NYPD doubling gang unit in 'Crew Cut' crackdown

October 2, 2012 5:06:51 AM PDT
The NYPD is doubling down on a gang crackdown, increasing the size of its anti-gang unit to fight back against violent street crews that authorities say are responsible for nearly a third of all the shootings in New York City.

Police Commissioner will announce the initiative at a conference of police chiefs in San Diego (scroll down for the full text of his speech).

The plan doubles the NYPD's gang division to 300 detectives. The initiative is dubbed Operation Crew Cut because it focuses on loosely-affiliated gangs called street crews.

Kelly says these smaller gangs are made up of young teens who are responsible for much of the crime in and around public housing.

The new plan comes after a summer of violence during which several children were caught in the crossfire. Monday night, 15-year-old Amy Sanchez returned to her home in the Queensbridge Houses after she was shot in the hand while doing her homework.

"I heard my mom screaming to me to go down to the ground," Sanchez said. "But when I was going down, I got shot by the third bullet."

The shooting has not been linked to gang activity, but people in the community say they are fed up with the violence.

"None of the youngsters that we see in front of us should ever, ever have to fear that they too will get shot," New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said.

The NYPD's new strategy also uses social media to track and investigate gang activity. Kelly says gangs increasingly use websites like Facebook to threaten rivals and intimidate witnesses.

Police will focus heavily on tracking suspicious activity on social media sites.

Here is the full text of NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly's speech:

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. I want to commend IACP President Chief Walter McNeil, Executive Director Bart Johnson, and all of the IACP leadership for producing such an impressive conference. If there was ever a time to benefit from the collective knowledge of IACP, now is it. A tough economy and declining tax revenues have brought enormous pressure to bear on police agencies across the country. A 2011 U.S. Department of Justice study found that, "the Great Recession has changed the face of American Policing." Estimates, including the IACP's own, show that between 10,000-15,000 sworn officer positions have been eliminated. Police departments are implementing a range of options to cope, from shared heavy weapons teams, crime laboratories, dispatchers and records units to wholesale mergers and regionalization.

Each of us in our own way has had to come to terms with this reality. We're here at IACP this week in part to learn from one another's experiences and to stay out in front of the issues that will affect us. With that in mind, I'd like to speak to you about two trends we're experiencing in New York City that I believe have relevance for police agencies nationwide and even globally. The first is the rise of social media and how it is affecting our mission, particularly with respect to our work to combat gangs. The second is the impact of the overall technology revolution on our mission and the challenges and benefits it brings.

Today, back in New York City, the NYPD is announcing an initiative to combat loosely affiliated gangs, or street crews, mainly comprised of young teens who are responsible for much of the violence in and around public housing and elsewhere. While their propensity for violence is a major concern of ours, it comes against an encouraging backdrop of continued record reductions in homicides in New York. Under a program we've named Operation Crew Cut, the Department intends to double the size of its Gang Division from approximately 150 detectives to 300 phased in over a period of time. We'll focus those resources not on large, established gangs such as the Bloods and Crips, but on the looser associations of younger men who identify themselves by the block they live on, or on which side of a housing development they reside. Their loyalty is to their friends living in a relatively small area and their rivalries are based not on narcotics trafficking or some other entrepreneurial interest, but simply on local turf.

In other words, you come in to my backyard and you get hurt. You diss my crew and you pay the price.

Two weeks ago we arrested 49 members of two warring gangs - I think you'll appreciate the names -- the Very Crispy Gangsters and the Rockstars in East New York, Brooklyn. They were responsible for several homicides among their own as well as the shootings of innocent bystanders caught in their many crossfires. By capitalizing on the irresistible urge of these suspects to brag about their murderous exploits on Facebook, detectives used social media to draw a virtual map of their criminal activity over the last three years. This kind of tit-for-tat brutality among teens was settled in neighborhoods generations ago by fist fights. Now, more often than not, it's with guns. Social media is another new ingredient, often used to add fuel to the fire. For example, one gang member will post a photograph of himself in front of a rival's apartment building or post surveillance photographs of rivals who they threatened to kill next. Members also used social media to intimidate informants. They would post copies on Facebook of orders of protection that identified complainants. One gang leader went so far as to call another rival from prison to chastise him about one of his members snitching. The recipient of the call assured his rival that he would punish his own member for being a complainant on an order of protection.

