NYPD commissioner to bring new focus on community policing

Dermot Shea wants to shift the NYPD's focus to a community-oriented policing philosophy using data and drawing on his own experiences


Michael Sisak
Associated Press

NEW YORK — On the Bronx streets where New York City’s new police commissioner started as a patrolman in the crime-ravaged early 1990s, gunfire and burned-out buildings were everywhere.

Sometimes the police radio would crackle with a different kind of call, not for a shooting or stabbing but for a sick child, a locked apartment door or a marriage on the rocks.

Dermot Shea is drawing on his early days as a patrolman as he pushes the nation’s largest police department to cultivate deeper bonds with the communities it serves. (Photo/AP)
Dermot Shea is drawing on his early days as a patrolman as he pushes the nation’s largest police department to cultivate deeper bonds with the communities it serves. (Photo/AP)

“I remember thinking, 'Well, why do they call the police for this? It's not an emergency,'” Commissioner Dermot Shea told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “And, you know, you kind of get a little wiser over time. The reason they call the police is because they really have nobody else to call.”

Shea, 50, is drawing on his early days as he pushes the nation’s largest police department to cultivate deeper bonds with the communities it serves — a key, he says, to building trust and cutting crime.

Shea, the son of Irish immigrants who grew up with four siblings in Queens, wants the NYPD’s 36,000 officers to remember their jobs are primarily about people — whether that means rushing to a crime scene, comforting a victim or merely lending a hand.

In many ways, he said, officers are "the glue that holds the city together.”

“Hopefully that’s the message we get to our cops and recruits, that everything you do is about helping people, working with people, serving people,” Shea said.

Shea was sworn in Dec. 2 as the city’s 44th police commissioner, succeeding James O’Neill, who left after three years on the job to become a security chief at Visa. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was awed by Shea’s intellect and saw him as “the future of the NYPD."

Critics chided de Blasio for picking another white man to lead the department, which has had only two black commissioners. Since then, Shea has appointed the NYPD's first black chief of detectives and has made other changes to diversify the leadership.

It’s been an eventful first month for Commissioner Shea, between a rash of anti-Semitic attacks and the fatal stabbing of a Barnard College freshman — a case with the added sensitivity of youth suspects. Then there were the security implications after the U.S. last week killed a top Iranian general, and continued fallout from statewide reforms that eliminate bail for nonviolent felonies.

In previous leadership roles, Shea developed data-driven strategies for fighting and preventing crime, and helped move the NYPD to a community-oriented philosophy that encourages officers to interact with residents. Those changes followed a controversial era of stop-and-frisk and “broken windows” policing, which viewed low-level offenses as a gateway to bigger crimes. A judge found stop-and-frisk discriminatory.

Now, with crime in the city already very low, Shea wants to push further. He yearns for a day when the NYPD measures crimes prevented.

“We're at a unique point, just as we were at a unique point in 2014 and we pivoted away from how we policed this city and maintained order and drove crime down and accomplished that softer touch,” Shea said.

“Because we’ve gone through that process already, where neighborhood policing started the last couple of years, where we’ve started to build a lot of these relationships, we’ve changed the mindset of officers on what policing looks like.”

Associated Press
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