Precinct introduces neighborly approach to policing

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When Terence O’Toole told Community Board 8 members this past winter big changes were coming to the 50th Precinct, he wasn’t kidding.

First, it was the rollout of body-worn cameras by officers on patrol. Now, it’s the neighborhood coordination officer program, part of the New York Police Department’s neighborhood policing initiative geared toward helping communities collaborate with police officers in a push to keep crime low.

Essentially, the neighborhood coordination officers — better known as NCOs — serve as a liaison between police and the community, plugging themselves into neighborhoods in a way patrol officers aren’t really able to do, talking with residents and gaining ground-level knowledge of what’s happening on the daily.

“We want the community to interact with us,” said O’Toole, the precinct’s commanding officer. “We’re going to be out there walking around, just like we used to, but we’re not going to be out there all day. Officers have to spend two to two-and-a-half hours of their day walking around in different neighborhoods, meeting people, meeting the businesses.”

As with any new program, the transition may not be seamless.

“There will be some learning curve to this, and there may be some resistance,” O’Toole said. “But change has to come. All of the executives of the police department went to a meeting with the police commissioner, and he stressed that this is the way the police department is going to work.”

The 5-0 introduced its newly minted NCOs at an orientation on April 9 at IN-Tech Academy on Tibbett Avenue in the northern corner of Marble Hill, a small ceremony that included NYPD patrol chief Rodney Harrison.

“Any time we get an attendance like this shows me people here tonight are vested into a community,” Harrison said. 

Now, under the neighborhood policing structure, two NCOs are assigned to each sector, O’Toole said, with three in his precinct.

Richard Planamenta and Joseph Rodriguez cover Kingsbridge Heights and Van Cortlandt Village area. Rosa Almonte and Daphina Salomon patrol Kingsbridge Road and Broadway, including Marble Hill. 

The area of Spuyten Duyvil, Fieldston, Riverdale and North Riverdale, is under the purview of Robert Edsall and John Labianca.

 The two New York City Housing Authority developments in the 50th — Marble Hill and Fort Independence houses — also have their own NCOs: Kenneth Samuels and Jordan Gallagher.

Samuels should feel right at home, as he was born and raised in the borough, having graduated from Christopher Columbus High School in Pelham.

 “I wanted to become a cop because I wanted to help people and make sure they put me in the Bronx,” he said. “So I service my community.”

The NCO program will allow crime “to drop even more,” Samuels added. 

“We’re going to be one-on-one, in front of the community, working in the community,” he said. “I feel like we can relate more.”

Gallagher might live upstate, but he said he’s no less committed than his Bronx-bred partner.

“I always wanted to help kids,” Gallagher said. “They always misunderstood cops. They always think we’re like the negative guys, but we’re going to help. We can show you different things. If you don’t have a positive role model, we can be, and show you it’s not always a negative thing.”

Both of these NCOs, who have worked with the 50th since joining the NYPD in 2015, bring experience to their new assignment having patrolled NYCHA properties in the past. 

And in just a month, Samuels had already tallied 29 arrests as of April 4, including eight felonies.

NCOs will hand out business cards with cell phone numbers and email addresses, making it easy for residents to contact them and talk about any issue.

“I guarantee you this,” Harrison said. “Calling your NCO will get that condition addressed a lot faster” than calling 311, “because now you’re speaking to a human, you have that relationship, and you explain to them exactly what’s going on, and then they’ll be able to handle it a lot more expeditiously.”

O’Toole calls Sgt. Mark Giordano “the quarterback” for the NCO program. He’s been with the NYPD for more than a decade, earning his most recent promotion in 2015. Before coming to the 50th Giordano worked in northeast Harlem and Manhattan’s Upper West Side. 

But in a past life, Giordano was a school teacher.

“Wasn’t necessarily my cup a tea,” Giordano said. “I much prefer being a police officer. I’ve done patrol for most of my career, which means running around answering radio calls. But I’m excited to do what all of us have been doing for most of our careers.”

As for how the neighborhood policing model will play out — and whether it’ll actually drive down crime even more — only time will tell. It’s still too soon to gauge how effective it will be, said Lydia Parillon, who’s lived in Kingsbridge for more than 20 years.

“It sounds good,” she said, “but I want to see it in action. We will see.”