Unlike protesters locally and nationwide who believe the police cannot be reformed and should be defunded, Gabe De Jesus points to his memories of growing up in the South Bronx in the 1970s, when, he says, cops walked a beat, interacting with him and his neighbors.
For the past decade, De Jesus has been president of the 40th Precinct Community Council, liaising between Mott Haven and Melrose residents and police from the Four-0. Following protests that rocked the city when marchers clashed with NYPD and other law enforcement, De Jesus says level heads are needed to ensure practical reforms are enacted.
Initiatives such as the NYPD’s Neighborhood Coordination Officers program are a sign that the police are responsive to residents’ distrust of cops, he said.
“Has it worked? I think it has,” said De Jesus. “They’re supposed to be like the beat cops from back in the day. In the Four-0 they’ve gained a lot of trust. The NYPD is continuing to evolve.”
Richard Guevara, the Community Council’s treasurer who has led initiatives aimed at bridging the gap between communities and the police, says civilian oversight of police is a useful middle ground that helps keep cops honest.
“When it’s time to celebrate, it’s time to celebrate. When it’s time to correct, it’s time to correct,” he said.
“The next phase to this is how is this bridge going to get built, but we’re missing the planks to get across,” said Guevara. The first plank, he said, is communication.
Law enforcement isn’t equipped to contend with issues like mental illness or those that arise from poverty, advocates who march under the banner of defunding the police contend. Guevara is skeptical that community alternatives to policing are the solution.
“Where’s the security?” he said. “Let’s go back to the ‘70s. How did the Guardian Angels come about? There was a time when NYPD’s community affairs was run by civilians. Are we talking about auxiliary cops? Residents patrolling? Are those people going to tell me they’re going to look out and say no one’s going to come through our neighborhood?”
“These community councils and community boards are inept, too cozy with police, completely out of touch,” responds protest organizer Shellyne Rodriguez. “There is nothing to repair with NYPD because there was never a relationship.”
“We need care. We need services. Why is a violent force used for someone with mental illness? These are things that can be managed without police intervention.”