NY1's Dean Meminger sits down for an extended interview with NYPD First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker.
Dean Meminger: First deputy commissioner of the NYPD, Benjamin Tucker, thank you for joining us.
Benjamin Tucker: Oh it's a pleasure Dean, good to be here.
DM: The 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, overlooking Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, where you're from.
BT: That's where I’m from, man. It doesn't get much better than this.
Benjamin Tucker grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Clinton Hill. He became the NYPD's first deputy commissioner in 2014. But he first joined the police department nearly 50 years ago as an 18-year-old.
BT: I didn't necessarily like police because they used to hassle my friends and I all the time, stop us, question us and, you know, all kinds of stuff. But I didn't hate them, and so on November 21 of 1969, I raised my hand and was sworn in as a police trainee.
DM: And you became a police officer in?
BT: '72. So police trainees, just to give you the — I was assigned to the 81st Precinct as a telephone switchboard operator.
DM: You're known as first deputy commissioner. How does your background help you do your job and work with the community?
BT: Well you know, having that fundamental experience growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and then later on downtown, you know, leaves an impression. So you're right. I do know what it's like so when people say to me, you know, "I was a victim of stop and question and frisk." And when I watched those numbers climb to almost 600,000 while I was, at the time, I was working in Washington before I returned to the department, it was disturbing. So yeah, I think I can relate and you bring with you, you know, we are who we are. We are the product of our, you know, various experiences, life experiences. So that helps inform who I am.
DM: You worked for the Justice Department underneath President Bill Clinton and you've also worked for President Barack Obama.
BT: Right, yeah, you know, in the Bill Clinton position, that appointment related to the cops' office. And so I've been a pioneer, one of the folks on the ground of community policing in the country.
DM: And under President Obama?
BT: Under President Obama, it's a slightly different approach, but I was nominated by the president to become the deputy director for the operations at the office, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. So the focus there was on the drug epidemic, it was on prevention.
DM: In the past, the first deputy commissioner was seen as a role where perhaps you just sat in a corner. Are you sitting in a corner somewhere?
BT: No, I'm definitely not sitting in a corner. It's interesting. When Commissioner Bratton — at the time I was the deputy commissioner for training and — and when Commissioner Bratton called me in to ask if I had an interest in taking the First Dep spot. I of course said, "Absolutely." But he said, "If you take the job, you'll be an equal partner in running the agency." And that's what convinced me. You know, I never want to sit on the bench, never want to sit in the corner, I've been involved in policy for a good part of my career.
DM: We're just about at the halfway mark of 2018. How do you think the NYPD is doing so far this year when it comes to issues of dealing with the community, excessive force, that sort of things?
BT: I think we're in great shape. Let me just say that we didn't get here, you know, easily, right? So there are lots of sort of touch points and things that have happened that have, you know, moved us in this direction of really answering a couple of questions. How do we rebuild the trust that we have, that we’ve lost, or maybe where it didn’t exist in communities of color in particular in the city? But with citizens generally, how do we tighten that up? We are making, I think, really incredible inroads in that direction, in part because of, certainly, neighborhood policing, but also, in part, because of a whole host of other areas.
DM: Some people, you know, feel that officers are not held accountable or they're not disciplined when they use excessive force, and when they do something that the community perceives as wrong and discipline falls underneath you —
BT: You're right, it does, it does and I can –
DM: Now, are officers being disciplined appropriately?
BT: I think so, absolutely. Sometimes, but I understand the fact that they've, they somehow don't feel as if discipline has taken place. On the other hand, we discipline people every day, we are not bashful about holding people accountable.
The first deputy commissioner says so far this year, 20 police officers and nine civilian employees have been terminated for various levels of misconduct.
BT: The other thing that we want to do, just because your conduct was so abhorrent, we would say, we'll make the recommendation because it comes through me to go to the police commissioner, of dismissal probation, which means that once you're on dismissal probation you are, essentially, have one foot out the door.
DM: This is the book that you guys put out back in 2015, when you announced new policy for use of force, and right in here it mentions that, "the use of force committee will be headed by the first deputy commissioner Benjamin Tucker." When it comes to excessive force, how are the numbers so far this year in terms of officers using force whether it's arresting someone, or shooting someone? Are the numbers continuing to go down? Are you comfortable with how officers are handling people on the streets?
