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As a NYPD police officer working in the Special Projects Unit of the Community Affairs Bureau, my job is basically to make sure people are happy. Specifically, I try to make sure people are happy with the NYPD. I look at individuals, groups, community organizations and private businesses to see if the NYPD has already established a relationship with them. If the answer is yes, I see if there is a way to improve the relationship and if the answer is no, I analyze why that is the case and then try to figure out how to establish a line of communication based on understanding.
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly realized that our relationship with certain communities in New York City was non-existent and lacking genuine lines of communication. This context led me back to the mantra of Communication, Understanding and Peace.
To understand the mantra, start in reverse. To have genuine peace, you need understanding. In order to have understanding, you must have communication. Last year, when Commissioner Kelly tasked the Bureau I work in with designing an effective program to reach out to these communities, I was assigned as the coordinator.
First, the Commissioner believed the best way to reach out to the immigrant communities, specifically the Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities was to look at what the young men do. What better way to reach out then by putting together something that they already do, right?
Commissioner Kelly wanted to create a soccer competition as it is the world’s game. With that directive, we created NYPD UNITED Soccer. NYPD UNITED was designed to do just what the title says- uniting the police department with communities using soccer (or football to most of the world) as a bridge to bring us together.
NYPD UNITED was not created to just have some young men play soccer. Yet, that is precisely what it is, ‘just playing soccer’. There are no hidden agendas or some secret plan. The goal is transparent in that we want everyone to know that, whatever you think of the police, we cannot not change your past experiences. What we can do and are striving to do is to create a positive view and understanding of the police from this moment forward. Many of these young men never had any interaction with the police before this competition. By putting together a free soccer competition, the police are not only providing something for these young males to do while school is out for the summer but also since it is organized by cops, the participants get to interact with them as well. They get to see the officers in another light- as regular people who also love the sport. How do the participants find this out? The answer is by practicing and playing cricket alongside the officers and by having the opportunity to talk to them in an informal setting.
Before discussing the outreach efforts in greater detail, I want to mention a crucial moment in the designing stage of the program. A few weeks after NYPD UNITED began, Commissioner Kelly realized two things- one the program was already an overwhelming success. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it was still not enough. There was an entire group we were trying to reach, primarily the South Asian community, that was not participating. How could we reach out to them using the ideals of creating Communication to generate Understanding in hopes of the result being Peace?
Yes, cricket. Not the little green insects but rather that seemingly odd-like sport that sort of looks like baseball. This ‘odd sport’ is played by millions of people and happens to be the passion of these young men in the community we were looking to reach out to. In the hierarchical structure of the NYPD, the Commissioner called the Chief of the Community Affairs, Douglas Zeigler, who then called the Deputy Inspector of Special Projects, Amin Kosseim (the director of NYPD UNITED), who then told me we were now going to put together a cricket competition. It is under the Chief Zeigler, Deputy Inspector Kosseim as well as Sergeant Jamel Hodges leadership that allows the competition to flourish. As a quick aside, what are the chances a white male, born and raised in Queens of Irish and German descent would not only have experience in playing and putting together soccer events but also be an avid cricket player who also happens to have organized cricket events too?
Who knows what the odds were in this happening, but also add to that equation that I am a person who firmly believes in the merits of trying to incorporate the skills of conflict resolution such as collaboration, consensus building, and active listening into everything I do.
NYPD Cricket was created using the same model of NYPD UNITED. As I stated above, the purpose of the programs was simple- create a line of communication to generate understanding using soccer and cricket as the bridge to bring us together. This is simply stated but complex to implement. Many officers of varying ranks (from the Chief down to the police officers) have done incredible work in making sure it all went smoothly in the first installment last year. Specifically, people like Detective Nasser and Officer Rana are two individuals who worked countless hours and had already created incredible bonds and relationships with many people in these communities. This outreach was responsible for getting such an overwhelming response from prospective participants.
