In N.Y.P.D.’s Harsh Tactics Under Adams, Critics See a Broken Promise

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By Ketrin Agustine

As a candidate, Eric Adams promised a new kind of policing. But some fear that increased stops and aggressive tactics will erode trust.

Edwin Raymond doubted he would ever be promoted to sergeant after he sued the New York Police Department over arrest quotas that fell hardest on Black and Latino men. But he had a prominent ally.

“What you’re going through is what a warrior goes through,” Eric Adams, then Brooklyn’s borough president, wrote him in a text, Mr. Raymond recalled.

When Mr. Adams became mayor in January 2022, Mr. Raymond — who was eventually promoted and later rose to lieutenant — hoped the city’s new leader would end the tactics that had attracted civil rights lawsuits and federal scrutiny. Instead, the mayor embraced them.

Since Mr. Adams took office, the police have pulled over disproportionate numbers of Black and Latino drivers, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. Officers stopped and frisked 41 percent more pedestrians in 2022 than in 2021. And in June, a federal monitor said that anti-crime units activated by Mr. Adams were conducting too many unlawful stops, searches and frisks.

Also up: the number of complaints filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the independent agency that investigates misconduct. During the first half of 2023, the board reported, there were 40 percent more complaints than during the same period last year.

Mr. Adams, a former police captain who campaigned on fighting crime while protecting the rights of New Yorkers, has been unapologetic about his approach.

Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain, has been deeply involved with the department. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

“Whenever I’m cracking down on them, everyone says, ‘OK, there go Mayor Po Po again trying to be heavy handed on everyone,’” Mr. Adams said during a recent meeting with residents in southeast Queens, one of his political strongholds. “You’re not going to just do whatever you want in this city anymore. Those days are over.”

Interviews with half a dozen current and recently retired officers revealed a duality in how they view this change: After years of feeling undermined following protests against brutality and calls to defund the police, many officers said Mr. Adams’s new tone felt supportive. Others worried about whether the support would hold when officers were accused of misconduct.

And then there are officers like Mr. Raymond, who was among 12 police officers who sued the department in 2015 over arrest quotas that the department says do not exist. He had hoped an Adams administration would promote a different style of policing. His disappointment was partly why he left the department in May.

“New York has the opportunity to be the model and leadership for reform and we’re completely dropping the ball,” Mr. Raymond said. “The irony is that it’s happening under Mayor Adams.”

In a statement, Charles Kretchmer Lutvak, a spokesman, said that since Mr. Adams took office, the police have taken more than 12,200 illegal guns off the street. Shootings decreased by more than 34 percent in September 2023 compared with the same month a year before.

The Police Department said homicides, rapes, robberies and burglaries were down citywide thanks to “engaged and focused” officers. That continues a decadeslong decline in crime in New York.

“They are eradicating violence and writing more summonses, all while improving our engagement with the community,” the department said in a statement.

Roslin Spigner is happy for police officers to keep the peace in southeast Queens.Laila Stevens for The New York Times

In southeast Queens, where Mr. Adams has roots, Roslin Spigner said she trusts her precinct commander and knows whom to call when she sees beat-up cars with fake plates and illegal smoke shops selling marijuana.

Mr. Adams’s Police Department, she said, is attuned to her neighborhood.

“He’s doing a great job,” Ms. Spigner said of the mayor. “He knows I will hold him accountable for anything that he does.”

Ms. Spigner, who marched with her sorority to support the Black Lives Matter movement, said she worried about officers abusing their authority and added that they should “treat people with respect.” But she also feels estranged from progressive New Yorkers who express apprehension at any police activity in their neighborhoods.

“You’re going to have the more liberal side of New York that feels that nobody should live in a police state,” Ms. Spigner said. “And then you’re going to have people from Queens, more or less, who are like, yeah, police the state.”

In Brownsville, Brooklyn, Rashaan Brown, who works for an anti-violence group, had a different perspective on recent community-police relations.

He was in the back seat of a car on Labor Day when two officers pulled it over and saw that Mr. Brown wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Mr. Brown got out, but refused to lean against the car.

“Do what you got to do,” he told the officers. They pulled him to the ground and handcuffed him and his two friends.

In N.Y.P.D.’s Harsh Tactics Under Adams, Critics See a Broken Promise
Rashaan Brown captured his interactions with police officers after the car he was in was pulled over.

