About a month before the George Floyd protests roiled cities around the world, the New York Police Department Commissioner quietly disbanded a little-known liaison unit that provided a critical means for activists to get information more directly to the commissioner, the New York Daily News reported.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea’s decision to shut down the unit and transfer its staff is being attacked within the department as short-sighted, particularly in light of the unrest following Floyd’s death, and sharp criticism of the NYPD. Shea has yet to justify his decision.
“It just shows that Shea is more a law and order commissioner — nothing wrong with that — but now we’re trying to build bridges with the community,” said one police source.
Founded in the mid-2000s by then-Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the unit was organized along demographic lines, with officers assigned to interact with black, Asian, Jewish, Hispanic and other groups. Kelly wanted regular reports on the pressing issues in these communities, and he wanted them unfiltered by the NYPD command structure, so much so that he met weekly with members of the unit, former members of his office said. His successors, Bill Bratton and James O’Neill, continued these regular meetings.
“He wanted to know directly from the people and we had to tell him exactly what was going on. We were able to bridge the gap on a lot of things that were heading into brick walls,” said Dennis Jones, a retired detective who served in the unit under Kelly.
“It was aimed at cutting through the bureaucracy,” a former member of Kelly’s staff said, noting that normally, “stuff would get lost in translation. This information wasn’t diluted.”
The former member said Kelly was so wary of some of his borough commanders that he would send his own staff into neighborhoods at night looking for problems. Then he would call in his commanders and take them to task over what his staff discovered.
Two other sources suggested that the unit had become somewhat lax in their assignments. Whether that played a role in Shea’s decision is unclear.