At St. Francis: Finding a balance with police and communities
St. Francis College hosted two reporters — Harry Siegel and Azi Paybarah — for a talk called “Policing in New York and America” in Brooklyn Heights on Friday. The pair discussed the current state of policing in the city with a focus on how cops and communities can find a balance that works for both sides.
“New York City is a forward looking, progressive, great place to live as long as it’s safe,” said Paybarah, a reporter at Capital New York. “If crime starts to increase and goes back to the way it was in the ’60s and ’80s, all of these liberties and things that we take for granted, all of the flexibility we give one another, starts to recede because no one wants their families, lives or property put in jeopardy.”
Siegel, who is a columnist for the New York Daily News, said while there is a call for change in the way cops police communities, it’s difficult because not everyone perceives the problem the same way. He cited a Rasmussen poll conducted last year where 82 percent of black people who responded said they felt that police treat them unfairly while only 30 percent of white people agreed.
“In New York there is some real constituency for policing change, but there are a lot of other people who feel nervous,” Siegel said. “This is a big city, and crazy stuff happens all the time whether it’s safe or not.
“There is some call for change, but it’s delicate. [Police Commissioner] Bratton, I think, is slowly moving in that direction.”
Siegel pointed out that Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom he said was elected due in part to promises to end the “stop-and-frisk era,” has been deliberate in how he goes about reform. Paybarah added that if crime reverts back to the era of the ’90s, then he loses his flexibility to focus on other projects like Vision Zero or universal pre-K.
Siegel and Paybarah opened the discussion to questions from the audience where the balancing act and the difference in people’s perceptions became apparent. A few people questioned whether police were acting like New York City is still experiencing crime as if it were the ’90s, while others wondered if this wasn’t an issue more about personal accountability.
While there were no answers for such a complex issue at the discussion, most agreed that the balance is off and needed to be restored.
“If we can stop [stop and frisk] and still have a reasonably safe city where people in rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods feel reasonably comfortable going outside at night, I think it’s fairly obvious that is going to be a better balance if we can get there,” Siegel said.
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