Back in the saddle

Christmas Eve in NYC was great fun. Following a recommendation from one of the chaps that I’ve met since being here, we went to Gramercy Park for carols around the Christmas tree. The park is very similar to somewhere like St James’s Square Garden in London: expensive houses on all four sides of the square, with perfectly manicured gardens in the middle. The unique thing about Gramercy Park is that it is private. Only people residing around the park who pay an annual fee have a key. So the Christmas Eve carols present a once-a-year opportunity for non-locals to have a look in the park. It was a short sharp session, all done after 45 minutes and then we were so cold we had no option but to retire to a local McDonalds for dinner. Special Christmas treat.

Christmas Day involved an early morning yoga class, a brisk walk around Central Park, dinner at our local diner (no turkey in sight) and then to the cinema to watch Mary Poppins. We’d speculated as to whether or not there would be anything open in NYC on Christmas Day – we need not have worried. Whilst the streets were a little quieter in terms of pedestrians and vehicles on the Upper East Side, once we got down to Times Square it was absolute mayhem. In the 10 weeks I’ve been here, I’ve not seen it as busy as it was on the evening of the 25th. The Subway, the restaurants, the bars, the cinema – everywhere was absolutely bustling with tourists, noise, atmosphere and energy. This place really is the city that never sleeps. Although not a massive fan of Christmas, there is always a nice sense on Christmas day that everyone, of all faiths and none, is doing the same thing – not much. [Apart from, of course, many of my colleagues in policing and the other blue light services]. That isn’t the case here. Folk were sitting in Starbucks tapping away on MacBooks (blogging, perhaps), many of the shops were open and the restaurant trade didn’t pause for breath. No let up at all.

Many of you may have seen the footage that went viral this week of an NYPD cop dealing with five drunk yobs on a Subway platform. It was like something straight out of the officer safety training manual: lots of loud verbal commands, clearance strikes with the baton and good use of some footwork to distance the assailants (see video below). The interesting point for me was the way the NYPD then put the officer in front of the TV news cameras after the event to respond to questions (see second video below). In doing so, it was a further demonstration of the NYPD seeking to control the narrative in relation to such events – and quite right too. As the officer later said, he was scared! This was five drunk blokes trying to attack him and he was on his own. He spoke with honesty and authenticity, in a very human way. It must have gone a long way to silence any of the arm chair observers who are often quick to pass judgment, but are unlikely to have ever dealt with such circumstances in their lives. In the context of police legitimacy and with a view to increasing transparency, I really like this idea of giving officers the chance to say what happened, rather than hiding them away and relying on rather generic, nondescript press releases that do nothing to reflect the danger and complexity of police work. As more of these kind of incidents make their way into the public domain through social media, there is a need to think critically about how the police service in the UK should respond and whether or not we should provide our officers with a platform from which they can reply (if they so wish).

I am mindful that it does ask a lot of police officers to take part in public debate in this way. It may be that the American psyche is more able to engage in this kind of dialogue (and more susceptible to being supportive of it), but I cannot help but think it must be something that needs thinking about in the UK context. I’ve done pieces to camera when my own conduct hasn’t been subject to scrutiny and that was difficult enough, so I recognise that this is not easy. I do also wonder how the UK press would respond to such tactics. The default position here seems to be one of respect for law enforcement professionals. A level of courtesy and good grace is shown by those asking the questions. I’m not sure the same could be said back home.

By way of example, think back a few weeks to those awful scenes of the two London cops being attacked in Merton, one nearly being kicked under the wheels of a bus. I wonder what impact it would have made if one of the officers had been interviewed, saying how frightened they were, saying how painful the injuries were, saying how much they hoped the public would step in to help and saying how disappointed they were that so few people did take steps to intervene. All of the really human thoughts and emotions that are not portrayed in the way that perhaps they should be. I recognise this is a huge departure from what we currently do in UK policing, but I just think it might go some way to increasing support for police officers, increasing public understanding of just how difficult the job is and then – in turn – force the naysayers, politicians (and courts) to think a bit more about how this kind of stuff impacts on the people behind the uniform. No doubt you may say that we couldn’t possibly expect an officer do go on the record like this, when, for example, a complaint may be pending – but in NYC, they were clear within 24 hours that this cop was doing his job and was a credit to the NYPD. End of story. There was absolutely no suggestion that he had done anything wrong and any suggestion to the contrary would have been treated with short shrift.

