Community Policing, College Courses and Other Ways Forward for the Nation’s Largest Police Force

by Carole Byrd and Allison Roda  
Published in The Hechinger Report, July 13, 2020

The recent police killings of unarmed Black men and women have brought renewed attention to the problems of racism and anti-Blackness pervasive in U.S. society. In a recent article looking at the challenges of police education across the nation, The Hechinger Report's Caroline Preston called it "a moment of reckoning" that was leading some of those who train and educate police "to examine their role in preparing officers for a profession responsible for so much senseless violence." 

We are two sociology professors who live and do research in New York City. One of us is a retired NYPD detective. Like much of the country, our city has seen many protests against police brutality. With 36,000 police officers serving over 8.5 million residents, New York City's police department is the largest in the country. We have concluded that the city must reimagine the culture of its police department with community-policing reform. 

Community policing is a strategy that abolishes the institution of policing as we know it and changes the culture of policing by spending less on enforcement and more on services that lead to lower crime rates. 

It includes better selection of police recruits, ongoing cultural-sensitivity training and evaluation, and progressive policies and practices to change how police interact with the public. 

Similar to proposals to defund the police and remove them from schools, cuts in police overtime and personnel budgets are reallocated to social-service agencies, including hiring more guidance counselors and social workers to promote students' social-emotional health and well-being. 

In 2018, the New York City police force implemented what was called "neighborhood policing." The problem is that this model of policing does not go far enough to instill more trust or confidence in the police as an institution - actually, it instills less. Neighborhood policing is a "crime-fighting" strategy that assigns two designated neighborhood police per sector (or neighborhood) whose job is to be the liaison between police officers and the community. It is different than community policing because it does not change the culture of all police officers, just a select few. 

What is lacking in police culture right now is both an understanding of racial, ethnic and cultural diversity, as well as a deep exploration of police officers' own implicit biases related to race and class - and community-policing reform can greatly improve this problem. 

Community policing in Europe has shown that successful partnerships can be made with other social-service agencies, like schools, local government officials, the business community and youth groups. In the experience of Carole Byrd, co-author of this op-ed, community members are a police officer's best "back-up" if needed. People in the city want to feel safe; knowing that there are officers on foot patrol whom they can go to is vitally important. Community policing's main goal is to gain trust from historically marginalized communities of color. 

As the police killings of unarmed Black men and women continue in this country, we have asked ourselves what can be done. Co-author Byrd has conducted an informal survey with her colleagues who have served New York City communities as police officers, detectives, sergeants and lieutenants. These suggestions and opinions are based on years of experience residing and working within the city, and practical recommendations from other policing initiatives: 

  1. A revamped police-academy admissions process: New requirements should include an interview and/or implicit bias test to assess a candidate's level of bias or prejudice toward urban communities of color. Greater effort and incentives should be placed on the recruitment of new police candidates within New York City. These recruitment efforts should begin in high school, and potential candidates and police education should include mentoring by community-assigned police officers. A critical review of the Applicant Processing Unit, to eliminate any possible bias, is also needed. 
  2. New prerequisites for entering the academy: Surveyed colleagues stressed the importance of residency, education and community-service requirements for recruits before entering the academy. Recruits should be required to have lived in the city for two years prior to being hired and should live in the city until they complete their probation and reach full-pay status. Police recruited from outside the city must be re-socialized to a new environment. Prerequisite college coursework should include classes like Urban Sociology and Race and Ethnic Relations. Community service should be required for at least three hours each week or 12 hours per month. This experience provides insight into people in urban cities and theirs way of life, culture, race, religion and orientation. 
  3. Anti-bias training and policies: The police department should implement more progressive policies to ensure police recruits and officers are offered ongoing training and educational opportunities to better understand the communities they serve and treat them with respect. That means eliminating quotas, no-knock warrants and unwarranted petty summonses while adding more foot patrols, volunteering and community-outreach events and a mandate for police officers to complete yearly training, including training to see themselves as "facilitators and conveners."

 
Policing is a noble profession, and officers must demonstrate pride, integrity and professionalism to ensure the safety of all. This is not about good or bad cops. Most police, of course, care about the communities they serve and protect. We are calling on the New York Police Commissioner and Mayor Bill de Blasio to reimagine the policing institution as we know it, and replace it with community policing. 

Community policing promotes a police relationship with urban communities that is harmonious and productive, that partners with social-service agencies and that restores desperately needed community trust in the police. 

This story about educating the police force in New York was produced by The Hechinger Report

Carole Byrd, a retired New York City detective who served for over 25 years, is an adjunct professor who teaches the sociology of race and a doctoral student at Molloy College about to embark on her dissertation that will examine police recruitment and cultural awareness. Allison Roda is a faculty member at Molloy College who studies race and education.