We joined officers of the 4-6 on patrol on two busy nights and found them responding to a crime wave on a scale they have never experienced.
“I grew up in the South Bronx. I’ve never seen this,” Officer Yesenia Rosado told CNN.
Here, these officers find many of the shooters and victims are still in their teens.
“It sucks to see 16-year-old kids shooting and killing each other,” said Officer Katherine Torres. “And that’s what we do see a lot of here. We have 16-year-olds with robbery patterns and murder charges and it’s like they didn’t actually get to be kids.”
“I’ll still be at work and they’ll be back at the precinct picking up their property before I’m even done with court,” said Officer Michael Kearns.
There’s a growing animosity
“I will say words matter,” Inspector Joseph Seminara, commanding officer of the 46th Precinct, told CNN. “I think a lot of the small element here, that’s making quality of life miserable, that’s making the hard-working community feel emboldened, that it’s OK to ignore a lawful command by the police. It’s OK to fight the police. Words matter.”
The growing animosity creates real dangers for these officers on the beat.
“We’ve had people threaten us, you know, threaten to kill us, threaten to kill our families,” Officer Rosado told me. “‘I hope your family dies. I hope your family gets raped.’ You know like, stuff like that, that we’re supposed to brush off. “
This environment can have a debilitating effect on the rank and file. The NYPD is now shedding officers faster than it can recruit new ones. Some are retiring early or simply leaving the force. Officers say it is partly a problem of morale.
“We have over 6 million calls for service a year,” Commissioner Shea said. “We may have negative encounters where we have to arrest people, without force being used, but hundreds of thousands of times a year. Jim, one bad incident can set you back so far and you see that across the country.”
As New York and other cities simultaneously grapple with the aftermath of Floyd’s killing and the rise in crime, police are debating a whole range of police policies and tactics.
“We had a situation last year with the murder of George Floyd where we had hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people marching and they had a voice too and they had a point of view,” Shea said. “So I think what we need is balance. What worries me is over time when we move too quick and now we have to recalibrate and kind of play catch up if you will.”
‘We are never going to let it go back to the bad old days’
“It’s how you do it and do you overuse it? And who are you stopping, in what neighborhoods and for what reason? That’s the discussion. Clearly when there was almost 700,000 in one year, I don’t think you need a courtroom to know that’s too far one way,” Shea said.
Nationwide, there is now a far broader debate about the very definition of policing.
When we joined them on patrol, we found officers repeatedly facing difficult decisions over the incidents they address versus those better suited for EMS or social services. On patrol, we witnessed a familiar kind of call for them: A man experiencing a potential mental health episode — possibly brandishing a weapon. In fact, “EDP,” shorthand for emotionally disturbed person, is a phrase we heard repeatedly on police radio.
The officers we met remain committed to the job of policing, but we could sense their frustration. Just a few years ago, violent crime across the city was at its lowest in decades.
“We are never going to let it go back to the bad old days. We have a spike in violence right now, as many other cities do,” Shea told me. When I asked him if it was controllable, he said, “Absolutely. We’re going to need help though. We’re going to need help.”
“We not only help you in terms of the violence that’s going on, but also what else do you have going on that you need help with?” Caba told CNN. “Maybe there’s a substance abuse issue. Maybe you need some housing. There’s a difference with us. With us there’s no badge, there’s no gun, there’s no handcuffs, there’s no bulletproof vest. It’s our credibility. That is our strength.”