People file into the basement of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church on Farragut Road in Canarsie, taking turns signing their names into a logbook. Uniformed police officers greet them and hand out flyers about a toy drive or other community events.
Deputy Inspector Khandakar Abdullah, Commanding Officer of the 69th Precinct, speaks about the successes his officers have had that month in apprehending criminals and towing abandoned cars.
This is the scene at the monthly meeting of the 69th Precinct Community Council, which meets nine months of the year. The goal of all precincts’ community councils is to give the community a space to voice concerns and desires to the police force, Community Council President Gardy Brazela said.
Canarsie residents show up to voice issues that need to be addressed, connect with local officers, hear about the precinct’s recent triumphs and spend time with others from the community in a productive way.
“The idea is to bring the police and the community together,” Brazela said.
And bring them together it does, according to Brazela and residents.
At a time when public opinion of the police is lowering, especially among people of color, Canarsie, a predominantly black community, is a neighborhood that really values its local officers.
A Pew Research study found that the number of Americans who feel police are doing a bad job increased from 2016 to 2020 from 37% to 41%. That number is 70% among specifically black Americans. Community District 18’s population, which includes Canarsie, is 61.7% black.
“If I have any issues, they’re willing to help me at any time of the day,” Canarsie local Ahmad Ali told the Canarsie Courier at a recent council meeting. “They’re there to help us with any life or quality of life issue.”
The Community Council is one cause for the bond between Canarsie residents and officers. Another is the NYPD’s Neighborhood Policing Program. Neighborhood Coordination Officers (NCOs) are the on-the-ground officers in communities. Each precinct is split into four sectors, and each sector has two assigned NCOs.
What is supposed to make the program a different type of policing is the way that NCOs integrate themselves with the community. Part of their job is to attend community board, civic association and school board meetings. They also hold food, backpack and coat giveaways and generally get to know the residents of the area they serve.
“It’s a little better than actually dealing with the regular patrol car who’s responding all over the place to a variety of things,” Boris Blackmon, another Canarsie resident who attends the council meetings, said. “Overall, they’re pretty good from my standpoint.”
John Jay Professor of Police Studies Vincent Del Castillo said NCOs are like the modern-day iteration of beat and team cops.
“One of the advantages in that is that you have that close interaction between the police officer and the community which results in better cooperation, better mutual trust and respect,” Del Castillo said.
And that mutual trust and respect seems to have paid off.
“There’s no policing without the community and there’s community without the police, so it comes hand in hand,” Ali said.