by William K. Rashbhaum and Al Baker, The New York Times
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly announced
yesterday that he would redeploy the remaining 180
detectives assigned to the Street Crime Unit, in
effect doing away with an elite corps that endured
withering criticism of its aggressive tactics after
the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed street
Commissioner Kelly said that the detectives would
be assigned to other plainclothes anticrime teams and
to understaffed neighborhood detective squads
throughout the city. The change, along with other
redeployments to increase the number of neighborhood
detectives, will take effect on Monday.
Speaking to reporters at 1 Police Plaza late
yesterday, the commissioner said the move did not
represent a rejection of the aggressive police tactics
that became a hallmark of the administration of Mayor
Rudolph W. Giuliani, but instead reflected the reality
of a shrinking department. He said about two-thirds of
the redeployed Street Crime Unit officers would
perform the same jobs in existing borough-based
anticrime units, focusing, as they did before, on
taking guns off the street.
"There is not a change in function," Mr. Kelly
said. "It is a change in title because we no longer
have anything called Street Crime." The move, he said,
represented no change in strategy or policy. "We are
very much concerned about guns," Mr. Kelly said. "It
doesn't mean that we don't want proactive programs to
take guns off the street."
The move nonetheless effectively disbands the
Street Crime Unit, whose plainclothes officers prowled
the streets in search of criminals and which was
widely credited with helping win the record declines
in crime achieved in recent years. But after the Feb.
4, 1999, shooting of Mr. Diallo, a West African
immigrant, by four white officers who mistook his
wallet for a gun and fired 41 shots, the unit became
synonymous with a confrontational style of policing
that Mr. Giuliani's critics said was unduly focused on
young black and Hispanic men.
The unit is the subject of an ongoing civil rights
investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan and
of a class-action lawsuit that charged its tactics
were discriminatory because officers engaged in racial
profiling by concentrating on black and Hispanic men
for searches. A 1999 investigation of the Police
Department's stop-and-frisk practices by State
Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer found that the
department's officers, and in particular those in the
Street Crime Unit, were much more likely to stop
blacks and Hispanics than whites.
In response to reporters' questions, Mr. Kelly said
the changes, which came after an analysis conducted
earlier this year, were unrelated to either the
current civil rights investigation or the pending
Mr. Kelly played down the significance of the
redeployment, saying the move codified changes made in
1999 by Commissioner Howard Safir after Mr. Diallo was
killed. Five months after the shooting, Mr. Safir
decentralized the roving teams of officers, putting
them under the supervision of the commanders who
oversee police patrols in each borough. Mr. Kelly said
the moves were driven in part by the shorthanded
detective squads' inability to interrogate prisoners
and gather intelligence, a significant tool for the
department's crime-fighting efforts.
Yesterday, in addition to announcing that he will
redeploy the Street Crime officers, Mr. Kelly said he
also would move 150 detectives from the department's
Warrant Division and nearly 100 police officers
one each from the department's 76 precincts and 20
from Housing and Transit Bureau commands into
the detective squads that investigate crimes in
neighborhoods around the city. Along with 60 of the
180 redeployed Street Crime officers, Mr. Kelly's
moves will add 310 investigators to the city's
precinct detective squads.
The other 120 Street Crime officers will be
assigned to plainclothes squads which in some
cases already exist and in some cases will be created
in each borough. The squads, called anticrime
units, perform much the same function as the Street
Crime Unit, patrolling in unmarked cars looking for
Mr. Kelly said the moves were dictated by simple
arithmetic: the number of police officers has dropped
from 40,710 a year and a half ago to 37,680 today,
while the number of detectives in the city's
neighborhood squads is the lowest it has been since
1997. The department has suffered an exodus of about
3,000 officers, through attrition and retirement, in
the last 18 months.
Two of Mr. Kelly's predecessors, William J. Bratton
and Mr. Safir, praised the changes. "The move makes a
lot of sense," said Mr. Bratton, who served as Mr.
Giuliani's first police commissioner.
Mr. Safir, who headed the department after Mr.
Bratton and expanded the Street Crime Unit in 1997,
tripling its size in a move that later came under
heavy criticism, said he agreed. "With the shrinking
resources of the department, this probably makes
sense," he said. "Ray Kelly knows what he is doing,
and I am very supportive."