News & Politics

Ray Kelly Goes Gangbusters: NYPD to Double Size of Anti-Gang Unit; Target Facebook Thugs

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New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly will give a speech later today in which he will announce his plans to double the size of the NYPD’s anti-gang unit to combat the escalating problem of gang violence in the city.

Kelly is calling the plan “Operation Crew Cut,” which will bring the number of detectives assigned to the department’s anti-gang unit from 150 to 300 in response to a particularly violent summer, during which many innocent victims — including several children — were injured or killed by warring “street crews.”

“We’ll focus those resources not on large, established gangs such as the
Bloods and Crips, but on the looser associations of younger men who
identify themselves by the block they live on, or on which side of a
housing development they reside,” Kelly will say during his speech (see full text of the speech below). “Their loyalty is to their friends
living in a relatively small area, and their rivalries are based not on
narcotics trafficking or some other entrepreneurial interest, but simply
on local turf.”

Kelly says detectives will step up their monitoring of social media
websites where warring gangs are often dumb enough to detail their
battles with rival thugs.

Last month, authorities rounded up 49 members of two rival gangs after authorities monitored their feud on Facebook.

As we reported last month, according to the indictment, the war between
the rival gangs waged for three years, and started with the murder of
“Very Crispy Gangster” — a Brooklyn street crew —  member Taquan “Tay Weez” Crandell, by “Rockstarz” gang member
Michael Allen Reid, in September 2009.

As the war waged on,
there were two other VCG casualties, including the murder of Namadi
Simpson on April 9, 2010, and Johnny Santiago, who was beaten to death
on June 6, 2011.

Following Santiago’s murder, Rockstarz posted the “3-0” comment on Facebook, supposedly referencing the three murders.

VCG
members sought revenge for the murders of their buddies — but their
aim apparently sucks; at least three innocent people were shot by VCG
members who were trying to take out Rockstarz.

Kelly says these
smaller street crews are responsible for much of the crime in and
around city housing projects, and shutting them down is a priority for
the department.

See below for the full text of the speech Kelly
will give to the International Association of Chiefs of Police in San
Diego later today.

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. I want to commend
IACP President Chief Walter McNeil, Executive Director Bart Johnson, and
all of the IACP leadership for producing such an impressive conference.
If there was ever a time to benefit from the collective knowledge of
IACP, now is it. A tough economy and declining tax revenues have brought
enormous pressure to bear on police agencies across the country. A 2011
U.S. Department of Justice study found that, “the Great Recession has
changed the face of American Policing.” Estimates, including the IACP’s
own, show that between 10,000-15,000 sworn officer positions have been
eliminated. Police departments are implementing a range of options to
cope, from shared heavy weapons teams, crime laboratories, dispatchers
and records units to wholesale mergers and regionalization.

Each of us in our own way has had to come to terms with this reality.
We’re here at IACP this week in part to learn from one another’s
experiences and to stay out in front of the issues that will affect us.
With that in mind, I’d like to speak to you about two trends we’re
experiencing in New York City that I believe have relevance for police
agencies nationwide and even globally. The first is the rise of social
media and how it is affecting our mission, particularly with respect to
our work to combat gangs. The second is the impact of the overall
technology revolution on our mission and the challenges and benefits it
brings.

Today, back in New York City, the NYPD is announcing an
initiative to combat loosely affiliated gangs, or street crews, mainly
comprised of young teens who are responsible for much of the violence in
and around public housing and elsewhere. While their propensity for
violence is a major concern of ours, it comes against an encouraging
backdrop of continued record reductions in homicides in New York. Under a
program we’ve named Operation Crew Cut, the Department intends to
double the size of its Gang Division from approximately 150 detectives
to 300 phased in over a period of time. We’ll focus those resources not
on large, established gangs such as the Bloods and Crips, but on the
looser associations of younger men who identify themselves by the block
they live on, or on which side of a housing development they reside.
Their loyalty is to their friends living in a relatively small area and
their rivalries are based not on narcotics trafficking or some other
entrepreneurial interest, but simply on local turf.

In other words, you come in to my backyard and you get hurt. You diss my crew and you pay the price.

