Thursday, May 19, 2011

Policing on Franklin: Impact Zones & Zero Tolerance - UPDATED

Last Tuesday, May 10, an incident on the corner of Franklin and Prospect escalated into a altercation between residents and police. The end result was a full-scale show of NYPD force, with officers storming a building while dozens more made arrests outside with assistance from several squad cars and, to the surprise of many residents, an NYPD helicopter. ILFA initially guessed that the event was a raid, based on previous police activity on that corner, but local blogger Zachary Goelman of Epichorus spoke with the 77th Precinct's community affairs officer and learned that the incident was an "arrest being made with resistance" in which officers called for backup, occasioning the maximalist response that so many locals noted with alarm. In the days that followed, reports came through from various sources that several individuals on the scene who were behaving peacefully were maced or beaten by officers, while others reported that cops were maced and injured as well (ILFA was not on the scene and cannot verify any of these accounts, beyond saying that all of them were corroborated by multiple sources).

Needless to say, this incident was a hot topic at Tuesday's CHCA meeting, particularly with the 77th in attendance. After a brief, boilerplate introduction from the executive officer, and some chiding from CHCA President Evangeline Porter that the officers patrolling Franklin need to make more of an effort to be friendly with local residents and merchants, a woman stood and said, to murmurs of support and concern, that she was furious about the events of a week prior. "I've lived here for 40 years" she said, "and I'm not going anywhere. My grandson was born here, he's growing up here, he's going to be educated here, and one day, he's coming for your job." She gave a quick recap of the chaos that disrupted her Tuesday evening, including the beating blades of the chopper, and asked, palms open, "for what?" The police, she said "do not understand us," and had completely overreacted. "We didn't deserve that," she said firmly, stating that police had sprayed a man in a wheelchair and beaten other bystanders with their batons. With regard to crime on Franklin, which the executive officer had touched on briefly in his introduction, she turned to the assembled residents and said "we are trying just as hard as we can," and added "in the 80s and 90s, when crack was on Franklin, there was no one to help us." To close, she whirled back to the officer and said "if you have a problem with people in this neighborhood, call a meeting, have a dialogue."

Then it was the executive officer's turn. "Do you want to know what happened?" he asked, clearly flustered. "Because it's important." NYPD officers, he said, "leave in the morning, and their families don't know if they're coming home." He was willing to believe that there might have been opportunities for "de-escalation" on the part of officers on the scene, as well as residents, but he drew a hard and fast line. "If you put your hands on a New York City Police Officer, you're going to jail, and I will land a helicopter in the middle of Franklin Avenue if I have to, to make sure that our officers go home to their families." Nine cops, he added, were hurt in the incident.

Seeking to diffuse the extremely confrontational mood that was taking hold, one of the CHCA's officers rose to explain that, as part of the Impact Zone on Franklin (a program that places 40 beat officers fresh from the Academy on high-crime streets from 6pm - 2am), police are called upon to enforce "zero tolerance," the hotly-debated strategy pioneered by the NYPD under Bill Bratton in the 1990s. In short, it means that minor infractions that get ignored in other Precincts, such as drinking on your stoop or riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, result automatically in tickets or arrests. As she put it, the intent is to "clear up quality of life issues as well as crime issues." Advocates say policing the little things creates an atmosphere of law and order that keeps the big things from happening. Critics say it does little to address the underlying causes of violent crime, merely pushing it out of sight while criminalizing poverty and street life.

It was here that the 77th's executive officer jumped back in, looking to re-frame his position. The impact zone, he said "is trying to foster a new community." He'd mentioned earlier that he got his start twenty years ago in the 77th, and now he added that "we're always going to be here" and "the results you see today" when comparing Crown Heights to its past self "didn't happen on their own." He called on one of the Impact Zone officers, who said she had grown up on Franklin and Union, and that she knew people got frustrated when they were stopped on the street or pulled over, including her father and brother, but that "if you haven't done anything wrong, there's no reason to get upset, we're not here to do anything to you." The woman who had launched the discussion applauded her for growing up nearby, and the tension dissipated into the usual talk of working together and getting involved by attending the 77th Precinct Community Council Meetings (the next one is June 13 at St. Teresa's on Classon and Sterling).

