NEW YORK — Prior to June 2020, the NYPD routinely posted photos on social media, showing officers from the department’s anti-crime unit. The officers are usually posing in plainclothes, in front of a bounty of illegal firearms, recovered from suspects.
While the unit was widely known in the department as elite and effective, it was not without controversy. Anti-crime officers were involved in a number of high-profile shootings and deaths. Then police commissioner Dermot Shea disbanded the unit in 2020.
"Basically, you're alerting all the bad guys, there will be no more plainclothes anti-crime officers available, and you're signaling to them that it's going to be basically a free for all,” said Michael Alcazar, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Alcazar is also a retired NYPD detective. He supports the plan to revamp the unit.
"It's a valuable tool," said Alcazar. "I'm glad the Mayor is bringing it back. We need that element of surprise when we're policing."
In a January 14 memo obtained by NY1, the NYPD unveils the plans to form new Neighborhood Safety Teams in 34 precincts and public housing sectors with the highest number of shooting incidents last year. It outlines a new hybrid plainclothes and uniform attire, with officer’s name, rank and shield to appear on their outermost garment at all times, as well as body cameras. The memo also states officers selected for the units will be required to undergo specialized training.
“Training has to be very important," said Alcazar. "You got to train all these police officers so they do everything legally. They do everything correctly without violating anybody's rights. And you don't want anybody getting hurt."
Criminal justice reform groups and police watchdogs have long criticized the anti-crime units as being responsible for a high number of controversial stop-and-frisk incidents, as well as using aggressive and discriminatory tactics in Black and Hispanic communities. During a gun violence roundtable Saturday, violence interrupters expressed concerns about plainclothes officers returning to the streets. One interpreter said he fears officers will “jump out” on people, as they did in the past, leading to potentially violent situations.
Mayor Eric Adams says he is the perfect person to find the right balance in policing.
“We’re not going back to the days when everyone that walked the streets was stopped, searched, frisked, harassed. We’re not going back to those days," said Adams. "We’re going to be extremely precise on who we’re zeroing in on. Because we know the shooters, we know who’s carrying."
It’s not clear when these new units will be rolled out, but according to the NYPD memo a list of candidates was supposed to be submitted to the Chief Department’s office last Friday.