The New York City Police Department is disbanding a 600-person plainclothes anti-crime unit in a move that a top official described Monday as the end of its controversial “stop and frisk” program.
The unit, which has operated in every precinct in the city, was charged with proactively finding guns and taking them off the streets.
Addressing a small group of reporters from 1 Police Plaza headquarters, NYPD Commissioner Dermott Shea called the move “a seismic shift in the culture of how the NYPD polices this great city.”
“I would consider this in the realm of closing the last chapters of stop, question and frisk,” he said.
As used by the department, the tactic gave officers wide latitude to detain suspects. A class-action lawsuit over the program led to a federal ruling in 2013 that found more than 80 percent of the stops involved Black people and Latinos. The stops rarely resulted in the seizure of contraband.
Shea said the decision wasn’t an indictment of anti-crime officers, who he said have done an “exceptional” job. But he said policing in 2020 is different than it was a decade ago.
“We can do it with brains, we can do it with guile, we can move away from brute force,” he said.
The decision comes amid mass demonstrations prompted by the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In the weeks since, protesters across the United States have condemned police violence and systemic racism.
Some protesters have accused New York police officers of abuse and excessive force during the rallies, and some officers have been suspended.
Monday’s announcement also came as law enforcement agencies and officials grapple with a demand from many to “defund” or “abolish” the police. In Minneapolis, a majority of the city council pledged to “dismantle” its police department. In Los Angeles, elected officials promised to “reimagine” policing.
And in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that every community in the state would have to implement “major” reform aimed at redesigning public safety.
“How do we change the police?” he said. “How do we take this moment and institutionalize it to have progress?”
Shea called the discussions about reform “thoughtful,” but added that the move to disband the NYPD unit could backfire.
“This is not without risk,” he said. “The risk will fall squarely on my shoulders.”