New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea announced that the plain clothes “anti-crime”** units of 600 officers will be disbanded.
The New York police commissioner announced on Monday that he was disbanding the Police Department’s anti-crime units: plainclothes teams that target violent crime and have been involved in some of the city’s most notorious police shootings.
On the one hand, the nature of the assignment tended to explain why its members were involved in most police shootings. On the other hand, it was absolutely notorious, bordering on a rogue squad of armed people, indistinguishable from the criminals they were supposed to police, usually unnecessarily violent in their dealings and utterly callous in their actions.
Mr. Shea said the plainclothes units were part of an outdated policing model that too often seemed to pit officers against the communities they served, and that they were involved in a disproportionate number of civilian complaints and fatal shootings by the police. He said the department now depends much more on intelligence gathering and technology to fight crime and “can move away from brute force.”
“This is a seismic shift in the culture of how the N.Y.P.D. polices this great city,” Mr. Shea said. “It will be felt immediately in the communities that we protect.”
A different explanation might be that anti-crime was horribly managed, allowing cops to use brute force without limit or oversight, and less an “outdated policing model” than a massive failure of culture and leadership. But either way, it will certainly be a seismic shift.
Yet, the cops aren’t exactly on board with their reimagining.
A few hours after the Manhattan district attorney announced he would not prosecute some of the protesters who had been arrested during demonstrations against police brutality, the Police Department sent him a message: All the officers assigned to his office would be pulled off the job to help with crowd control.
As anyone who’s ever watched the intro to Law & Order knows:
In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important, groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders.
Apparently, the relationship has gotten a bit rocky.
But to some in the prosecutors’ offices, the episode was emblematic of a growing divide between the police and most of the city’s district attorneys over how to address public outrage about racial disparities that pervade the criminal justice system.
For the district attorneys of New York City, a few problems are now on the front burner. The first is that the cops not only behaved poorly, if not criminally, in dealing with protesters (and cowardly, in running the other way when they saw looters), but did so on video so the facts were undeniable.
The second is that the people arrested and brought to the district attorneys for prosecution were, for the most part, protesters whose highest charge was committed contempt of cop. As this too was often caught on video, or believed to be the case and lacking evidence to prove otherwise, it put the district attorneys in the unsatisfying position of coming to court to prosecute people for the exercise of their constitutional rights. While that, historically, didn’t bother anyone, including the judge, it was now the focus of a great many eyes who didn’t love prosecutors as much as Dick Wolf.
Third, district attorneys in New York City are elected, Democrats and ordinarily constrained to thread the needle between pretending to feel the pain of both the victims and perpetrators of crime. Suddenly, the needle made that hard, if not impossible.
The cops might take a certain amount of gruff from their brass, but the perpetually smoldering relationship with prosecutors turned into a bonfire of the inanities. They were not going to do their jobs on the street, risk their lives,*** only to have some prissy law school graduate smack them and cut their perp loose. The ugly truth is they never had much respect for each other.
While changes are happening, whether they’re cosmetic or real, defunding or reforming, the police are not likely to meekly accept them, especially when imposed externally. Ironically, while some really want to see the police abolished, the police might do the job for themselves by refusing to appear, to arrest, to respond, to “protect and serve” or beat and kill.****
Are we doomed or will this be the dawn of a new era? Will the cops refusal to do their part of the duet mean that we’re now at war, and the decision will be made for us, whether by abolitionists who want to be rid of the police or by the police who demand obsequience or else?
Who wins? Who loses? Who gets caught in the middle?
*Tuesday Talk rules apply.
**Does that mean the rest of the NYPD is pro-crime? See, I made the joke first. Move along.
***Yes, police lives are less at stake than the take-out delivery guy, but they believe their lives to be at risk, and if you’re a cop or friend of cop, that’s sufficient.
****In anticipation of anarchy, I hereby declare this SJ Autonomous Zone. Send Bowmore 18.