Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell announced the department’s 2023 Strategic Plan at the annual “State of the NYPD” breakfast this past Jan. 25. This year’s playbook employs a four-fold “Step Forward” plan to ramp up recruitment efforts from “underrepresented groups,” as well as upgrade crime-fighting technology, further community engagement, and improve neighborhood policing. New NYPD policies and objectives will stem from the quartet of goals.
“We must remain open of heart and mind to truly adopt this ‘Step Forward’ philosophy since, at its core, it requires us to never stop innovating,” said Sewell. “We can never accept what we have as final and we must always strive to exceed expectations. This is what the NYPD has been built to take on, and through its professionalism, experience, and willingness to meet any challenge, I know that this philosophy will become [ingrained] in the culture of our great organization.”
She added that an internal department audit led to more than 600 recommendations to improve the NYPD, many of which will be implemented over the next two years.
While the strategic plan did not specify which “underrepresented” groups the department plans to seek out, Black New Yorkers are typically at the forefront of diversity recruitment drives like the “Be the Change” campaign, which reportedly saw the percentage of Black applicants nearly triple in May 2021.
But with recent findings of “broken windows policing” in low-income communities of color throughout last year by nonprofit watchdog Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), will a more diverse police force actually help? After all, the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols last month is still fresh on the public’s minds and the five Memphis officers fired and charged for the 29-year-old Black man’s death are Black themselves.
Marq Claxton, a retired detective and Black Law Enforcement Alliance’s Director of Public Relations and Political Affairs, said there’s certainly no harm with a more diverse force, but its application as a police reform tool is more complicated.
“There are significant questions, especially as a result of the killing of Mr. Nichols, about whether there will be any substantive movement away from police criminality if the police officers look more like the community in which they serve,” he said. “There’s always that question and challenge because you’re talking about not only the color or complexion of the officer, but which culture it is [that] he is being controlled by. Is it a toxic police culture that controls him? If that’s the case, then it doesn’t make a difference what color or ethnicity [if] his background is the toxic police culture controlling him as opposed to his own culture or his own exposure to other cultures.”
Claxton also pointed out a direct correlation between poverty and crime, and said officers from the most affected communities enter law enforcement with an enhanced understanding of negative police interactions and are less likely to engage in such practices.
But it’s harder said than done for cops of any racial or ethnic background to push back against a toxic police culture, said PROP executive director and long-standing NYPD critic Robert Gangi.
“If you’re a police officer, no matter what your race or ethnicity, no matter what your gender you are, to succeed, you have to get with the program,” he said. “And the program within the NYPD is ‘broken windows policing’ that targets primarily low-income communities of color.”
PROP’s most recent report found New Yorkers of color were overwhelmingly arrested for low-level crimes like fare evasion, “forged instrument” possession, and third-degree assault—in total, they were involved in 88% of misdemeanor arrests. The findings highlight a near 20% uptick in total arrests by the NYPD since Mayor Eric Adams and Sewell entered office last year.
The report mentioned a notable increase in “forged instrument” crimes in Black and brown communities. Gangi told the Amsterdam News in August that such arrests are frequently about outdated or self-administered license plates.
Along with recruiting outreach to underrepresented communities, the NYPD’s first strategic plan goal also mentioned further sensitivity training and supervisory oversight, in addition to improved mental and physical health resources for department employees.
There’s also an uphill battle for the NYPD to properly implement the other three goals: Plans to employ cutting-edge police tools and engage in outreach recently backfired in Harlem after a viral tweet showing a community affairs officer filming Apollo concert attendees for a supposed department social media video caused a national stir over suspicions of facial recognition surveillance. While the concerns haven’t been substantiated and the performing act Drake is rarely tied to “gangster rap,” deep-seated mistrust stemming from the NYPD’s implementation of such technology in 2011 and alleged deployment of the Enterprise Operations Unit, better known as the “hip-hop police,” to historically surveil rappers naturally led to such conclusions.
“When you lose the trust and confidence and faith of a community that you’re supposed to be providing a service to, it’s hard to get back,” said Claxton. “And when you don’t live on your word, then people don’t accept your work. They question everything in your movements and even you being in their proximity because they feel somewhat less than safe [with] you [just[ being in their proximity.
“That’s what toxic police culture really does. It destroys the relationship between police and communities.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.