Policing In Bed-Stuy: Crime Down, Diversity Up

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This piece was the springboard for a discussion on The Brian Lehrer Show on Sept. 1. For details, click here.

No one would justify the police discourtesy that Coriel Gaffney says she witnessed or heard about in Bedford-Stuyvesant. There’s another side to the story, however, to one incident she said was the “worst.”

She also cites statistics that in one instance are wrong, and in others distorted. It’s important for New Yorkers to know just how well their police force does in fact reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of our city.

The increased diversity of the department in recent years is reflected in the fact that more than 52 percent in the rank of police officers are non-white. When civilians are included, such as traffic enforcement agents, school safety agents and 911 operators, the overall population of the NYPD is 59 percent non-white.

Contrary to the oft-repeated myth of a suburbanite-dominated force, most NYPD officers live in the five boroughs. The NYPD is the by far the most diverse police department in the nation.

Also, since his second tour leading the department began in 2002, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has increased through discretionary promotions the number of blacks and Hispanics in ranks above captain by 40 percent, with similar improvements in lower ranks. In fact, blacks and other non-whites comprise the majority of the recently graduated police officers Ms. Gaffney decries.

As to her proposal that the police “better match” the neighborhoods they protect, the NYPD in fact reflects the city’s diversity. In Bedford Stuyvesant, the patrol force is 62 percent non-white. We’re not about to resort, however, to the long discredited practice among police departments, especially in the South, of assigning black officers only to black neighborhoods.

She restates the tired and distorted statistic that 90 percent of suspects shot by police were black or Hispanic without reporting that so were more than 90 percent of the suspects who shot police and others. Similarly, she conveniently omitted the fact that blacks and Hispanics also comprise 90 percent of the victims of violent crime, and that their descriptions of suspects comport with police stops.

If police shootings and stops were to mirror the general characteristics of the city’s population, as she suggests they should, more than 50 percent of suspects shot or stopped by police would be women. Of course, they are not.

The shoddy distortion of statistics by those she cites constitutes the worst kind of race-baiting, and only aggravates the tensions that have historically plagued the police and minority communities that both have worked earnestly to diminish.

As an acknowledged newcomer to the neighborhood, Ms. Gaffney may be forgiven her apparent ignorance of the depth of the crime fighting that has made Bedford Stuyvesant vastly safer for its long-time residents, as well as those, like her, in the vanguard of gentrification.

Crime overall is down in Bedford Stuyvesant by 15 percent from last year, down 28 percent from 2001, and down 70 percent from 1994.

Her passing lip service to the crime decline indicates she may not be aware that so far this year in Bedford Stuyvesant, police officers have made three arrests for murder, seven for rape, 22 for car theft, 35 for grand larceny, 41 for burglary, 114 for robbery, and 168 for assault.

Any of the above may provide context to the large police response Ms. Gaffney said she saw earlier this month, but didn’t know what prompted it. It turns out that police were responding to an assault in progress and the subsequent flight of the assailant. A petite woman was being pummeled by an assailant weighing 185 pounds and standing 6-feet-2-inches tall. He punched the woman numerous times in the face and stomach before slamming her to sidewalk. The assailant fled, was captured and arrested, and then charged with assault, harassment, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. As officers struggled with the assailant (he violently fought being handcuffed), another individual taunted them with vulgarities. He adopted a fighting posture after ignoring repeated, lawful orders to move on. He was arrested for disorderly conduct and for an outstanding warrant for drinking in public.

Ms. Gaffney is also dismissive of a police officer’s recommendation to call 311 to register a complaint, when, in fact, that was very good advice. Since its inception in recent years, 311 has become the most popular, and certainly the easiest, way for the public to file complaints with the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Incidentally, the board, through its own investigators, has also identified and brought charges against police officers even when the complainant could not positively identify them.

Finally, the newly-minted officers assigned to Operation Impact graduated from the most racially and ethnically diverse Police Academy classes in the department’s history, with officers from racial minorities constituting the majority. One out of every five was born overseas, making an ethnically diverse and multilingual cadre that is the envy of law enforcement the world over.

Like the seasoned officers who supervise them, they are not perfect. But their presence in Bedford Stuyvesant and elsewhere in the city has saved hundreds of lives in the last seven years.

Can we do better? Yes.

In driving home the importance of courtesy, professionalism and respect, the NYPD trains against the types of incidents described by Ms. Gaffney. The training is introduced at the Police Academy and reinforced in in-service training afterwards.

We also strive to do better in crime fighting.

Despite their remarkable success, the young officers Ms. Gaffney faults will continue to do all they can to save more lives – even at risk to their own – of both the poor residents of Bedford Stuyvesant and the area’s newer, wealthier arrivals.

– Paul J. Browne

Paul J. Browne has been the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information since 2004, and has held a variety of other police department and federal government positions. A Bronx native, he also worked as a newspaper reporter and press secretary for the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and former state Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye.