Following weeks of protests in all boroughs of New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday that the New York Police Department (NYPD) will be disbanding its anti-crime unit of plainclothes officers. Going forward, according to the announcement, officers will not be on active duty wearing civilian clothing and instead will be in uniform.
The officers in this particular unit have been responsible for a large percentage of violence, with 31 percent of fatal NYPD shootings involving plainclothes officers, according to a 2018 report from The Intercept. The decision to disband this unit follows the disciplining of multiple NYPD officers for pepper spraying and physically harming protesters at recent demonstrations, and Mayor De Blasio claims the government has seen and heard protesters’ demands.
However, this decision also comes at the hight of outcry to defund the police, and only provides a band aid to the bigger picture of this movement. Across America, protestors have clearly demanded that police departments be disbanded, defunded, and ultimately abolished entirely — with many organisers saying police reform is not enough to stop police violence. Cuomo's announcement made one thing clear: he is hoping that this motion appeases the protestors, and that they feel enough victory to stop demonstrating.
After Governor Cuomo signed the state legislature's police reform package on Friday, June 12, the governor said that protesters "can stop, "as they have the attention of lawmakers, and their demands are being met. “You don't need to protest, you won. You accomplished your goal. Society says you're right, the police need systemic reform,” he said over the weekend.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea also described the move as “a seismic shift in the culture of how the NYPD polices,” but did so without any relevant context. The 600 police officers who are currently part of the unit are only going to be reallocated, and their funds won't be distributed outside of the police department. Instead, officers will transition into roles in other departments, including the detective bureau and neighbourhood policing.
According to Joo-Hyun Kang, a New York-based organiser and director of Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), the NYPD’s announcement is all “smoke and mirrors” akin to when New York disbanded its Street Crimes Unit in 2002, which later became the anti-crime unit anyway. “Fundamental change was promised then, too,” Kang tweeted, adding, “Instead of SCU doing the majority of stops all NYPD started doing many more unconstitutional/abusive stops leading to nearly 700K reported stops in 2011. [They] rebranded "anti-crime" units [that were] just as brutal & lawless as SCU was.”
In the coming weeks, activists and organisers will continue to call for the city council to cut at least $1 billion in funding to the NYPD’s approximately $6 billion budget. And, according to advocates, this outcry will not stop in the face of reallocating plainclothes officers.
Kang has reminded protesters that while this might seem like progress, it’s nothing more than a public relations move to demobilise actions and calls for real changes to the NYPD, like defunding. Instead of firing notably violent officers who have continued to cause serious harm in New York, they have put in place a performative action without seeking to diffuse or prevent actual harm. It only continues to make the NYPD as dangerous.