TIQ: How does the NCO differ from the old Community Police Officer on Patrol (C-POP)?
O’NEILL: I was a precinct commander from 1998 to almost 2005, and I had C-POP cops in the 25th Precinct and Central Park, and the biggest problem we had back then was they lost the connection to fighting crime. They became more about community outreach and making relationships. We get paid to keep people safe. From the beginning, [Chief of Department] Terry Monahan, [Chief of Patrol] Rodney Harrison, myself, when we talk about it, this is a crime-fighting strategy. There’s always been that dichotomy between community relations and fighting crime, but that’s a false dichotomy.
TIQ: So was there animosity between the cops doing the crimefighting and the officer assigned to community relations?
O’NEILL: I wouldn’t say animosity or that they’re not “real” cops, but maybe “they don’t do as much as I do.” I think that the way we have the program structured now, I’m not hearing that. And we want to make sure that the NCOs don’t become a separate part of the Police Department. We’re not looking for them to become specialists again, we’re looking for them to maintain that generalist feeling, to work with the steady sector cops, work with the Detective Bureau, work with Narcotics and work with whatever resources they need, to resolve whatever issues come up in the course of their everyday duties.
It’s all about building trust. I know back in 2014 with [Eric] Garner and Ferguson [Missouri], throughout the city we lost a lot of that trust. I really thought about this when I was a commander back in the Bronx. I saw that there was almost two separate police departments, there were sector cops and the people doing the summary police work. You have to make sure that the NCOs and steady sectors get to know the people on the block.
TIQ: What’s the biggest obstacle to implementing Neighborhood Policing in a precinct?
O’NEILL: Making sure you have the right number of cops. We added cops in a couple of different ways, and we’re continuing to do it. We looked at every unit in the Police Department, especially administrative units, and put 700 people back on patrol at the precinct level. The City Council and mayor a couple of years ago allowed us to increase the headcount by 1,300 cops. So we actually increased our patrol strength by almost 2,000 officers.
TIQ: How does Neighborhood Policing work on commercial strips? How can business owners help police keep retail areas safe?
O’NEILL: Everybody has a smart phone now, everybody has an email address, If there’s an issue, if there’s a problem, there’s a way to connect directly with the cops now. I think that’s the biggest difference.