This blog post is part of a series highlighting best practices in community policing by police departments throughout the United States as part of IACP’s Community Policing: The Next Generation project. The project showcases modern, innovative, and cost-effective solutions to crime problems and public safety issues through collaboration and partnerships between law enforcement and community stakeholders in order to adapt community policing efforts. The project is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
Guest blogger: Sergeant Paul Grattan, New York City, New York, Police Department Transit Bureau
How do you build a relationship with a community made up of millions on the move? For the past two years some of the members of the New York City Police Department’s Transit Bureau have set upon answering this question. Recognizing a community engagement opportunity, they responded creatively.
I’m talking about the millions throughout the country who use our urban transportation systems. Here in New York City, some 5.6 million people rely on the subway each day to get them where they need to be. Policing metropolitan railways and buses is no small task in itself – but as we have recognized in our traditional neighborhoods for years, the citizens who take to the rails deserve to have a worthwhile relationship with the women and men who help to see them safely on their way.
There are no well-defined communities in the hurried world that exists between point A and point B. The subways are a conveyance, with lines that traverse the neighborhoods that they carry riders through. For practical police response, our transit district borders are built around train lines and stations, not around the better known residential areas above or below the rails. Within minutes, our officers can find themselves working from Bayside to Bensonhurst, the Upper West Side to the Lower East Side, and between Brooklyn and The Bronx. This means the mission of engaging residents and commuters can be difficult.
But not impossible.
The fact is, we have no shortage of highly capable and engaging officers. A “hello” or polite nod of acknowledgement for a passing rider. Offering directions to a lost passenger. Sharing some restaurant recommendations with a tourist. Helping a mother bring a stroller up the stairs.
Nevertheless, there still exists a visible gap between subway riders and transit police. Our district station-houses, like many police facilities, are centrally located – most of them within subway stations. But as Lewiston, Maine, Police Officer Joe Philippon noted in a recent blog post, there are actual and perceived barriers at police facilities that too often prevent citizens from entering. An ingrained public apprehensiveness means few will visit unless they must.
So we brought the officers in our districts outside into the stations. Literally. From the commanding officer, to the community affairs, crime prevention, and patrol teams – setting up shop in the middle of a busy subway hub for a day. We invited not only other city agencies to introduce themselves and share what they have to offer, but other community partners as well, including youth organizations, local clergy members, non-profit organizations, and social services agencies.
The initiative, dubbed “Meet Your Police,” has attracted a lot of attention. Each of our twelve transit districts hosts several of these events each year – with district commanders often lightheartedly trying to out-do each other in producing highly visible events that bring their officers in contact with as many subway riders as possible. Few limitations are put on their approach, making each of the events unique to the particular district, its officers, and the neighborhoods they serve. They play music, have activities for the kids, serve food, provide information and giveaways, and most importantly they allow officers’ personalities to shine through. The hope is to show that our officers are approachable and that our police facilities are welcoming – staffed by real people. People who have kids. People who listen. People who chose careers of service.
The hope is that we garner trust, encourage crime reporting, and gain the public’s help in intelligence gathering and identifying crime conditions.
One such event recently, which took on the moniker “Function at the Junction,” was centered on several murals created by young artists whose seek to reduce gun violence in their neighborhoods by drawing grassroots attention to the cause. Joining together with this young talent provided a powerful platform, in the middle of a busy Brooklyn subway station, to feature a campaign that promotes safer neighborhoods for police and residents alike. What better way to build partnerships than to demonstrate that we each have a good number of common goals?
Hardly a cure-all, this initiative is just one of the many approaches that we have found to be worth advancing. By effectively turning a transit police district inside out and planting it squarely in the middle of a metropolitan rail station we hope to showcase the resources we provide, humanize our incredibly capable men and women, and build trust through mutual understanding.