Dear 34th Precinct

August 24, 2012:

I’m leaving this up because I wrote it and meant it. However, I’ve learned more since then, so I can’t stand behind it. There may be another blog entry coming—not sure yet.


I’M A RECENT attendee of the Citizens’ Police Academy program and a persistent participant in a couple of attempts at establishing safety patrols in Inwood, including the latest Northern Manhattan Civilian Observation Patrol, which you have an interest in. I’m also a mystery writer (or was, before life veered), a father, and a small business owner.

So when I ask, “What the hell were you thinking,” that’s who’s asking.

You spent how much money on presenters for the Citizens’ Academy? How many man-hours of organization and prep time did it require, and presentation time, and calling in favors, and uniformed officers driving us back and forth in police cars, all in the name of trying to connect better with the community? I have a picture of me shaking hands with Ray Kelly at the graduation ceremony at 1 Police Plaza; clearly you wanted to make a point there.

Or maybe not “shaking hands with,” so much as “having my hand gripped by,” since that’s how he fixed me in place for the grip-and-grin.

Which came after the speech you chose from a few submitted by citizen attendees.

Which was chosen after you gave out examples of what kind of speech you wanted, which praised the program.

Which came before the presentation of the plaque of appreciation you kept hitting us up for money for.

The program was terrific in a lot of ways, and I learned a lot—and that’s no lie—but you guys have a serious problem understanding what your role in a healthy relationship with the community would look like.

IF YOU WANT to be seen as part of a community, don’t do this:

Cops Paint Over Inwood Mural That Depicts NYPD as “Murderers”

PRETTY MUCH EVERY expert you chose to address the Citizens’ Police Academy (and most were truly outstanding) referred repeatedly to the NYPD as “the best of the best.” They painted a picture of a department of such high caliber and uncompromising standards that heads turn when the mere letters “NYPD” are mentioned. Foreign and domestic military commanders, we were informed, know that when they have an NYPD officer under their command, they have at their disposal the best of the best.

But wow. The best of the best really freak out when somebody calls them a mean name.

Putting aside the free speech issue (you guys screwed up on that one, and no gray area, but it’s not where I’m going), what I really want to get across is this:

You do not know how to be good community members.

We were told that if we want better community involvement with the police, try saying hello to the cop on the corner. We were also told that it’s going to take more than just one attempt before that cop starts responding.

Okay, we can do that.

How about you guys get out of your cars once in a while, and don’t stand around texting instead of engaging with people, and, oh, I don’t know—

Don’t throw tantrums?

CLEARLY, SOME OF you do know what community is.

Clearly, they are not in charge.

I KNOW THERE are plenty of lawyers on salary there who can provide lots of reasons your actions were within certain guidelines, and were taken in the interest of the greater good, and probably something in there about defamation, or incendiary language. Or you know what?—probably I’m wrong and they wouldn’t even address the real problem in the first place, just deflect and blow a whole bunch of sunshine up the media’s butt until the only people left who care are locals.

I am not a lawyer. My honest assessment of the men and women who addressed us at the Citizens’ Academy were that they’re a pretty low-BS bunch too. I think they want to make a real difference, and want a true connection, and if it were up to some of them, they’d handle this screwup honestly and in a straightforward way. To quote The Princess Bride:

We are men of action. Lies do not become us.

You screwed up. Not only did you screw the community, but if you didn’t consult your own community relations officers before taking this boneheaded action, you screwed them, too. They’ve been making slow headway; I’m an example. But the department as a whole? I trust you less than I did a week ago, which already wasn’t as much as you’d like. If you’re going to react like an insecure teenager when somebody calls you a name, and sneak around and paint walls and destroy other people’s creations, I’m not going to consider you a trustworthy adult. Thanks for your interest in assisting the local safety patrols, which I’m hoping will result in something better than we could do without you. (Jury’s out; bureaucracy moves slowly.) Thanks also for the Citizens’ Police Academy—which, despite being 19% marketing and 1% Jesus references, was still 80% very interesting stuff that I can take back to my community.

But part of being a community member—a real community member, not just somebody who tries to get others on their side for the furthering of their own agenda—is owning up when you screw up, person to person, without intermediaries, and doing what you can to put things right.

If you can’t do that, you can’t fault anyone who concludes, “To hell with you.”

WHEN I WAS a kid, I completely destroyed a set of croquet mallets, knocking a hole in the cinder block wall that separated our yard from the one next door.

My parents made me go over and apologize, and my dad had to fix the holes.

If the undercover officers who blacked out the mural and the people who authorized that action can’t be bothered to apologize personally to the artist, negotiate the property owner back into a feeling of freedom, and paint a new base coat over the damage they did, to his specification, so he can paint something new, then all the community efforts you’re making right now are nearly meaningless. Unless you show the community that you can do what needs to be done and act like cops instead of like flacks and lawyers, this one act has undone them. Even if completely different officers perpetrated the censorship, it’s the department as a whole that has shown it can’t be trusted—and particularly the 34th, where this occurred. My neighborhood. My precinct.

You want to get respect? Give respect. Act like a grownup. Strive for honor, not legal inculpability. Be standup.

It’s not like we can’t tell the difference.

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1 Comment

Filed under Being a grownup, Civil rights, Community, Inwood, NYPD, Safety

One response to “Dear 34th Precinct

  1. Rosemarie Kliegman

    Fantastic! Thank you!

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