By Colleen Long
The new highest-ranking uniformed officer at the New York Police Department said Friday the community must work together with police to keep the city safe.
Philip Banks III was named the chief of department this week, replacing Joseph Esposito, who retired after more than a decade in the post. Banks was previously in charge of community affairs, and said his years there have helped him understand the city and its needs.
"We have to keep this city safe. And when I say we, I don't mean just the New York City police department. It's not just an 'us' job. It's everybody in New York City," he said.
Banks, 50, whose father was also a police officer, joined the nation's largest police department in July 1986 in Brooklyn and worked his way up the ranks. He takes over as second in command to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly during a challenging time for the NYPD.
Crime is at historic lows, but there has been a steady increase of criticism over some of the department's tactics. An ongoing trial in federal court is challenging the constitutionality of some of the nearly 5 million street stops made by police in the past decade. And last week, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said broad support had been reached to create an inspector general post following an outcry over street stops, and surveillance of Muslims as revealed in stories by The Associated Press.
Banks, who opposes the inspector general idea as does the police commissioner and mayor, said he believes there is widespread support for the police department.
"I think by and large that the overwhelming majority of New York City supports the police department. I think they respect the police department. I think that they like the way we are handing our role doing policing," he said.
Banks said he believes that stop, question and frisk is a useful tool when used correctly. He has been stopped himself once by police — as a college student. He said people come to him and say they don't necessarily have a problem with being stopped, but they wished police would be more polite. Lawyers for men who sued say the department unfairly targets black and Hispanic men — they are the majority of those stopped by police.
Banks would not comment directly on the trial because it is ongoing.
"We certainly, in the police department, don't want to have any strategy that alienates us with the communities that we do serve," said Banks, the second black man to be appointed to the position in the department's history. "I don't believe that it's a total alienation."
Kelly said Banks has proven himself time and again to be an outstanding field commander and "consummate builder of community relations."
Banks was born in Brooklyn and now lives in Queens with his wife and three children. Banks said the historic drop in crime doesn't mean the city can rest. He said the city must continue to drive crime down further. Last year, the city saw the fewest number of murders since comparable record-keeping began in the 1960s.
"We just need to continue, together, as one, to say, 'How do we continue to make a little improvement today, a little improvement the next day? To keep moving in the right direction," he said.