We joined 4-6 officers on patrol on two busy nights and found them responding to a crime wave on a scale they had never seen before.
“I grew up in the South Bronx. I’ve never seen that, ”Officer Yesenia Rosado told CNN.
Here, these officers discover that many shooters and victims are still teenagers.
“It sucks to see 16-year-olds shoot and kill each other,” said Officer Katherine Torres. “And that’s what we see a lot here. We have 16 year olds with theft patterns and murder charges and it’s like they’re not really kids. “
The increase in crime in New York has also coincided with changes in law enforcement and the justice system. New York enacted bail reform to reduce or eliminate prison terms for suspects while awaiting trial for many misdemeanors and non-violent crimes. Police say this had the unintended consequence of putting repeat offenders back on the streets.
“I’ll still be at work and they’ll be back at the police station to collect their belongings before I’m even finished with court,” Constable Michael Kearns said.
There is growing animosity
The murder of George Floyd – and a spate of shootings involving police in recent years – have eroded trust in police across the country. In 4-6, familiar neighborhoods became hostile ground for police, turning officers into targets in communities they know and in which many even grew up.
“I’ll say words matter,” Inspector Joseph Seminara, 46th District commander, told CNN. “I think a lot of the little element here, which makes the quality of life miserable for the hard-working community, feels emboldened that it’s okay to ignore a legitimate police order. It’s okay to fight the police. Words matter. ”
The growing animosity creates real dangers for these fleeing officers.
“We’ve had people threatening us, you know, threatening to kill us, threatening to kill our families,” Officer Rosado told me. “’I hope your family dies. I hope your family will be raped. ‘ You know, stuff like that, that we’re supposed to eliminate. “
This environment can have a debilitating effect on the base. The NYPD is now getting rid of its agents faster than it can recruit new ones. Some retire early or simply quit the force. Officers say part of it is a morale issue.
The NYPD has had its own failures. Eric Garner’s death in 2014 in an arrest in which an officer used a strangulation did not lead to charges but still resonates here. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, who has repeatedly condemned Floyd’s murder, said police departments have a responsibility to aggressively control theirs.
“We have over 6 million service calls per year,” said Commissioner Shea. “We can have negative encounters where we have to arrest people, without the use of force, but hundreds of thousands of times a year. Jim, a bad incident can set you back this far and you see it across the country. “
As New York and other cities grapple with the aftermath of Floyd’s murder and increased crime, police debate a range of police policies and tactics.
“We had a situation last year with the murder of George Floyd where we had hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people walking and they also had a voice and they had a point of view,” Shea said. “So I think what we need is balance. What worries me is that over time we move too fast and now we have to recalibrate and make up for lost time if you will. “
“We’re never going to let him go back to the bad old days”
Shea and one of his predecessors, Bill Bratton, admit that the police abused certain tactics such as stop and search. The practice reached nearly 700,000 stops in 2011, according to NYPD data. Two years later, a judge ruled the policy was unconstitutional as applied because the NYPD focused too much on blacks and Hispanics. The ruling allowed the stop and search to continue, but with new limits. In 2019, the NYPD says it recorded just over 13,000 stops.
“Is that how you do it and abuse it?” And who do you stop, in which neighborhoods and for what reason? know it’s too far in a way, ”Shea said.
Nationally, there is now a much broader debate about the very definition of police.
When we joined them on patrol, we found officers repeatedly faced with difficult decisions about which incidents they were dealing with versus which ones would be more suitable for EMS or social services. While on patrol, we witnessed a type of call familiar to them: a man struggling with a possible mental health episode – perhaps wielding a gun. In fact, “EDP,” short for emotionally disturbed person, is a phrase we’ve heard over and over on police radio.
The officers we met remain engaged in police work, but we could sense their frustration. Just a few years ago, violent crime across the city was at its lowest in decades.
“We’re never going to let him go back to the bad old days. We’re having a spike in violence right now, like a lot of other cities, ”Shea told me. When I asked him if it was controllable, he said, “Absolutely. We’re going to need some help though. We’re going to need help.
Perhaps this is the most general lesson today: the recognition that there are problems that the police cannot solve on their own. One group with a strong presence in 4-6 is Bronx Rises Against Gun Violence (BRAG), a program of youth service provider Good Shepherd Services. Program director David Caba, a former convict and younger brother of a victim of gun violence, works as a violence switch, a civilian who tries to defuse and defuse conflicts before they turn violent.
“We are not only helping you in terms of the violence that is going on, but also what else do you need help with? Caba told CNN. “Maybe there is a drug addiction problem. Maybe you need housing. There is a difference with us. With us, there is no badge, there is no weapon, there is no handcuff, there is no bulletproof vest. It is our credibility. It is our strength. ”