That's 4 million calls for a police response.
When it comes the more serious issues of police officers firing their guns, Tucker says those cases are drastically down. So far this year, 22 cops have fired their weapons, compared to 33 officers last year at this same time. That includes intentional shootings, accidental and suicides. In the shootings this year, cops have fired 39 times, down 71 percent from last year's 135 rounds fired. Six of the cases this year are considered adversarial shootings, when someone points a weapon or fires at cops and cops shoot back. Last year, there were 11 cases at this point.
BT: And so, you know, let me just put these in context, because I think it's important that, you know, the numbers are the numbers, but what that means is, in my mind, we are training our officers more effectively. But we want them to feel as though they can't wait to get to work, do their job, and if they feel that way, then they're going to interact with citizens in a more, you know, respectful way as well.
The first deputy commissioner also oversees the police body-worn camera program. The department has released videos when officers have shot people, but the courts have now stopped the NYPD from making the videos public after police unions objected to releasing the videos.
DM: Will you fight vigorously in court so you can continue to release —
DM: — body-worn camera footage?
BT: Absolutely, and I think we'll prevail, but right now, the order is still in place, and we'll see where we go. I think our arguments are strong. You know, the 70 arguments against are that they somehow are personnel records. We disagree vehemently that's not the case, and so we're moving and we'll continue to appear on this issue in court to make our case.
Another battle: Earlier this year, Tucker announced the NYPD would once again start to make public parts of officers' disciplinary records. But the courts stopped that too.
BT: We were going to release information summaries, brief summaries of the findings in the trials and the conclusions without naming the officers but with providing information summaries of the events that took place in the trial and so forth.
DM: That's what you wanted to do, but the courts now blocked you?
BT: Well, again, we may end up in trial over that one, but I think we —
DM: The NYPD is willing to go to court to fight to get that information out there to the public?
BT: Absolutely, yeah, absolutely. We think it's the right thing to do, and, you know, at the end of the day, the public is interested in knowing what happened. And we think if we're going to be transparent, if we can provide the public with some insight, give more insight than they have now into what we do and how we function, I think that's a good thing. I think Commissioner O'Neill is committed to that, I'm certain his department is committed to it.
DM: I want to read something here, Commissioner Tucker. It says, "We remain at a crossroads with respect to police and community relations, and, in particular, police/minority relations in New York City and elsewhere in this country. Extraordinary leadership and commitment is pressured by police executives and police unions will be required to improve relations with communities of color." You wrote that almost 20 years ago, in 2000, for the Fordham Urban Law Journal.
DM: It almost sounds like you wrote it last week.
BT: Yeah, I'm telling you, right?
DM: Where do you stand now? Because that's still on your head.
BT: Oh, without a doubt.
DM: It's up to the police leadership to improve relationships with communities of color.
BT: I have the privilege of being able to look back on, maybe, you know, maybe it's not a privilege because it means that I'm kind of old, but I can look back on those five decades and see what it was and what it is today. And I can tell you that the transformation that's happening now is not something that’s happened ever before in the 173 years of the NYPD. Guarantee you.
DM: So is this a reality or is this hype? Is this media spin?
BT: No! This is not, trust me, this is not spin. This is the reality. This is what's happening in this city. And listen, the reason I stuck around, the reason I'm still here is because, I believe that this window that we are in right now, this four years that we've had, and the next three years of the de Blasio administration, is probably never going to exist again.
DM: You were a kid who grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, single-parent home for the most part. Now, you're number two in the NYPD for several years. When you look over this city, this skyline right here, this is your city and you're responsible for protecting it, how does that make you feel? You know, and you’re number two and, as you say, you have an important job.
BT: I do, I do, and I take it seriously and I feel great. I mean, this is the best job in the world, I'm telling you. And I, Dean, when I was a young cop and I got out of the academy and I went into work every day, I couldn't wait to go to work, especially if I was working 4 to 12. 4 to 12, for some reason, was my favorite tour, man. I couldn't wait to get to work. I was in uniform, I'm anti-crime, I was ready. I feel the same way today. That was 40-something years ago, and I still, when I come to work, when I get out of bed in the morning, my wife will tell you, I'm ready to go to work. I spend more time at work than I do doing anything else every week because I love what I do.