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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group


Policing Your Homeland, Your State, Your City

Howard Safir and Ellis Whitman

Thomas Dunne Books



For many years New York City was considered legendary in the history of crime. Nineteenth-century crime lore encompasses the immigrant ghetto gangs of Five Corners and the corrupt politicians of Tammany Hall; and with the twentieth century came more high-profile crime. Criminal enterprises like Murder Incorporated (Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Bugsy Siegel) were set up during the early decades of the century to organize racketeering, bootlegging, narcotics, and prostitution. These criminal ventures evolved into the larger-than-life crime families that New York is known for. These mob families--Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese, Colombo, and Bonanno--and their capos, John Gotti, Vinnie "the Chin" Gigante, the Persicos, have been transformed into modern-day myths by film and television.
Organized crime was and is not the city's only crime problem. From the early 1970s, New York City witnessed an escalating murder rate. The city was known as a dirty and dangerous place, even home to infamous serial killers,like "the Son of Sam," David Berkowitz, whose seven murders during the summer of 1977 led to rampant fear and disorder in the city. An earlier murder, that of Kitty Genovese in 1964 in Kew Gardens, Queens, was particularly infamous. Genovese was murdered at her doorstep as her neighbors stood by and did nothing to help her. The incident has often been held up as a symbol of the beginning of civic apathy and the kickoff of decades of moral and social decay in the city.
Because of these high-profile murders and the homicides of the thousands who never made front-page news, New York City became known as Murder City, and for many years it topped the FBI's index of most dangerous cities. With the increased fear came the exodus of the middle and upper classes to the suburbs, and those who remained in the city were horrified when, in 1989, a woman--who became known as the Central Park Jogger--was brutally beaten in the middle of the park. The vicious, random, and almost fatal attack on an urban professional--a banker jogging after a long day at work--in a place thought to be an oasis and adjacent to the city's most affluent neighborhoods, was a wake-up call to many New Yorkers.
When the city turned its attention to crime, it was not a pretty picture. In the early 1990s, violence and crime were endemic to the city and fueled by the crack cocaine drug epidemic that had started in the early 1980s and was now in full swing. Over the years this volatile and dangerous situation precipitated the flight of the city's tax base to New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island, setting off a financial crisis that affected every person and bureaucracy in the city.
The NYPD was not exempt from these negative trends, and thus the enforcement of laws that govern quality-of-lifecrimes was not a priority. In 1990, panhandlers aggressively solicited money from passersby, drug dealers had taken over entire streets and turned them into open-air drug supermarkets, squeegeemen attacked drivers who refused to pay for unwanted window cleanings at intersections, and muggings were commonplace. Many, including myself, were very concerned with the situation in the city, and within the law-enforcement community new solutions were being formulated to help solve the crime and quality-of-life problems.
Over the years it had become clear that the NYPD's policies of the late '80s and early '90s were ineffective. When I became NYPD commissioner in 1996, I made it my mission to achieve record crime reduction and to improve the quality-of-life for New Yorkers. To achieve this I established Goal-Oriented Neighborhood Policing. The strategies that were implemented in this program were many and involved special units, task forces, and multi-agency partnerships. With these strategies in place, and a total commitment to fighting crime, the NYPD turned the city around.
Much of this progress was made while I was commissioner, during which time the homicide rate dropped 67 percent. To give you an idea of how far we came in less than a decade: In 1990, New York, with a population of 7.5 million, had over 2,200 murders, 700,000 major index felonies, 100,000 robberies, 120,000 burglaries, and 147,000 car thefts. These numbers mean that if crime had been equally distributed across the city's population, 10 percent of all citizens would have fallen victim to a major crime in 1990. In 1998, after I had been in office for two years, there were only 633 murders. This means that in 1998 there were 1,500 people walking around that in 1990 would otherwise have been dead. The same goes forthe other serious crimes--in 1998, there were only 44,000 stolen cars, 46,000 burglaries, and 39,000 robberies compared to the figures from 1990. These numbers translated into a city that today is a model for other communities, a destination location for tourists, and a home to New Yorkers, who now feel safe on the streets.
The roots of Goal-Oriented Neighborhood Policing lie in the redisposition of power within the department--precinct-by-precinct--and a reexamination of how the police interact in the communities.
In the past the structure of the NYPD, and many other police departments, had been based on the paramilitary model, which assumes a strict chain of command. Unfortunately, as messages and reports were passed along the chain, key information was getting lost. The top end didn't know what was going on in the field, and the field commanders had no idea what was going on at One Police Plaza. During my administration, the chain of command was reorganized so that the middle manager, the precinct commander (who has access to both ends), was accountable for the crime rate and the behavior of his officers on the streets.
To address the behavior of the police officer when interacting in the community, the NYPD adopted a policy of Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect (CPR). With CPR we fostered respect for the public, and discipline, integrity, and professionalism among police officers. To monitor officers and make sure they were fulfilling their role as the public faces of the NYPD, I instituted a program of CPR testing--assigning the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) and Quality Assurance Division (QAD) officers to test beat cops on their interpersonal skills with the communities they served. CPR testing scenarios included sending undercover officers out onto the streets to ask patrolofficers on their beat for assistance and making calls to the precincts to test if the respondents to complaints would act correctly. We cast a broad net in our approach to testing CPR, and although we tested precinct's CPR based on community complaints, we also tested officers, and borough commands randomly.