Now in year two, which just got underway, we analyzed what worked and what needed to be improved. In brief, the competition is bigger and better. For those who know me, for better or worse, I pay great attention to all the details. 100 random examples are (really only six):
Other less appealing but important tasks I had were drafting waivers, purchasing ALL the equipment (from water bottles to nets with everything in between), hiring umpires and referees, obtaining field permits (yes, the police have to get permits!), coordinating transportation and putting together the schedules (think it is easy, try it!).
When designing of the competition, I referred to Ury, Brett and Goldberg’s book, Getting Disputes Resolved: Designing Systems to Cut the Costs of Conflict. I knew my unit would be able to design both programs on our own, but that would not be in line with the programs’ intention to reach out to the communities. What we did was consult and reach out to various groups at each stage of the design process. In designing the competition we checked with local leagues and asked for their input. When reaching out for teams and players, we contacted community groups, religious centers and teams. Many people from various communities were instrumental in the cricket and soccer competition’s success. This had multiple benefits- 1) as already stated, it helped add to the success 2) it helped to generate interest in the community in the early stage and 3) in the spirit of ADR work, it provided buy-in for many as they became part of the process.
The third point benefit listed above is important as it helped smooth out the “us” and “them” mentality that could be perceived on both sides. Of course people would be skeptical. Including the community in the design and each successive stage was integral to breaking down that barrier.
One of the last stages was to get media coverage. The coverage by the media in local and ethnic communities was astounding but what exceeded our expectations was the coverage the programs garnered nationally and internationally. NYPD Cricket was covered by major news outlets in India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom.
This year’s Cricket program was mentioned on the front page of the NY Times (June 29, 2009) with an article and a corresponding video segment on their website. CNN also did a report which aired on CNN, CNN international and their website.
As mentioned earlier, for the second season we wanted to increase the good while fix the bad. An important question included asking, what did we not do last year that would improve things this year? When I looked at the age of the participants, 15 to 19 years old, I asked, what do they do and what do they use? The result was not only acknowledging the role of the internet but embracing it.
For the second season, the method of embracing the internet was fourfold. Twitter, the official NYPD website, YouTube and a blog-type site are all being utilized. Admittedly I was unsure of the purpose of twitter but approximately 100 people are now following my ‘tweets’.
The official NYPD website, specifically the Community Affairs section, has the logos and information for both competitions. It provides visitors with information about both programs and how to learn more about them.
Last year I had taken various digital videos from a few matches. During the off season I was able to edit them and I put them on YouTube without announcing it. Positive feedback started to come in and now people are already asking, where are this year’s highlight clips? For this season, we plan to include new clips each week.
By creating a separate site on BlogSpot, I am able to update the competitions with news, video, pictures and results from any computer. Because of the ease of using the site, anyone can work on the site besides me and it is easy to navigate for visitors. The site also allows visitors to go to other sites including the official NYPD site.
Using this new technology which the participants use not only helps the NYPD communicate with them on familiar platforms but it also gives the Department and the programs greater exposure to others not involved. The mantra of Communication, Understanding and Peace is not limited to the participants and their communities. Its benefits can and should go beyond the participants to people everywhere.
NYPD UNITED Soccer and NYPD Cricket were not only created as ways to create new relationships, but to explore valid learning experiences. It is important to emphasize the learning experiences occurred not only in the communities and with the participants but with the NYPD. All the police personnel involved directly and indirectly have gained a deeper understanding of the communities which we serve. The best way to serve others is by getting to know them.
Note: This is not an official NYPD document
Jeff Thompson is a certified international mediator. He is also a law enforcement detective in New York. His law enforcement role include a being a communication and conflict specialist, interfaith dialogue, developing and implementing community engagement programs, and designing training workshops.
Jeff is currently a PhD candidate researching nonverbal communication and mediation at Griffith University Law School. He also received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Creighton University School of Law. Jeff has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally and has been published and featured with numerous international media organizations. He currently writes also at PsychologyToday.com.
(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions as a mediator and not that of any organization.)
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