Wall Street Journal
January 31, 2014

 

Major Shift in New York City's Street Policing

New Commissioner Planning Changes for 'Operation Impact'; Recruits May Be Paired With Veterans

By PERVAIZ SHALLWANI

Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton plans changes to 'Operation Impact.' 

The New York Police Department plans to overhaul a long-standing tactic that floods high-crime neighborhoods with new officers, Commissioner William Bratton said Friday.

"Operation Impact" was a signature program of previous Commissioner Raymond Kelly ; supporters said it helped lead to historic crime decreases, while critics said it contributed to his administration's wide use of the controversial stop-and-frisk tactic that stoked tensions in minority communities.

The changes could include pairing rookies with veteran officers in local precincts and providing a broader training regimen, Mr. Bratton said. New officers may be assigned to radio cars before they are placed on the streets in high-crime neighborhoods, he said.

"Operation impact is not going away. I would hope to potentially expand it using seasoned officers," Mr. Bratton said during a news conference at police headquarters. "The concern I have right now is that you have 10 or 12 of them assigned to one supervisor. I want to give these kids a much better training opportunity."

The new policy is still being ironed out and isn't expected to be implemented for months, Mr. Bratton said.

Any changes would significantly shift the program Mr. Kelly started in 2003 as way to deal with a reduction of 6,000 officers over several years.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration and some criminal justice experts credited the program with driving down crime numbers, though residents and community leaders complained that the new officers didn't understand neighborhood sensitivities well enough to deal with problems.

Mr. Bratton called Operation Impact "a very good program in what it intended to do, but it ended up with an unintended consequence that a lot of the controversy around stop, question and frisk seemed to center on the activities in that operation."

Mr. Bloomberg declined to comment through a spokesman. A spokeswoman for Mr. Kelly didn't return a call for comment.

The overhaul is the most recent policing policy facing changes under Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration. On Thursday, Messrs. de Blasio and Bratton said they began the process of dropping the city's appeal of a federal court ruling that found the NYPD's use of stop and frisk unconstitutional.

Mr. Bratton discussed changing Operation Impact with a number of candidates during last year's mayoral campaign, including Mr. de Blasio.

In June, while speaking at the Manhattan Institute, Mr. Bratton said new officers in the program "have no skills basically in terms of experience. They are not closely supervised, so if they make a mistake in how they're doing a stop-and-frisk, if they're disrespectful, if they don't have the appropriate reasonable cause, who's there to correct them? You're developing habits of a lifetime."

On Friday, Mr. Bratton said his philosophy comes from his time as police chief in Los Angeles. Recruit classes are much smaller there and new officers cannot work by themselves for the first year, he said.

"They are always with a field training officer and if there's not a field training officer, they don't go out in the field," he said. "I want to develop more of an intimacy for those young people coming out, a broader experience."

Mr. Bratton said he based the changes to the program, which were reported earlier by The New York Times, on conversations with the city's police unions and NYPD commanders and his own experience.

"It is important to have experienced police officers sharing their knowledge with our newer officers," said Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. Using rookies "under the former system resulted in many of the problems we are now in the process of solving."

A veteran law-enforcement official who is still in the NYPD called the change "a good thing."

"Standing on foot posts—whether it be in Bedford-Stuyvesant or Times Square—writing summons after summons for open container or illegal left turn, does not teach eager, young cops how to handle domestic violence cases and the rest of the wide array of jobs the NYPD responds to," the official said. "This will boost morale tremendously."

In general, Operation Impact is a two-part program, Mr. Bratton said. One part allows seasoned officers to earn overtime for working extra hours in high-crime neighborhoods—that could be expanded under Mr. Bratton's revised policy. The second is placing up to a dozen officers under a commander in a high crime zone where tensions with police are high.

"The officers coming out of the academy, that's the group I am concerned with," he said.

Mr. Bratton will ask Benjamin Tucker, the new deputy commissioner for training, to work with NYPD leaders to craft a new policy. The goal is to have the new program in place for the next class of recruits entering the academy in the summer, he said, and to "broaden the experience" for the current class of recruits.

The recruits could still be placed in high-crime areas, but they will also be "spending more time being mentored once they get on the street," Mr. Bratton said.

Police departments have long focused on crime hot spots, and Operation Impact was born after the release of an academic study in the 1990s, said Dennis Smith, a New York University public policy professor.