Testing CPR also included bias testing, and we set up undercover stings with IAB and QAD officers who would employ Hispanic and other ethnic accents to see if the response to their complaints was comparable to the treatment received by nonethnic members of the community.
CPR testing helped us to identify problem officers and pockets of questionable behavior. To educate officers in CPR we set up a Police Advisory Board of community representatives to counsel the NYPD, and the board acted as a complement to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) in overseeing the NYPD's interaction with the community. The CCRB examines civilian complaints and allegations against officers and publishes their findings in a semiannual report chaired by a group of community members appointed by the mayor, the NYPD police commissioner, and the New York City Council.
To ensure that officers were responding to the community appropriately, civilian grievances were tracked and assessed. We monitored individual officers who received an excess of three CCRB complaints. Officers who received excessive CCRB complaints were enrolled in monitoring programs, their enrollment based on a formal process point system that track brutality and discrimination. The level of monitoring is determined by the severity of the offense or track record of offenses. Counseling was provided at the command level, and when an officer received complaints, commanders brought them in and questioned them about what was going on. Were thereracial issues? Personal problems? Depending on the outcome of these meetings, different measures--counseling, retraining, reassignment--would be taken.
One of the biggest challenges of an agency that is 40,000 strong and polices a city with 7.5 million residents and another 4.5 million commuters is coordination and accountability. To determine the success of Goal-Oriented Policing, the NYPD's strategies to reduce crime need to be tracked. To understand what was happening in each community, the NYPD developed CompStat, a computer-comparison statistics program that allows us to track crime trends and patterns with pinpoint accuracy.
We need to manage crime, and not be managed by it. CompStat meetings forced precinct commanders to be familiar with every block, every known criminal, and the genres of crimes committed within their jurisdictions; and it made them accountable to monitor these crimes, enforce the law, and lower the crime rate in their precinct. Through exchanges with borough and precinct commanders, my team would determine the best route to crime reduction for each borough and precinct.
Beat cops who wander the streets reacting to crime and hoping that their presence will thwart it, are wasting their time and our money; whereas officers who know their neighborhoods intimately and know where, when, and how crimes are committed can--and always have had--an impact on crime. "Feel good cops" are very little help in areas that are overrun with drug dealing.
In New York, to address each precinct individually, I changed this approach. My department had just one philosophy in regard to who was the responsible community policing officer, and that was the precinct commander. Holding the precinct commander accountable retains control,but it also serves to empower those at the midlevel of the organization.
Having established precinct commanders as the department's chief community-policing officers, my team worked on enforcing specific types of crimes and quality-of-life problems. The Giuliani administration established the strategic components that we would use to fight crime:
• Getting guns off the street
• Curbing youth violence on the streets and in the schools
• Driving drug dealers out of the city
• Breaking the cycle of domestic violence
• Reclaiming public spaces
• Reducing auto-related crime
• Reclaiming the roads of the city
• Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect
• Bringing fugitives to justice
• Rooting out corruption
The strategies were identified through focus groups conducted with officers, precinct commanders, community members, and an analysis of the root problems the city was facing. We gave officers on the street clear instructions on what they should do, not just what they were not to do. By holding officers more responsible for their own behavior with CPR, and giving them clear directions to put the safety and well-being of citizens before their own, we saw NYPD officers making more arrests with less force.
The ability of police officers to have an impact on crime is something that criminologists--who believe that the fluctuations in crime are due to social and economicforces--have often refuted. Many criminologists believe that these problems are beyond the ability of police officers, or law-enforcement agencies, to address. In New York City we demonstrated that this is not the case. Police activities do have a significant impact on crime, but success is not just in the numbers of officers on the streets, but in what they are doing while they are there.
The mistake that the NYPD and many other local law-enforcement agencies have made when it comes to drug enforcement is to think globally. The real key is to be more local in your approach. It was my responsibility to ensure the safety of the citizens in my jurisdiction, and I would encourage the mayors of towns around New York, all over the country, and the world to implement the same tough stance toward the illegal drug trade as I did. Until a way is found to successfully reduce demand, cutting off the supply of drugs by reducing trafficking and making the sale of drugs a losing proposition is the only way to moderate the drug trade.
My job was not to chase heroin and cocaine traffickers across continents and across oceans. Getting drugs out of New York City was my goal. I was very pleased when early in the Northern Manhattan Initiative (NMI), a wiretap picked up drug dealers discussing moving their businesses to New Jersey because Manhattan had gotten too hot to operate in. I do not wish my Jersey neighbors ill will, but I believe that each city must adopt a policy to drive out drug dealers. If every community made this effort, the aggregate effect would be a large-scale reduction in crime and narcotics distribution nationally. In some ways this philosophy is akin to the Old West marshal's "not in my town" approach to law enforcement.
