The time is absolutely flying by. I can’t quite believe the second full week at John Jay College is now all done. It’s been a very busy week.
I delivered my first lecture on Tuesday. This was a great opportunity to meet a number of international scholars. They came from as far apart as Ireland, St Lucia and China – and everywhere in between. I intended to talk for about 40 minutes, 90 minutes later I was still going – such was the interest in policing in London. I presented some of my recent research, spoke a lot about life in the Met and outlined how I had come to be in New York through the Fulbright programme. I learnt a lot too. China has the highest number of police officers of any country – currently standing at approximately 1.7 million. With a population of 1.4 billion, I guess the number of cops shouldn’t come as a surprise. I was particularly impressed with one of the Chinese students. Just 23 years old, with an impeccable command of the English language – including a cut glass English accent that any BBC news reader would be proud to possess. He had recently completed a “Comparative Criminal Justice’ module, looking at how things are done in London. I had to be on my A-game to deal with his questions and comments, he was frighteningly smart.
I also had the pleasure of meeting a couple of colleagues from An Garda Síochána (Ireland’s National Police and Security Service). They are both at John Jay doing a one-year Master’s programme, through the McCabe Fellowship. Detective Jerry McCabe was a member of the Garda Síochána who was tragically murdered by the IRA in June 1996, during the attempted robbery of a post office van. The academic exchange programme was established that same year, with the intention of sharing good practice in policing between the Republic of Ireland and the United States. Jerry McCabe’s son John was the first recipient of the fellowship, in 1997.
I’ve also continued on my mission to meet many of the John Jay academics whose work I have long admired from afar. I met with Professor Peter Moskos this week. He is a highly regarded policing academic who specialises in qualitative research methods – applying his efforts to explore police culture and crime prevention, amongst other areas. We had a great conversation about our shared experiences of policing on either side of the Atlantic. Peter spent a year as a cop in Baltimore, early in his career, which then became the subject of his book ‘Cop in the Hood’. This text has been on reading lists in criminal justice classes at universities across the US for much of the last decade and remains so today. Peter was kind enough to give me a copy of this book, with a personal message inside.
Peter and I touched upon something that I had discussed with Professor Jon Shane the week before – the number of police departments that exist across the US. There are in the region of 18,000 of them. I was absolutely amazed by this number. If we think about the application of national policing standards – perhaps in terms of crime prevention techniques, victim care or officer safety it becomes clear why the progressiveness (if that’s a word) varies so widely across different US police departments. When I have described the 43 force setup in England and Wales, there is much surprise when I talk about the appetite (at least in some parts of the CJ system) to reduce this number further still. The Met Commissioner’s recent observations that the Home Office has stepped back and shown a lack of leadership (in the context of tackling violent crime), demonstrates how different British policing is to the US in terms of centralised control and policy setting. Oversight of policing from Westminster is light years ahead of that which Washington is able to offer and yet there is an appetite for even more strategic guidance from the Home Office, to help tackle some of policing’s biggest challenges.
I enjoyed a trip to the United Nations HQ on Friday afternoon. The backdrop looked peculiarly familiar, having seen so many British journalists reporting from this famous building over the years. This week has been ‘International Education Week’. Friday’s conference at the UN was the concluding event of the programme. It was a packed agenda, with some influential people from across global academia talking about their experiences of lifelong learning and the importance of exchanging ideas across international borders.
I enjoyed my first visit to an operational NYPD precinct earlier in the week. I spent a couple of hours with the Commanding Officer, sharing anecdotes about our experiences of policing in global cities. He was able to give some interesting views on how the organisation has evolved over the last 25 years. In 1992, there were 2,000 homicides in NYC. In 1994, Bill Bratton was appointed by Mayor Rudy Giuliani as Commissioner of the NYPD. He was given the very specific brief to implement the ‘Broken Windows Theory’ of crime control, in an attempt to drive down violence, drug crime and antisocial behaviour. In 2017 there were fewer than 300 homicides. NYC is clearly now a very different and much safer place. The precinct itself felt very familiar, just like so many of the police stations where I have worked in London. It even seemed to smell the same! There were clearly the same kinds of characters, strong teams, lots of good work taking place and, in most offices, the kettle was on. In the CID office I was surprised to see a couple of cells. It looked like any other CID office I have seen in the Met, but with a couple of cells in the corner. They are there to save the detectives going up and down the stairs to the custody block to get their prisoners for interview. I can think of a number of my old detective colleagues who would have liked that luxury!
I am told that one of the big crime / societal problems in NYC at the moment is the prevalence of Opioid use. I have seen this numerous times already in the last couple of weeks – people in zombie like states wandering the streets. Drug use is very overt in this city. It’s virtually impossible to walk a block anywhere in Manhattan without noticing the overpowering waft of cannabis, it is absolutely everywhere. I know that’s the case in London too, it just seems that people aren’t trying as hard to hide it here. The public mood seems to be moving closer to the legalisation of the drug, as has recently become the case in Canada.
Elsewhere in NYC…
It seems there is never a quiet news day in this City. Mainly because I can’t work out how the TV works properly, I have been soaking up the repetitive headlines from ‘Spectrum News’ all week. Reference kept being made to ‘Hump Day’ – I had no idea what this was. Through the power of Google, I now know that Hump Day is Wednesday. So called because it is the mid point of the working week. Great pub quiz question I reckon.
We saw a huge snowstorm and blizzard conditions on Thursday. The weather forecaster had been reassuring his viewers that there would only be one or two inches of snow and that there would be no disruption. It was clearly his Michael Fish 1987 moment. The city ground to halt, the roads were impassable, trees were falling down (we had to break into a jog to avoid some falling branches on our way to Yoga) and the temperature felt arctic. NYC’s main bus station, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, ended up in mayhem as buses couldn’t get there, to pick up the thousands of passengers who were trying to get home. In some cases, school children were stuck on the yellow school buses you see all over the city for up to 12 hours, trying to get home. Fun Fact: 150,000 school children get to and from school on these little yellow buses every day.
The political fallout has been significant. Lots of finger pointing between the various agencies across the City with the headline criticism being directed towards NYC mayor Bill de Blasio for falling to apologise for the lack of preparedness to deal with the snow fall.
Another big story this week has been the announcement from Amazon that they will be establishing a second HQ in Long Island City, Queens. The web giant have committed to bring 25,000 jobs to the area, invest heavily in local infrastructure and to provide support to help local people develop the skills necessary to secure a job at the new site. My assumption was that this would be seen as good news for an area that would benefit from some regeneration and from improving opportunities for social mobility. Whilst a good proportion of local people are supportive, there is a contrary argument being presented from those who expect to see growth in house prices, increase in the cost of living and a sustained gentrification of the area. New York City had competed hard to win the prize of hosting one of the two additional amazon HQs (the other new host being Arlington, Virginia) so the resistance being reported from some parts of the community is clearly causing some angst for all concerned.
Final update for the week:
Following a visit to Staten Island this afternoon, I have come back to the apartment to an extremely important update from our friends on NY1’s Spectrum News… They really are at the sharp end of journalism…
Get ready for this…
Today is the 90th birthday of “one of the greatest cultural icons of the 21st Century”.
I’m not so sure that’s the description I would use – but Happy Birthday anyway Mr Mouse.
Ninety today, apparently.