The NYPD’s New Chief Of Department Launches Listening Tour With City Youth


On a night after faculty, college students from the Brownsville Collaborative Center Faculty sat in orange chairs in a semicircle unfold out throughout their wood gymnasium flooring. They’d simply heard from the NYPD’s new Chief of Division Rodney Harrison about his imaginative and prescient for neighborhood policing and youth improvement. Now, it’s their flip to talk.

Strolling round with a microphone in her hand, a lieutenant in a white shirt requested the scholars, who’re virtually all Black, what phrases come to thoughts once they consider the police. “Police brutality,” one woman supplied. “They may use extreme drive upon me,” a younger boy mentioned. 

Subsequent, the lieutenant requested what they consider firefighters. “They’re going to assist me it doesn’t matter what,” one other center schooler mentioned. “Somebody that will help you once you really need assistance,” provides a boy sitting subsequent to him.

Addressing the longstanding mistrust between police and younger folks in low-income, non-white neighborhoods, like Brownsville, is what this occasion is all about for Harrison, who turned the NYPD’s prime uniformed commander — and one among its highest rating Black officers — in March. This occasion is a component of a bigger metropolis listening tour and accompanying enrichment program the Chief of Division is spearheading to foster ongoing relationships with the NYPD.

After attending dialogue classes with police and neighborhood leaders, younger folks can join with mentors, enlisted by the division, and join NYPD-coordinated lessons starting from conversations on emotional intelligence and home violence to programs on wig making and coding. College students earn cash for attending programs. 

Harrison’s regular work entails overseeing the efficiency of the division’s 36,000 officers and its six main bureaus in stopping and fixing crime. However the brand new chief sees this program as a softer technique inside the NYPD’s conventional public security mission. As a substitute of solely counting on arrests and convictions, this system is designed to supply younger folks actual improvement alternatives, broadening their horizons and giving them financial scaffolds to remain out of the streets. 

“I am going to verify I allow you to get to wherever you want. It’s possible you’ll say, ‘Pay attention, I’ve little interest in turning into a cop, however I need to do one thing else that they are able to present,’” Chief Harrison informed the scholars throughout his speech. “We’ll ensure you get that mentoring.”

The listening tour, which can make stops in neighborhoods struggling excessive charges of violent crime, comes as New York Metropolis struggles with a relative resurgence in gun violence. Harrison argues applications like this might tamp down on shootings in the long term by giving youngsters in robust neighborhoods a option to keep away from gangs and the lethal avenue rivalries that generally accompany them.

However the division’s critics word that the initiative additionally follows final summer season’s mass protests over the police homicide of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In New York Metropolis, and throughout the nation, Black Lives Matter activists known as for defunding the NYPD and investing in social companies much like those the NYPD is now promising to develop. 

“The protests that we noticed final summer season calling for the defunding of the NYPD actually created a legitimacy disaster inside the police division,” mentioned Alex Vitale, a Brooklyn School sociologist who advocates for redistributing cash from the NYPD to different metropolis companies. “These efforts to wrap itself in neighborhood conferences and outreach to younger folks and social companies supply is an effort to win folks again over to police-centered methods for creating public security.”

The anger that erupted final summer season carried by to the night listening session in Brownsville. Many college students introduced up George Floyd and their frustrations with police practices they’d seen on social media and in their very own lives. 

However in addition they spoke of avenue violence inside their very own neighborhoods, and their want to be handled with dignity by the officers at their native precinct.

“The cops, they solely see what they assume. They don’t see us like this. They don’t see our information, and what we will do and the way sensible we’re,” mentioned Kemiah Frazier, a highschool scholar who attended the occasion as a Brownsville Collaborative Center Faculty alumna. This unfamiliarity, she continued, results in hostility from officers when the time comes to handle a problem on the road. “They right us in a nasty approach as a result of they assume we’re going to hurt them,” she mentioned.

Kemiah Frazier, who wears glasses, looks at the camera


Kemiah Frazier is likely one of the college students from Brownsville who attended the occasion.

George Joseph/WNYC

Melvin Gravenhise, a seventh grader, informed Harrison the division ought to do a greater job testing recruits to verify they’re the fitting match for neighborhoods like his. “Perhaps put the cop or soon-to-be cop, put them able with folks from totally different backgrounds and cultures and see how they react,” he mentioned.

Harrison informed the scholars he is aware of the NYPD has a variety of room for enchancment.

“There are specific cultures in regulation enforcement that now we have to destroy,” he mentioned, describing the difficulties of getting buy-in for a brand new imaginative and prescient from his executives, commanders, and rank-and-file. “I want I might do it in a single day. But it surely’s one thing that I am engaged on.”

