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George Floyd impact: NYPD to disband plain-clothes anti-crime units, dept chief calls it 'a seismic shift'

Department chief Shea Dermot, who made the announcement on Monday, conceded that the move is not without risks as anti-crime officers often go close to criminals
Dermot Shea (Getty Images)
Dermot Shea (Getty Images)

The New York Police Department (NYPD) has been witnessing key reforms in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police brutality in Minneapolis on May 25. While talks are on to slash the department’s funds worth billions, it has now been decided that the department will disband its plain-clothes anti-crime units that were associated with some of the Big Apple’s most notorious shootings and reassign its 600 officers to jobs like probing (detective) and neighborhood policing.

On Monday, June 15, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea announced the move after the department came under the scanner over the tactics it adopted against protesters in the wake of Floyd’s brutal killing. “This is a seismic shift in the culture of how the NYPD polices this great city. I would consider this in the realm of closing one of the last chapters of ‘Stop, Question and Frisk’...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,” he said, according to a report in ABC7 New York.

Shea also conceded that the move is not without risks as anti-crime officers often go close to criminals. He said the risk is “squarely on his shoulders”. He also thanked the fact that angry protests in New York City have turned peaceful and thoughtful talks over police reforms have come up. “We welcome reform, but we also believe that meaningful reform starts from within,” said. 

NYPD move earns mixed response

The disbanding of the plain-clothes drew mixed responses. Police Benevolent Association Pat Lynch slammed the move, saying it would make the city less safe. “Anti-Crime’s mission was to protect New Yorkers by proactively preventing crime, especially gun violence,” he said in a statement. “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 reckon with the consequences.”

Civil rights attorney Joel Berger, however, said it was long overdue. “The anti-crime units are just a legacy of street crime from the days of Giuliani, with the motto, ‘We own the night’, just under a different name,” ABC7 New York quoted him as saying. “I never thought of it as real crime prevention. It was designed as social control in minority neighborhoods to show them who is the boss, just like stop and frisk. You should not be particularly surprised that despite the elimination of stop and frisk, people in minority neighborhoods still distrust the police. My only question is why did it take so long.”

Hundreds of protesters gather in Manhattan’s Foley Square to protest the recent death of George Floyd, an African American man who killed after a police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck in Minneapolis on May 29, 2020, in New York City. Across country protests against his death have set off days and nights of rage as its the most recent in a series of deaths of African Americans by the police. (Getty Images)

Like in several other cities in the US, Floyd’s death at the hands of cops sparked outrage in NYC as well and even the daughter of the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, got arrested while demonstrating.

Bob Boyce, a former chief of detectives in NYPD, who had served in the department for more than three decades, said change is necessary but was skeptical about the elimination of anti-crime. “Anti-crime units within the precincts have been around for decades and again, been a key component to reduce crime on the streets. That's what they do. So it's been successful back in the '70s and '60s and all the way up to now. Taking this away from them, you're not getting the same product,” he was quoted as saying by ABC7 New York. 
De Blasio also welcomed the move to eliminate anti-crime units. He tweeted while posting the news: “Your city hears you. Actions, not words.”

In recent times, officers with the anti-crime units have been accused of using excessive force. Last month, a plain-clothes officer was sent on leave after a video surfaced showing him rushing at bystanders on a Manhattan street holding a Taser while trying to enforce social-distancing norms. Demands for abolishing police departments across the US have gained traction amid the protests against cops’ brutality, especially against colored people.

According to a report in The New York Times, as many as 40 NYC cops could face charges of misconduct or criminal charges after several protesters accused them of using excessive force. On Friday, June 12, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a package of police accountability measures that have received a boost after Floyd’s killing, including allowing the release of the officers’ long-withheld disciplinary records.