The NYPD will transition its anti-crime units into other assignments including detective work and neighborhood policing, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said Monday.
The change will affect roughly 600 plainclothes officers, he said, with officers in every precinct being reassigned as the department switches focus to community-based efforts. Some officers could also be put into school detective roles or other positions.
"Thankfully, here in New York City, angry demonstrations have turned peaceful. Thoughtful discussions about reform have emerged," Shea said at a Monday afternoon news conference. "We welcome reform, but we also believe that meaningful reform starts from within."
The commissioner said work will still be done to get guns off the street, but through smarter methods, like technology and intel, rather than through things like raids targeted at those suspected of carrying weapons. Intelligence officers will continue working on targeting suspected gang leaders and weapons dealers. Shea also said that the department can do better and be safer for the public and for cops, while admitting he predicts a potential storm cloud ahead as shootings are up city-wide.
"This is 21st century policing. Intelligence, data, ShotSpotter, video" would all be used to help fight crime, Shea said. Community policing also relies on residents' help in identifying the bad actors who are causing problems in neighborhoods.
"I think it's time to move forward and change how we police in this city. We can do it with brains, we can do it with guile, we can move away from brute force," Shea said.
The anti-crime unit had come under criticism for aggressive tactics that the commissioner said led to distrust in communities of color.
In response to the change, Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynched bashed the decision and blamed city lawmakers and officials.
"Anti-Crime's mission was to protect New Yorkers by proactively preventing crime, especially gun violence," Lynch said in a statement. "Shooting and murders are both climbing steadily upward, but our city leaders have decided that proactive policing isn't a priority anymore. They chose this strategy. They will have to reckon with the consequences."
Former NYPD Chief of Department Joe Esposito agreed, saying it's a mistake to do away with the anti-crime unit.
"Anti-crime (cops) are the crime fighters. These are the folks who get the guns off the street, who get the robbers while the robberies are happening," Esposito said. "There is a price to pay here — we're eliminating all the tools that got us to be the safest city in the county."
Shea, who said that the decision was his, said he supports reforming police but still believes defunding the department is the wrong way to go, and that this reorganization does not include a budget cut. He also said the results of the decision, including guns, shootings and community relations, will fall on his shoulders.
"I would consider this in the realm of closing one of the last chapters of stop-question-and-frisk," Shea said.
Despite the commissioner saying the move was not done as a response to national protests, the decision does comes after weeks of protests throughout the city and calls to reform the department. City leaders announced on Friday their intention to cut the NYPD budget by $1 billion.
"We have identified savings that would cut over $1 billion dollars, including reducing uniform headcount through attrition, cutting overtime, shift responsibilities away from the NYPD, finding efficiencies and savings in OTPS spending, and lowering associated fringe expenses," City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and other committee chairs said in a joint statement after the desicion.
The group said the $1 billion reduction is an ambitious goal but believes it is the right move to remedy failed policing policies of the past.
Last week, New York state lawmakers repealed a decades-old law that has kept law enforcement officers’ disciplinary records secret, spurred by the national uproar over the death of George Floyd.
The measure to make officers’ records and misconduct complaints public was among several police accountability bills racing through the state legislature. Lawmakers passed other bills that would provide all state troopers with body cameras and ensure that police officers provide medical and mental health attention to people in custody.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a Tuesday news conference, outlined a new series of rules for those body cameras in particulars, including mandated release of camera audio and video within a certain amount of time after particular incidents.
Many of the reform bills were first proposed years ago, but got new momentum after huge protests nationwide condemned police brutality. The passage came as criminal charges were brought against an NYPD officer over his rough treatment of a protester during demonstrations following the death of Floyd, who pleaded he couldn’t breathe as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck May 25.
Eliminating the law, known as Section 50-a, would make complaints against officers, as well as transcripts and final dispositions of disciplinary proceedings, public for the first time in decades.
While supporters and lawmakers were quick to hail the decision, police unions bashed the repeal, blaming "opportunistic politicians" for rushing to pass the bills, and ultimately blaming them for "our increase in crime," the presidents for the detectives' and lietenants' unions said.
Detectives' Endowment Association President Paul DiGiacomo wondered why the police weren't consulted with the bills, and particularly blamed Mayor Bill de Blasio.
"Mayor de Blasio flip-flopped, once again. The other day, he said publicly that 50a needed to be changed, but not fully repealed. The only thing he consistently does is turn his back on the brave men and women in blue who he relies on to keep every New Yorker safe," DiGiacomo said.
Momentum for ending the secrecy law reached a crescendo in recent weeks as thousands of marchers filled streets in Brooklyn and Manhattan to rally against police abuses — amplifying the calls of reform advocates who spent years pushing for change in the wake of other high-profile police killings, including that of Eric Garner in 2014.
“This is no time for rejoicing,” said State Senator Kevin Parker, a Democrat representing parts of Brooklyn, last week. “This bill has been around for over a decade … And the only reason why we’re bringing it to the floor now because the nation is burning.”
The state Senate and Assembly passed the 50-a repeal largely along party lines, as Republicans argued the law would allow the release of unsubstantiated or false complaints against officers.
But one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Jamaal Bailey, a Bronx Democrat, said the public has a right to view complaints: “Sometimes unsubstantiated complaints happen because people don’t want to follow up.”
The legislature passed other police accountability measures, such as banning police from using chokeholds, guaranteeing the right to record police activity, requiring body cameras for all state police officers and making it easier to file lawsuits against people making race-based 911 calls.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that for years they have been "ready to deliver real change and has fought tirelessly for much needed criminal justice reforms. We join the nation in mourning the death of yet another unarmed black man, and we stand ready to answer the call for action.”
“Over the last few years, there has been a national conversation taking place surrounding law enforcement accountability and transparency,” said Speaker Heastie. “For years, the Assembly Majority has been ready to deliver real change and has fought tirelessly for much needed criminal justice reforms. We join the nation in mourning the death of yet another unarmed black man, and we stand ready to answer the call for action.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who at first resisted calls to defund the NYPD in favor of youth programs, said it wasn't protesters who got him to change his mind but rather his wife, Chirlane McCray, who convinced him it was time to reconsider.
"The fundamental answer is yes, the first lady and the task force said the shift in funds made sense," de Blasio said. Aides to the mayor said that he had been leaning toward reversing cuts he proposed to youth programs for weeks. Now, de Blasio is giving his wife credit for the shift — which could help her as she contemplates running for Brooklyn borough president in 2021.
Even as de Blasio said he wants to "relentlessly change this city and this police department over the next 18 months," members of the police department, including the commissioner, haven't been cheery about it. As the city's largest police union said that cops are "under assault" due to the current movement, Commissioner Shea said he hoped that "common sense and cooler heads will prevail — Lord help us if it doesn't."
Police insist that communities of color have asked for more police resources, not fewer.
Meanwhile in Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order Monday that was also aimed at addressing the issue of police brutality. State police in Connecticut are now banned from using chokeholds, strangleholds, arm-bar control holds, lateral vascular neck restraints, chest compressions or any maneuver that limits oxygen or blood flow to the head or neck.
Police are also now required to de-escalate situations, provide verbal warnings and exhaust all other "reasonable alternatives" before resorting to the use of deadly force, the executive order read. Officers are now required to intervene if another cop is using excessive force, and all troopers must report instances when force was required, including drawing their gun on a civilian.
All Connecticut State police troopers and vehicles will now have bodycams or dashcams as well.