Rising Up With Related Fears

Harrison says he emphasizes the scholars’ issues as a result of he additionally grew up distrusting police. As a younger man, he remembers being stopped in a automobile whereas out in the future with associates in Harlem. An officer took him out of the automobile, pushed him all the way down to the curb, and put his foot or knee on his again to verify he couldn’t transfer. 

“That was a really, very disappointing interplay,” he says, pausing between phrases.

Rising up in Rochdale Village, a co-op in Jamaica, Queens, Harrison by no means thought of turning into a police officer. However on the urging of his father, who informed him he wanted to search out his personal monetary help for an additional 12 months in faculty, he enrolled in a police internship program that he meant to make use of only for the schooling advantages. 

He was so embarrassed that he saved his involvement a secret from his associates. However whereas there, he says, he attended an occasion that modified his imaginative and prescient of what policing may very well be.

“It was an occasion like this the place I used to be blown away. I used to be like, ‘Cops can really do that for a dwelling? They’ll really work with the youth?’ There was a cops and youngsters basketball recreation afterwards and it was actually one thing particular simply to see how cops had been giving again,” he recalled.

Rodney Harrison stands in his blue NYPD uniform with his arms around his parents, who are wearing tan coats


Rodney Harrison and his dad and mom attending his swearing-in ceremony as an NYPD officer in 1992


Harrison believes “getting again to the fundamentals” by increasing occasions like this might foster larger belief in his drive. On the identical time, he’s additionally hoping that mentoring and enrichment applications will assist younger folks keep away from legal exercise and damaging contact with the legal justice system within the first place.

All through the de Blasio period, progressive activists excoriated the NYPD for tackling alleged gang violence by rounding up giant numbers of poor, Black and Latino males, who had been prosecuted for obscure affiliations with neighborhood crews.

Harrison insists that gang violence remains to be a serious drawback, and blames the latest uptick in shootings on gang rivalries throughout town. The listening occasions, he says, are a type of counter-recruitment, which he hopes diverts younger folks from crime, violence, and gangs.

“To ensure that their recreation to achieve success, their recruitment has acquired to be robust. The larger the sport, the higher that they’re,” he mentioned. “Hopefully, this dialog at the moment will persuade them to not gravitate into that problematic gang.” 

A Social Service Mannequin 

Bryan Skerret is a youth mentor working with “Choices,” one of many NYPD applications college students can be part of. The 18-year-old Brownsville native helps lead group sit-downs the place youngsters can share and course of the difficulties of their lives. He believes small, therapeutic classes like these might help launch the pent-up frustrations that may drive younger folks to hold weapons for cover, or to really feel a way of energy whereas going by loss or abuse.

“Let’s say you’ve a gun in your possession, it is unlawful, you’re upset that one thing simply occurred,” he says. “You don’t have no one to talk about it with. So now you’re a man, you’re balling that up, and also you go outdoors with that gun. Anyone seems at you the unsuitable approach. You’re arguing. You’re taking it out. Growth. Since you are so offended, you did not let it out, you did not discuss it, your complete life modified.”

Bryan Skerret wears a cap and white shirt and looks at the camera


Bryan Skerret is a youth mentor working with “Choices,” an NYPD program college students hear about in the course of the Chief of Division’s listening tour.

George Joseph/WNYC

Policing students supplied differing takes on the NYPD initiative.

Vitale, the NYPD critic, contends different metropolis companies might guarantee higher supply of such important companies as a result of many teams might not select to entry a program coordinated by the police division. “You are excluding these populations who’ve a concern or mistrust of the police division, undocumented of us, younger individuals who’ve had unhealthy experiences with the police, et cetera,” he mentioned.

Jeffrey Butts, director of the Analysis & Analysis Middle on the John Jay School of Felony Justice, welcomed the NYPD’s curiosity in increasing social companies. “We’ve got many, many issues we contain younger folks in, every of which has a small impact, however all collectively they produce future residents. And that is precisely what you need,” he mentioned.

Baking youth improvement into the DNA of each precinct, Butts added, might additionally enhance the NYPD itself in the long term. 

“If each division mentioned, ‘We’d love so that you can be part of our division and along with the routine patrol and all the things else you realize about, we wish you to be out there to work with our youth teams and assist them with their combine tapes or play sports activities with them on the weekends.’ Perhaps some officers will resolve to not pursue regulation enforcement once they hear that and I feel, terrific, like, let’s not have them within the membership.”

Chief Harrison’s subsequent scheduled listening classes are within the South Bronx on Might twenty seventh and Flatbush on June tenth.

George Joseph is a reporter with WNYC’s Race & Justice Unit. You possibly can ship him tips about Fb, Twitter @georgejoseph94, Instagram @georgejoseph81, and His telephone and encrypted Sign app quantity is 929-486-4865.