In other news…

I’ve made good use of FaceTime this week, catching up with friends and family. The days of the postcard are long gone. Being able to see the turkey being carved on Christmas Day and how gently pickled some of my chums were on Thursday evening at a dinner party, meant I almost felt like I was at home! My scholarship is 5 months in duration and I am now approaching the half way point. So being able to check  in with some friendly faces back home is always welcome.

With Christmas falling in the middle of the week and the lack of a ‘Boxing Day’ bank holiday, it was back into the office on Wednesday. It was eerily quiet at the university, but a good chance to get some more reading and writing done. I’ve got fingers in a lot of pies at the moment, doing research with the NYPD, preparing lectures for next semester, writing up a book review, preparing my next article, the list goes on….but I need to try and get a bit more organised in the new year. It’s all really interesting, so the temptation is to do a bit of everything, every day – and then not actually make the progress I would like. Efficiency is needed in January to get this stuff progressing!

I had a useful meeting with my research sponsors at the NYPD on Friday afternoon. They all have such impressive offices, with very grand looking furniture and police memorabilia on the walls. A bit different to me perching on the end of any available desk I can find where I work in London. They continue to be very supportive of my work and we had a good chat about how we can move it in the right direction, not only for my benefit, but also so that I can provide some findings that are of value to the NYPD. Hopefully that will be the case. Whilst a kind invite was made to help facilitate a decent vantage point for the Times Square NYE celebrations, the weather  forecast looks awful – heavy rain all evening and, for security reasons, no umbrellas are permitted! So the plan is to find a restaurant in Little Italy to line our bellies with some home cooked pasta, to soak up some bubbly and see in the new year.

Having policed NYE on numerous occasions, I’ve been following the NYPD plans with interest. An hour-long press conference with the Mayor and members of the NYPD executive team was televised on Friday afternoon. The security / terrorism angle is, as you would expect, a massive part of the event and the police response is huge. They will be using drones for the first time this year (nowhere near the airport, I hope!!). The public interest in NYE seems bigger here than in London and the interest in the NYPD’s plans equally so. However, I am conscious that with the 24/7 NYC specific news channel, NY1, there is a need to fill airtime that simply doesn’t exist back home. Imagine BBC London news running 24/7, rather than the 5 or 6 bulletins per day that we are used to. That’s the reality of how the thirst for information from the broadcasters forces a very different set of external comms behaviours from the NYPD. I would estimate that something like 75% of news stories on NY1, every day of the year, are crime/policing based. So stuff that wouldn’t even make page 30 of the Metro in London becomes subject to intense scrutiny here. It is for this reason that the NYPD have to respond and have to be willing to fill the airtime and quench the thirst for information. If they don’t, someone else will – and that someone else is unlikely to have a proper grasp of the facts. It’s taken me two months to really get a clear understanding of this. I’ve written about it in my blogs previously, not being quite sure if the NYPD were ‘over-sharing’ stuff that is perhaps better not aired in public. I’m now clear that, in doing so, they are making sure they lead the narrative, sometimes very soon after an incident and, I would argue,  achieve greater transparency as a result. I’ve been doing a lot of reading in relation to police legitimacy whilst I’ve been here and this level of openness, I would argue, clearly goes a long way to enhancing this sense of legitimacy and policing by consent.

Talking of which…The NYPD have published the latest version of their annual ‘Use of Force Report’ this week. This is the second year it has been made available, it is a really comprehensive data set, further demonstrating the department’s appetite for openness and transparency. I’ll be reading this over the next few weeks to see what conclusions can be drawn.

After doing nothing but yoga for exercise for the last couple of months, I finally gave in today and decided my credit card would have to withstand a few months of membership at a cycle studio just down the road from uni. I knew I had lost some bike fitness, but hadn’t expected the defibrillator to be required quite so early in the class! It was great though, I really enjoyed it. I’ll definitely be spending a lot of time there, trying to regain my fitness. As with the yoga studios, the vast majority of the instructors are Broadway stars, waiting for their next big break. So they are all massive personalities, super fit, loads of energy and with fantastic taste in music (at least that’s what I think). With bike shoes, sweat towels, water, bananas, bath towels and posh shower gels all included in the price, they really do know how to put together a great workout experience in NYC.

Another long walk on Saturday, 26 miles this time – we set a target of walking a marathon – albeit it took the best part of 9 hours. Mo Farah can rest easy, I won’t be challenging him for medals any time soon. We hugged the coast of Manhattan from West to East, it really is the best way to see this amazing city. Some pics below:

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