d like each of you to stand up and be recognized. Thank you for what you do every day. And thank you for helping write NYPD history as you lead the law enforcement profession into a new chapter.

Everything we do now is geared toward reducing crime and keeping people safe – everything.

The neighborhood policing model is already operating in more than half of our precincts citywide, and in every one of our commands that covers public housing. And we’ll be expanding it into 10 more over the next four months.

The NYPD’s new patrol model is much more than just the traditional answering of 9-1-1 call after 9-1-1 call. It’s about deeper problem-solving. And it’s tailor-made policing that’s individualized for whatever neighborhood you’re in.

And neighborhood policing is not just about making meaningful connections with those who live and work in every corner of New York City. It’s about each of us helping take criminals off the streets, and preventing crimes before they occur.

Assisting us in this task are the 800 or so volunteers we’ve already signed up as part of our Community Partner Program, organized by the Foundation. More than two dozen Partners are here with us this morning, too. Please stand and be recognized for your efforts to make New York City even better.

Thank you for taking the time to join us, and for supporting this important work. You’re the definition of what we’re talking about when we say that public safety is a shared responsibility. You help us every day, in so many ways – from showing and introducing our newest cops around the neighborhoods they’ll be patrolling, to gathering up other civic-minded residents and workers in your communities so that they – like you – can work hand-in-hand with us in our mission to further reduce crime and to keep people safe.

To achieve true public safety, we need everyone’s help. As always, our biggest partner is the Police Foundation, which has created a neighborhood-policing fund that helps engage the public in multiple ways.

That’s important, because we know we can’t achieve our goals if we lack trust from those who live and work in our city. Community engagement and crime fighting go together. And over the years, those things have been separated. Now, we have the opportunity – and the ability – to reconnect the two and to strengthen everything that we do. Every one of us shares this responsibility.

That’s why we’ve redefined what it means to be a police officer in our great city. That’s why we’ve completely shifted the way we protect New York. And that’s why we’ve restructured how the NYPD is organized internally.

We now have almost all of our detectives reporting up the same chain of command. It’s called our Unified Investigations Model, and it encompasses traditional precinct detective squad work, plus Narcotics, Vice, Warrants, and the 200 or so investigators assigned to our Gun Violence Suppression Division.

Under this new way of doing things, last year we conducted about 100 targeted take-downs – long-term investigations into gang and crew violence, drug-dealing and other criminal activities. And we locked up over 1,000 people in those takedowns.

That kind of “precision policing” is how we’re zeroing in on the relatively small population of people who commit most of the violent crime in our city. Our five district attorneys, plus the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, truly are our partners in this fight. And, together, we’re winning.

Many of these repeat offenders are getting longer and more meaningful sentences because we’re focusing on the people committing the crimes. That’s how we’re keeping people safe, year after year. Again, none of this is happening by accident. And all of it is geared toward supporting our neighborhood policing plan.

We’ve also added another facet to our policing model: After each of the take-downs we conduct, we go back into the affected communities – the neighborhoods and the housing developments that were terrorized by drug dealers and people shooting guns – and we hold debriefings for those who live and work there, so they can ask questions about who we arrested, and why.

And beginning this year, we’re looking to start live-streaming these meetings on Facebook, so people who can’t make them can still take part – and so the rest of the world can see how we’re reclaiming our city, together.

The feedback we get from those residents and workers is overwhelmingly positive. They tell us we got the right people. And they say: “Thank you” – something police officers generally don’t hear enough of, in my opinion.

A few years ago, other things were lacking, too. Our officers didn’t have phones, or even email addresses. Now, every NYPD cop has a department-issued smartphone and all patrol vehicles are equipped with tablets. Officers have real-time crime data at their fingertips and use that technology every day.

And now – via those phones and email addresses – they’re in direct contact with community members and, just as importantly, with each other. Day-shift and night-shift officers from the same sectors are instantaneously sharing intelligence about emerging problems across a secure communications network.

With all the talk about our newest initiatives, let me remind you that the daily work of the NYPD – counterterrorism and traditional crime-fighting – continues around the clock, in all five boroughs.

We now have about 1,600 expertly-trained officers who supplement our elite Emergency Service Unit. Those assigned to our Critical Response Command are tasked with protecting sites and infrastructure around the city. And those in our Strategic Response Group also have quick access to long guns, should they need to rapidly respond to any emerging threat, including an active-shooter situation or other terror incident.

They are informed, of course, by our first-rate Intelligence Bureau – an industry leader in detecting, deciphering, and responding to an ever-changing threat stream of information. Supporting these efforts in a way that is unique to the NYPD, and second-to-none anywhere else in the world, is our International Liaison Program, funded by the Police Foundation through many of you in this room today.

Thank you for your ongoing support in this effort. Due to your help, the NYPD has more than a dozen detectives embedded with police agencies in cities across the globe, ready to quickly and accurately share information with our local, state, federal, and international law enforcement partners.

It’s an invaluable program that enables our cops here to more quickly understand and react to situations unfolding elsewhere in the world. Because everything that happens in other countries, and in other cities, directly affects all New Yorkers.

And all New Yorkers is what this is all about. We want all New Yorkers to feel they have a stake in our collective public safety. And today, I’m inviting all New Yorkers to share responsibility for the safety of your city. Our vision of neighborhood policing – officers protecting individual neighborhoods with the help of a fully-engaged community – is here.

Join us as we take New York City into an even greater future.

Thank you for your attention this morning. I’ll be happy to take some of your questions in about three minutes. First, I want to show you a quick video we put together for a department training conference this week – but which, I think, will also do a great job of demonstrating to you – in very real terms – many of the things I’ve just spoken about.

And I’d like for you to see it now. Please play the video, thank you.