INTERVIEW: Keeper of the Peace, Defender of the Constitution

By Reuvain Borchardt

NYPD Captain Gary Marcus (Reuvain Borchardt/Hamodia)

NYPD Captain Gary Marcus discusses his new job as commanding officer of the NYPD Hate Crime Task Force.

Edited for space and clarity.

Tell us a little about your background.

I was born and raised in Marine Park, Brooklyn, for the most part.

I served 16 years with the NYPD. I started off as a patrol cop in the 67th Precinct. When I made sergeant in 2012 I went into the Detective Bureau in the Gang Squad, conducting large-scale gang investigations.

Then I made lieutenant and became a detective squad commander. I worked in Canarsie, and in the 66th Precinct in Boro Park for a little while in 2017. I made captain, went back to Gangs for a little bit. I had the operations position where we oversaw all 13 detective squads in Brooklyn South: Homicide, Night Watch, things like that.

And then, in May I was tapped to run the Hate Crime Task Force. It’s quite the honor.

Did any of your past work prepare you particularly for commanding the Hate Crime Task Force?

I would say 10 years of investigative experience in the NYPD supervising numerous high-profile investigations, homicides, pattern-type crimes, things like that. These are all the skills that you apply to hate-crime investigations.

But I think maybe most important is some of the extracurriculars I’ve done in my life, where you just learn to speak to people, and partnering with community members, partnering with other units in the department, and kind of approaching something as delicate and sensitive as hate-crime investigations with not only a whole-of-government approach or whole-of-city approach, but a whole-of-community approach. And that’s really the only way to combat hate crimes.

You’re referring to meeting with leaders of communities victimized by hate crimes?

Absolutely. Community leaders, community activists, advocates more importantly, are integral in fighting hate crimes. And when you talk specifically about antisemitism, for example, the partnerships that we have with community organizations like Shomrim, Hatzolah — we couldn’t do it without them. We have a tremendous success rate, if you want to call it that, when it comes to solving hate crimes. And we are only successful because of our community partnerships. When you look at organizations like Shomrim specifically, they will roll up their sleeves and hit the pavement with you, they’ll gather evidence, they’ll help you find witnesses who may not have otherwise wanted to cooperate. They’re a tremendous, tremendous asset. It boils down to that community partnership,

Was there anything in particular that interested you about hate crimes, and why you wanted to take this job?

Having a background in investigations, you deal with a crime that affects a person individually, maybe a family. A hate crime affects entire communities, and it reverberates not only sometimes in a community that’s local, but across the globe. There have been cases in my short time here already that you read about in papers in Israel, for example. The impact is so deep, and it makes the work that much more meaningful.

Surveillance footage shows two males accosting a Jew on 16th Avenue in Boro Park, Shabbos, May 22, 2021.

Why is it that hate crimes get people riled up more than an equivalent assault committed for the purpose of a robbery or something like that?

In my opinion, it really goes to the core of who we are as a country. It’s your right to exist, your right to freedom of religion, your right to freedom of expression, your right to free speech — sometimes we do have cases of free speech where it might be hateful, but you do get to defend free speech. The slogan in the Hate Crimes logo is “keepers of the peace.” But I would go so far as to say that “keepers of the peace, and defenders of the Constitution” is really how that should finish. In my opinion, Hate Crimes might be one of the most patriotic units in the Police Department, because sometimes you are defending freedom of religion and such, but you’re also sometimes defending free speech.

But to answer your question, I think that’s why it affects everybody so deeply — because it’s a crime not necessarily of opportunity, but it’s targeted to who you are specifically.

Regarding what you said about free speech, if somebody yells at someone walking down the street, “Bleeping Jew,” or whatever, but without any threat of violence, that’s free speech.

That scenario in a vacuum, with no other aggravating factors, would constitute free speech.

I assume you might face pressure from both sides on issues like that — where people feel threatened, but there’s nothing you can do about that.

I wouldn’t say “pressure” is the right word. But it’s a delicate conversation, and you have to explain to people sometimes that what you experienced is absolutely hateful and disgusting, but may not amount to a violation of the law.

Do you think the law gets it right, as far as balancing freedom of speech with protecting people?

I think with the laws that we have on the books now, specifically in New York, we do the best we can with what we have. We don’t have the ability to change the laws. And I will say that I can’t think of a case that we would have liked to have prosecuted as a hate crime or charged a hate crime where we were unable to. There is no case that comes to mind. So in every instance that’s come across my desk where we determine that there was hate, there have been corresponding charges for it.

What do you think of hate-crime laws in general? Should someone get a longer sentence because they assaulted someone motivated by racism as opposed to an equivalent assault motivated by robbery?