Despite the successes in this takedown and others, the department did not have any coordinated, consistent approach to street crews. Thus, Operation Crew Cut. With the doubling of the Gang Division that I mentioned, and its focus on these loosely associated crews, we're also having other units in the Police Department support its work in various ways. For example, lawyers from the Department's Legal Bureau will be assigned to each of our seven Borough Gang Division Units to coordinate arrest and prosecution with each of the five district attorneys in New York City. Each of the affected precincts in the city will have a team of a dozen uniformed and plainclothes officers to specifically address street conditions caused by the rivalries between crews. Our Juvenile Justice Division will be the clearinghouse to support social media-driven investigations. In addition to tracking the admissions of criminal conduct and plans of future crimes by crew members on Facebook, You Tube and elsewhere, the division will be responsible for maintaining a dictionary of sorts with continually updated lexicon employed by crews as a kind of code. Recently, we issued new guidelines for officers using social media as part of criminal investigations. We did this to instill the proper balance between the investigative potential of social network sites and privacy expectations. Officers can adopt aliases for their online work, as long as these are registered with the department. They can also protect their anonymity by using department laptops with untraceable Internet cards.

The NYPD's Transit and Housing Bureaus will also be important support centers for the Gang Division because so much of crew violence is focused in public housing in New York City and often spills into the subway system.

Right now, shootings in New York City are down by a little more than 1% compared to this time last year. The number of victims in those shooting incidents is down by 4%. On top of that, we've experienced an 18% reduction in murder and if the trend continues, we'll establish a new record low by the end of the year. We're hoping that by focusing more resources in a coordinated thoughtful way on these crews we'll reduce violent crime in New York City even further. That's because crews are responsible for no less than 30 percent of shootings in New York City. We think there's a real opportunity here to save more lives and perhaps rehabilitate some of these young crew members by having our youth officers visit them at home, and provide the kind of tough love that offers the choice between supportive programs or re-arrest.

Teens engaged in violence against one another also target other teens for thefts, particularly if an Apple product is involved, and very often on the subway on the way home from school. Like the impact on the economy itself, the allure of Apple devices has affected New York City's crime rate. And surprisingly so. In 2002, we recorded a total of 86 thefts of Apple products in all of New York City. Last year that number was 13,233. A recent analysis we did showed that the increase in the theft of Apple devices so far this year exceeds the increase for overall crime in New York City. In the first nine months of this year there were 11,447 incidents in which Apple products were stolen, an increase of 3,280 over the same period last year, or 40%. Overall crime is up 4%. In the absence of the Apple thefts, we would be experiencing a decline. Two weeks ago, we sent police officers to 21 stores where the I-phone 5 was making its debut. They were there to register serial numbers and contact information in case the devices were stolen. This is part of a comprehensive strategy we've put in place that also includes: assigning extra officers to the transit system where most thefts take place; conducting decoy operations; with the help of Senator Chuck Schumer and the Chairman of the FCC Julius Genachowski, enlisting cell phone carriers to permanently disable a phone once it's been stolen; and getting owners to activate the "find my I-phone" application, which allows us to pinpoint the locations of unsuspecting thieves.

The technology revolution that we've all experienced in our lifetime, and that continues to unfold, has been filled with promise and problems for American policing. On the positive side, two weeks ago the NYPD announced a decision to video record interrogations conducted by our detectives in cases of felony assaults, sex crimes and murder. After running a pilot program in five precincts, we found that the system was not only manageable logistically but that the performance of our detectives was such that we expect there will be little if no downside for the prosecution. While some may fear this videotaping "how the sausage is made" - so to speak -- during interrogations might negatively influence juries, our experience suggests otherwise. None of the 300 cases in our pilot resulted in the defense opting for a jury trial. In fact, they were often eager to enter a plea once they saw the video recording of the interrogation. In only one case did the defense counsel claim the defendant was unlawfully intimidated in the interrogation and move to have the confession quashed. The judge was able to view the interrogation because it had been recorded and he ruled against the defense.

