Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a plan he said would effectively bring communities into the hiring process for NYPD precinct commanders. It was received with praise as an important step in the right direction, but was also criticized as just window dressing.
On Jan. 28, de Blasio announced when a precinct commander position opens, the NYPD will provide three to five candidates to the neighborhood precinct council for interviews. After making a recommendation, the police commissioner will make the final decision on which candidate to hire.
“This is unprecedented in the history of NYPD,” the mayor said. “We’re bringing the voices of the community forward to determine who would be the right leader.”
He added the process would improve dialogue and accountability, and would give community members “a sense of real, real buy-in.”
“I think it’s going to help us improve the work on the ground and deepen that bond.”
De Blasio credited Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former police officer, with the idea. The policy change comes against the backdrop of a history of NYPD racial profiling in communities of color, which prompted calls for a switch to neighborhood policing instead of heavy-handed tactics.
“Community policing must be responsive to what a community wants and needs,” Adams said. “I commend Mayor de Blasio for hearing our call to bring the precinct commander selection process into the sunlight.”
NYPD Police Commissioner Dermot Shea gave the plan a thumbs-up. “People want to feel a connection to their NYPD and especially at the leadership positions. And this, I think, really goes very far into building that trust both ways.”
But does the plan go far enough?
For some community activists, the plan is dead on arrival.
“I see this as just optics. At the end of the day, it’s still the police commissioner who makes the final decision,” Anthony Beckford, the president and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Brooklyn, told BK Reader.
Beckford, an East Flatbush native who’s also a candidate for Council District 45, said it was a good idea, but didn’t go far enough. The police commissioner will hire his preferred candidate with ties to the police union, he predicted.
“We need a system in which the community not only interviews, but also makes the final decision on who to hire,” he said.
“We have been falsely told that community policing is about officers talking to us. No. Community policing is about community control of the police. When the community can hire and fire then you have true accountability.”
A move in the right direction
Gardy Brazela, president of 69th Precinct Community Council in Canarsie, told BK Reader the new practice was a start and a move in the right direction.
“This is a good thing because I believe that the community should have input in who is coming into our neighborhoods,” Brazela said.
Brazela, a candidate for Council District 46, continued: “The council decides which of the candidates are a good fit for the community, and I think the commissioner will honor the community’s request.”
He pointed to the NYPD transfer of Deputy Inspector Terrell Anderson in June from the 69th Precinct to the 73rd Precinct in Brownsville as an example of the commissioner listening to the community.
The 73rd Precinct’s ousted commander, Deputy Inspector Craig Edelman, who is white, came under investigation after a video surfaced of an officer in his precinct shoving a woman to the ground during a George Floyd protest in Brooklyn. Edelman was standing behind the officer. The two cops walked away as the protester curls up, clutching her head while still on the ground.
Even before the incident, many Brownsville residents called for Edelman’s removal and were pleased that the commissioner made the switch. Anderson, who is African American, grew up in the predominantly Black neighborhood and has a connection with the community.
According to Brazela the community’s input led to Anderson’s transfer to Brownsville.
“If it worked for the 73rd Precinct, it would work for the other communities,” he said.
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