NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announced Thursday that 350 heavily armed NYPD officers, called the “Strategic Response Group,” will soon be patrolling protests and the city at large. He said the new strain of hyper-armed police will be
…equipped and trained in ways that our normal patrol officers are not. They’ll be equipped with all the extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns — unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.
Bratton announced their purpose is specifically
…designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.
Lumping protesters in with terrorists, he said the permanent force will deal with “disorder control and counterterrorism protection capabilities.” It will allegedly assist on crime scenes and help with “crowd control and other large-scale events.”
It is not unusual for authorities to ramp up “security” efforts following attacks (such as the ax attack against officers in October), but the idea of machine-gun clad officers is disturbing, especially considering past NYPD abuses of protesters and other residents.
The federal government, which has attempted to feign concern with police brutality, is partially funding the militarized venture. The Department of Homeland Security is supplying resources, as is the city of New York. The Pentagon has previously provided machine guns, ammunition, and other military gear to New York police and other local cops around the country.
The program is set to begin with two precincts in Queens and two in Manhattan, though Bratton did not specify when. During the announcement at a Police Foundation breakfast at the Mandarin Hotel, Bratton also said his plan was backed by both Mayor Bill de Blasio (who came under fire from cops last year) and the city council.
He said the effort is intended to improve police relations with communities since “regular” police will no longer be called from their local precincts to deal with protests and alleged security threats:
For years we’ve been asking our officers to engage in the community, but we’ve never given them time to do it, or the training.
Such “crises” will now be handled by the machine gunning cops (machine guns are banned for private citizens). Bratton has also previously asked the city for more tasers to “improve relations” by reducing fatal shootings.
In his Thursday announcement, Bratton additionally called on the MTA to install cameras on all subways-for safety, of course.
Unsurprisingly, there is outrage against the proposed plan. Priscilla Gonzalez, Organizing Director of Communities United for Police Reform, said Bratton’s
…demands for less oversight of the NYPD and a more militarized police force that would use counter-terrorism tactics against protesters are deeply misguided and frankly offensive. We need an NYPD that is more accountable to New Yorkers and that stops criminalizing our communities, especially when people are taking to the streets to voice legitimate concerns about discriminatory and abusive policing. Despite growing evidence that discriminatory broken windows is a failed and harmful policing strategy, Commissioner Bratton stubbornly continues to defend and expand it.