NLG-NYC Mass Defense Committee Condemns NYPD Proposal to Create a Special Operations Unit to Handle Demonstrations, Urges City Council to Reject Additional Funding.
For Immediate Release
March 9, 2015 – New York – In response to the Black Lives Matter protests in NYC, Police Commissioner Bratton announced the proposed formation of a massive new Strategic Response Group (SRG) that would handle future demonstrations or “civil disorders”. The plain intent of such a surge in police resources is to suffocate political dissent, especially among those New Yorkers already most susceptible to police attention. The National Lawyers Guild-NYC Mass Defense Committee condemns such a proposal, and urges the City Council to reject additional funding for the SRG.
By way of comparison, the size (and additional cost) of this new 550-officer force would be several times the number of officers budgeted for the entire Community Affairs Bureau (182 officers in 2014); larger than the entire current Counterterrorism Division (budgeted for 482 officers in 2014) and likewise larger than the entire Intelligence Division. Over the next five years the cumulative expense for this surge would certainly cost New Yorkers hundreds of millions of dollars. This will not increase the safety of New York City’s communities, and will drain financial resources from those communities already most in need.
The character of this proposed unit is also alarming. Deploying large-scale, paramilitary-style, “tactical” forces from the Special Operations Division in New York’s neighborhoods would contradict a community-based approach that draws on the officers of the neighborhoods’ Precincts and Boroughs – an approach that, until now, has often been proudly cited by NYPD’s own leadership as a distinctive character of policing in New York. Indeed, the proposal would adopt the very same discredited Special Operations approach taken in Ferguson, Missouri, widely criticized as contributing to the escalation of violence and destruction.
These are not the reforms the NYPD needs, or that New Yorkers have been demanding. Rather, this targeting of demonstrators threatens to chill protest at a time when a new generation of young black and brown leadership is sounding its voice, along with the wide spectrum of New Yorkers seen in the streets during the December 13 Black Lives Matter march. The SRG, rather, sends the message “Black-led civil rights struggles must be quelled, by any means necessary.”
NYPD has said that they would make these new tactical forces available to Precincts and Borough commands on occasions when the SRG is not otherwise on call or carrying out the necessary continuous training. However, even for these uses, NYPD’s experience with other tactical forces, such as the tragedies of the Street Crimes Unit, have proven that highly tactical forces, trained and equipped for confrontation, are not easily integrated into the day-to-day needs of the Precinct Commanders or the neighborhoods they serve.
In summary, the Strategic Response Group proposal is unjustifiably massive, dangerous in its approach, and wasteful. Ferguson should not be the model for policing protest in New York City. To amplify the voices of New Yorkers and support safe communities, the City Council must reject the Strategic Response Group proposal.
The Mass Defense Committee of the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild was created in the spring of 1968 in response to Vietnam war protests and arrests at Columbia University. Over the intervening decades, the MDC has provided Legal Observers at thousands of demonstrations and appeared in court for thousands arrested as they marched and rallied for civil rights, immigration rights, economic justice, reproductive rights, or against police misconduct and war. For more information on the Committee, click here.