For some reason, I seem to be losing parts of posts (the blog-gods telling me to keep it short and succinct, perhaps). Anyway, there's a reconstituted second half coming soon - suffice to say that while I believe the CHCA and 77th are committed to finding a way to address these tensions, I found the resolution described above a little unsatisfying.

Friday Update:

The day after the CHCA meeting, I saw another arrest on Franklin. This one wasn't as over-the-top, though it did involve a cruiser parked on the sidewalk against traffic at Franklin and Sterling, and several cops searching a man who asked, with evident frustration, why the police were going through his wallet when all they needed was his ID. Watching it brought me back to the frustration I felt at the resolution of the debate the previous evening.

I believe the 77th and the CHCA members want to resolve this, of course, but I worry that the language that gets deployed skirts the issues. In this lexicon, ability to speak legitimately for or about the community stems from having been here a long time (this makes sense, but it doesn't account for the divergence - if the NYPD and locals are part of, and fighting for, the same community, what on earth happened?). "We" (whoever we are) cleaned up Franklin Avenue, we deserve thanks and dialogue, not suspicion and violence. We are not the enemy, "they" are, where they is forever an ill-defined group that sallies forth from beyond the margins of society to rend the social fabric and then fades away, leaving the good, honest residents, or good, honest, officers to pick up the pieces. This kind of language leads to statements of the obvious (should there be repercussions for hitting a cop? absolutely! should an officer mace a peaceful guy in a wheelchair? of course not!) and has its own resolution built in, the invariable cathartic moment (I grew up here!) that allows the "good guys" to join forces and march off to put an end to the bad guys once and for all.

The problem with this language is that it ignores the messy reality of the situation. There are, of course, some really awful people who commit heinous crimes out there, but there's not really much debate about how either cops or communities should handle them. Incidents like the one on May 10 aren't cut-and-dried; someone didn't just haul off and punch a perfectly courteous cop out of the blue, and some officer didn't whirl on a man in a wheelchair and mace him in broad daylight with no provocation. These situations start from a position of mutual frustration and distrust, a sense of "we're just living here the way we always have" meeting a sense of "we're just doing our jobs." They escalate because a young officer is too eager to assert his authority, or because a young resident is too eager to defend his manhood. They are complicated situations, and they do not involve some evil "they" - they involve decent police and decent residents who find themselves at odds in the context of a policing strategy that puts them there.

Take the Impact Zone, pushed for by a coalition of local electeds and community leaders, including the CHCA. It has undoubtedly made Franklin safer, if NYPD crime stats are even close to correct. This really matters. It has also undoubtedly resulted in petty arrests and stop-and-frisks that make longtime Black and Latino residents feel as though their existence has been criminalized, their standing in the community disrespected and diminished in favor of newcomers. It's no surprise that, in this climate and context, people resent arrests, and occasionally lose their cool and resist them (ILFA does not, of course, endorse any violence toward the NYPD). There's a ton of information out there about NYPD has abused its power, and how stop-and-frisks amount to racial profiling (heck, last year, Kevin from About Time was arrested by Impact Zone officers, and he's one of the leaders working hardest to improve the community), and yet, I know these officers don't leave for work in the morning planning racism, malfeasance, or violence against residents. The problem is that these things, as they stand, are two sides of the same coin, and separating what we like about the Impact Zone from what we don't requires serious thinking about police strategy and community-police relations.

In the midst of the argument on Tuesday, another woman stood up, and mentioned that she had a son, and that "if he looked suspicious" she knew he would be arrested. She started to say "and I have to say it . . ." but was quickly cut off by another voice that said "no you don't." There was a pregnant pause, and then she changed directions. I don't know exactly what she was going to say (I have a guess or two), but I'm not sure she shouldn't have. Looking crime on Franklin in the face means thinking about how police serve, relate to, and even set the boundaries of, the community. "Good" police and "good" residents are part of the problem and part of the solution, no matter how often we rhetorically push the "bad" in our neighborhood into some great beyond, the product of some evil other.

