On Monday afternoon, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea announced that he is disbanding the Police Department’s anti-crime units: the controversial plainclothes teams that target violent crimes in a “proactive” way and have been involved in some of the city’s most notorious police shootings.
What We Know:
- At a press conference Monday, Shea announced the disbanding of the plainclothes anti-crime units in the New York Police Department. Roughly 600 officers serve in the units which are spread across the department’s 77 precincts and 9 housing commands and they will all be immediately reassigned to other duties, including the detective bureau and the department’s neighborhood policing initiative.
- Shea said the units were part of an outdated policing model that often pitted police officers against the communities they serve. The Intercept, an online publication, conducted a review in 2018 of fatal police shootings in New York City and found that the anti-crimes units, which is an estimated 6 percent of the force, accounted for 31 percent of incidents since 2000.
- Another notable facts from the review include:
- Former officer Daniel Pantaleo was part of the anti-crime unit on Staten Island in July 2014 when he placed Eric Garner in that fatal chokehold.
- Plainclothes officers killed Crown Heights resident Saheed Vassell in 2018 and Sean Bell, in 2006.
- Anti-crime Officer Brian Mulkeen was shot and killed by fellow anti-crime unit officers during a struggle with Antonio Wiliams in an attempt to make a gun bust. Williams was also killed.
- Shea said the department now depends much more on intelligence gathering and technology to fight crime and “can move away from brute force”. He also stated, “this is a seismic shift in the culture of how the N.Y.P.D. polices this great city. It will be felt immediately in the communities that we protect”.
- Within the police department, the anti-crimes unit is highly regarded, seen as an elite force to join, ridding the street of illegal guns and stopping violent crimes. But critics to the unit say that it has become a symbol for hyper-aggressive police tactics, which have now been called into question amid the current protests and movements.
- The anti-crimes units are also the last remnant, and worst offenders, of the controversial stop-and-frisk policy, a policy where officers routinely searched people in high-crime areas. The policy was later declared by a judge to be unconstitutional after finding it disproportionately affected people of color.
- The anti-crimes units have long been praised by department officials as a key tool in policing because they have been credited with taking thousands of illegal guns off city streets. Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union, questioned Shea’s decision, saying that the anti-crimes unit’s mission is to “proactively prevent crime”. Lynch later said, “shooting and murders are both climbing steadily upward, but our city leaders have clearly decided that proactive policing isn’t a priority anymore… they chose this strategy, they will have to live with the consequences.”
- The anti-crimes unit was not the first of its kind. It was preceded by the Street Crime Unit, disbanded by former Commissioner Raymond Kelly in 2002. The Street Crimes Unit was disbanded following years of criticism over the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo, who was shot 41 times by 4 officers who thought he was reaching for a gun, but instead was reaching for his wallet. However at the time, Kelly insisted that this was simply a rebranding for the unit, but not a change in function, later becoming the anti-crimes unit.
- Darius Charney, a staff lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, remembers the Street Crime Unit seamlessly becoming the almost identical “rebranded” anti-crimes unit, saying this time around, “for this change to have any meaningful impact on how communities experience policing in N.Y.C., these former anti-crime officers will need to change the way they police communities of color”.
- The disbanding of the anti-crimes unit is likely to be seen as a step towards a more traditional police response, one that is reactive instead of proactive. Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant and current adjunct at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, described the shift as monumental, but warns that it might also shift the effectiveness of policing initially, saying “once you remove that deterrent from your communities, it’s going to play a role into how criminals shift their actions”.
- Shea announced that plainclothes units would not be totally eradicated. Plainclothes units will continue to operate in other divisions of the NYPD such as those that work in the city’s transit system.
This decision from Commissioner Shea follows Mayor Bill de Blasio’s previous announcement of anticipated police reform, which called for a redistribution of NYPD funding to youth and social services. In response to both announcements, the Legal Aid Society says, “there is no better place to start reducing the NYPD’s headcount than by disbanding the Anti-Crime Unit… The City must drastically reduce the NYPD’s headcount and use those funds to invest in communities. Anything less is simply window dressing to distract away from the greater systemic issues.”