As the coronavirus pandemic rolls on, New York City is battling an epidemic of crime. It’s the same battle we’ve been fighting for decades. Violence is on the rise. New Yorkers don’t feel safe in their homes or on the street. Many are avoiding the subways out of fear.
As a former police officer who patrolled the streets in a bulletproof vest in the 1990s, I know what I am talking about when I say public safety is the prerequisite to prosperity. All New Yorkers, no matter which neighborhood they live in, should be allowed to feel safe. But the debate around policing has been reduced to a false choice: safety or justice.
Every New Yorker needs public safety. We need the police. We also need them to be much better than they are. I know this firsthand because I was brutally beaten by cops as a teenager in South Jamaica, Queens, while in custody at the 103rd Precinct. It was a traumatic experience and the reason I became a police officer. I wanted to change the New York City Police Department from the inside. As an officer on the street, I learned that good cops can save lives.
To protect people from violent crime and prevent police abuse, we need to recognize that the same communities suffer from both. We must also recognize that reducing crime restores trust, and that measures to restore trust reduce crime when communities work with police to stop violence.
Precision policing can prevent shootings. As mayor, I would reinvent the NYPD’s plainclothes unit as an antigun unit and focus on gathering intelligence on shooters. At the same time, we must fully fund the community-led programs of the Crisis Management System, which works with “violence interrupters” who are considered credible by young people on the street.
We can reduce crime by having cops focus only on public safety. Some 500 police officers work in full-time clerical jobs or driving trucks. We can move cops out of jobs they shouldn’t be doing, saving millions of budget dollars in the process. I estimate that by making those changes and allowing cops to testify remotely, the city can free up $500 million worth of police officers’ time a year.
Public safety is critical to the health and prosperity of a city, but so is police accountability. There is no question that the jury in Minneapolis was correct to convict Derek Chauvin. That guilty verdict is a small step toward rebuilding trust between police and the black community. We must go further and work to restore faith. Any police department should look like the population it serves. We need to diversify the NYPD further by recruiting more black, Latino, and Asian-American officers who come from the neighborhoods they would police. And we should empower communities by allowing them a role in the selection of their precinct commanders. Finally, police departments should be honest about their officers’ behavior. They should publish their internal monitoring lists of cops with histories of bad behavior and make it easier for good officers to report bad ones.
The time for politics is over. While we fight among ourselves, criminals reign. Police must do their job fairly and effectively. People of color can’t continue to be the casualties of high crime and bad policing. We make the city safe and just. It starts with a clear, serious plan.
Mr. Adams is Brooklyn’s borough president and a candidate for the Democratic nomination for New York mayor.
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Appeared in the April 26, 2021, print edition.
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