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NYPD commissioner immediately disbands controversial plainclothes anti-crime unit

The NYPD says it is disbanding the plain

The NYPD says it is disbanding the plain clothes anti-crime unit at a time when shootings and homicides are on the rise. Credit: Marcus Santos

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea announced Monday that he was immediately disbanding the controversial plainclothes anti-crime units, a move he called risky due to the “storm on the horizon” in rising major crimes.

With this “seismic” shift in the NYPD, Shea said, some 600 officers working anti-crime would be shifted to other commands such as the detective bureau and neighborhood policing, the department’s much-vaunted program to rebuild relations with minority communities.

Some critics questioned the timing of the disbandment, saying it comes while New York City was seeing a troubling 25% increase in homicides and shootings this year compared with 2019.

Shea said eliminating the unit removed one of the last vestiges of the stop-question-frisk issue that for years caused tension between officers and minority communities. Plainclothes units traditionally stop people suspected of being involved in crimes. But federal lawsuits found that most people stopped had not committed crimes or carried weapons.

Shea said plainclothes officers would still do surveillance and narcotics investigations.

Shea acknowledged that disbanding the units risked backfiring, with fewer gun arrests while crime was rising. The latest NYPD data showed that killings rose 25.2% to 159 so far this year while shootings were up 24.3% to 394, leading to 100 additional people being wounded in attacks compared with 2019. Burglaries are up 47% and auto theft is up 62%.

“Since the pandemic started, we saw a larger uptick in murders … and a larger uptick in shootings,” said Chief Michael LiPetri, head of crime control strategies for the NYPD.

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Much of the increase in shootings and homicides is associated with gang violence, LiPetri said. Most of the violence had occurred in parts of north and south Brooklyn, with some in the central Bronx and parts of the Rockaways in Queens, said LiPetri.  Many of the shootings have clustered around public housing projects, particularly in Brooklyn, he said.

With murders, police had seen an increase in the number of parolees — people released from prison — among the victims and perpetrators, LiPetri said. It is a trend that the NYPD had not seen in the modern era of crime statistics, noted LiPetri.

“It is not confined to one neighborhood or one gang, in terms of what we are seeing," Shea said separately. "I said it a month or two ago, there is a storm on the horizon" that "makes me concerned about any discussion of budget cuts, specifically around headcount.”

Some police union officials questioned Shea’s decision to disband the anti-crime units. Police Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch said the units worked to proactively protect the city, particularly against gun violence.

“They chose this strategy,” said Lynch about disbanding the units. “They will have to live with the consequences.”

But the Legal Aid Society welcomed the news, saying disbanding the unit was a good place to start to reduce the NYPD headcount.

The anti-crime unit is "infamous for employing hyper-aggressive policing techniques to brutalize New Yorkers — mostly those from communities of color — and to defy their basic constitutional rights," the Legal Aid Society said in a statement.

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