TIQ: In your own words, how does the Neighborhood Policing Plan differ from the city’s old approach to public safety?
O’NEILL: In the old model of policing, officers didn’t have an opportunity to make a connection to anyone. On a regular day, a police car could handle 20 to 25 radio runs in seven-and-a-half hours with an hour for meal, but sometime they didn’t even get a meal. You’re answering 911 jobs all day long, and the other time is spent doing some sort of summary police work, so they’re really not making the connections they need to make. The only people doing community work are the precinct commander and the two, possibly three, Community Affairs officers.
If you want to have that connection to the people in the community, it has to be everybody. So with neighborhood policing, we re-sectored all of the neighborhood policing commands. So now the 44th Precinct has five sectors, and we tried our best to make sure each sector represented natural neighborhood boundaries. Plus we created a position called the Neighborhood Coordination Officer (NCO), with two NCO’s for each sector.
TIQ: What is the primary responsibility of the NCO?
O’NEILL: The NCO’s job is to be the conduit between the community and the steady sector cops. The biggest part of neighborhood policing is that we’ve worked it out so that we have enough police officer that the steady sector cops have up to one-third of their day when they’re not answering radio runs. They actually have the time to go out and meet people, and while there’s other issues that need to be addressed – quality of life, traffic issues – now instead of just the precinct commander and the Community Affairs cops going to the community meetings or tenant association meetings or the business meetings, the NCOs and sector cops go too.
TIQ: What qualities does a good NCO have?
O’NEILL: Communication skills. I went back to the 44th a couple of months ago and sat down with the NCO sergeant, and you could see it in their faces and hear it in their voices. They actually have the time to make connections now and use discretion. Every sector is holding “Build a Block” meetings. The NCOs and steady sectors go to these meetings – no sergeants, no lieutenants, no captains – and they run the meetings and they hear directly from the people who live there what the issues are and possible solutions.
TIQ: What has been the response from rank-and-file members?
O’NEILL: We’re getting really positive feedback from the police officers. We went from a specialist police force back to a being a more generalist police force. The cops feel that there is accountability and like that we maintain sector integrity. Anything that happens in the sector, if they don’t take care of it today, guess what? When you come back tomorrow, you still have to take care of it because you’re not assigned to another sector. It’s a good way to build leadership, too.