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More NYPD cops to walk beat in effort to improve community relations, commissioner says

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 10:  Police officers are seen by a crime scene where three people were shot on June 10, 2015 in the Gowanus area of the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. In an effort to combat the rise in murders and shootings, hundreds of additional New York City Police Officers will begin walking city streets as part of an aggressive NYPD initiative called "Summer All Out." About 330 officers will be taken off of administrative duty to patrol the streets in some of the city's most violent neighborhoods.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 10: Police officers are seen by a crime scene where three people were shot on June 10, 2015 in the Gowanus area of the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. In an effort to combat the rise in murders and shootings, hundreds of additional New York City Police Officers will begin walking city streets as part of an aggressive NYPD initiative called "Summer All Out." About 330 officers will be taken off of administrative duty to patrol the streets in some of the city's most violent neighborhoods. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  (2015 Getty Images)

New York City police officials provided the first in-depth look Tuesday at a new policing strategy they say will put more beat cops in neighborhood precincts to improve the relationship between officers and the communities they serve.

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said the neighborhood policing plan would use staffing changes and other tactics to restore faith in a department that, in an era of historically low crime, still struggles to boost the morale of its own officers and gain the trust of mostly minority residents in the city's toughest neighborhoods.

"As important as safety is, it is not enough," Bratton said to a roomful of clergy at police headquarters. "Safety without public approval isn't public safety. We want a safer, fairer city everywhere, for everyone."

Bratton's comments come a day after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that funding for an additional 1,300 officers had been secured in the budget to supplement the nation's largest police force of 35,000 uniformed officers. An additional 400 civilian posts currently filled by officers will also be filled by new hires, allowing those officers to take enforcement jobs in the streets.

The neighborhood policing strategy will be based on pilot programs already in place in four high-crime city precincts — two in Queens' Rockaway peninsula and two in upper Manhattan — in which precinct-based units focusing on complaints about neighborhood conditions were disbanded, freeing up officers to regularly patrol their sectors, officials said.

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In that model, hand-selected, seasoned officers committed to the neighborhoods they police — dubbed Renaissance cops because they'll be part detective, community affairs officer and intelligence investigator — will be exempt from chasing 911 calls one third of their time to meet with principals, past victims and others in order to develop rapport and gain community trust.

The approach sharply differs with the stop, question and frisk police tactic that, for years, had been employed by officers, disproportionately affecting black and Hispanic men. In 2011, there were 685,000 stops. Last year, that number was 46,000, and so far this year it is down to more than 7,000 stops, according to NYPD statistics.

"Over the course of the last 10 months I've attended numerous community meetings all throughout the city and we're listening," said Chief of Department James O'Neill. "And the theme in just about every meeting is that policing is something that's done to us and not with us, and we need to change that."

The new strategy is the latest in a string of initiatives Bratton has announced since taking charge of the nation's largest police force 18 months ago. After the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island last summer, he vowed to retrain the entire force to teach officers how to de-escalate confrontations.

But subsequent protests over the deaths of black men in police custody and the fatal shooting of two NYPD officers in their patrol cars last December coalesced into a crisis for the NYPD and strained both officer morale and community relations.

In brief remarks Tuesday, de Blasio said the new policing strategy, combined with reducing stops and busts for low-level marijuana possession, would allow investigators to focus on more serious crime and build better relationships.

"This is the shape of things to come," he said.

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