by YOAV GONEN and EILEEN GRENCH

January 3, 2021

A Brooklyn community’s experiment to deal with a longstanding crime hotspot in a busy commercial corridor took a new approach last month: They pulled back on policing.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Cops from Brownsville’s 73rd Precinct withdrew from their regular posts on Mother Gaston Boulevard for parts of a five-day stretch in early December, while violence interrupter and crisis management groups watched over the two-block zone between Pitkin and Sutter avenues. “This was ‘defund the police’ in actuality,” said Assemblymember Latrice Walker (D-Brooklyn), who grew up in the nearby Glenmore Plaza Houses. The idea was for the groups, staffed largely by community members with prior involvement with the criminal justice system, to prevent minor incidents from escalating into violence or other crime

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‘Radical Messaging’

Policing experts said it was difficult to say how meaningful a shift the Brownsville Safety Alliance pilot represents.

“You can withdraw patrol policing from a couple of blocks, but that doesn’t mean the police have disappeared,” said Jerry Ratcliffe, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University in Philadelphia. “They’re still pretty much seconds away if anybody calls and they’re very likely patrolling the areas that people [use] to get to those two blocks.”

Jeffrey Butts, who has done extensive research on cure-violence initiatives, also questioned how far the experiment could go.

“It’s radical messaging. Because, in retrospect, they’re saying, ‘Hey, look, we had no patrol activity in this area all this time, and nothing bad happened,’” said Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“But that’s different than saying, ‘That’s our strategy from now on,” he added. “And you would not say that, because you don’t want to communicate to the community that we’re no longer protected by law enforcement.”

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