The CHCA and the 77th are planning a drive to educate local residents about the meaning of zero-tolerance in the context of an Impact Zone that has, crucially, reduce violent crime on Franklin. This is a good start. We should also educate the police about local residents, to help them differentiate the dangerous criminal from the community leader, and even the harmless old uncle who's had one too many from the belligerent drunk. Hopefully, this will lead us to think about ways to "dialogue" and "de-escalate" situations before somebody socks a cop or maces a bystander. Otherwise, somebody's going to come home from work and find a helicopter in their parking space.


  1. Are the police who patrol our neighborhood a little young? A little green? Yes. Does this mean that the behavior on that block should be tolerated? No.

    I'm so sick and tired of people defending the behavior of the individuals who sit in lawn chairs on franklin between park and prospect. IT IS NOT A RIGHT OF RESIDENCE TO HARASS PEOPLE AS THEY WALK BY. I don't care how the neighborhood was before, it's unacceptable and illegal behavior and it should not be tolerated.

  2. ""If you put your hands on a New York City Police Officer, you're going to jail, and I will land a helicopter in the middle of Franklin Avenue if I have to, to make sure that our officers go home to their families." "

    A very telling comment from the executive officer. The NYPD puts officer safety above all else, and in the process, defeats attempts at law, order, justice and fairness towards anyone who doesn't wear a badge.

    As far as reducing crime (and putting officers in less dangerous situations), it's completely self-defeating.

    Welcome to the prison industrial complex.

  3. It is a "prison industrial complex" because people who assault officers are going to be arrested, even if it requires landing a helicopter on Franklin Avenue? There is nothing in that quote that "puts officer safety above all else." As Nick's piece points out, this is a very complex issue that isn't clarified by hyperbole and catch phrases.

  4. I think it's a sign that the situation got to that level that these rookies have no clue what they are doing and that is part of the problem.

    How do you expect people to act normal when you are dealing with police officers have absolutely no clue how to deal with people?

    I am irate that I got a ticket for riding my bike on the sidewalk crossing the street yesterday from Classon to Washington. When the police stopped me I was riding my bike down the Washington Street towards Empire. It took them another police officer / car and 6 cars total plus 45 minutes to an hour to give me a single citation. Seriously?

    They can't deal with my noise complaints. Can't file a report when my neighbors attack me, but can waste time over a bicycle. Looks to me like they are looking for an easy target. Next time I see the police ride by me, I will just sit my bike down in the park and not go until they have disappeared.

    Something is very wrong with the police and 77th precinct in this city. I intend to take action and express my view, fighting these people every step of the way. I am sick of being harassed and being treated like some criminal. I pay taxes and ridiculous amounts of rent. How dare they take away my rights on behalf of the fact that they don't know how to deal with the real people committing crimes.

  5. "How date they take away my rights" -- what rights? The right to break the law by riding on the sidewalk? I'm confused as to your anger.

    I agree that the police should be more of a part of the community -- today was the first time an officer in this neighborhood said hello to me...he wasn't for the 77th, he was here as extra detail due to the movie filming on Park Place and Franklin. He even asked me if he was in the 7-1 or the 7-7. That said, it was nice to be acknowledged as a person - the police should be part of our community.

    As a public school teacher in East Flatbush, I make it my job to be seen in the community. I go to block parties out there, help with community projects, walk the streets, say hello to people in the area, shop locally, etc. I may look like an outsider as a young, white, female -but I try to be part of the community because it helps the students and parents feel at ease with me more-so. I understand 100% why the police shouldn't be our best friends or live in the immediate area -- but they should make us feel like they care about us, and not just hanging out waiting to catch someone doing the wrong thing.

  6. This sounds as if people who do not hate the police, feel as if they are being treated as if they hate the police.

    Meanwhile, there exists people who genuinely hate the police and antagonize them at everyturn.

    And, of course, some police genuinely hate the residents they are told to protect and serve.

    The one who figures out how to break the cycle is a genius. Those of us who can just see the cycle, are ametuer sociologists.

    Another summer begins.....

  7. Does anyone know about the memorial up on the corner on Lincoln and Franklin?

  8. The memorial is to a man who was murdered at point-blank range in broad daylight about a year ago.
    The NYPD recently put up new posters seeking information about his killing, which seems to have inspired the memorial's return.