I recognize that many police departments have already decided to go down this road. Larger departments may be encouraged to follow suit knowing that no department faces greater logistical requirements in terms of equipment purchases, space renovations and video storage than the NYPD. For us these concerns were significantly lessened as the equipment became smaller, cheaper and more reliable. Based on our pilot, we're confident that jurors will be impressed by our detectives, and not repelled by the standard techniques they lawfully employ during interrogations. Furthermore, there's the CSI effect. Not only do jurors expect to see in the courtroom the forensics they see on television, they also expect to see the video interrogations that are dramatized on police shows. Videotaping is good for the police. It will provide documentary evidence to rebut specious allegations of brutality or other misconduct in the interrogation room. I believe we should view this as an advance for American policing.

Just as we believe cameras in the interrogation room will help us, there's no doubt their presence in public spaces where there is no expectation of privacy have been a boon to counter-terrorism and conventional crime-fighting. Over the past decade, we've continued to invest heavily in technology to protect New York from another terrorist attack. We had no choice, with the city being the target of two successful attacks at the World Trade Center alone, and the subject of 14 unsuccessful plots since then. In developing our counterterrorism capacity, we've taken advantage of systems that are helping us to fight conventional crime as well. Perhaps the most ubiquitous, in terms of use by law enforcement nationwide, are license plate readers. We've deployed more than 100 LPRs at fixed locations at tunnels and bridges, and another 100 mobile versions mounted on the trunks of police cars. And while they're essential to our Lower Manhattan Security Initiative - a project to protect the city's financial district from another attack - they've also been used successfully by our Detective Bureau to track down murder suspects and other criminals.

Similarly, a sophisticated camera system developed initially as a counterterrorism tool helped us earlier this year to identify and capture someone who sexually assaulted a woman on her way to work on Wall Street. We have more than 3300 cameras in our Lower and Midtown Manhattan Security Initiative operated by the private sector and the NYPD. They're networked together so that from our downtown coordination center we can view live and recorded footage from any of them. Using special software, we can quickly sift through the massive amount of data we receive and flag items of concern. If a bag is left unattended or a car is driving against the flow of traffic in view of one of our cameras, the software uses an algorithm to recognize the pattern and sends us an alert.

Despite the public's overwhelming support for our expanded use of this technology, here too we anticipated concerns about privacy. For that reason, when we launched our Lower and Midtown Manhattan Security Initiatives we developed a statement of privacy principles to govern what we do, and posted it on our website. In my experience, it's always better to implement your own policies before others do it for you. Designed in consultation with one of the nation's leading legal think tanks, our privacy policy sets limits on the retention of data, which we keep for 30 days, and uses other safeguards to reduce the potential for misuse.

Thanks to the Department of Homeland Security, our Lower and Midtown Manhattan network also includes 2,600 radiation detectors that have been distributed to officers on patrol. Through a unique partnership with Microsoft, we've linked all of these tools together to form the Domain Awareness System. This is proprietary technology, developed by police officers for police officers with the help of Microsoft experts. It allows us to layer data from multiple sources on a single dashboard, giving us a comprehensive view of potential threats and criminal activity. In addition to the obvious benefits to public safety, in a "first of its kind" agreement, Microsoft has consented to pay New York City 30 percent of its gross revenues on the sale of the system to customers worldwide. These funds will be used to support other cutting-edge crime-prevention and counter-terrorism programs.

Doing more with less has become a way of life for police agencies across America. These are challenging times, but I believe that by continuing to focus our resources strategically and harnessing the power of technology, we can remain effective. Every locality is unique. There are no "one size fits all" solutions for public safety. However, the goal here at IACP is not to dwell on how we differ but rather, on how to adapt one another's best ideas and proven strategies to fit our own needs. If we can do that successfully, I'm confident we can build on the tremendous gains made in reducing violent crime across the nation and save more lives in the process. Thank you for all you do to protect cities and towns throughout America and keep up the outstanding work.

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