Garner was killed on July 17 while in police custody. Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed Garner in a chokehold after Garner was approached for selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk, ultimately leading to the 43-year-old’s death. The ordeal was filmed by onlookers and sparked protests around the country.
Pastor John Boyd of the New Greater Bethel Ministries at 215-32 Jamaica Avenue in Queens Village held the vigil in an effort to push for continued improvement in the interactions between policer officers and members of the community.
Boyd grew up in Queens, attending PS 36 in St. Albans. There, he recalled a policeman named Officer Hershey who made it his mission to learn the names of everyone living and working in the neighborhood.
While the relationship between the police officers and the community seems to have been lost over the last 15 years, new efforts at community policing could lead to a more proper way of pacifying aggressive situations, according to Boyd.
For instance, he suggested that a community police officer might’ve written up a ticket for Garner selling loose cigarettes rather than the situation that occurred.
“If that had been a community police officer who knew that community, there would be a great chance that that wouldn't have happened,” Boyd said. "Because the officers didn’t know Garner, the situation flared and spiraled out of control quickly.”
Like Boyd, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton deduced that traditional specialty units such as the school and conditions units should be replaced with community policing.
His administration has made steps to change police protocols and platoons. A group of officers will be assigned to neighborhood sectors as part of a new NYPD pilot program.
The pilot program, which is currently being tested within precincts in Washington Heights and the Rockaways, would encourage officers to get know members of the community directly, while not having to respond to 911 calls for about one-third of their tour of duty.
Deputy Inspector Michael Coyle of the 105th Precinct explained that there will be dedicated response officers who will handle radio 911 calls, giving officers with a neighborhood beat more chances to participate in community-related activities, such as visits to hospitals and meeting with religious and school leaders.
Those officers will also work along with detectives and conduct follow-up visits on prior incidents. The program also features a neighborhood coordination officer (NCO), a seasoned officer with an expertise in the particular area who will act as a resource.
The goal is to get the community to trust officers more, especially in light of the police brutality stories heard around the city and nation as of late. To further raise their credibility in tough situations, officers will be given body cameras in the future to record evidence. Ultimately all eight precincts in the borough will have body cameras.
Coyle said the program would be a win-win because it allows officers to serve and protect the community and “if people have information, they are most likely able to share it with a cop that they know.”
Recently, over 20,000 patrol officers were retrained. The three-day training program, which was announced following criticism after a grand jury decided not to indict Pantaleo in Garner’s death, began last November and concluded this past June.
There, officers learned how to deal with stress, deflect comments, deescalate a situation, and how to handcuff a suspect without having to use any means of deadly force.
But the police aren’t the only ones who are working for an improved police-community relationship. Harold “Morpheus” Robertson, president of the National Action Network's Rockaway/Inwood chapter, has been working with youth and teaching them how to be more respectful to officers who approach them.
"I teach the young folks that if an officer stops you, it might be for a valid reason so do not get into his face,” Robertson said. "The officer has to know what his environment is, and if you make it more difficult for him, he’s more likely to act in that regard.”
Following the deaths of Officer Wenjian Liu, Rafael Ramos and most recently, Brian Moore, which took place just blocks away from the church, Boyd and his congregation planned a monthly breakfast for members of the 105th Precinct to demonstrate the community’s gratitude for their work.