BY HELEN KLEIN & ARIAMA LONG
As part of the NYPD’s effort to build a better, more responsive police force, the agency has debuted its Neighborhood Coordination Officers program in southwest Brooklyn’s 68th Precinct, the goal of which is to tackle problems that affect the quality of life for residents as well as fight crime on a long-term basis, instead of just responding to emergency situations.
Curious residents packed the auditorium at Xaverian High School, 7100 Shore Road, ready with questions about the new program announced on Tuesday, July 31 at a special kick-off meeting, held two weeks after the new cadre of police officers hit the streets on Monday, July 16.
In his presentation, Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison said, “There are words we keep repeating, like change, trust, relationships, communication and being a part of the community.” He stressed that old practices that have included constantly shuffling officers around the city, as well as a system that only connected cops and community in stressful situations, such as after a 911 call, don’t inspire trust from the community.
“We have to work together,” urged Harrison. “There has to be a trust, a relationship. We have to make sure there’s community engagement.”
To that end, there will be two designated Neighborhood Coordinator Officers (NCOs) in each of the four sectors that make up the 68th Precinct, encompassing Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, who will create their own hours to be available when they are needed to tackle specific problems arising in their sectors, hold their own meetings with residents, merchants and other stakeholders, and make themselves available via phone and email to those who live or work within the sectors.
“They are going to be in the same area every single day,” said Harrison, “getting to know the people, their concerns, their problems.”
Some other major changes include having dedicated officers in patrol vehicles (two per shift, with two officers in each) assigned to the sectors in order to get to know their community. All of these dedicated sector personnel will be supported by precinct-wide response vehicles, and community partners, area residents and merchants who, in many cases, are already providing the precinct with information and support.
Harrison told his listeners that the “new philosophy” encapsulated in the NCO program represented “a new way of becoming a better police department,” and stressed that program-specific innovations such as “Build-a-Block” meetings, held quarterly by the NCOs, as well as contacting NCOs through social media platforms, and alternating shifts to encourage the community and police officers to connect anytime, have already proven very effective in other precincts, such as the 75th in East New York.
While crime numbers have been at record lows around the city, he added, “Even with the numbers, we’re not happy because we’re still not there. There’s still a disconnect. We still want to get better.”
The 68th Precinct’s NCO team is headed by Sgt. Gerard Iucci, who was introduced by the precinct’s commanding officer, Captain Robert Conwell, who also introduced seven of the eight officers (excluding P.O. Nancy Afaneh who was on vacation) who will be serving as NCOs. None is new to the precinct; all have been chosen in part based on their experience working in the community already.
NCOs Laurie Caputo, Christopher Alverio, Patrick Memi, Jefrey Lau, Manuel Martinez, Lumumba David and Mina Ghandour wasted no time in getting to work after introducing themselves. Dozens of concerned community members discussed their individual problems with them as soon as the meeting concluded.
“This is a big moment for our community,” said Councilmember Justin Brannan in an official statement, “The 68th Precinct is a perfect fit for the innovative neighborhood policing philosophy. I am confident it will go a very long way not only towards keeping crime at record lows and giving more attention to quality-of-life issues but building on the important mission of improving trust between cops and the people they serve.”