NYC community groups to play formal role in hiring of NYPD precinct commanders: de Blasio

January 28, 2021
New York Daily News

Community groups will now play a formal role in the selection of NYPD precinct commanders, Mayor de Blasio announced Thursday.

Police precinct community councils will be able to interview candidates who are being considered for the posts and review their performance after they’ve been hired under the plan.

Yet the council’s feedback is only advisory, and the police commissioner will have a final say over who’s chosen.

“This is unprecedented in the history of the NYPD,” Hizzoner said at his Thursday morning press briefing. “We’re bringing the voices of the community forward to determine who would be the right leader, and that’s going to help, I think, in a myriad of ways.”

De Blasio said the new process would begin “immediately.”

When a position opens up, the NYPD will provide the relevant precinct council with a list of between three and five candidates to review and interview, and the council would then make a recommendation to the police commissioner.

Once a commander is put into a precinct, the council will have “an ongoing role” to formally evaluate the commander’s work, de Blasio said.

Leaders for the Captains Endowment Association, which represents captains and above in the department, seemed unfazed by the Mayor’s new plan.

”The Police Commissioner has always had the authority to appoint precinct commanders,” CEA President Chris Monahan said. “What information he uses to arrive at a decision is his prerogative.”

Precinct Community Council meetings are usually held once a month to give residents a chance to address crime issues in their community, so it wasn’t clear if these interviews will be held by the entire group or just the council board. An email to the NYPD about the logistics behind these interviews were not immediately released.

Critics said the Mayor’s new initiative amounted to nothing more than window dressing, since historically most council boards are pro-cop.

Kesi Foster, a spokesman for Communities United for Police reform, called de Blasio’s plan a “distraction from the epidemic of police violence and NYPD impunity.”

“Limiting community input to precinct councils, which are heavily NYPD influenced and rarely include police critics, makes clear that this is a PR move to try to trick the public into accepting limited input instead of ensuring we have the power to build true safety in our communities,” Foster said. “De Blasio wants to make all sorts of claims about police ‘reform and reinvention,’ but in reality, the NYPD-led community engagement process has been a sham from the start.”

The announcement, which de Blasio plans to include in his state of the city address Thursday night, comes several months after demonstrators flooded the city’s streets to protest the death of George Floyd, who died in the custody of a Minneapolis cop. Tensions between police and many New Yorkers have persisted with de Blasio regularly vowing that more police reform is on the way.

Last week, de Blasio announced the creation of a police disciplinary matrix, a non-binding set of guidelines that lays out how cops will be punished for misconduct.

On Thursday, de Blasio credited Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for giving him the idea to include the councils in the precinct commander hiring process. Adams, who’s running for mayor, announced his intention to adopt a similar plan earlier this month and will expand the plan if elected to office.

“An administration under Eric Adams would expand the number of people who will interview these new commanders, it’s not just going to be the precinct council,” the borough president said. “We’re going to bring in civic leaders, business leaders, the community board and they are not going to be just advisory, they are going to have veto power.

“Commanders need to know that they serve at the pleasure of the people,” he said. “We want to change the dynamic.”

A precinct commander can be one of the most powerful positions in the city because they have an army of officers under their sole command and they direct how policing is handled within their borders.

For too long, problem commanders booted from their precincts have been dumped on unsuspecting residents in other communities, Adams said. This new system will hopefully bring an end to that.

“There are communities who inherit commanders with their past so checkered that it’s already a recipe for disaster,” Adams said. “These commanders then taint the officers who go out and police the community.”

When asked if he would endorse Adams for mayor, de Blasio stopped short of backing his City Hall run.

“I do not have a plan at this moment to get involved,” he said. “I don’t rule out getting involved. It’s early.”

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea called it a “win” because “people want to feel a connection to their NYPD, and especially at the leadership positions. And this, I think, really goes very far into building that trust — both ways,” he said.

But he also thought there could be problems.

“Internally in the police department some people are probably saying — and I know they are — ‘Well, why do I have to do this? Why would I go to the community and get interviewed? Fast forward: We pick you, that’s exactly who you’re working for. Moving that to the front of the process and having that open dialogue and letting each side see the other, I think there’s incredible synergy from that. I think there’s a real opportunity for transparency ... and I think it professionalizes the process internally.

“It’s almost like going on a job interview.”

Jennifer Jones Austin, a member of the city’s Police Reform Advisory Council, predicted the move would be “another meaningful step forward” in neighborhoods “that have been overpoliced and racialized for far too long.”

“It’s going to help build deeper relationships and trust,” she said.