Questions of sentencing guidelines and things like that are so topical in the news and politics, I’m going to defer to our elected leaders for that. But I will absolutely say that I understand why people feel that way — that there’s a need for addressing people who target people specifically for who they are, because it goes against the core of who we are as a nation.

Some people have complained that the district attorney’s offices aren’t aggressively prosecuting hate crimes. Do you feel the district attorney’s offices prosecute hate crimes aggressively enough?

I could speak to my relationships with the district attorneys. Every DA’s office in the five boroughs, and I’ll even include the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, have dedicated hate-crime prosecutors, and our relationship is fantastic. I’ve never been denied any document that we might have needed, a search warrant or a subpoena or something like that. I can’t speak to how they choose to conclude their cases. But I will say that they certainly put the time and energy in to make sure that our relationship is where it needs to be.

But I’m not going to comment on how they choose to dispose of cases. Their burden is something different than ours.

Can you give us the hate-crimes stats for this year, particularly the antisemitic and anti-Asian crimes?

Total year to date: in 2023 there were 339 hate-crime complaints, in 2022 it was 431. Anti-Jewish is 140 in 2023 and 181 in 2022. Anti-Asian, 33 incidents in 2023 and 69 in 2022.

So they’re all down.

A lot of the anti-Asian spike occurred during the COVID pandemic, because people were blaming the virus on China.

There was a huge spike that correlated with the pandemic.

As far as the antisemitic crimes, do you have a breakdown of the assaults versus the property crimes? [Marcus responds that he doesn’t have that breakdown on hand. -Ed.]

This issue generally is a pet peeve of mine. Because when the Police Department releases the hate-crimes stats every month, it doesn’t release those numbers, differentiating assaults from property crimes.

Shouldn’t those stats be released every month, too? The way the stats are now, if somebody scratches a swastika on a park bench, it’s given the same weight as a brutal assault. There was one year that saw a huge spike in antisemitic hate crimes; it turns out, and this wasn’t reported much, that much of the spike was one mentally disturbed guy scrawling a bunch of swastikas, and each one is considered a separate hate crime. So I think if the stats are broken down that way when they are released every month, people will get a much clearer picture.

I don’t disagree with you. We’ll see what we can do to remedy that. That’s no problem.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams visits the Bobov-45 Rebbe last week, in advance of the High Holidays. (Benny Polatseck/Mayoral Photography Office)

Though hate crimes have declined recently, over the last few years broadly, there has been a spike. What do you think are the cause or causes?

There are a lot of factors at play. One of them — and it’s a positive — is that we as a police department, and as individual communities, have gotten a lot better about reporting.

So things that may have happened historically that went unreported are now making their way to us, which is a good thing. So that will account for some.

But there are other elements in play that are global issues. If you look at other parts of the world, antisemitism is not declining. So that’s a much broader conversation that. I don’t know what necessarily my seat right here, right now, can offer regarding that.

But I will say that when you look at the hate crimes that are getting committed in New York City, 14% of them have some kind of mental history, and about 28% are less than 20 years old. So there’s an education component to it. There are institutions at play. When you talk about combating it, what do you do about it, which is the more important question, I think. We have institutions such as the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights that play a tremendous role in approaching that education component. And you look at what City Hall is doing. You can’t ask for a better friend in the Mayor’s Office, Mayor Adams with his programs of Breaking Bread and Building Bonds, tremendous. And he’s put resources into that from his current office. It started when he was in the borough president’s position, and he’s expanding that. And that’s going out to communities across the five boroughs, and not just Jewish communities, but all these communities. You are addressing that education component. It’s making its way into schools.

There are relationships between the Jewish Children’s Museum and the New York City Board of Education that are extremely valuable.

And then, of course, there are those partnerships that we spoke about earlier.

And if we can expand those into communities outside the Jewish community also, that’s a great, great tool.

Do you see the proliferation in recent years of social media — I assume you guys monitor it — as having contributed in any way to a spike in hate crimes, by allowing people with hateful ideologies to meet up more easily?

That’s absolutely true, people have that ability to meet up and things like that. And we do have a dedicated unit, the REME (Racially and Ethnically Motivated Extremism) Unit that really does actively monitor all these things, and when something comes that’s actionable, that makes its way out, we certainly do what needs to be done.

But in the broader sense of social media, I would say, media in general plays a tremendous role in what we see in the cycle. You touched earlier on Asian hate crimes and COVID. The news drove that.

I think the news coverage and the way that those stories are portrayed have a direct impact on what we see in the street.

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