What is neighborhood policing, and can it work?

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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT -- The NYPD promotes it as the future of policing, but what exactly is neighborhood policing, and can it actually achieve its goal of creating a first name basis relationship between officers and community members that can ultimately prevent crime?

It's a question that's beginning to be answered now that the neighborhood policing concept is a reality in 32 police precincts and is on track to being in more than half of the city's 76 precincts next month.

On Wednesday, the department released to PIX11 News new video of two of its neighborhood coordinating officers, or NCOs, at work on the streets of the 79th Precinct here.

According to Mayor Bill de Blasio, they represent something very new for the city, even though, nonetheless, it's reminiscent of an earlier time, when cops walked the beat.

"The people of this city have never experienced neighborhood policing," said the mayor on Tuesday, as he introduced the next commissioner of the NYPD, James O'Neill. In his current role as chief of department, which he's held for the past two years, O'Neill has spearheaded the effort to bring NCOs into more precincts, and to expand their numbers there.

The goal of the program is lofty, but achievable, according to the mayor. "People will come up to officers by name, and say 'I need your help,'" is how he described neighborhood policing that's already in effect.

Ultimately, the mayor said on Tuesday, the neighborhood policing concept is intended to "Stop crime before it happens," through a closer bond between members of the community and well-trained NCOs. The officers get to spend one-third of their time on duty circulating through neighborhoods on foot, getting to know people, rather than responding to 911 calls.

For some residents, though, their perception of neighborhood policing is less favorable than the NYPD may have hoped.

"It's not gonna work," said one man of color in his 20s, who declined to give his name. "They've got to change their attitude," he said, "especially to young black people. It's ridiculous. Especially the detectives," he told PIX11.

"The blue and white " he added, referring to uniformed officers. "They're not the problem. It's the plainclothes [officers]."

But steps away from him, at the Agape Soup Kitchen of Beulah Church of God in Christ, the volunteers' perception of neighborhood policing was far higher.

"Excellent idea," said Gwendolyn Hargett, a soup kitchen volunteer. "They get to know you, you should be able to know them."

City councilmember Juumane Williams was harshly -- and accidentally -- arrested by police in the 79th precinct during West Indian Day festivities in 2011, so he knows firsthand the need to improve police-community relations. He described himself as being "cautiously optimistic" about the program.

For people who have felt intimidated and oppressed by police in the past "to look at a police officer and feel they're here to help," he said in an interview, "is a good step in that direction. Obviously, it remains to be seen what that is."

He added that increasing and improving non-police programs may have the strongest effect at improving relations between city government and the people it's tasked to serve.

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