A bit of a delay in getting this blog written, no doubt it has caused a sense of longing and bewilderment – sorry about that. It was Thanksgiving last week, so I had some eating to do, which rather got in the way.
As seems to now be the norm for life in NYC, it was another busy week. I was invited to speak to a cohort of Master’s students on Tuesday, by Professor Peter Moskos (I mentioned Peter’s book last week, Cop in the Hood. I’m making good progress, it’s a great read). This was a really interesting evening, all officers from the NYPD who have secured places on this fully funded programme. They all hold the rank of Captain or above (equivalent to Chief Inspector, ish, in the UK) and are doing the course in the evenings/weekends after busy days in their respective roles across the Police Department. The first hour of the lecture was spent discussing use of lethal force by police in the US, framed by the national statistics published in The Washington Post. There is some really insightful data available, allowing you to drill down to the some of the detail that sits behind each shooting. Geography and ethnicity are particularly interesting. The headline figures are frightening: 876 people have been killed by US law enforcement since January.
Whilst the temptation is to sit in judgement and laud the fact that things are so different in the UK (one fatality this year), that would fail to recognise the complexity of the issue. Firearms are part of the fabric of this country. It is in the DNA. Less so in NYC, of course, but in over 40 US states the ‘open carry’ of firearms is lawful and so the nature of the threat that US law enforcement are dealing with is simply not comparable to that which we see in UK policing. I stand by my observations in last week’s blog that the use of lethal force against unarmed suspects remains a concern, but within the context of gun culture in the US, I do understand why the perception of threat is always so high (even if the facts of the given incident do not always support that perception).
I was given the floor for the second half of the lecture. A 10 minute input on ‘Policing in the UK’ led to over an hour of good conversation and debate about the way in which things differ on either side of the pond. The NYPD folks seemed pretty envious of the annual leave provision given to cops in the UK – but less so in relation to our pay and pensions! An officer here can retire on a full pension with 20 years service. Home Secretary, please take note. We spoke about how public confidence and victim satisfaction are important performance measures in London. From my understanding, colleagues here in NYC are doing a lot of good work in relation to this kind of stuff. The recent introduction of a neighbourhood policing model in the City is one example of practical steps being taken to improve relationships between the NYPD and New Yorkers.
The conversation, predictably, turned again to police use of firearms. I was asked if I have ever carried a gun (no), would I want to (no) and, importantly, why not? I explained that I would be willing to use lethal force if a given threat made it a necessary, legal and proportionate response. However, I have always been concerned about the impact upon an officer who uses a firearm in the course of their duty. A firearms officer in the UK is carrying a gun at immense personal risk. Not just the physical risk of being exposed to the most dangerous end of policing, but also personal (career) risk associated with shooting someone. Scrutiny is absolutely right and proper. However, the time taken for such scrutiny to be applied and the associated impact on officers and their families is not. Perhaps this says more about me than it does about the process, but that has long been my view and remains so. I explained to the class that I am able to feel comfortable with this choice, because (a) the threat posed by the ‘baddies’ remains manageable without routine arming and (b) a number of extremely brave colleagues are willing to carry a firearm and, due to their incredible skill and professionalism, keep me and my unarmed colleagues safe. I applaud their bravery and will always do all I can to support them.
I moved into a new office this week. The open plan space I had been given in my first week seemed great, but it is a busy environment with lots of chatter, so concentrating and getting some writing done was proving problematic. I’ve got two articles on the go at the moment, plus a deadline for my Master’s course, which is getting uncomfortably close, so I really do need to knuckle down and get some work done. I shared this whinge with Peter (I know, first world problems) and he kindly found me a small office. It’s not indifferent to the cells I used to oversee as a custody officer at Hounslow nick, but it has fast Wi-Fi and is quiet. So I have actually started to make some progress.
I am just across the hallway from Chris Herrmann and am now neighbours with Jon Shane and Heath Grant, all great CJ academics who I can learn a lot from. We all went for lunch last week, at a proper American diner, just a block down from the University. Having put on far too much weight over the past few months (17lbs since July – now that takes some doing) I had been very good for the first three weeks of the trip. I caved at lunch and had French Toast with lashings of maple syrup. It was amazing. Back on the wagon now (kind of).
