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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

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Internet resources for what you need to know about NYC Crime and Police
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
"Crime/Police" refers to criminal activity, the efforts to combat it, and its impact on city life. Near-synonyms:Criminal Justice; Public Safety.
The Context
The decline in the NYC crime rate may be the greatest story of the decade. But in the wake of the Louima and Diallo cases, NYPD practices have come under scrutiny. Accusations of racial bias, abuse of power and infringement on civil liberties abound. What is the balance between civil liberty and civil order? Who decides?
The Reporter
Jessica Green is a student of public policy at Columbia University's Graduate School of International and Public Affairs.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Crime and Justice.

by Jessica Green

In the News: National Night Out and Community Policing

(Aug-Sept '00)The last year has been a difficult one for the New York Police Department: the police shootings of Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond; the subsequent acquittal of the officers involved in the Diallo case; the lack of diplomacy by Commissioner Safir and Mayor Giuliani. All have increased the mistrust that many have felt toward the police for a long time.

But for the past 16 years, something out of the ordinary occurs on the first Tuesday night of August, and this year is no different. It is called National Night Out -- an evening of cooperation, communication, celebration, a series of activities throughout the country and throughout the city including basketball games between precinct teams and community groups, live music, staffed information booths, and magic shows. National Night Out is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch, the same group that sponsors Neighborhood Watch groups.

The success of National Night Out is irrefutable: Since its founding in 1984, it has grown to involve over 30 million people in more than 9,000 communities. It is part of a growing trend toward community policing - a crime-fighting strategy based on the idea that a strong relationship between the police and the community is the key to lower crime rates. Most frequently, such a relationship is forged by having beat cops patrol the same areas, often on foot, so that area residents come to know their police officers. Other basic strategies of community policing involve outreach programs and community collaboration. Both the National Center for Community Policing and offer what amounts to a primer on community policing - - its history, implementation and results.

The NYPD runs a host of programs to involve community residents and respond to their needs. Just last month, a Staten Island prosecutor announced the opening of a community office in Tottenville. The purpose of the field office, District Attorney William Murphy said, is to work more closely with the residents to identify community needs and issues, and "to solve problems before they begin."

Staten Island is not alone. Every precinct in the City has its own programs and community policing unit. Here are just a few examples:

  • Auxiliary Police Program. The 111th precinct in Bayside is one of several precincts throughout the city where civilians are trained to be volunteers of the department. Wearing uniforms and patrolling in groups, they act as the eyes and ears of police, often at large community events where security is necessary.
  • Model Block Program. Tenants organize block associations to monitor and maintain the quality of their block.
  • Precinct Open Houses. This is meant to encourage informal interactions between police and the community.
  • Youth Programs. A variety of youth programs are in place across the City, including the "Explorers Program." Open to high schoolers, these Explorers meet once a week at the precinct. Activities range from participating in community functions, such as parades and fairs, to field trips to law enforcement agencies, to rollerblading and athletic activities. During the school year 1998-99, the Explorers program and other youth programs reached over 117,000 youths.
  • Domestic Violence Program. The 83rd precinct in Bushwick tracks all domestic violence cases reported. It collaborates with the Victims Service Agency to provide counseling and social services to battered women.

Critics say these programs are little more than a gesture, and that racism and abuse of power persist within the department. The US Commission on Civil Rights released a widely-publicized report in June which found that the NYPD was guilty of racial profiling in its stop-and-frisk practices. Among its recommendations: adopt community policing strategies -- specifically, encourage more officers to live in the areas they police.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development's "Officer Next Door" program is trying to do just that, by offering police officers 50 percent savings on a home that they purchase in designated "revitalization areas" in inner city neighborhoods across the country. There are 53 such areas in New York City. It is unclear as of yet how many officers have taken advantage of the offer.

A recently released report on the New York Police Department's disciplinary actions against officers found that, despite the greater attention brought by the high-profile cases, there was actually a 25 percent drop in the allegations of police brutality last year. Public Advocate Mark Green also produced a report, though with far more damning statistics, entitled Disciplining Police: Solving the Problem of Police Misconduct. Whether the situation of police brutality is getting worse or getting better, many suggest that one way to curtail it is through community policing.

Five Sites For Beginners:

  • NYPD - "Just the facts ma'am." The official site for the Finest, with the official information: precincts, crimestoppers, FAQs. All right, so the site exists in a vacuum. What did you expect, a page on policy brutality?
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation, Unit for Crime Reports - This nationwide cooperative effort provides statistics on crime as reported from over 17,000 city, county and state law enforcement entities. Every crime statistic imaginable, all in downloadable format. Especially dramatic: the Crime Clock in the executive summary.
  • Vera Institute for Justice - Non-profit foundation that works with State and Federal governments to study and implement policy. Impressive range of topics, especially on what happens after the crime is committed (e.g. drug rehab, ex-offenders, sentencing).
  • New York State Assembly - Unveils Public Safety 2000: an 8-point crimebusting proposal from the Democratic-controlled Assembly. The criminal is political--check out the anti-Pataki potshots for a preview of where Albany's battle lines will be drawn.
  • Essential Information on Abuse, Assault, Rape & Domestic Violence - No catchy acronyms here. The site seems oddly personal at first (it was set up by a mother-daughter team), but contains loads of links and resources for anyone who needs to know where to turn.

Other Recommendations:

  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving - Comprehensive and informative, and especially timely now that the new car seizure laws are in place. With stats on local DUI rates and info on NY chapters.
  • Families Against Mandatory Minimums - As the nation's prison population nears 2 million inmates, most for non-violent (read: drug-related) offenses, even conservative commentators are seeking to repeal mandatory-minimum drug sentencing laws. FAMM's site includes a brief history (including a section on NY's Rockefeller drug laws), updates on pending legislation, and stories from prisoners and their families.
  • NYC Dept. of Corrections - Dig a little to find revealing stats and information about NYC's jails (e.g. average annual cost per inmate, 1998: $45,026). In the archive section, check out the timeline of NYC's correctional facilities (did you know City Hall once housed dangerous prisoners in the basement?)
  • Financial Scandals - A good introduction to Wall Street crooks and classic heists, among other corporate crimes. Too text-heavy, but don't miss the section on pension fund scandals before you hand your Social Security money to J.P. Morgan.
  • The John Gotti Tribute Page - Free John Gotti! An amusing mafia site that includes lessons on Italian profanities and a rant against the "Witless Protection Program." Also provides a good Links page for those interested in more traditional approaches to Organized Crime.

Visit the Topic Archives!

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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