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With renewed mission and a profile makeover, the NYPD’s reconstituted anti-crime units have returned to city streets to combat spikes in violent crime driven by what officials have said is a proliferation of illegal guns.
The first wave of the department’s Neighborhood Safety Teams, now plainly identifiable as cops, fanned out Monday much of The Bronx, central and north Brooklyn, eastern Queens, Harlem and Upper Manhattan.
Ultimately within 30 precincts
“We’re going to roll out the rest as we move along,” Commissioner Keechant Sewell told reporters last week. The teams, which comprise five officers and one sergeant, are for now combing 25 precincts and four city housing areas. She expects the units will ultimately have a presence in 30 of the city’s 77 precincts as well as four housing areas.
“These teams are there for gun violence, they are there for criminal activity. But they look like police officers, they are not in plainclothes,” unlike their predecessors, she said. “They are there for the safety of the community and to get the violent offenders off the streets.”
Former Commissioner Dermot Shea dissolved the roughly 600-officer Anti-Crime Unit in June 2020 following years of grievances directed at the squad for its aggressive approach to law enforcement.
Although shooting incidents declined nearly 20 percent in the four-week period ending March 13 compared to last year, the 217 incidents recorded by the NYPD through that date are still 11 percent more than the 196 incidents noted through that same period last year. This is the fourth consecutive year shootings have increased year over year in January and February. Still, the totals are still well below the numbers experienced in the 1990s and even the mid-2000s.
Commissioner Sewell said she hoped the teams’ effectiveness would quickly be apparent.
“I certainly hope it’s right away but we certainly will evaluate it as it moves forward. But they need to have time and be effective,” she said.
The Neighborhood Safety Teams’ officers wear polo shirts and jackets emblazoned with “Police” and “NYPD” and are equipped with body-worn cameras, but are traveling in unmarked cars.
Chief of Department Kenneth Corey outlined the seven full days of training the officers are getting before they are deployed. That training includes team tactic drills, as well as in de-escalation and minimal-force techniques and communications skills, he told reporters.
Alluding to the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk practices that were largely found to be unconstitutional and discriminatory and led to the 2013 appointment of a federal monitor to oversee the departmental reforms, Chief Corey said training on “investigative encounters” is similar to that which has been reviewed and approved by the federal monitor, “so we know we are fully compliant.”
Commissioner Sewell said that one aspect of the NYPD’s decision to reconstitute the anti-crime teams that had not been highlighted but needed emphasizing was how much residents had been involved. “We actually had to take a look at the mistakes of the past and what we needed to change,” she said.
The Police Benevolent Association’s president, Patrick J. Lynch, welcome the teams but reserved judgment.
“New York City police officers know that the only way to reclaim our city from violence is through sustained proactive policing,” he said in a statement. “We know it because we reclaimed the city once before. However, we are in a much different reality now. The environment on the streets is much more challenging, as are the laws and policies that cops must navigate in order to do the job effectively. We will continue to engage with the Department to ensure that this new program reflects the new reality.”
Lou Turco, the president of the Lieutenants Benevolent Association, was decidedly more skeptical and counseled his members to exercise care.
“As the new Anti-Gun Teams (more realistically labeled the “Catch & Release Teams”) are deployed in neighborhoods throughout the city experiencing the greatest surge in gun related and violent crimes we want our officers to be aware that they have an invisible target on their backs,” he said in a letter to his lieutenants.
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