(two officers - not the two mentioned in the following story - patrol Franklin Avenue as part of Operation Impact)
Last week, I found myself walking about 10 feet behind two young police officers as I made my way home down Franklin. The pair, presumably part of the NYPD's Impact Zone, were joking and laughing, when one asked the other (raising his voice enough for me to hear), "Hey, is that the guy you thought was drinking earlier?" as he gestured at an elderly man heading into the BNI Laundromat. The second officer answered "yeah," and the first replied excitedly, "Let's fuck with him! Let's fuck with him!" Officer number two agreed. "Yeah, let's fuck with him," he said, as the two picked up their pace and ducked into the laundromat. As I watched from outside, they confronted the man, who looked frazzled and frustrated, and who clearly wasn't drinking anything at that particular moment. Still, the officers ushered him out of the laundromat as he shouted "I wasn't drinking anything!" Once outside, they laughed and told him to get lost, and he stormed past me muttering angrily about cops always harassing him. The two officers turned and headed back up the hill toward Eastern Parkway, and I stood wondering whether it was worth telling the officers that I didn't think it was their job to "fuck with" people. Since I've got a bit of a public platform here, I can say it now: Impact Zone officers absolutely should not gleefully "fuck with" anyone. If the man in question was drinking earlier, issue him a citation for an open container at that moment and be done with it. Acting like a couple of high school bullies might provide an ego boost for young officers who are none too fond of walking Impact beats, but it doesn't make anyone safer, it's completely unprofessional, a complete waste of our tax dollars, and in the context of the particular incident I witnessed, it confirms the critique that zero tolerance policing amounts to institutionalized racially-based harassment (particularly in changing neighborhoods).
I can't argue that this incident was representative of our particular Impact Zone, and I can absolutely say that I've seen several officers from both the Impact Zone and the 77th Precinct serving professionally up and down Franklin, particularly since the CHCA made an effort to encourage them to work on their community interactions back in May. However, I think it's important to highlight incidents like these, because one ugly interaction can overshadow months of good work, and because this kind of police behavior can needlessly escalate routine interactions. In the context of years of damning reports about the quality of NYPD training and quota-driven policing, including the Voice's devastating "NYPD tapes" reporting (which brought forth similar reports from other precincts) and, more recently, the hateful "Third Jihad" video (a story that was also originally broken by the Voice, which has done heroic work on police abuses in the last few years), it's hard not to see this kind of behavior as indicative of the poor instruction officers receive before they enter "Impact Zones." I'm unclear on exactly how officers are prepared (one would think such preparation would include encouragement not to "fuck with" people), but the very language used to describe these areas ("high risk," etc) encourages police (and media) to see them as war zones, ones where police are empowered, if not required, to bring an extra dose of aggression to the job. Such aggression doesn't just lead to meatheaded behavior - it can have deadly and tragic consequences for New Yorkers.
Local community groups and politicians tend to support Impact Zones, and the NYPD routinely crows about their effectiveness. Insisting that officers be trained to see locals not as threats or targets for intimation but as community members who desire safe streets as much as they do (and the vast majority of residents, even in the most "dangerous" neighborhoods, want exactly this) can only improve their effectiveness, the quality of life for residents, and the safety of officers. It's not too much to demand that police perform their duties professionally, and behave not as the occupying army of a billionaire, but as public servants.