    Incidentally, looking at the comments on that post, it strikes me that at the time, many people on Franklin were calling for "zero tolerance for violence." This, I would think, everyone can get behind. When "zero tolerance" extends to "beer on the stoop," however, I wonder whether we're doing more harm than good (and re: Adam's point, if you're being drunk and disorderly, that's one thing, but if you're sipping a beer, talking and laughing, it's quite another).

    MikeF, such a fatalist! Whether neighborhood change or community-police relations, you're giving me the "circle of life" argument, which feels so disempowering. Sure, there are people who hate each other, but policing strategies and community responses can make a huge difference (something you eloquently appealed for with regard to poor old Steve the Branch Breaker at the CHCA meeting). No one's born hating anyone, and even powerful feelings can be overcome if people are willing to come to the table. I just think that to do that, we've gotta get past the "lines in the sand" and "it's not us, it's them" approaches.

  9. Fatalist?

    We are making progress. This is better than Franklin ave has been in decades.

    Relations with the police are much better than they have been in the past, regardless of your social class.

    Crime is way down.

  10. Agreed! Which seems to suggest that we can continue to improve, no?

  11. yup, even if means landing a helicopter on the street.

    Let's look at how far we have come:

    I think we all agree that we can assume decades of mutual suspicion between the police and residents. Even in instances where they haven't directly experienced crap from the other party; Each teaches their off spring (which includes rookie cops, and kids) the other the "lessons learned from the past" (aka prejustice).

    As you point out, here we have a situation in which young, inexperienced cops are being put in a position in which they must enforce minor laws that they themselves might not agree with. If they refuse, they will never get off Impact duty.

    We also have a situation in which a few people decided they were going to challenge and test the resolve and authority of the police, by physically striking them. is not fatalist to declare that neither side will ever win the war, because the war is never ending.

    The battles just decide which side will win control of a neighborhood. neighborhood, and the battles are never pretty. It sounds like the situation could have ended up far worse.

    In this instance, some residents and police were injured, but no one was injured to the extent that hospitalization was required.

    Can we continue to improve? Maybe, but we'd have to everyone at the table. So far the cops are at the table, and community residents are there, ...but we haven't seemed to be able to engage those who are unemployed and deal drugs. If they arrive at the table, more progress might occur.

    Until, then, the cycle will continue until we have a "winner" in this particular micro neighborhood.

    While the battles are being fought, I advise getting your bike off the sidewalk and not drinking on your stoop. ...or be prepared to get a summons and search.

    If you are suspected of a more serious offense and a cop tells you to get on the ground and put your hands behind their back, I encourage you to do so regardless of whether you are innocent or hate cops.

    You'll likely be out in less than 48 hours and we can all do this again. one wants to create a a situation in which the laws don't apply to everyone, right?

  12. People hang out on the street in poor, urban areas. I've seen it all over the country. And I've seen the same thing in cities in the developing world. The middle-class is sitting inside spacious, air-conditioned apartments or eating and drinking in restaurants and bars, but the poor - who can't afford air conditioning or beers at the Roadhouse, or who aren't sending their kids to tennis lessons, or who don't have a job that occupies them - are outside chilling with their neighbors. It's completely normal. Nick knows what I'm talking about, because he's written about it.

    Franklin Ave looks and sounds different than when I moved here five years ago. You don't see as many groups of kids wheeling their bikes up and down the street, you don't see as many people hanging out their windows calling down to neighbors, you don't see people barbequeing in cement lots while Marvin Gaye crones anymore. You also don't see as many drunk Uncles careening down the sidewalk. You don't see as many drugs being handed off on the corners. Is this change just the result of our community adopting a middle-class sensibility (where alcohol gets drunk in bars, drug deals happen over cell phones and inside apartments, and people stay inside to entertain), or is it the result of active "policing" either by the cops or by neighbors who maybe didn't grow up in this kind of community?

    The West Village is nice, sure, if you have money to spend at cafes, restaurants, bars, boutiques. But outside of the basketball courts at Sixth Ave. and restaurant tables set outside on nice days there's next to no street life. That doesn't appeal to me. But I didn't grow up in this country. Maybe it's just cultural? I was over on Nostrand Ave. last night (Saturday, around 8pm) and thinking how different it feels. Is it impossible to have a genuine street life that doesn't include gang bangers and shootings?

