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How a violent January changed the direction of New York City policing in less than a week

CNN logo CNN 1/25/2022 By Travis Caldwell, CNN
Mayor Eric Adams speaks to hundreds of police and fire officers at a vigil on January 22, 2022, for two officers shot in Harlem © Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Mayor Eric Adams speaks to hundreds of police and fire officers at a vigil on January 22, 2022, for two officers shot in Harlem

The death of a woman who was pushed onto the subway tracks in Times Square. A baby caught in the crossfire in the Bronx, shot in the face. The shootings of five officers, including one killed responding to a domestic disturbance in Harlem.

These acts of violence in the first month of 2022 under a new city administration -- coming off a year that saw an increase in homicides -- have dramatically changed the tenor of policing in New York City over the course of just a few days.

Now, as officials enact plans to stem violent crime and illegal gun ownership, the city is preparing for the return of plainclothes units that had been disbanded nearly two years earlier.

Mayor Eric Adams, a former New York Police Department captain who began his term less than four weeks ago, touted his law and order experience during the election campaign. Now, lawlessness has become his biggest immediate challenge following a spate of high-profile attacks on residents and police alike.

Five NYPD officers have been shot since New Year's, police officials said, and attacks at subway stations -- with people being pushed onto the tracks -- has transportation officials warning riders to stay away from the edge of platforms.

"I don't want to tell people that they should stand on subway platforms and feel like they're, you know, they're in threat of their lives," Metropolitan Transit Authority chair and CEO Janno Lieber told CNN affiliate WABC on Sunday. "But everybody should stand away from the edge of the platform."

To try to provide greater security on city streets, Adams said a plainclothes unit will be reinstituted within the next three weeks to curb rising crime and gun violence.

"We have to make sure we don't continue to put dangerous people back on the street and continue the flow of guns in our cities," Adams told CNN's John Berman Tuesday on New Day.

The unit will patrol in unmarked vehicles while wearing clothing identifying officers as law enforcement, Adams announced Monday, adding that the new unit will be in addition to those already on the streets since August who patrol in unmarked vehicles while wearing police uniforms.

The mayor also laid out in a "Blueprint to End Gun Violence" goals to improve mental health care, launch a new youth engagement program to intercept those at risk from potential criminal behavior, improve communication between legal jurisdictions and increase the number of judges available.

"New Yorkers will see and feel these changes quickly," Adams said. "We will ramp up enforcement, deploy more officers on the streets and in the subways, and get our courts at full capacity."

Shooting of two officers spurred city action

While Adams made no secret during his campaign that he wanted a more active police force, the speed in which events were put in motion was hastened by the shooting death of Officer Jason Rivera on Friday.

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Rivera, 22, was killed in a Harlem apartment while responding to a domestic incident. A second officer, Wilbert Mora, 27, was also shot and remains in critical condition following surgery, the NYPD said.

The suspected gunman, Lashawn McNeil, died Monday and had been in critical condition since the shooting, the NYPD told CNN. McNeil tried to run but was confronted by a third officer on the scene and was struck by two rounds, police said.

The gun used in Friday's shooting, a Glock 45, was stolen from Baltimore in 2017 and had a magazine that can hold up to 40 additional rounds, according to NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig.

The suspect had another gun under his mattress, Adams said Monday.

"He could have emptied out his 40 (bullets) and still had another automatic assault weapon for every responding officer who responded," he said.

The availability of illegal firearms has been paid particular attention, with Gov. Kathy Hochul announcing a multistate effort with federal authorities to get more weapons off the street.

Services for Rivera will take place Thursday and Friday at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York said.

Critics worry new units will be a return to old ways

As the city moves forward with the return of plainclothes units, some community leaders and advocates are questioning whether the mayor's plan is an appropriate course of action.

Some critics derided plainclothes units for years as counterproductive and argued they were a relic from the stop-and-frisk era of policing, used instead as a bludgeoning tool that more negatively affected Black and brown communities.

Rivera had prior experience with the stop-and-frisk policy before joining the force. Writing to a commanding officer while in police academy less than two years ago, he detailed a negative experience with his brother who was frisked, and said he was moved by later NYPD efforts to get away from such tactics.

He wanted to be the first person in his family to become a police officer in what he called "the greatest police force in the world," he wrote, intent on pursuing a career.

The NYPD reassigned plainclothes officers off such assignments in 2020, closing a controversial chapter of the city's anti-crime units.

And a group of public defender groups -- while lauding other aspects of the mayor's initiative on mental health and youth services -- expressed reservations about bringing back such units.

"Reinstating the NYPD's Anti-Crime Unit without also addressing the culture and policies that drove that unit's decades-long pattern of harassment and violence targeting Black and brown New Yorkers is a mistake," The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders and The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and Queens Defenders said in a joint statement Monday.

"Today's announcement gives the community members who live with the legacy of hyper-aggressive policing no comfort that Mayor Adams's Anti-Crime Unit will be different from its predecessors," the statement said. "The Mayor must focus on addressing long standing problems with NYPD's culture of impunity before he doubles down on strategies that will only perpetuate the harms of that culture."

Adams, who is only the second Black mayor in the city's history, has said he is keenly aware of overcoming the gaps between communities and a police agency historically at odds.

"There's a subtext to this story that I don't want to be missed," he said at a vigil for the officers Saturday. "The three officers that were involved, two of them were born outside this country, one in India and one in the Dominican Republic, the third is a first generation."

"And so when you start talking about the contribution of the immigrant community to this city, you better understand the reality that they are putting their lives on the line for the city and country that they love," he said.


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