NCOs, police brutality lawyer strive for peace on streets

Royce Russell chronicles his work as a lawyer for minority communities in his new book, ‘Cardiac Arrest’

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Throughout history, the relationship between the police and those they have sworn to serve and protect has proven to be complex. And it certainly isn’t just an international issue — it’s one that comes up all too frequently here in the United States as well.

That prompted attorney Royce Russell’s new book, “Cardiac Arrest,” tackling that relationship with a tactical guide on how to best interact with law enforcement.

Much of Russell’s inspiration for his book comes from his cases involving false arrest, police brutality and immigration issues, and how he applied what he learned growing up in the Bronx. Some of his tips include making an effort to always have identification, as well as staying calm, composed and aware.

If possible and safe, he also advises people interacting with law enforcement to record the interaction or make a phone call during. This, he says, helps hold everyone objectively accountable.

“We could never predict the future, and we could never be prepared for the future,” Russell said. “You could go to college and you may not get that opportunity you want, but that doesn’t mean you don’t go.”

Back in 2012, the same year Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida, Russell served as the attorney for the family of a different unarmed black teen in the Bronx — Ramarley Graham, 17, who was shot to death in his home by officer Richard Haste.

“I can tell you that it was very emotional,” Russell said about the departmental trial where he represented Graham’s family, accusing Haste of not following proper police protocol. “It definitely was emotional and frustrating because there was a lack of transparency from the police department, and this is not anything new. You do become emotionally drained because you’re dealing with the emotional ups and downs.”

The 50th Precinct has taken an extra step in terms of community interaction through its neighborhood coordination program. The NCOs, as they are called, are tasked to make an effort to build communication bridges in the communities they protect.

“Well, as a regular officer, you head to a job when people call 911,” said John Labianca, an NCO at the 50th Precinct. “But with this position, we work with the people of the community and we hold meetings once every quarter. They tell us what they see is going on in their neighborhood, and we go ahead and work with them and try to get rid of the problems in people’s neighborhood.”

Sgt. Mark Giordano has watched the community change drastically since the NCO program began last April.

“It makes us more accessible,” he said. “The point is to be approachable and know who your officers are. We want you to come to us, and I think that’s always been the case. We get emails and phone calls, and people feel comfortable.”

In fact, late last year, NCOs Jordan Gallagher and Kenneth Samuels seized an illegal gun from off the streets. The NCO position is built on trust between police and the community, and at least as far as Russell is concerned, it’s a step forward.

“I think those are wonderful programs that are needed,” he said. “And when you talk about gun violence, one of the ways you’re going to end gun violence is having a community that believes in the police.”

Russell has spent most of his career working on the civil rights side of law, focusing on minorities who seem to be disproportionately targeted by law enforcement.

“You have to be blind not to realize that this is disproportionately an issue for people of color,” Russell said.

As an attorney and someone who grew up in the south Bronx, he not only takes into account the legal relationship between cops and civilians, but the social relationship as well.

“People that are in power and the people that make decisions are oftentimes not in tune with the reality of how cases like this arise,” Russell said. “Or some police are not in tune with how police are perceived and how people in those areas perceive them.”