Holder and Donovan join New York police commissioner to discuss collaboration

January 16

New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton has been making the rounds, since his recent appointment, preaching the virtues of what he calls “collaborative policing.” At a forum Wednesday sponsored by the Local Initiatives Support Corp., parallels between Bratton’s latest campaign and the Obama administration’s policing philosophy became clear: It’s all about the community.

“We’re there to work with, we’re there to help, we’re here to partner with,” Bratton said. “[Community developers] work with us to fix broken windows. To improve quality of life and improving quality of life and showing that the neighborhood cares, that people care, that cops care.”

He shared the day with U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan. Each touted community engagement as critical to effective policing.

Holder discussed what he called a smart-on-crime approach, including reforming drug sentences so they don’t become life sentences. In August he announced a new Justice policy that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders would not be charged with offenses that lead to severe mandatory sentences.

On Wednesday, Holder also discussed other ways to improve communities, including giving tax incentives to businesses looking to help revitalize poorer neighborhoods.

“At a time when many organizations and interest groups were laser-focused on their own individual silos of responsibility, this group reminded us of the power of broader thinking and the value of working together,” Holder said of LISC.

Last Thursday, President Obama launched the “Promise Zones” initiative, a comprehensive federal plan intended to target and raise up poverty-stricken areas. Community partnerships are an integral part of the strategy.

Donovan, who was with Holder last week at the White House, recalled that Obama had said “he isn’t that different from the young people living in poverty today. There was a period of time in his life where he was, in his words, “goofing off.” The only difference was that his environment was more forgiving than others.”

It’s this more holistic approach that the recently appointed police commissioner Bratton is embracing. Since Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Bratton, the police commissioner has been emphasizing “collaborative policing.”

In what sounded like an ode to the past, Bratton said police need to be in the community and part of the community. But he added that policing is not done by police alone. Community development and communication are essential in making the streets safer.

“I think as we move into the 21st century, there is more of an emphasis on the partnership component of community policing” he said. “You’re going to hear a lot in my speech the terms collaborate and collaborative. It’s a theme that I’m wrapping my arms around.”

During Bratton’s first stint as police commissioner (1994-96), he espoused the “broken windows theory,” the idea that petty crime begets majors crime, and that the police need to have a zero-tolerance policy with minor infractions. The approach called for confronting petty crimes — from turnstile jumping in the subway to graffiti — early.

But the Bratton of today is emphasizing a bottom-up approach—and the importance of trust in the police.

Bratton also addressed the NYPD’s extensive and highly criticized use of a stop-and-frisk programs in recent years, saying that he wanted to regain the trust of New Yorkers that’s been lost because of the controversial program. “The tool, an essential tool of policing, was overapplied for an extended period,” Bratton said.

LISC, which was founded in 1980, originated from a pilot program in East New York, a community with a long-running history of high crime rates. The forum, held at the Ford Foundation, called “Safe Streets, Strong Communities,” included two panels, one of which addressed ways in which Philadelphia and Los Angeles have targeted high-crime hot spots.

Said Donovan: “Too often in the past we thought of the police alone as being responsible for public safety. I think more and more of what we’ve understood here in New York and other places is that public safety is best achieved through a partnership. With the advent of community policing, we really saw residents of the neighborhood as an asset in crime-fighting rather than just part of the general public.”

Hiatt is a freelance writer.

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