BY GABE HERMAN | Police officers in Chelsea’s 10th Precinct are looking to address homelessness through a recently-added neighborhood policing approach and by adding more compassion into its philosophy.
The Neighborhood Coordination Officer (NCO) initiative was introduced in 2017 at the 10th Precinct and involves its officers getting out more into the community to make personal connections.
Deputy Inspector Kevin J. Coleman, who has led the 10th Precinct since 2018, thinks of the neighborhood outreach approach as a philosophy rather than a program.
“That’s how we do business now,” Coleman said. “We make positive connections with people and work together to enhance public safety.”
Good relationships with the community can lead to people being more willing to accept help, and also make the public more likely to help the police with information and cooperation that may be needed to solve crimes, Coleman noted.
“If the public sees us as illegitimate or don’t trust us, they’re less likely to help us,” Coleman said.
When it comes to homelessness, it’s a complicated problem that involves a range of social issues including mental illness, Coleman noted. Officers work to provide housing and services by partnering with groups like Breaking Ground and Goddard Services, and NCO officers play a big part in outreach.
“I’m always seeking and encouraging our NCOs to think outside the box, about how can we go about this problem, or any problem, and fix or mitigate it in another way,” Coleman said.
A compassionate approach can be seen in a recent case involving a man helped by NCO’s to get off the street and get his life on track. Officers Samuel Baez-Veras and Ricardo Roman met Wilfredo Falman Jr. a few months back on the Chelsea streets, and were determined to give him long-term help.
Along with giving food, they got him a haircut and a new suit, and he was able to find a job working at a local coffee shop. The community helped as well, with services and setting up a GoFundMe page to raise money for an apartment, which he moved into last week. The page has over $2,500 in donations so far.
“They connected with him in a very compassionate manner,” Coleman said. “It’s important that we’re treating people experiencing homelessness with dignity and respect.” Persistence is another key, since it normally takes over 250 interactions with a homeless person before help is finally accepted, Coleman noted.
On Falman’s GoFundMe page, he thanked the NCO’s, their supervisor Sgt. Ahmed Deeb, and Deputy Inspector Coleman, for helping him. “I hope you contact them to say thank you for the service to New Yorkers like me and you,” he wrote. “They have helped me see the police in a different light and helped changed my life.”
Officer Baez said that it was a community effort in helping Falman.
“Everyone was just working together to help him and that’s the beauty of the neighborhood coordination philosophy,” Baez said. “It all starts with leaders, and Inspector Coleman has great leadership in the 10th Precinct.”
Baez credited Deputy Inspector Coleman with the precinct’s compassionate approach. “He’s basically the one that pushes his cops to do better with this philosophy, and he brings communities together and allows us to do this kind of work,” Baez said.
He said that Coleman leads by example, that the cops love him and he senses the community loves him too. “He’s a very personable commander, he has an open door policy,” Baez said.
“He’s just a very compassionate human being in terms of how he works with cops and how he serves the community.”
A Chelsea resident who has been involved in helping Falman, and asked to remain anonymous, said the NCO program has helped build community in Chelsea. He cited build the block meetings, where residents meet with officers to discuss local issues, and he said the officers will follow up and update residents on how they’re addressing the problems.
“There’s no way Wilfredo and I would have become friends and worked together if it weren’t for the police,” the resident said. He said helping Falman was a collaborative effort, “one that would not have happened unless the NYPD had this NCO program.” He also noted the Precinct’s involvement in an upcoming community event with Live Nation, which will work with local youth to learn about opportunities in the music industry. He said it wouldn’t have been possible without the local NYPD’s support.
Deputy Inspector Coleman said that personal interactions with people can make a big difference. He cited another recent example of two teenagers who were involved in a crime, and NCO’s followed up and mentored them. So far it seems to have helped, Coleman said, and prevented them from any further crime.
Coleman acknowledged that solving homelessness is a national problem and has a long way to go, but said they work diligently with the Department of Homeless Services to repeatedly go street-by-street and offer services to those in need. He said progress is being made in building the community’s trust, which will help residents and the police.
“I’ve always enjoyed that as a public servant you can have a positive impact on a person that maybe you don’t even know you’re having,” Coleman said, adding that you may never even see a person again, but still could have made an important difference. “And I think that’s a rewarding aspect of being a police officer and a public servant.”