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NYPD’s Neighborhood Safety Unit Updates Tech, Uniform

The city’s controversial anti-crime unit will return to Staten Island’s North Shore with a new name, new uniforms complete with body cameras, and new tech that uses facial recognition technology. But some still worry about the unit’s impacts.

(TNS) — By next week, the NYPD's controversial anti-crime unit will return to Staten Island's North Shore with a new name, new look and new technology.

The department's 120th Precinct, which encompasses the northeast section of the borough, is among more than 30 high-crime commands where the city has instituted the Neighborhood Safety Units — also referred to as anti-gun units— as part of Mayor Eric Adams' "Blueprint to End Gun Violence" initiative, which he first rolled out at a press conference in January.

Different than the former anti-crime officers who wore plain clothes, the new unit comes with an alternate, NYPD uniform.

Officers are slated to wear a black, sleeveless zip-up jacket with a sewn, gold badge on the front, including a patch with the officer's name, shield, rank and command, according to an Instagram post Monday by the New York City Justice League. "NYPD" and "Police" are sewn in white letters on the front and back of the jacket. A hat that bears "NYPD" is optional.

Officials say each officer will wear a camera and is instructed to turn it on anytime they're interacting with a civilian. They'll also be equipped with an unmarked car with a dashboard camera for transparency and safety.

"I was not going to put out a unit that was going to go after those who are carrying illegal guns unless I felt comfortable that we were not going back to the days of being abusive," said Adams at a press conference Saturday.

"(In the past ) we were going to a community. Based on the crime numbers in that community, we criminalized everyone in that community. (But ) we know who the gang members are. We know who the trigger pullers are. We're zooming in on them. We're not zooming in on an entire community."

Some community leaders, however, have spoken out against the idea, citing a disproportionate number of police-involved shootings and substantiated civilian complaints against similar units in the past.

New Technology, Training

About 168 cops from the department's Neighborhood Safety Teams began their new assignments Monday in 28 areas of the city where shootings have increased during the pandemic, the Post reported.

The remaining 300 or so officers will be added as they complete their seven-day training, including those assigned to Staten Island.

Adams said previously that members of Neighborhood Safety Teams will have "new technology" including facial recognition and the ability to identify people carrying guns, in what could amount to a no-contact version of the NYPD's controversial "stop-and-frisk" program.

"The officers are being trained in the constitution, community interaction, car stops, use of force," Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said at a press conference Friday. "What we really want to emphasize is there's a community component to this training as well, where we talk to the community and find out exactly what the changes are that they like to see, what their concerns were in the past and what they can speak to moving forward."

"They're intensively trained in minimal-force techniques, advanced tactics, car stops," added Chief of Department Ken Corey on Friday. "De-escalation is essential to all of it, communication skills is a big part of it, courtroom training and as the police commissioner indicated, constitutional policing."

The Garner, Pantaleo Legacy

It was a plainclothes unit involved in the 2014 death of Eric Garner in Tompkinsville, which helped spark an ongoing social-justice movement across the U.S.

In November, Black Lives Matter New York co-founder Hawk Newsome said there would be "riots," "fire" and "bloodshed" if Adams reinstated a plainclothes unit.

Eric Garner Jr. responded to the comments, saying "on behalf of the entire movement, I must ask you to retract your statement and redirect that righteous anger to help all of us form a more constructive way of accomplishing our goals because, at the end of the day, we all we got."

In 2019, a large demonstration was held in Manhattan calling on the firing of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who an NYPD judge ruled placed a banned chokehold on Garner.

Hundreds on Staten Island's South Shore meanwhile marched in support of Pantaleo keeping his job, led in part by Blue Lives Matter New York founder Joe Imperatrice.

"Having the anti-crime team back is a great step in the right direction to getting NYC back on track and communities in all five boroughs safer," Imperatrice said Tuesday. "There must be up-to-date training for the new officers assigned. And they must know the risk and dangers they pose to themselves and possibly the public."

One element that didn't exist in past versions of the unit is Adams' continued support and funding for community-based, anti-violence groups.

One of those groups, True2Life Staten Island, includes residents formerly involved in acts of gun violence and other crimes who now work to end disputes peacefully and educate the community on ways to break the cycle of poverty and violence.

Project Manager Mike Perry said Tuesday he looks forward to meeting with officers in the new unit.

"I want to address the concerns of the communities they will be working in," Perry said. "I want to speak with them about accountability, and ask how things will be different from the previous anti-crime unit."

Meanwhile in the borough's neighboring 121st Precinct — which also has seen a disproportionately high number of shootings in recent years — one officer expressed frustration they weren't getting a unit of their own.

"I think it should be [in every precinct]," he said. "(Anti-gun units) will help slightly, but only in those commands."

History of Anti-Gun Units

In 2002, then-Commissioner Ray Kelly disbanded a plainclothes, street crime unit, after a street vendor was shot 41 times by officers who mistook his wallet for a gun.

In 2020, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and amid the social upheaval that followed, the plainclothes anti-crime unit was again disbanded.

Some cops on Staten Island have railed against then-Commissioner Dermot Shea's decision, citing plainclothes officers' ability to more easily execute gun arrests.

"These [plainclothes] officers know who the problem people are and who the recidivists are," a Staten Island officer familiar with gun arrests on the North Shore said in January. "The plainclothes gives them the drop on people who are committing crimes. The whole purpose is that it gives them a tactical advantage."

Time will tell if Adams' revamped version of the unit will strike a balance between safety and enforcement that so far has eluded city officials.

(c)2022 Staten Island Advance, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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