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NYPD Pull-Out Experiment in Brownsville to Expand Elsewhere, Chief Says

Police officers on Mother Gaston Boulevard in Brownsville, Dec. 30, 2020.
Police officers on Mother Gaston Boulevard in Brownsville, Dec. 30, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The NYPD says it will expand a small but widely praised Brooklyn policing experiment that swapped cops for community support on a two-block stretch in Brownsville.

During the five-day pilot program last month, a collection of Cure Violence groups, community organizations and city agencies called the Brownsville Safety Alliance set up information booths on Mother Gaston Boulevard as cops from the 73rd Precinct withdrew from their regular posts.

Officers remained a 911 call away from responding to any emergencies.

During a City Council hearing on police reform Monday, Chief of Patrol Juanita Holmes pledged to grow the program.

“I like it, I love it,” Holmes said, responding to questions from Council Justice Committee Chair Adrienne Adams (D-Queens), who cited THE CITY’s reporting on the Brownsville effort.

Holmes told the Council another round of the program is in the works elsewhere in Brooklyn.

Police officials “are currently now identifying the key areas in each of the Brooklyn North commands and developing that type of relationship or partnership with key stakeholders … hopefully to be implemented by the beginning of next week,” she said.

Chief of Patrol Juanita Holmes during a press conference at City Hall announcing her appointment, Oct. 29, 2020.
Chief of Patrol Juanita Holmes during a press conference at City Hall announcing her appointment, Oct. 29, 2020.
Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

The exchange marked a rare moment of agreement during the meeting.

Council members and advocates had spent most of the hearing sparring with NYPD and de Blasio administration representatives over reform efforts following last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.

In an interview with THE CITY after the Council session, Holmes praised Deputy Inspector Terrell Anderson, the new commanding officer of the 73rd Precinct, for “developing relationships with the community and let[ting] them decide where they needed their police.”

“That’s the focus that we have, the mindset that we have in moving forward,” she added. “We used the flood areas with police when I was there, that wasn’t the answer.”

‘Robust New Services’ Needed

The Brownsville Safety Alliance pilot program left many advocates and politicians in the community optimistic about what local Assemblymember Latrice Walker (D-Brooklyn) called “defund the police in actuality.”

During those five days there were no valid 911 calls, officials noted, the only case in which a cop could enter the community-led zone.

Still, expansion of the program poses nagging questions for police reform advocates like Alex Vitale, coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College.

He said putting too much weight on the small-scale success in Brownsville could place future efforts at risk for backlash if there is a violent incident.

“A short-term intervention can create a little blip, but it’s only going to be sustainable if we can really begin to get to the root of the problem,” he told THE CITY while noting that community organizations need more financial support.

“Just setting up some tables and doing some outreach is not going to be enough if there aren’t robust new services available for people to deal with their very real problems,” he added. “I mean, right now people are staring eviction in the face, they’ve lost their jobs. And getting a flyer on a table about some job training program that’s already full is not going to be enough.”

Another concern: If the initiative is led by police rather than by the community, it could quell buy-in from some residents.

“If you’re trying to reach out to the young people most likely to be involved in violence, they hate the police,” Vitale said. “As soon as they see police [involved], they’re not going to go anywhere near the thing.”

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