It has been more than two months since the Neighborhood Coordination Officers (NCO) program began in Atlantic City. In this time, the 16 police officers in the program have been engaging in community policing within their assigned wards and interacting with residents and businesses on a more personal level. So far, the feedback from the community and from the police officers themselves has been nothing but positive.
This is great news and shows the NCO program is off to a good start.
In many ways, the NCO program is policing as it should be — officers walking the beat, getting to know the people in their assigned neighborhoods, attending community meetings, visiting schools and businesses, addressing quality-of-life matters, and tracking crime trends. All the NCO officers have been handing out their business cards, encouraging people living and working in their assigned ward to email them or call them on their department-issued cell phones about their non-emergency concerns. And people are responding, with NCO officers reporting that they are getting phone calls and emails on a regular basis.
This work is truly helping to prevent issues from turning into problems and problems from turning into crises.
For those who aren’t familiar with the NCO program, it’s an Atlantic City Police Department (ACPD) initiative aimed at bringing a more complete community policing approach to each of Atlantic City’s six wards and to the Tourism District. The police department has assigned 16 officers to the program, two to each of the city’s six wards and four to homeless outreach. Because the Tourism District touches every ward in the city, the NCO officers are actively engaged in and around the district.
The idea for the NCO program came from New York City, which is working on innovative ways to enhance community policing. While the ACPD has done excellent community relations work over the years with programs such as Cupcake with a Cop, community walks, the Homework Completion Program, public safety health fairs and holiday basketball games to name a few, the department was looking for a way to take its community policing philosophy to the next level by giving officers time to work on neighborhood problem-solving instead of running from call to call across the city.
Last year, ACPD Lt. Wilber Santiago embedded himself with the New York City initiative for close to two months to see if it could positively benefit the Atlantic City community. Upon determining the NCO program was a good fit, work quickly got underway to bring it to our city. That meant getting buy-in from Mayor Frank Gilliam, City Council and the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the city.
It also meant getting the resources needed to give the program a chance to succeed. On this front, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority stepped up with a five-year funding commitment totaling $7.5 million. The money is being used to pay for new patrol officers who are filling the positions relinquished by the officers assigned to the NCO program.
The addition of these NCO officers is a great step toward the police department’s goal of a more complete community-oriented policing strategy. And it comes at a time when the city now has a Citizens Advisory Board comprised of city residents who are working directly with ACPD leadership to strengthen communication and collaboration between the community and police.
It is already clear the NCO officers love their work and are motivated to do the best job they can to show that community policing pays enormous dividends when done well.
It can result in crime prevention, reassure people that their neighborhood is safe and being looked after, keep youth on the right path by identifying issues early on in life, and promote trust between police and the community.
We are excited for the future of community policing in Atlantic City and — through hard work and dedication — hope to soon expand the program so that more NCO officers are patrolling neighborhoods on foot and bike, building lasting relationships with the people they serve.
Henry White leads the Atlantic City Police Department as police chief. Joyce Mollineaux serves as president of the Atlantic City Citizens Advisory Board.