Read the full piece in New York Focus
In March, New York City Mayor Eric Adams fulfilled his promise to revive recently disbanded plainclothes police teams and deploy them to sweep up illegal guns. The move was among the most controversial elements of the mayor’s plan to tackle gun violence: The old teams, known as anti-crime units, were some of the New York City Police Department’s most infamous, accounting for around three in 10 NYPD killings between 2000 and 2018 despite making up roughly 6 percent of the force.
Adams and the NYPD have promised that the new units, known as the Neighborhood Safety Teams, are different. The new teams wear uniforms, and officials have touted training, robust oversight, and a discerning selection process for officers as evidence that they will not, in Adams’s words, perpetuate “the abuses that we witnessed in the past.” But the city has refused to release a list of officers assigned to the teams or information about their service histories, forcing the public to take officials’ word that they are only selecting the best of the best.
So New York Focus found a workaround: identifying which officers have undergone Neighborhood Safety Team training. The resulting roster reveals that, in many instances, cops repeatedly accused of committing abuses when they served on plainclothes units are now likely working on the new teams — often as high-ranking supervisors responsible for maintaining the teams’ standards and conduct.
Using NYPD data made accessible by citizen watchdogs, New York Focus identified and is publishing a list of officers who have taken both of the NYPD’s two publicly listed Neighborhood Safety Team-specific training courses. A department spokesperson said some officers may take the courses without being deployed to the units, but the trainee numbers closely mirror the numbers of officers on the teams: As of May 18, 164 patrol officers and 43 higher-ranked officers were listed as having taken both courses, while the NYPD said that 163 patrol officers and 45 “supervisors” had been assigned to the teams as of the same date.
Per the records and an online database of known, closed NYPD complaints, 13 percent of the officers who have taken both courses have at least five complaints, and eight of the officers have at least 10. Only 30 percent of the officers have no known, closed complaints on their record. Across the NYPD, at least four in 10 active officers have no known complaint record, and the average is fewer than two.
A significant portion of the officers on the new units were likely members of the disbanded plainclothes squads: 49 percent of officers who took both Neighborhood Safety Team courses — and 89 percent of those with five or more known complaints — also took the NYPD’s basic plainclothes certification course before the department disbanded the anti-crime units in 2020.
The data is likely to add to critics’ concerns about reviving the street crime units. “The reality is that the Neighborhood Safety Teams are a rebrand of the anti-crime units, one of the most notoriously brutal units in the NYPD,” said Yul-san Liem, director of operations at the Justice Committee, an anti-police violence organization that facilitates advocacy, cop watch, and victim support programs. “So it’s not surprising that they’d pull aggressive, abusive officers.”
Some law enforcement backers are wary of the revived units, too. “We want to make sure we got cops that are out there respecting the community,” said Corey Pegues, a retired NYPD commander. “You gotta really scrutinize people. … Any of these cops with five or more complaints shouldn’t be in the neighborhood safety unit. Absolutely not.”
One of the officers who have taken the Neighborhood Safety Team training courses is Sergeant Daniel Berardi, who has had at least eight complaints filed against him during his 12-year NYPD career, at least part of which he has spent as a plainclothes cop. Berardi has also been sued several times, including for a 2013 incident during which he and another officer allegedly punched and choked a man during a traffic stop in the man’s own driveway after he asked to speak to their superiors.
Earlier that year, Berardi allegedly falsely arrested the same teenager twice. As reported by the Daily News at the time, he was among a group of plainclothes cops who allegedly frisked the teen, found nothing, let him go, and then, after finding a gun on someone the teen had stopped to greet on the street, chased him down and arrested him. The teenager sued Berardi and the other cops. Days after the suit was filed, Berardi allegedly recognized the teen on the street, referenced the lawsuit, and proceeded to arrest him for riding his bike on the sidewalk (which the teen said he didn’t do).
Another Neighborhood Safety Team-trained plainclothes officer, Ramiro Ruiz, had at least 12 complaints filed against him in the first 13 years of his career and was a defendant in at least two civil suits. In one case, the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) confirmed him as the arresting officer among a group of plainclothes cops who allegedly choked a man and tried to delete video from his phone when he began recording them during a traffic stop. Then, in 2020, Ruiz was the subject of at least three complaints in the first three weeks of protests following the police killing of George Floyd. Less than six months after those complaints were filed, he was promoted to lieutenant.
The CCRB recently substantiated three of the allegations tied to those complaints — including for beating people with a nightstick — and recommended conducting an administrative trial against Ruiz, which could result in forfeited vacation days, or even suspension or firing.
Records also show that Ruiz has been placed on the Queens district attorney’s “adverse credibility list,” a rundown of cops who are known to lie or provide misleading testimony. The reason for his addition to the list isn’t public.
In response to a list of questions about the Neighborhood Safety Team-trained officers’ records, Mayor Adams’s office referred New York Focus to the NYPD.
In a lengthy statement, the NYPD said the Neighborhood Safety Teams “represent the next era of responsive, responsible crime fighting, built and strengthened by the neighborhood-specific concerns of the people who live and work there.”
“It is all part of a promise, that anyone who threatens this city, and its people, will be answerable to the law,” the statement said.