NYPD seeks to bridge divide with communities of color, Commissioner Shea says

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Calls for police reform are reverberating across the nation. An outraged public is demanding change after the death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer.

"This is a problem that's always smoldering, and this ignited it and this isn't just really about policing," NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said. "This has to do with historic racism. This has to do with opportunity."

Commissioner Shea is already in the process of enacting sweeping reforms. He's disbanding the department's controversial anti-crime unit, reassigning roughly 600 plain closed officers and operating under strict new guidelines including the timely release of body cam footage.

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"This isn't a broken police department. This is a police department that has been for reform for the last six years, shea said. "We've put into place many of these things already."

Some critics of the police are even calling for defunding entire departments.

Right now, the New York City Council is considering cutting one billion dollars from the NYPD's budget.

Shea says he is concerned with the impact on public safety.

"Public safety. Really, when I think of that, only one word comes to mind - catastrophic," he said.

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Shea fears such a massive cut could lead to unintended consequences.

"Is it less cops on the street? Is it people waiting longer when you call the police?" Shea asked. "Let's make sure that whatever we do, doesn't put us in a worse place."

Earlier this month with the mother of Eric Garner at his side, Governor Andrew Cuomo repealed section 50-a, which shielded disciplinary records of police officers from the public.

"The 50-a was a significant one. I think you've got to own your bad mistakes. You've got to move forward and I think it creates a tremendous opportunity to build trust," Shea said.

But that trust has been tested by some officers who are repeat offenders of questionable conduct. During the past five years, 381 officers have been subjects of lawsuits five times or more leading to huge payouts.

NYPD settlements reached nearly $230 million dollars in 2018 alone.

"I think it needs a deeper look," Shea said. "Is it an officer that is perhaps just making bad decisions and perhaps should not be an officer anymore? One of the reasons why you have disproportionate number of police officers involved in disproportionate complaints is the assignment. And what assignments are they? And are we putting them in a position where they're having the potential for these negative interactions?

"This is where we - and I mean me - have failed because we have had a risk management bureau for about five years now," Shea said.

Some of these repeat offenders showed up in neighborhoods like Brownsville, Brooklyn where last year former police commissioner James O'Neill admitted -- black and brown residents have reason to be leery of over-policing after years of 'stop and frisk.'

Despite community policing, some neighborhoods are lagging. Shea says opportunity exists to bridge the divides.

"We are here for you. Be a part of the solution with us. We have to work together. We have also forged tremendous relationships over time and that has taken a hit and that's something we constantly have to work with," shea said.

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