Community Policing Is Not Just A Strategy, It’s A Mindset

Written By: staff
On a hot July evening in 2006, I was assigned to a solo foot post in the 44th precinct in the South Bronx.

I had graduated from the academy a month prior and I was just starting to feel comfortable with the area and the fact that I was a police officer with authority. At 22 years old, being a cop was the coolest thing I could have ever imagined. I went from a broke college kid working odd jobs to a public figure, a symbol of authority and someone the public turned to in time of need. Being a kid from upstate New York, the atmosphere of the South Bronx was remarkable. The smells, sounds and sights were like nothing I had ever experienced. The South Bronx truly had a heartbeat.

The was just one problem, I wasn’t part of the heartbeat. I saw the South Bronx as an area where I worked and not a community. I saw the people that lived there as different and up until this July night, I didn’t take the time to get to know a single person. I was very bitter towards the community in the South Bronx. I would routinely deal with people who cursed me out, fought me, ran from me and made unnecessary remarks as I walked by. I felt as if the public did not appreciate the police in the slightest. I tried to control the community with a rigid and demanding approach. This caused many of my encounters to be a negative experience, which subsequently led to me putting a label on the entire community based on the interactions I had with a small percentage of the them.

The senior officers told us that besides getting home safe, our main task was to make sure that no disorder occurred on our posts during our shift. Supervisors reinforced this by telling us that they would be periodically checking our posts to make sure they were under control. I comprehended this concept as complete lockdown. Being an eager and motivated young officer, I wanted to impress my fellow colleagues. I saw my post as me versus them and took it personal when an individual or group of individuals were acting up or violating any law on my post.

On this particular July evening, I was working an IMPACT shift scheduled 6pm to 2am. After roll call, I made my way over to my foot post. From a distance, I saw a group of people sitting on chairs outside of an apartment building and I could tell they were having a few beers. Open containers of alcohol were a summons and a quality of life offense that was taken very serious. As I approached, some of the individuals stood up and walked away from their glass bottles of Corona, making it impossible for me to identify who was in possession of the alcohol. As I approached their unattended bottles, I felt as if they had gotten one over on me. I picked the bottles of Corona up and dropped them on the sidewalk, causing the glass bottles to shatter and particles of glass to scatter throughout the sidewalk. I immediately felt a sense of empowerment. This was my post and I wasn’t go to take any nonsense from anyone. I felt like I was finally starting to understand policing. In fact, I was so far from it.

On that hot July night, as I was pacing my post content with maintaining order, a middle aged male approached me. He had a smile on his face and introduced himself in a very welcoming and friendly manner. He was a local community resident and he carried himself in a manner of someone of nobility. He told me that he saw what I had done with the bottles and told me that there were better and more effective ways to deal with the community. He told me that I needed to be someone that the youth of community looked up to. He told me that I needed to be someone who the community trusted and saw as fair. He proceeded to tell me that he understood that I had a difficult job and there were a lot of good people in the community that prayed for the police and our safety. This was the first time I saw policing from the community’s’ perspective. I could tell that he was disappointed in my actions and immediately, I felt a wave of remorse come over my soul because I was inherently a good kid.

The conversation lasted about ten minutes and I never saw him again. This gentleman did not have to approach me but I could tell by the way that he spoke to me that he knew that I was capable of more. Up until that moment, I saw policing as one-way communication and refused to see myself through the eyes of the community. That day forward, I served the community with compassion, kindness and respect, all while maintaining my safety. I became part of the heartbeat in the South Bronx and policing became a very gratifying career.
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