A New York City organization called Brownsville In Violence Out is part of an experiment organizers believe could redefine law-enforcement: letting neighbors instead of police respond to low-level street crime. Several times a year, workers from the group stand sentry on two blocks for five days. The police channel all 911 calls from that area to the civilians. Unless there is a major incident or a victim demands an arrest, plainclothes officers shadow the workers. The civilians lack arrest powers. They have persuaded people to turn in illegal guns, prevented shoplifting, kept a man from robbing a bodega and stopped a pregnant woman from hitting a boyfriend who had failed to buy a promised car seat and stroller, the New York Times reports. They are part of the Brownsville Safety Alliance, made up of local groups, police officers and district attorney employees that is trying to ensure that fewer people are arrested and entangled in the criminal justice system.
Over the next three years, the city will provide $2.1 million to help link local organizations in the Safety Alliance so that they can work cohesively throughout the year. The effort mirrors others that have sprung up after demonstrations to protest the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. They are meant to reduce the use of officially sanctioned force, using a neighborhood’s innate desire for order as a tool. Residents have embraced the concept, said Nyron Campbell of Brownsville In Violence Out. “They say, ‘We feel more safe. We can walk without feeling anxiety,’” he said. “While they know that we do need police, it’s possible that we can police ourselves.” The idea came from Terrell Anderson, who in 2020 took over as commander of the area’s 73rd Precinct. Raised in Brownsville, he promised to rebuild the precinct’s relationship with a wary community.