Recent reports of a rap intelligence unit in the Miami police force developed with the assistance of the New York Police Department has refueled old questions about whether there is a “Hiphop Task Force” inside the NYPD.
While earlier this week the department acknowledged consulting with Miami authorities, over the years the police brass have consistently denied that there is a team keeping tabs on rap stars and their entourages. A two-month investigation into the existence of such an intelligence squad produced revelations from a retired detective who says he was its founder and architect, and an admission from the NYPD that indeed there are officers assigned to do surveillance on people in and around the hiphop music scene.
“We have an intelligence division and we have detectives that monitor the music industry and any incidents regarding the music industry,”says Officer Doris Garcia, an NYPD spokesperson. “And in regards to Miami P.D. we did exchange information, and that’s it.”
Hiphop music and fashion titan Russell Simmons thinks that the NYPD needs to contend with more serious concerns than surveillance of rap stars, and questions their utilization of resources. “They don’t follow around every rock and roll outlaw. They should be following around all these drug dealers that are real obvious,” he says. “You know who the drug dealers are. You know all of their names. Why are you wasting your police force energy on singers?”
Benjamin Chavis-Muhammad, head of Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN), likened the surveillance to the FBI’s observation of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and said that HSAN is exploring the possibility of filing lawsuits in any jurisdiction where these rap-intelligence units operate. “A very dangerous precedent has been set. It needs to be exposed, and we’re going to take legal action against these police departments for violating the constitutional rights of hiphop artists.”
Interviews with former detective first-grade Derrick Parker shed light on the genesis and inner-workings of New York’s newly acknowledged intelligence operation. Parker, who retired in 2002 and now runs a security firm, says the basis of this unit was his personal expertise, initiative, and a starting assignment in the 1990s to be a one-man shop to keep tabs on any and all incidents involving rappers or their crews. Police attention to rappers really solidified, says Parker, after the 1997 murder of rapper Biggie Smalls, an event that occurred 3,000 miles from New York.
In fact Parker says that in 2001 he was the officer that NYPD sent to aid the Miami police—assistance exposed recently in The Miami Herald. He says that at the time the Miami cops had just had some serious incidents and consulted the NYPD in preparation for the Source Awards. As for the reported “dossier” and file sharing, Parker says: “It’s not a dossier. It was just an intelligence booklet, that’s all.”
Karl Kamau Franklin, an attorney representing two artists who allege police harassment in connection with their arrests, N.O.R.E., of rap team C-N-N, and Stic.man of dead prez, questions the effectiveness of collecting data on rap artists and their associates. “How many people have they arrested at this point based on these logs of different hip-hop artists?” asks Franklin.
“The [intelligence] squad wasn’t to do that. The squad was primarily set up to assist. I was there to help other squads go out and capture people,” says Parker. “We prevented certain crimes because when you started talking to rappers and you knew they had hits on them and you were on to them, [as was reportedly the case with rap superstar 50 Cent] people wouldn’t go and shoot them or rob them if they knew you were around. . . Most of the time, it’s not the rappers, it’s the guys in their entourages that cause the problems.”