EXCLUSIVE | Police Commissioner Edward Caban speaks with amNY about NYPD progress and personal experience

Police Commissioner Edward Caban in his office
NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban stands besides a painting depicting himself and his father.
Photo by Dean Moses

Police Commissioner Edward Caban gave amNewYork Metro a rare glimpse at the man behind the badge in an end-of-year interview that saw candid discussions on everything from his personal life to crime and police radio encryption.

Caban succeeded Keechant Sewell over the summer of 2023 after an apparent falling out between the NYPD’s first female top cop and Mayor Eric Adams that made headlines when she abruptly announced her resignation. The then-first deputy commissioner became acting police commissioner before formally stepping into the role proper in an emotional July 17 ceremony on the steps of the Bronx’s 40th Precinct, where he began his career over three decades prior.

A new era 

The historic appointment of the department’s first Latino police commissioner came in front of the Puerto Rican’s family and friends, most notably his father who served as transit cop before him and helped carry the torch for Hispanics on the force.

“It was hard because he couldn’t talk — nothing but tears. ‘Alright, stop.’ That was the one of things I was saying when I was walking down those stairs. I was very cognizant not to look at my father, because if you look at your father, emotionally, you are going to break down because I knew what he fought for,” Caban said, recalling the moment he was sworn in.

Caban opened up his office to amNewYork Metro where at the center of awards and honors, hangs a painting depicting Caban and his father. In that moment the flash of his three-decade long career seemed to whip by.

NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban stands besides a painting depicting himself and his father. Photo by Dean Moses

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would go from a regular beat cop to the top cop in New York City. Just looking back on my career and how I progressed and working in different bureaus and different communities,” Caban said. “I like to use the words honored and humbled.”

With a Puerto Rican flag sitting on his desk beneath the gaze of a hanging photograph of Theodore Roosevelt, the distinction of becoming the first Latino to hold the title in the NYPD’s 177-year life comes with both pride and expectations from the city’s Hispanic population.

During the swearing in ceremony, droves of community members turned out to witness history being made, many of them waving the Puerto Rican colors. This made Caban consider the battles his father had to fight in the 1960s when the senior Caban made up a minuscule percentage of Latino officers in the department.

“I knew how hard the job was for him. Don’t forget, look back at his time in the job. He came into the police department in the 60s where there were maybe 100 Hispanic police officers at the time. Now we have over 10,000 Hispanic officers, another additional 5,000 civilians, so 15,000 Hispanics,” Caban said. “His thing was if you want to make change, take the exams, take the test, you have to have a seat at the table in order to make that change.”

NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban.Photo by Dean Moses

War on crime 

According to Caban, he has been endeavoring to make changes within the NYPD through both diverse representation and the ever-ongoing war on crime. Over the course of the year, NYPD stats have shown a continued decline with a reduction in five of the seven major index crimes.

Shooting incidents have also reduced by 25.4% year to date (902 in 2023 versus 1,209 in 2022). Murder, rape, robbery, burglary, and grand larceny have dropped with an index crime decline of 4.1 % in November 2023 compared to November 2022.

Caban heralded the successes to top police brass and beat cops.

“I’ll go back to my Yankee analogies. I feel like Joe Torre when he took over in 1996. He had such an amazing group of players on his team, and that’s how I feel about the amazing group that we have brought together in our leadership team,” Caban said. “We’re not taking any victory lap by any means. There’s still a lot of work to be done. And we’re going to continue to focus on those who commit those crimes and on our transit system. Like I said, we want to make sure that people not only are safe but actually feel safe.”

Despite violent crimes trending downward and NYPD brass reporting consistent drops month after the month, public perception of crime in the Big Apple is in stark contrast to statistics, with many clinging to the stigma that New York is a lawless city — something that is renewed any time a high-profile crime takes place. 

Police Commissioner Edward Caban shakes hands with a rider after a subway discussion.Photo by Dean Moses

When amNewYork Metro pressed Caban on this juxtaposition, the top cop candidly admitted that perception is one of the department’s greatest challenges.

“Our biggest challenge, I think, is the perception versus the reality. Like you said, we know that we are down in crime, we could cite all these statistics all day long but yet, one person posts a viral video about one incident that happens in transit and the whole world thinks negatively,” Caban said. “I sit here, and I have to give credit to the men and women of not only transit, but the New York City Police Department as a whole because they’re doing the work day in and day out to make sure that everyone in New York City is safe. It’s not an easy job.”

Police transparency 

Caban also touched upon the NYPD’s efforts to bridge connections with the public over the last several years through youth programs and other outreach initiatives. While this has seen many positive developments, especially in the youth engagement realm, the NYPD has received criticism of late due its endeavor to encrypt police radios — a move that would prevent both the public and the press alike from listening to their communications.

Authorities have cited police safety as the main reasons for the encryption process which began this year and is expected to be finalized in December 2024, costing an estimated $390 million. While those helming the plan state that encryption will prevent criminals from listening to NYPD plans, the process will also have an impact on public knowledge.

Journalists would be locked out, preventing them from swiftly reporting on breaking, potentially dangerous news that could harm the public, along with the popular community app Citizen.

While initially police stated they would be working on giving the media access, a more recent city council hearing suggested that will no longer be the case. When quizzed on the matter, Caban said that while he understands the concerns, he feels that the process is simply part of evolving technology but pledged to remain in constant contact with the press.

New NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban at Bronx precinct
Mayor Eric Adams appoints Edward Caban as the 46th commissioner of the NYPD outside the 40th Precinct in the Bronx. Monday, July 17, 2023. Photo by Dean Moses

“I do understand the concerns about the encrypted radios, but we talk about transparency. The New York City Police Department is one of the most transparent agencies in the nation,” Caban began. “It’s been done in other agencies and that’s just part of the evolution of technology. But I can sit here and tell you that when it comes to dealing with the media, we deal with journalists 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but it’s also our job as an agency to make sure that our cops are safe. But please know that we’ll always have an open-door policy, we’re always going to be able to talk to our journalists, and there’s always going to be open dialogue.”

amNewYork Metro pressed the commissioner on if the press will have access to the encrypted radios. While he did not give a definitive answer, he did state that the options remain fluid and ongoing.

“Obviously there’s going to be more dialogue. This is not set in stone, nothing is set in stone,” Caban said.

Man behind the badge and future of the NYPD 

While Caban gave amNewYork Metro a tour of his office deep inside police headquarters in Lower Manhattan, he says he spends very little time there. Since becoming top cop, Caban must be in constant contact with brass regarding crimes as they happen while also attending community events as an ambassador for the NYPD. As a public figure, this led Caban to describe the most difficult part of his job.

“The most difficult part is spending less time with my family,” Caban said. “I don’t consider myself a public figure. If you look I’m always out in the community, that’s where I thrive. That’s home to me. I was born and raised in the city, born and raised in the Bronx. I love being out in all communities. And I love talking to people.”

NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban. Photo by Dean Moses

Whether or not he accepts his role as a public figure, helming the largest police department in the country has made him a recognizable face around.

However, what Caban wants the public to recognize is the steadfast public safety work of the NYPD and his promise to continue to combat crime. In 2024, Caban said, the NYPD will continue its focus on driving down crime while also tackling quality of life complaints.

“We’re gonna once again just keep on being laser focus on crime because violence will always take the top spot in the New York City Police Department but like it’s also the quality-of-life issues: ATVs, guns. We are also going to strategize more on our technology, the use of drones, use of AI, that’s going to be a big focus going into 2024,” Caban said.