Viewpoint: What NYPD Really Needs: Polite Police

In order to really reform street policing, the NYPD needs to reduce the volume of stops and the indignity of the process

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The federal judge’s verdict in Floyd v. City of New York brings a bitter debate about the costs and benefits of aggressive street policing to center stage in New York, but without any real promise that the controversy can be conclusively resolved. The parties talk past each other. Those who support stop-and-frisk policies tell us that changes in street policing have made a major contribution to the huge crime reductions in New York over the past two decades, and they are right. Critics of New York policing tell us that young men of color have been the target of millions of aggressive and frequently hostile police interventions when their only offense was appearing in public, and these critics are right too.  The current system in New York City helps keep the city safe but at enormous cost to the security and dignity of youth. Can we lower the costs that aggressive policy produces without taking public safety risks? Even if we could outline the kinds of changes we wish to see, how can we create a consensus to produce such changes instead of the current shouting match?

(MORE: New York ‘Stop and Frisk’ Ruling: When Violated Rights Lead to Federal Intervention)

The first important step toward progress will be for the parties to step away from the litigation mindset. To continue to think of the issues in zero-sum terms would make any major progress in reducing abusive police conduct difficult at best. The kinds of improvements in police training and accountability that Judge Scheindlin hopes to produce cannot flow directly from the adversary process. For a court-appointed monitor to work well in any reform of the training, documentation, and evaluation of street policing will require cooperation much more than deterrence, diplomacy rather than dispute. The consent decree that worked best in the recent history of police reform was in Los Angeles, where a new police chief (William Bratton) who had not been a party to earlier conflicts was appointed as a deliberate instrument of management reform. In Oakland, by contrast, the city delayed the effectiveness of a consent decree for at least a decade, much to the detriment of public safety as well as police reform.

Yet even with the best intentions, reforms in the content of street policing are no easy matter. For starters, the concentration of street stops in high crime neighborhoods makes sense as crime control and must continue. Since about 90 percent of all people arrested in New York for robbery and burglary in 2007 were black and Hispanic males, it would not be easy to reduce an equally high percentage of stops.

But there are two aspects of street policing that can produce real and substantial reductions in this tax on young minority males. The volume of street stops can be reduced from the peak rates of recent years. At some point, fewer stops might impinge on crime prevention, but we don’t know where to draw that line at present. And “testing down” with this costly tactic is probably the best way to find the tipping point. Careful experiments in selected high crime areas can determine whether and to what extent the same levels of policing but with fewer stops produces equivalent community protection.

(MORE: The Real Signs of Black Power)

But the most important reform to stop-and-frisk tactics will be reducing the hostility and indignity of the process. Most of the young men stopped on the street are not committing crimes. Only badly trained cops need to make street stops into contests of domination. Street policing can be firm but polite and respectful, and the very concentration of such efforts in those neighborhoods most impoverished for municipal respect makes a polite police force even more necessary. One need look no further than the achievements of William Bratton and his successor in Los Angeles to find effective preventive policing with less complaint about humiliation of its subjects. The more police can move away from a hostile demeanor during street stops, the lower the costs of those stops to the communities that are the center of police attention. Good public relations will be a critical element in effective and affordable preventive policing.

Zimring is the William G. Simon Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of The City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control, which Oxford University Press will release in paperback next month. The views expressed are solely his own. 

25 comments
collioure
collioure

Of courrse, send them all to charm school.

Really now!

jodyschmidt2010
jodyschmidt2010

Not sure if I represent a larger voice here, but I'm a little intimidated by the idea of a polite law enforcement person who smiles courteously while he cuffs you and takes you away. I guess too much 1970s television got me used to the idea that the gruff nasty cop is more likely to satisfy his urge to kick ass by balling someone out for a while then maybe citing him for something and possibly being flexible and letting him run off if all he did was tag up a wall or break a window. Maybe I'm delusional. Polite cops are NOT the answer in my book, but that is just my opinion. I prefer them disrespectful and brutish rather than polite but unwavering like Robocop. However, the unattainable ideal of polite AND judicious and moderate in application and enforcement? That would be cool, but very unlikely considering the nature of most people who choose to be in law enforcement.

NeilStrachan
NeilStrachan

Those women are Photoshopped into that photo.  The cop is real.  The women are real.  But they were never together until this article.

NeilStrachan
NeilStrachan like.author.displayName 1 Like

Cop for San Diego – four years.Friendly was how I initially handled everyone.Then came firm.Then came “turn around and put your hands behind your back”.I was only out of line once – a women next door to a big domestic disturbance kept insisting to get into the house.I told her to get her “f**king ass” in her own house, or she was going to jail.  Do you need to know her description (white and ugly)?  Oops.If you don’t want to be stopped and possibly go to jail, don’t dress like a bad guy, and watch your mouth.While I always stayed friendly or firm, your mouth had a lot to do with getting a ticket to traffic court or jail.

wpkatz
wpkatz like.author.displayName 1 Like

@NeilStrachan

"Do you need to know her description (white and ugly)?" shows your attitude towards the people you patrolled. And whoever tried to make you aware of your demeaning attitude "bad mouthed" you and went to jail? Great cop, wonder whatever you considered "friendly" at the start.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@wpkatz @NeilStrachan i wonder how many times you been arrested for being a moron, and mouthing off to cops trying to do there jobs, your hate for cops is without a doubt showing.

splash
splash

@NeilStrachan its obviously you who belong in jail if you are putting people in jail based on their attitude towards you

NeilStrachan
NeilStrachan

@splash @NeilStrachan I never put anyone in jail who had not committed a crime.  In fact, on one occasion a sergeant ordered me to arrest at a public disturbance and fight a man for drunk in public.  I told him "Sarge, if you want him arrested, you can do it.  He is not drunk."

skipshot19
skipshot19

@NeilStrachan @splash san diego actually revised their policing in the eighties and nineties by reducing the amount of swat team calls and putting more cops on the beat. this was the chiefs decision after a few raids ended up killing a bunch of people. the fact you don't know that probably means you're not really a police officer.