  13. Trini-
    When you have groups that make themselves "other" or which are made to be "other", I answer "no". Almost by definition, an "other" isn't going to engage in activities that abide by the majority's laws.

    For example, the people of the rural American hollers and trailer parks (yup, I am talking about "white trash") hate the police every bit as much as their urban counterparts. They hang out, gang bang and deal drugs (increasingly meth), victimizing the hard working folks around them. It is all very similar.

    As a society, when we have no effective way of changing their behaviors, (neither incarceration or GED programs work very well...) we simply price them out of the 'hoods we desire.

    Whether you agree with goal or not, you have to admit that the police are a very effective tool in this regard: Getting arrested is very expensive in terms of fines and lost income. While they may be out in less than 45 days, chances are they won't be able to pay rent.

    So, it is not incredibly trite to state that those who want to stay in a neighborhood that they consider "home" are encouraged to avoid breaking the law. Perhaps only then, we will have progress.

    Until then, we will have battles. Due to the influx of political power in this neighborhood, the long term residents that have been victimized by this BS are finally getting the help they deserved long ago.

    Meanwhile, those who live in Albany Houses, continue to get little help from the police because they are still in the position that Franklin Ave was in the year 2000: largely powerless against groups like Nine Trey and poser Blood crews.

    No ones likes battles, and everyone likes to condemn both sides.

    As this summer's chapter of the war goes revs up, I encourage people to think abut the following:

    1. The police aren't a precision weapon; Do as much as you can to not be mistaken as their opponent. ....sadly, this may be easier for some us than others. (you don't have to like it, you only have to acknowledge it)

    2. Be glad you have an ally in the fight, and you do not have to cower inside. Due to budget cuts, the police force is at its lowest level in a decade. There are far better places they could assign foot patrols; they assigned them to Franklin Ave because the police commanders thought it might make a difference, and because have more power that other neighborhoods. (you don't have to like, you only have to acknowledge it)

  14. I have no idea why Mike F. has addressed his comments towards me, but I do find his off-tangent discussion of the "Other" disturbing. He does for poor (presumably) Southern whites exactly what the colonial French accomplished with the Arabs. He makes them into despicable caricatures that no civilized person would want to be around. And somehow this - the use of the "Other" like a 19th century colonialist - is a justification for gentrification?

    (I'm also wondering if he sees me as an "Other" because I identify my birthplace as Trinidad? Does he want to throw me out of the neighborhood too?)

    It's time to bow out. But, Nick, thank-you for a nuanced and thoughtful discussion.

  15. A reader passed along this link, which I'll likely re-post sometime soon, but is certainly pertinent to a discussion. It was written by a former NYPD officer, and it's a quick and enlightening read:

    As he puts it, the type of policing that he was a part of in Alphabet City (and which is taking place on Franklin now) did not, in the end, benefit the longtime, hardworking residents he (and MikeF) thought it would:

    "The risks we took and the sacrifices we made back then were not to benefit the community I knew — a community that no longer really exists — they were to make money for the city and for the developers. It's hard not to feel a bit resentful of that on some level. And to me personally, it's upsetting to see that the neighborhood and culture I knew has more or less disappeared."

    I think this quote captures the collateral damage of Bratton/Giuliani-style "zero-tolerance" policing pretty well. Sure, there are hardened criminals who seek out "alternative" (to use MikeF's word) positions, but for the most part, I think people drift towards anti-NYPD opinions on account of experience, not some attempt to define themselves as the "other." I want to believe there are ways to hone policing strategies to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods for people of different classes, races, tastes, and ages, but I think blunt instruments like zero tolerance aren't the answer. Just because it's "worked" (by certain definitions) doesn't mean it's the best or only way to address crime, and even policing strategies are working, they can always get better. A million stop and frisks will likely catch a few more criminals, but they'll also criminalize the behavior and demean the citizenship of an entire generation of Black and Latino youth. It's not too much, nor too idealistic, to ask the NYPD and our community to seriously consider these social costs (which, I might add, lead to recalcitrant residents, resentment, and resisting, all of which hinder crime-fighting and put officers at greater risk) when we talk about community-police relations.

