Read the full story in New York Focus
When New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced the formation of a new band of gun crackdown police units, known as Neighborhood Safety Teams, earlier this year, he vowed that they would consist only of upstanding officers.
Addressing concerns that the new teams would replicate the misconduct of their predecessors — the plainclothes anti-crime units, which accounted for around three in 10 NYPD killings between 2000 and 2018 despite making up roughly 6 percent of the force — Adams promised that the city would be in a “constant state of monitoring” to ensure that the units would contribute to public safety without “the abuses that we witnessed in the past.” One reporter quoted him as guaranteeing that Neighborhood Safety Team officers would have “squeaky clean” records.
The NYPD and the mayor’s office have refused to release a roster of those assigned to the teams, forcing the public to take officials’ word that they’re composed only of reputable cops. But in May, New York Focus found a workaround: identifying which officers have undergone Neighborhood Safety Team training.
Despite Adams’s reassurances, the investigation found that many of the trainees had histories of complaints for excessive force and abuse of authority: 70 percent of the trained officers had at least one known, closed complaint filed against them, and 13 percent had at least five.
The mayor’s office declined to answer questions for that initial report. But when asked about the findings at a press conference, Adams demurred, pointing out that investigations into complaints against NYPD cops often don’t turn up enough evidence to validate them.
“There’s a difference between complaints and substantiated complaints,” Adams said. He went on to assert that, in his experience as a former police officer, people who commit crimes try to game the system by filing frivolous complaints against dedicated officers.
“What I have noticed during my days of policing is that, if an officer is someone that’s committed to a facility, or a house, or a block, and they are aggressively doing their job, not allowing tenants be harassed, not allowing people to sell drugs on corners, the bad guys have figured that out — ‘let’s just call in a complaint on them,’” Adams said.
“If it’s substantiated, that’s one thing. If it’s just a complaint, that’s another thing,” the mayor continued. “So let’s drill into those complaints.”
New York Focus did drill into them — and found that the Neighborhood Safety Team trainees are, on average, even greater outliers when it comes to substantiated complaints. Whereas the average Neighborhood Safety Team-trained cop has a slightly higher number of overall complaints than the average NYPD officer, the trainees average nearly twice the number of substantiated complaints as the department as a whole.
(City officials have stressed that not every officer who undergoes Neighborhood Safety Team training joins a unit. But when narrowing the list to those who have taken both of the NYPD’s two gun unit-specific courses, the overlap is likely significant: At the time of the initial investigation, NYPD data listed 207 officers as having taken both courses, while the department said that 208 officers had been assigned to the teams.)
Furthermore, there is little evidence that supports Adams’s claim that people who regularly commit crimes file complaints as a distraction tactic. Asked by New York Focus, his office did not supply evidence backing up the assertion. A former head of the agency responsible for investigating most civilian complaints against NYPD officers, Mina Malik, told New York Focus that there has been “no statistical information to support a wide-ranging gaming of the system.”
The insights into the mayor’s remarks come to the fore as questions arise about other Adams-era NYPD initiatives — like the mass deployment of officers, including undercover cops, to the subway system — and whether Neighborhood Safety Team patrols overlap with those initiatives.
In response to a list of questions, the mayor’s office referred New York Focus to Alfred Baker, the NYPD’s head of media relations. In a phone interview, Baker extolled the Neighborhood Safety Teams’ work as “instrumental in achieving some of the violent crime reductions that we’ve seen.” (Per NYPD statistics, the first six months of 2022 saw 12 percent fewer shootings than the same period in 2021 — though 20 percent more than in 2020, and experts warn against drawing conclusions from year-over-year crime data.) According to Baker, the NYPD “has taken more than 3,700 guns off the street” this year, of which the Neighborhood Safety Teams are responsible for about 150.
Baker also praised the Neighborhood Safety Team training. “It’s really good training that they’ve gotten, and it’s state of the art, it’s forward leaning,” he said. “It incorporates the best thinking and the best reforms that the NYPD has in many ways been a leader in even [since] before some of the more widespread focus on policing that’s necessary now.”
New York Focus asked Baker for written materials from those training courses — as well as, again, official Neighborhood Safety Team rosters — but has not heard back.