NeilStrachan
NeilStrachan

@splash @NeilStrachan Too bad we cannot meet and talk.  Police misbehave.  No question about it.  However, as to "common" I have to disagree.  In fact, I was shocked how little substantial misbehaving there was in San Diego.  I actually saw only two occasions.  Once, as a rookie, I was in a two man car, and chased down a young man who ran from us as we drove by.  I caught him (man, was i ever fast then), and my partner jogged up and slugged him in the stomach.  I asked why he did that.  He said, "So he won't run again."  I thought "He'll just run faster."  Second, in Ocean Beach during a riot, a cop lost it and started yelling at everybody.  What was a controlled group of people turned into a riot.  Best job I ever had.  I got to help people every day.  Then, I became an attorney.  Worst job I ever had.

splash
splash

@NeilStrachan @splash ok, but it seems like you are contradicting what you said before. Police misbehaving are as common as the people they patrol in many areas not just in the USA but over the world

tbone88
tbone88

Way to prove the authors point, Openminded1. The tone of your comment suggests you have a real attitude problem, and probably a napoleon complex. Despite your incomprehensible rant, the author was simply trying to make the point that the real issue is not so much racial profiling as it is the attitude of many beat and rookie cops. This is something many New Yorker's, both black and white, have experienced firsthand. In fact, the sad reality is that if this was an issue only affecting blacks, there probably would be no real changes being made. Fortunately, or unfortunately for unprofessional, rude officers such as yourself, New Yorkers of all races and backgrounds have had interactions with police that have raised concerns about professionalism and procedure. Please don't insult my intelligence or that of others who feel the same way by saying I don't understand the difficulty or nature of your job. Yes, you have a tough job - we all do. The truth is many of the imminent reforms will be good for both the public and the police. Having officers wear cameras in Rialto, CA has helped officers be exonerated against false accusations and has led to the discipline of the few bad apples. In the end, everyone wins. Well, everyone except unprofessional, rude officers such as yourself.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@tbone88 kiss my ass tbone, how many times have you been arrested/ is that rude enough for you punk.

Openminded1
Openminded1 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@tbone88 First off moron I am now retired after 30 years without a complaint from the so called good citizen. I attained the rank of Commander on my dept which is a one star chief in most large depts. I was never rude I was stern many times and was not always PC but not rude. since you do not know me you assume a lot. I just say it like it is, not the PC crap. And the authors point was not proven except in the fact he must be race card monger like REV Al. And by the way moron I am black shows how much you know. And for guy with no law enforcement background who has never worked the streets of a major city what the hell do you know about cops other then what the media dispels to sell the news. Beat and rookie cops make mistakes the bad ones never make it to far the good one learn. I have arrested cops they are not gods they put there pants on the same way as you. My point was why did the author have to show 3 black women and a white cop, you think that was a chance thing do you? Because if you think that, i am glad you were never a beat cop.

wpkatz
wpkatz

openmided1

Calling people you talk to "moron" reveals enough about you. And I wonder whether someone who can hardly write proper English (you write as you talk, but words can sound alike but spell differently, like there and their) really can rise to Commander.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@wpkatz As a street cop something you know nothing about using the word moron for stupid people is going lightly on them. And if you are a moron then the shoe fits. and you do not write as you talk, I am typing fast with out spell check and  know the difference between there and their and when to use them, but did not think this was a English class nor did I proof read. My rank was attained by good police work and passing the test given by the city up to the rank of captain, after that rank moron you are promoted by the chief. i guess i was articulate enough for him and the news media since i spoke for the city in reference to major crimes. stick to something you know you hate for cops is showing and so is your ignorance.

Openminded1
Openminded1 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

And notice the author professor Simon chose to use a picture of a white police officer in time square with 3 black woman. Little message there Professor. What no black officers on duty that day in time square or white woman or people walking around at that time in the afternoon in New YorKs time square? Who are you kidding Moron use the race card to get people talking and upset and to hate whitey more. Do you think black officers have not stopped and frisked white people, because i can tell you I have many times in my career. Funny I never received a complaint about racism from one white person in 30 years.

NeilStrachan
NeilStrachan

@Openminded1 Did you notice that the photo is fake?  It was Photoshopped.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@NeilStrachan @Openminded1 Yes that is why i made the statement I made , I knew it was done on purpose. by the way i am an old friend of a former SD police chief Intials BK

NeilStrachan
NeilStrachan

@Openminded1 @NeilStrachan He was the best.  He hired me, and then I worked for him in the legal advisor's office.  He really worked on getting the idea of community policing into actual action and involvement of cops into the community.  Almost every cop I ever knew wanted only the best for the public and for individual people.