NEW YORK (WABC) -- The NYPD announced Monday it is eliminating its anti-crime unit, a group of plainclothes officers who blend in to fight crime but have caused tension in relations with the communities.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea described the move as a massive cultural shift for the department, saying the 600 officers who are part of the unit will be transitioned to other departments, including the detective bureau and neighborhood policing.
"This is a seismic shift in the culture of how the NYPD polices this great city," he said. "I would consider this in the realm of closing one of the last chapters of 'Stop, Question and Frisk'...I think it's time to more forward and change how we police in this city. We can do it with brains. We can do it with guile. We can move away from brute force."
The aggressive unit is known as the tip of the spear against violent crime and illegal guns. But all too often, that means it's anti-crime cops who would wind up in shooting incidents, and now Shea says it's time to find another way.
"It is lost on no one, certainly not the people who live in the neighborhoods that we serve, that endure being stopped," Shea said. "Or their children being stopped. We can do it better we can do it smarter and we will."
Anti-crime officers are often closest to criminals, and Shea said the move is "not without risk" as he questioned whether the decision would result in fewer firearms being taken off the streets. He said the risk is "squarely on my shoulders."
PBA President Pat Lynch blasted the decision.
"Anti-Crime's mission was to protect New Yorkers by proactively preventing crime, especially gun violence," he said in a statement. "Shooting and murders are both climbing steadily upward, but our city leaders have clearly decided that proactive policing isn't a priority anymore. They chose this strategy. They will have to reckon with the consequences."
Civil rights attorney Joel Berger, however, said it was long overdue.
"The anti crime units are just a legacy of street crime from the days of Giuliani, with the motto, 'We own the night,' just under a different name," he said. "I never thought of it as real crime prevention. It was designed as social control in minority neighborhoods to show them who is the boss, just like stop and frisk. You should not be particularly surprised that despite the elimination of stop and frisk, people in minority neighborhoods still distrust the police. My only question is why did it take so long."
ABc News consultant Bob Boyce worked his way up from anti-crime to Chief of Detectives before retiring two years ago. He says change is necessary, but that eliminating anti-crime is a big gamble.
"Anti-crime units within the precincts have been around for decades and again, been a key component to reduce crime on the streets," Boyce said. "That's what they do. So it's been successful back in the '70s, '60s and all the way up to now. Taking this away from them, you're not getting the same product."
Meanwhile, another New York City police officer has been disciplined for actions taken against demonstrators during protests over the death of George Floyd.
Shea said the officer was suspended without pay for discharging mace at a group of bystanders during the protests and unrest of June 1.
The incident was captured on video that shows the female probationary officer running past the group in front of 41 East 57th Street near Trump Tower in Midtown.
There doesn't appear to be any conversation between the officer and the people who were sprayed as she ran past, but that remains under investigation.
"Trust is critical to effective policing," he said. "Trust takes a long time to earn, and it is very easy to lose. We will continue to work relentlessly to earn and keep that trust, because without community partnership, we cannot effectively do our jobs."
So far, two officers have been suspended and a third was placed on modified duty. A precinct commander has also been transferred.
Police actions during the protests will come under review by the New York Attorney General's Office, and former United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch has been brought on as an adviser.
Last week, Chief of Department Terry Monahan sought to reassure officers, saying in a videotaped message to "tired," "stressed out," "under-appreciated" New York City police officers the the department pledged to explain and defend their actions during protests and unrest of the last two weeks.
"You did a fantastic job," Monahan said in the video obtained by ABC News. "There are critics, many armchair critics, who sat on their couch and watched clips on TV who look at the job you did and say you didn't do something right."
Monahan, the NYPD's highest-ranking uniformed officer, conceded the department was not perfect but said he would make sure the New York Attorney General's Office, the Department of Investigation, and district attorney's offices understand the context of officer actions.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have been vowing to be agents of change in leading police reforms.