We talked about Jon Shane’s experience of British policing. He spent six months in the UK, through an exchange scheme with the College of Policing, which I understand doesn’t exist anymore. We have agreed to talk further about how we could get this re-established. A John Jay academic used to spend 6 months hosted by the College, with a British cop spending 6 months in New York. I intend to speak to colleagues back home to look again at why we are no longer doing this – it’s a real shame. We also continued a discussion I mentioned in last week’s blog, about the difference in approach to police reform in the US. With ‘only’ 43 forces in England and Wales, strategic oversight from the Home Office and the growing influence of the College of Policing it is (relatively) simple for good ideas in one part of the country to become best practice nationally. It’s not so easy here. With 18,000 separate police agencies and little federal control of policing, the ability of academics such as the team at John Jay to influence on a national scale is limited.
To give my new colleagues a sense of the kind of stuff that is making headlines in the UK, I showed Chris, Jon and Heath the video that was all over the UK news last week, of the officers in Merton getting attacked by two suspects they were trying to detain. They were just as angered by what they saw as I was. In moments such as that, perhaps the propensity here for a more direct use of force isn’t such a bad thing…
My other new neighbour at the University is Professor Zelma Henriques. She has been at John Jay for more than 30 years and is now in her final few months before retirement. She is a global expert on ‘women in prisons’ and has published widely in her field. Her approach to teaching sounds great, with lots of experts being invited in to give a real practical perspective. Last week she invited a chap called Ian Manuel to deliver a guest lecture. He was imprisoned 26 years ago for shooting a woman, Debbie Baigrie, during a Robbery. Whilst Manuel was in prison, Baigrie forgave him and campaigned for his release so that he could be given a second chance. They are now friends. This video below explains their story (be patient during the cheesy advert before the video starts). Next week, I am delivering a lecture to Zelma’s class, I guess no one else was available.
All the talk in the week was of it being the coldest Thanksgiving this century and it certainly felt like it. One of my mates from home, Phil, came out to visit last week, so we went to the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. I can’t begin to explain how cold it was. We walked back through central park and then lunched at a very nice little pub on the Upper East Side before heading to a comedy club in midtown, a really good night with some top class comedians. We ended up in a bar with some live music. Without doubt the most talented musicians I have ever seen. A black guy, a white guy, a Mexican – all with amazing voices. The chatter from them between the songs was about ‘walls’ and ‘caravans from Mexico’. They were mocking Trump relentlessly. All very funny.
Four final observations from me…
Tipping: I get it that this is a cultural thing and it’s just different here, but with my Britishness I am really struggling.
Would you like the change? YES I BLOODY WOULD!
How would you like to tip, on the card or with cash? HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU’RE GETTING A TIP!?!?!
I hate shopping. Just hate it. Braving the madness of Black Friday is my worst nightmare, but – it seems that my rather flimsy jacket from Next is just not quite going to cut it in the freezing conditions here. So I ventured into Macy’s and found an absolute bargain. A $400 jacket (I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much on a car, let alone a coat) was reduced to $99, so I am now nice and warm. If you were worried, you can now relax, safe in the knowledge that I am not getting cold or wet.
Diane Abbott – please digest the blog on the link below from a former colleague, before making attempts to score political points via policing subject matter upon which you are ill informed. Particularly note: “…the responsibility that every critic has to suggest alternatives to the things they don’t like. It isn’t enough to sit back and tell the rest of us what you are against. You need to tell us what you are for. If you’re not keen on the idea of suspects being knocked off mopeds, you need to come up with a better alternative.”
I was on the end of some New York directness earlier this week. Having boarded the subway and positioned myself, I hoped, thoughtfully and out of anyone’s way, I received some gentle feedback:
“What a ridiculous place to just stop walking, you’re right in my way”
I think he meant, “excuse me”. I must have just misheard.
That’s all folks. I’m on a flight to LA now, looking forward to seeing some colleagues from London at a conference tomorrow. I can report that internal flights in the US are just like those in Europe: full of screaming children and the chap in front of me has been sniffing for the last 6 hours without blowing his nose once. It is a long way, but I may walk back to New York, that feels like the better option right now.
A little music to get me in the mood for exploring LA…