On Wednesday, New York City mayor Eric Adams said there would be no tolerance for civilians who record police activity from an up-close and unsafe position, as they create a “dangerous environment.”
“If an officer is on the ground wrestling with someone that has a gun, they should not have to worry about someone standing over them with a camera while they’re wrestling with someone,” Adams said. “If an officer is trying to prevent a dispute from taking place and deescalate that dispute, they shouldn’t have someone standing over their shoulders with a camera in their face, yelling and screaming at them without even realizing what the encounter is all about.”
Adams, a former police captain, said that New Yorkers can record police encounters in a safe manner and that footage can later be analyzed to understand what took place.
“There’s a proper way to police and there’s a proper way to document. If your iPhone can’t catch that picture with you being at a safe distance, then you need to upgrade your iPhone,” Adams said.
He continued, “Stop being on top of my police officers while they’re carrying out their jobs. That is not acceptable, and it won’t be tolerated. That is a very dangerous environment that you are creating when you are on top of that officer, who has an understanding of what he’s doing at the time, yelling ‘police brutality,’ yelling at the officer, calling them names.”
The increasing prevalence of cell phones has resulted in more recordings of police activity, particularly in volatile and tense situations. In 2014, video footage captured the moment when Eric Garner was detained by NYPD officers and later placed in a prohibited chokehold. The recording captured Garner repeating the words “I can’t breathe” and losing consciousness. He was later pronounced dead. In 2020, a 17-year-old used her cell phone to record Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, kneeling on the back and neck of George Floyd for more than nine minutes during an arrest. The footage became an integral piece of evidence in the resulting trial, and Chauvin was later sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison for Floyd’s murder.
In 2020, City Council passed a bill that protected a civilian’s right to record police officers. Then-Mayor Bill de Blasio later signed it into law as part of a larger package of police-reform legislation.
These are a revamped version of past anti-crime units, a type of plainclothes unit that had faced complaints of violent tactics. The units were disbanded in 2020 under then-Commissioner Dermot Shea, but Adams promised to revive them as part of his platform to decrease gun violence and the presence of illegal guns in New York.
The teams, made up of five officers each, will be deployed to 30 precincts across the city. The officers under the unit initially volunteered for the assignment but were ultimately selected following a vetting process and recommendations from their commanding officers. Team members took part in a seven-day training course beginning in February that included sections on community relations and constitutional policing.
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