NYC Police Shooting Puts Focus on Local Officer Plan

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio touts a neighborhood policing program where officers get to know local residents. They aren’t the same officers who may get involved in shooting neighborhood figures they do not know.

The fatal police shooting of a mentally ill Brooklyn man raises questions about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s neighborhood policing program, reports the New York Times. Saheed Vassell was known as an idiosyncratic local figure. Plainclothes anti-crime officers who answered a smartphone alert for someone waving a silver gun on Wednesday didn’t know him at all. Police officials argued it hardly mattered which officers answered the call or what training they had. Any officers facing what appeared to be a gun aimed at them (it actually was a pipe) would have little choice but to fire,  officials said. Security camera videos showed Vassell, 34, startling people on the street and jabbing the pipe into one man’s chest.

The killing may reveal the shortcomings of a local policing program that de Blasio has pitched as a cure for excessive police force, but which may play no role in the hurried encounters that determine whether someone lives or dies. Community policing officers focus on meeting residents and getting to know their concerns. They are often not the ones rushing to reports of armed people or stickups in progress. The officers who answer those fast-moving calls — many of them part of specialty units, like the anti-crime officers who responded Wednesday — have little more to go on than a dispatcher’s relay of a 911 call and what they see in front of them. Protesters marched on Thursday in response to Vassell’s killing. They said officers acted too quickly in dealing with a man whose mental illness was well known. Too often, skeptics of the mayor’s plan say, that means someone who looks dangerous but actually needs help is met with an onrush of officers who know nothing about him.