Last year, President Joe Biden spent a day with New York Mayor Eric Adams in an attempt to spotlight Adams’ aggressive approach to tackling crime. Now a new report claims that the strategy deployed by Adams, a Black man, involves systematically violating the civil rights of people of color.
Biden should’ve listened to those of us who warned him against embracing Adams’ militant attitude toward policing. If Democratic leaders have any interest in pursuing meaningful police reform, they’d keep their distance from politicians who believe brute force is the only way to handle any surges in crime. But maybe that’s the point — they don’t have any interest.
These units, which have existed in different forms as far back as the 1980s, have long had a reputation for abusing power.
A court-appointed monitor filed a report in federal court Monday that catalogued how the monitor says the New York Police Department has been violating the law. Specifically, the monitor alleges that Adams’ resurrection of a controversial anti-crime unit has resulted in a surge in the violation of civil liberties of people of color. The monitor worked with a team of former law enforcement officers, who studied stop reports filed by police officers, video from body cameras and other information.
“Almost all of the stops made by the rebranded ‘neighborhood safety teams’ analyzed in the report — 97 percent — were of Black or Hispanic people, and 24 percent of the stops were unconstitutional. Of 230 car stops included in the sample, only two appear to have turned up weapons,” according to The New York Times. In one precinct in the Bronx, merely 32% of frisks and 26% of searches were deemed constitutional by the monitor, the Times reported.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Adams’ resurrected anti-crime units are targeting people of color with allegedly unlawful policing tactics. These units, which have existed in different forms as far back as the 1980s, have long had a reputation for abusing power. They proactively patrol neighborhoods in unmarked cars, and prior to the Adams era, its members often wore civilian clothes. (Now they wear modified uniforms.) These units elicited a disproportionate number of complaints and were linked to a disproportionate number of shootings by police officers. They were the groups of police responsible for executing the notorious stop-and-frisk tactic, which, according to a 2013 federal court ruling, was conducted unconstitutionally in New York. Police who belonged to such units were involved in the police killing of Eric Garner in 2014 and fired the 19 bullets that killed Amadou Diallo in the doorway of his own home in 1999.
A spokesperson for Adams told The Associated Press that city officials “have serious concerns” about the monitor’s methodology. And police and city officials have defended the resurrected units by claiming they have helped bring down the city’s murder rate.
That claim deserves skepticism. It’s notoriously difficult in general to establish causal links to increases and decreases in crime. But in this case there’s a particularly good reason to question city officials' claim that the anti-crime units are the reason for fewer killings: The murder rate is plummeting in major cities across the country, including those that haven’t ramped up their police presence.
Of course, even if the units were uniquely effective, that wouldn’t justify systematic racial profiling or violating the public’s civil liberties. But the point is to remember that evidence is lacking that many tough-on-crime policies actually make the population safer.
Democratic leaders were drawn to highlight Adams because of his unique political identity: a Black man and former cop who has called for moderate police reform but promised to be tough. It seemed like an easy out for a party that wanted to talk about changing policing but not doing too much to make it happen. Now we’re seeing the consequences of that choice, and it’s one that makes Adams and the Democratic establishment look terrible.