  16. Trini and Nick-
    If you two re-read my quickly written piece, you may find that I don't like people being others, and its pretty related to Nick's "we all have to be a team" sentiment.

    I basically wrote that when you have groups that make themselves "other" or which are made to be "other", bad things happen.

    We now seem to be in a discussion over who's fault it is. A fine discussion, but not one that either side (the police or those arrested) has the luxury of focusing on.

    In other words, the system has evolved to make us be on competing teams.

    Zero tolerance rules that affect some groups more than others are but ONE effect. Another effect is an almost complete transfer of power from the courts to the police, as I describe. (such transfers are bad)

    ...ideally, the NYPD is accountable to the city, and carries out the wishes of all its residents. However, like most organizations, it carries out the wishes of those in power.

    Like it or not, it seems they have been told to impose new norms in the neighborhood we live in.

    In tired rhetoric, some will call it "progress", others will call it "imperialism".

    As to who I want to live around, I can't say I really care. ...and such things aren't up to me.

    I only give what I consider to be good advice:

    -The police are trying to change this neighborhood, and (until Nick and others are successful) I advise folks to stay in the hood to stay out of their way.

    As we've all pointed out, a self-defeating cycle is under way.

    ....but as we try desperately to find evidence that a poster (such as myself, Nick, Trini or whoever) sympathizes with one side more than the other, let's not forget this cycle is currently less vicious than it has been in decades. I.E. Both sides are winning!

    But I can't help but think this is all just silliness. In entire areas of the city, the police are told to just focus on documenting crime (not preventing it) because the damage between them and the residents is believed to be beyond repair.

    Yea, they suck at community policing.

    There are so many reasons: They don't get to do it very often, and I can't say I trust them to treat Trini the same way as they treat me.

    But I think the real question is do I want them here?

    ...and I give a hesitant "whether they are here isn't up to me, but this place was a lot worse when they weren't here"

    And another question is: Don't you feel for the residents getting arrested for things they used to be able to do freely?

    Yes, I'd like to live in a world where quality of life rules and laws are consistently and fairly applied. ...but counter that these rules have always been on the books, and people have always known about them.

    And close by stating that the present situation leaves EVERYONE (the police, the rule breaking residents, and the bloggers) in a situation that sucks.

    It will always suck. But overtime, it may suck less.

  17. Interesting link, we moved from Alphabet City 6 years ago... I suppose that's telling.

  18. 12:25-
    Without knowing more, I'm not sure what you move tells.

    It could tell that you were priced out of a gentrifying neighborhood, or it could tell that you moved to a neighborhood you preferred.

    People tend to live in the "most expensive neighborhood" they can afford. For some that means the UES, for others it is Alphabet City, for others it is CH, for others it is ENY.

    The neighborhoods all have different tolerances for crime, quality of housing, median incomes, proximity to transportation, cost of housing, availability of fresh produce, expectations of their police, styles of dress, nightlife, dominant religions, etc.

    When a neighborhood changes, all these aspects change. ...It is very difficult to change one without changing all of the others.

    Change is hard. the future, CH will change again in a different direction. That will be hard too.

  19. It's going to get worse before it gets better - this is only a natural reaction when the demographics of a community change rapidly. As someone who has lived on Franklin and Sterling for 3 and a half years and watched the neighborhood change, and knowing nothing about the incident of last week on Prospect, I will say that I am extremely grateful for the police presence in the neighborhood. The police have assisted me numerous times with noise complaints from unreasonable neighbors (including a restaurant establishment that will remain unnamed) which insists on playing loud music until 11pm or later on Sunday nights. Additionally, there are loud noises, and frightening outbursts of violence and shouting all the time across the street from me. last months kids threw glass bottles at our building. I frankly prefer that there be a zero tolerance policy right now - because uncivilised behaviour leads to violence and a feeling that I am not safe in this neighborhood which I have come to love. I am actually considering moving now because of the escalating violence and I hope that the police men and women who are here to help continue to bravely do their job and contain the rage and violence that daily erupts on our streets.

  20. Kima, "The Wire"September 6, 2011 at 11:50 PM

    "Fighting the war on drugs ... one brutality case at a time."