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NYPD Chief Rodney Harrison Discusses Police Reform, Protests, Hate Crimes, Gun Violence And More With CBS2's Maurice DuBois

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Thursday was the deadline for police departments across New York to submit plans for police reforms or risk losing state funds.

Chief Rodney Harrison, the NYPD's highest ranking uniformed police officer, spoke with CBS2's Maurice DuBois about reform, community policing and his rise to the top.

Harrison was sworn in as Chief of Department on March 30. He's been an officer for nearly 30 years.

"Have you had a chance to let it sink in? You're the guy now, Chief of Department. This is your gig. Have you had a chance to just stop and feel that?" DuBois asked.

"You know, the truth of the matter is no," Harrison said. "There's a lot of work that needs to be done. I'm passionate about this job. I have good executives around me, but I don't really have time to really like, let is sink in because I need to get the job done and I need to get the job done fast."

"Marijuana is now legal in this city," said DuBois. "How does that complicate your job?"

"I'm concerned about the quality of life, to be honest with you," said Harrison. "Like I said, this is a very, very difficult job, just trying to keep people safe."

DuBois Harrison one-on-on
Chief Rodney Harrison, the NYPD's highest ranking uniformed police officer, spoke with CBS2's Maurice DuBois about reform, community policing and his rise to the top. (Credit: CBS2)

A few high-profile hate crime cases are top of mind. Just this week, Brandon Elliott was arrested for the brutal attack on a 65-year-old Asian woman in Hell's Kitchen.

"This is a guy who killed his own mother. He was out on parole," DuBois said to Harrison.

"It's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking that this woman had to deal with that," Harrison replied.

Harrison credits the police and the community, a partnership he wants to see more of.

"I'm just so happy that people came forward and called our hotline, and we were able to make a pretty rapid arrest against this individual," he said.

"How do you get into the prevention business here, rather than the reaction business? Because the Asian community is terrified. Every day, to just walk on the street, is a life and death decision for a lot of people, and that's really, that's a tough place to be," DuBois said.

"If you do commit a hate crime, we're going to come and get you, and we're going to hold you, we're going to make sure you get charged with whatever it has to be. That's extremely important," said Harrison. "The second thing is community awareness. I think all community members need to come together to make sure they denounce these, these hate crimes."

The videotaped death of George Floyd led to a reckoning, even for police.

"What's your gut level reaction?" DuBois asked.

"I'm disgusted. It's disgusting. I'm not just speaking for myself. All of the NYPD is disgusted," Harrison said. "We all think he should be held accountable for that horrible act."

"What does he deserve," DuBois asked?

"He needs to be charged with the murder," said Harrison.

"Convicted of murder?" said DuBois.

"Yeah, absolutely," said Harrison.

Calls for police reform sent thousands into the streets last summer to protest Floyd's death. Many demonstrations were peaceful, but there was looting, too.

However, a report by Attorney General Letitia James was highly critical of the NYPD and cited more than 150 incidents of excessive force.

"What were the lessons of the summer's demonstrations?" asked DuBois.

"I don't think community affairs was out in front of a lot of these protests in the beginning," Harrison said. "Going forward, they are going to be leading the charge, regarding working with the protesters to make sure that they do protest peacefully."

"The Derek Chauvin murder trial, how prepared is the city for reaction? How do you prepare for something like that?" DuBois said.

"We're putting things in place now. We're making sure that we have all of our officers - 35,000 - ready to go with the press of a finger," said Harrison. "It's a concern that we might've not have caught last time because it just came out of nowhere. This time, we're way ahead of it, a month in advance, to just make sure all officers are ready to go, they're ready to be deployed."

DuBois Harrison one-on-on
Chief Rodney Harrison, the NYPD's highest ranking uniformed police officer, spoke with CBS2's Maurice DuBois about reform, community policing and his rise to the top. (Credit: CBS2)

Chief Harrison joined the force in 1992, just months after racial unrest in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

"Describe the climate then and your mindset, and your friends'. You're becoming a cop, what was that like?" DuBois asked.

"It was a difficult decision. It wasn't the popular decision within my friends that I grew up with. But now they look at me and say, 'Wow, man.' They're very, very proud of me."

But he was an initial skeptic of police after what he describes as negative encounters with cops when he was a teenager.

"The way the cops talk to me and my friends, demeaning us. It was a major turnoff," Harrison said. "Just how they interacted with us, in contrast of what we're doing today. It's, it was something where I, I was just turned off by law enforcement, being pulled out the car, being put on the ground, searched in my vehicle."

"Happened more than once?" DuBois asked.

"It happened several times... Not just South Jamaica. Places where I hung out. Sometimes I would be up in Harlem. It would happen up there as well... sometimes in Brooklyn, depending on where the party was at, we'll say," Harrison said.

"How do you convince African American men in this city to become cops? How do you make that case given the divide, given the tension, given the mistrust on both sides," asked DuBois.

"So, one of the concerns, and this is where I was guilty, is don't paint everybody with a broad brush," said Harrison. "And the second is this, we have a lot of great executives that have moved up in the ranks. Jeff Maddrey, Juanita Holmes, Kim Royston."

"Gonna be hard or easy? How do you imagine that to play out?" said DuBois.

"You know, if I could tell my story and my negative interactions and tell them how I went from A to Z, I think they'll be receptive," said Harrison.

In his early years in the NYPD, Harrison was an undercover officer. He was awarded the department's Combat Cross for his actions during a 1995 gun battle in Bedford-Stuyvesant that left his partner wounded.

"It was just a scary night in my life. Just seeing that my partner was shot. But I do have to say this about Michael Stoney, while he was on the ground with a gunshot, he's still shooting at the perpetrator himself. To me, that's heroism," Harrison said.

"How often do you think of that moment?" DuBois asked.

"Probably one a week," said Harrison. "And the reason why I say that is because of the job that I'm in, and the many heroic acts that the men and women in this police department do."

"How do you make the public confident that guns are going to be removed from the street?" DuBois asked.

"The work is still being done. Unfortunately, one of the things that we're seeing is a lot more people are carrying guns," said Harrison. "That, with a combination of, you know, people have open cases and are back on the streets. And that's where the problem lies. It's turned into a point where, carrying an illegal firearm has been turned into a smack on the wrist."

"What does police reform look like from where you sit?" asked DuBois.

"I've always said that we have to take a look at ourselves. Do we have to make some changes within the NYPD? Absolutely," said Harrison. "This truth of the matter is this, a lot of changes, we've already had in place. One of them I can throw at you is the chokehold bill."

"How worried are you about the officers' morale going forward," said DuBois.

"I'm concerned. I'm concerned. You know, words matter, and it seems like a lot of words that are coming out now are going against the officers that are here to protect the city," Harrison said. "But we have to find a way, especially myself, have to find ways to keep them motivated."

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