“You’re not in charge. We are,” one of the officers said, according to a video Mr. Brown filmed of the encounter. Another official, a deputy inspector, could be heard saying, “Do you know who you’re talking to?”

The men were kept in a precinct jail in Brownsville for two hours before they were released with a summons for having an open container of alcohol that was later dismissed.

Mike Souffrant, a 38-year-old post office supervisor who had been driving the car, said the encounter made him “feel like an animal.”

The mayor’s office said in a statement that Mr. Adams’s personal experience with police brutality had made his administration vigilant in safeguarding against such abuses. “As a young person, Mayor Adams was beaten by the police, so he has personally experienced abusive policing and has spent his entire career fighting against it,” said Mr. Lutvak.

More than 15,000 pedestrians were stopped last year by the police, well under the almost 686,000 stops recorded in 2011 at the height of the “stop and frisk” era. Still, political and civic leaders said that such stops — and experiences like what happened to Mr. Brown and Mr. Souffrant — threaten to undermine the mayor’s professed aim of building trust among civilians and the police.

Mr. Adams has “the ability to do things with the N.Y.P.D. that perhaps no other mayor has ever had,” said David R. Jones, president and chief executive of the Community Service Society of New York. But, he said, “in an effort to tamp down on crime, they’re also overpolicing and using techniques that may very well alienate the target communities they’re trying to serve.”

Kim Best, president of the 79th Precinct Community Council in Bedford-Stuyvesant, said teenagers told her that during the height of stop and frisk they would come out of the subway with their hands up in anticipation of being stopped by the police. She doesn’t want to return to that, but she said young people need to learn to stay out of trouble.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said it was difficult to reconcile the mayor’s recent rhetoric and policies with the “scrappy, justice-seeking” captain she once knew.

“He used to be our ally, and now he’s our adversary,” Ms. Lieberman said.

As a candidate, Mr. Adams promised to publish a list of officers on watch for bad behavior, strengthen programs that would keep young people out of jail and give communities veto power over the choice of precinct commanders.

But the promises have gone unfulfilled or have been undermined by cuts.

The list was never published. The city touts summer job programs to help young people, but in August, the probation department shut down a nine-month initiative connecting troubled 16 to 24-year-old New Yorkers to mentoring and therapy. The city explained that other programs provide similar services.

The mayor “understands that public safety is about more than just policing,” Mr. Lutvak said.

And while the finalists for the precinct commander positions go before precinct councils for feedback, the chief of department and other executives ultimately make the selections.

Derelict cars dumped in Queens Village contribute to a sense that lawlessness must be contained.Laila Stevens for The New York Times

Julio Peña, chairman of Community Board 7 in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, found out about a meeting to question two 72nd Precinct finalists just 30 minutes in advance. “Here was a perfect opportunity to implement this policy and instead it was kind of a sham,” Mr. Peña said.

Alexa Avilés, the city councilwoman who represents the neighborhood, said the administration’s last-minute approach risked alienating people like Mr. Peña who could be the department’s biggest boosters and who “take a lot of pride in being that liaison.”

“When those folks are saying ‘This is a sham,’ and ‘I feel used,’ what’s the point?’” she said.

The city said that 35 precinct commanders had been chosen following “highly successful” conversations with residents. Jeffrey Maddrey, the chief of department, said in an interview that police executives used an “internal process” to select commanders but promised changes to give the community a “fair opportunity” to participate.

Even when community leaders pleaded to have a commander they admired, police leaders went in another direction.

Over the summer, the department was considering where to place Capt. Derby St. Fort, a former Brooklyn precinct commander who once co-wrote opinion pieces with Mr. Adams and pushed for innovations like paying troubled teenagers to participate in group therapy. Mr. Adams had praised his work before taking office.

Several City Council members and leaders of a dozen community groups asked the department to promote Captain St. Fort or transfer him to another high-crime precinct. Instead, the department sent him to the transit bureau.

Jarrell Daniels, a program director at Columbia University’s Center for Justice who worked with Captain St. Fort, said it was discouraging to see him “blackballed.”

“For him to be a Black man in uniform and to go through this when he’s really trying to make a difference, it’s sad,” Mr. Daniels said. “It might be souring for the people who want to do this work.”

Captain St. Fort said in a statement that he was committed to giving his new role his “best efforts.”

“The crucial work of police reform,” he said, “will predominantly take place during my personal time.”

Hurubie Mekocontributed reporting.


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