NMI was our most ambitious and large-scale model for eliminating drug gangs. Three precincts--the Thirtieth andThirty-third in Manhattan North and the Thirty-fourth in Washington Heights--had been drug-distribution centers for many years. In 1990, those precincts accounted for 157 murders; but in 1998, with the NMI in place, that number dropped to 28. The results of the drug-enforcement techniques in Northern Manhattan and, later, in other parts of the city--we used the tactics in the Bronx (in the Fortieth, Forty-first, and Forty-third Precincts) and in Queens (in the 103rd, 105th, and 113th)--reveal how we had so much success in reducing crime.
Taking back streets and parks is one thing, but maintaining them is another challenge. Without diligent follow-up, locations often fall back into the hands of criminals. This is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of crime prevention--spending time and resources to clean up a neighborhood only to give back all of the gains after we move out. The Model Block Program was a collaborative effort between the police department, block residents, community organizations, and other city government agencies to turn the worst blocks into the most vibrant ones in the community.
Tracer Units, uniformed officers trained in the methods of patrolling the streets and drug dealers, were assigned to areas that we had reclaimed to assure that drug locations did not slip back into their original state. Vertical patrols performed a similar function in the city's most dangerous buildings and in the public-housing developments (in New York City 600,000 people live in public housing), treating each unit as a beat. Officers began on the roof and worked their way down the stairwells, looking for illegal drug sales.
In the interest of community stabilization, we also took this method to private apartment buildings where we felt it necessary. The Trespass Affidavit Program was designedwith lawyers to have landlords sign agreements that allowed the NYPD to arrest individuals for trespassing who were on the premises without a legitimate explanation. Before this the police would have had to track down the management of the building before making arrests. To further monitor the stairways, elevators, lobbies, and hallways in public housing and on the streets of drug-ravaged neighborhoods, we used Tracer Units to police them and installed closed-circuit TV cameras and had up to a 35 percent decrease in crime in some of the locations.
More often than not, crime does not happen on the streets, and it is not random. Domestic violence--a crime that was once overlooked in law enforcement--came into the forefront of the American consciousness with the brutal murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. In 1999, one-quarter of the city's murders resulted from domestic violence, and the NYPD instituted programs that aggressively enforced laws that help those who are victims of domestic violence.
We established Domestic Violence Units in every precinct, which included household visits, a mandatory arrest policy, and setting up a domestic violence hotline. We were also more proactive in obtaining Orders of Protection and actually served them to offenders to prevent them from committing violence against the victim. In domestic violence cases, the assigned detective was instructed to make every effort to contact the victim within twenty-four hours of receiving the case, and squad supervisors reviewed each case within three days of assignment.
Many domestic abusers are repeat offenders, and often victims of abuse don't leave. To handle these ongoing cases, the NYPD developed a High Propensity Offender Tracking List and identified the ten most violence-prone families in the precincts. Each month an officer and a socialworker visit these homes in hopes of preventing further violent behavior by letting the aggressor know he or she is being watched and a social worker is there to counsel the family.
Another way that the NYPD was proactive in its approach to the public safety and fighting crime was with our Fugitive Enforcement Division that worked with the Warrant Division and the Cold Case Squad on cases. Fugitives who failed to appear in court, were wanted for parole violations, or on outstanding warrants were pursued by the warrant squads that we established in each borough. These teams used sting operations to apprehend hundreds of suspects, and made it a priority to incarcerate known fugitives, parole absconders, and violators of Orders of Protection.
Fugitive apprehension tactics were used most notably in 1997 with "Broadway Transfer" when we mailed 2,700 fugitives letters that they were owed money by a fictional agency, the New York State Division of Abandoned and Unclaimed Funds. They were instructed to call and make appointments to collect their money, and NYPD detectives arrested them when they arrived. The sting netted 261 fugitives; some had traveled from as far away as New Mexico.
Integral to the success of apprehending fugitives is the involvement of every officer--from beat cop to commissioner. To this end we put computers in police cars and gave officers cell phones to run warrant checks. We also established a joint task force with my old organization, the United States Marshals Service, to utilize their expertise and resources. There were many times when fugitive apprehension and zero tolerance met with great success. We also motivated our Cold Case Squad and started addressing unsolved violent crimes. The squad has apprehendedclose to one thousand suspects, some for murder cases as far back as the 1970s.
Goal-Oriented Community Policing requires that the department draw on the experience of those officers and detectives who know their precincts and know how to enact quality-of-life improvements and reduce crime within these precincts. The experience of the NYPD over the past years demonstrates the effectiveness of this innovative method of policing, and the department learned important lessons in implementing it. The most important lessons are that strategies must be applied consistently and aggressively, and that the entire agency must marshal its resources to capitalize on technology and focus proactively on crime and quality-of-life problems. Crime patterns change and evolve over time, and police departments have got to maintain flexibility to deal with the patterns and move away from bureaucratic rigidity and formulaic solutions to complicated problems.
SECURITY. Copyright © 2003 by Howard Safir. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.