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N.Y.P.D. Disbands Plainclothes Units Involved in Many Shootings
New York, N.Y.
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The commissioner is reassigning about 600 officers from teams that target violent crime. He called it a “seismic shift” in police culture.

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.

Roughly 600 officers serve in the units, which are spread out across the city and work out of the department’s 77 precincts and nine housing commands. They will immediately be reassigned to other duties, including the detective bureau and the department’s neighborhood policing initiative, the commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, said.

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 Shea said the plainclothes units were part of an outdated policing model that too often seemed to pit officers against the communities they served, and that they were involved in a disproportionate number of civilian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.”

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The unexpected announcement came after weeks of protests and public unrest over police brutality after the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a black man who was killed when a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Within the department, the anti-crime units were seen as an elite force aimed at disarming criminals in the city’s most violent pockets. Created with the mission of ridding the street of illegal guns and stopping violent crimes, the units were widely seen as a steppingstone for ambitious officers who hoped to join the Detective Bureau.

But for critics of the department, the anti-crime units have become a symbol of the aggressive policing strategies that are now being called into question by the protest movement. Not all are being disbanded: Those that work in the city’s transit system will remain in their role, Mr. Shea said, and plainclothes units will continue to operate in other divisions of the police department.

Mr. Shea said Monday that the anti-crime units were a vestige of the city’s era of “stop-and-frisk,” when officers routinely searched people in high-crime areas, a practice that a judge declared unconstitutional after finding it disproportionately affected people of color.

“This is 21st-century policing," Mr. Shea said of his decision to disband the units. “The key difference — we must do it in a manner that builds trust between the officers and the community they serve.”

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