Over the weekend, a New York Police Department “Game Truck” was spotted at the north end of Manhattan’s East River Park. The sides of the truck have various Marvel heroes painted on it, as well as the words “NYPD GAME TRUCK” in giant block letters. People were confused, and very skeptical.
The truck—which is more of a bus, really—is a partnership between the NYPD’s Community Affairs Bureau and the New York City Police Foundation, a charity that funds specific NYPD programs in the name of “innovation.”
Seemingly its goal is to teach children about the NYPD by putting them in close contact with police officers through a shared interest in video games. This work is an obvious attempt to rehab a police department that for years has lost the trust of the communities it serves due to overpolicing, stop-and-frisk, and the violent dispersal of peaceful protests.
The truck is set up with Nintendo Switches, PS5s, and Xbox Series S consoles, according to a video explaining the Game Truck posted by the NYPD’s Community Affairs Bureau. The video shows children playing Mario Kart, NBA 2k21, and a game that looks like FIFA or Madden. Photos of the game truck show that it also has Rocket League.
“This right here is going to be the game changer this summer. We’re coming out to your block, we’re coming out to your neighborhood, this is going to be our great way to connect with our communities, our young people, our families,” Jeffrey Maddrey, the chief of community affairs for the division, said in the video. “Making sure our young people have a safe summer, a safe space, and just know that the NYPD is here to support them.”
The NYPD did not answer questions about who made the truck, how much it costs, or what the overall goal of the program is. An NYPD spokesperson said the department “anticipates releasing information in the near future.”
Game trucks, in general, are a somewhat recent phenomenon. The NYC Police Foundation did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Private companies rent out buses or trucks that have game consoles or PCs in them for birthday parties; a company in Brooklyn called Rolling Game Arcade says that a two-hour game truck rental normally costs $375.
"This truck right here is the bomb. It’s the best of the best, and we’re going to be ready for you," Maddrey said in the video. "All our communities, we’re looking for you. Come have fun in the NYPD Game Truck."
The NYPD, of course, has a long legacy of police brutality and overpolicing. The department violently and disastrously broke up peaceful protests in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd; has violently dispersed peaceful Pride celebrations in Washington Square Park in recent weeks, and notoriously enforced former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policy, which disproportionately affected Black and Latinx New Yorkers.
Programs like the Game Truck are explicitly designed to attempt to build trust within communities that, for good reason, do not trust the NYPD. Some of this work has taken place with the help of the New York City Police Foundation, and some of this work has revolved around video games. The foundation started a program called “Options” that connects young people with police officers through a virtual reality curriculum; Options has livestreamed several public video game tournaments this year. During an NBA2k21 tournament streamed in April, a teenager is asked “what Options has done for you.”
“When I first started Options, I wasn’t open to the cops because I felt like I wasn’t safe because like, all of the violence that happened,” the teen says. “But now that I’m connected with more cops, I feel more safe.”
Kristin Richardson Jordan, who is running neck and neck in a still-undecided city council race, tweeted that the game truck is an obvious publicity stunt: "The City Council rewarded NYPD with a $200 million budget increase to fund publicity stunts like this video game truck. Remember this when those same people tell you we can’t afford summer jobs for our children. #DefundNYPD #AbolishNYPD"
According to the foundation’s website, it goals are to help the NYPD “advance programs to prevent violent crime, thwart terrorism, strengthen communities by building relationships between the NYPD and community members, enhance leadership, wellness, and training within the NYPD, and pilot new technologies.” The foundation expressly says it “does not purchase weapons or ammunition of any kind for the police department.”