Credit: Bruce.Flee via Instagram
The New York City Police Department has undercover officers posing as Amazon and FedEx delivery workers in the subway system, citing “the unique environment and challenges presented in the New York City Transit system” as justification for the subterfuge. Photos surfaced online this week of two officers—identified by the badge necklaces they eventually revealed—at the Myrtle-Broadway subway station in Brooklyn.
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When asked about the photos, a spokesperson for NYPD told Motherboard via email, “Transit Officers conduct plainclothes patrols due to the unique environment and challenges presented in the New York City Transit system. These plain clothes officers concentrate their efforts on deterring criminal activity such as pick pockets and sexual offenders. The NYPD continues to conduct enhanced patrol deployments in the subway system and remains highly focused on the relatively small number of people responsible for much of New York City’s crime and disorder.” Asked if they were aware of their brand being used by the NYPD for undercover operations, a spokesperson for FedEx declined to comment and instead referred Motherboard to the NYPD. An Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard they were not aware of the NYPD’s practice of posing as the company’s delivery workers.Public safety on the subway has become a much-debated topic, with the general perception that crime is getting worse. According to the most recent New York City Transit Police statistics, there have been 87 more felony assaults, 35 more burglaries, 218 more cases of grand larceny, and three more rapes in the transit system through May of this year compared to the same period last year (there have been four murders in the transit system in the same period each year). These are historically low crime rates on the subway, as the NYPD itself reports for the years dating back to 1997. For the months of January through May, there were more major felonies per day in the subway system in every year from 1997 to 2006, as well as 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Plainclothes and undercover officers have long been an issue for civil liberties groups. Michael Sisitzky, senior policy counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union, told Motherboard via email, “The use of non-uniformed officers was a key part of the over-policing in Black and Brown communities at the height of broken windows policing. Mayor Adams acknowledged this in his promise not to use plainclothes officers for gun enforcement. While any encounter between police and members of the public has the potential to escalate, that risk can be even greater when people do not realize that they’re being approached or stopped by a police officer, and deploying officers in disguise does nothing to inspire trust in communities already targeted by pervasive surveillance and disproportionate enforcement.”Likewise, Loyda Colon, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform and Executive Director of the Justice Committee, told Motherboard via email, “These photos indicate a stunning abuse of public trust and a misuse of city money, and raises serious concerns about corporate-NYPD collaboration. Mayor Adams continues to pay lip service to community investments and police accountability, while pumping money into ineffective and abusive policing tactics that criminalize Black, Latinx and other New Yorkers of color. We need innovative approaches to public safety that are rooted in equity and prioritize ensuring all New Yorkers have what they need to thrive, not NYPD officers lurking in the subways disguised in Amazon, FedEx or other corporate uniforms to trick and arrest New Yorkers.”