Two weeks ago we arrested 49 members of two warring gangs – I think
you’ll appreciate the names — the Very Crispy Gangsters and the
Rockstars in East New York, Brooklyn. They were responsible for several
homicides among their own as well as the shootings of innocent
bystanders caught in their many crossfires. By capitalizing on the
irresistible urge of these suspects to brag about their murderous
exploits on Facebook, detectives used social media to draw a virtual map
of their criminal activity over the last three years. This kind of
tit-for-tat brutality among teens was settled in neighborhoods
generations ago by fist fights. Now, more often than not, it’s with
guns. Social media is another new ingredient, often used to add fuel to
the fire. For example, one gang member will post a photograph of himself
in front of a rival’s apartment building or post surveillance
photographs of rivals who they threatened to kill next. Members also
used social media to intimidate informants. They would post copies on
Facebook of orders of protection that identified complainants. One gang
leader went so far as to call another rival from prison to chastise him
about one of his members snitching. The recipient of the call assured
his rival that he would punish his own member for being a complainant on
an order of protection.

Despite the successes in this takedown
and others, the department did not have any coordinated, consistent
approach to street crews. Thus, Operation Crew Cut. With the doubling of
the Gang Division that I mentioned, and its focus on these loosely
associated crews, we’re also having other units in the Police Department
support its work in various ways. For example, lawyers from the
Department’s Legal Bureau will be assigned to each of our seven Borough
Gang Division Units to coordinate arrest and prosecution with each of
the five district attorneys in New York City. Each of the affected
precincts in the city will have a team of a dozen uniformed and
plainclothes officers to specifically address street conditions caused
by the rivalries between crews. Our Juvenile Justice Division will be
the clearinghouse to support social media-driven investigations. In
addition to tracking the admissions of criminal conduct and plans of
future crimes by crew members on Facebook, You Tube and elsewhere, the
division will be responsible for maintaining a dictionary of sorts with
continually updated lexicon employed by crews as a kind of code.
Recently, we issued new guidelines for officers using social media as
part of criminal investigations. We did this to instill the proper
balance between the investigative potential of social network sites and
privacy expectations. Officers can adopt aliases for their online work,
as long as these are registered with the department. They can also
protect their anonymity by using department laptops with untraceable
Internet cards.

The NYPD’s Transit and Housing Bureaus will also
be important support centers for the Gang Division because so much of
crew violence is focused in public housing in New York City and often
spills into the subway system.

Right now, shootings in New York
City are down by a little more than 1% compared to this time last year.
The number of victims in those shooting incidents is down by 4%. On top
of that, we’ve experienced an 18% reduction in murder and if the trend
continues, we’ll establish a new record low by the end of the year.
We’re hoping that by focusing more resources in a coordinated thoughtful
way on these crews we’ll reduce violent crime in New York City even
further. That’s because crews are responsible for no less than 30
percent of shootings in New York City. We think there’s a real
opportunity here to save more lives and perhaps rehabilitate some of
these young crew members by having our youth officers visit them at
home, and provide the kind of tough love that offers the choice between
supportive programs or re-arrest.

Teens engaged in violence
against one another also target other teens for thefts, particularly if
an Apple product is involved, and very often on the subway on the way
home from school. Like the impact on the economy itself, the allure of
Apple devices has affected New York City’s crime rate. And surprisingly
so. In 2002, we recorded a total of 86 thefts of Apple products in all
of New York City. Last year that number was 13,233. A recent analysis we
did showed that the increase in the theft of Apple devices so far this
year exceeds the increase for overall crime in New York City. In the
first nine months of this year there were 11,447 incidents in which
Apple products were stolen, an increase of 3,280 over the same period
last year, or 40%. Overall crime is up 4%. In the absence of the Apple
thefts, we would be experiencing a decline. Two weeks ago, we sent
police officers to 21 stores where the I-phone 5 was making its debut.
They were there to register serial numbers and contact information in
case the devices were stolen. This is part of a comprehensive strategy
we’ve put in place that also includes: assigning extra officers to the
transit system where most thefts take place; conducting decoy
operations; with the help of Senator Chuck Schumer and the Chairman of
the FCC Julius Genachowski, enlisting cell phone carriers to permanently
disable a phone once it’s been stolen; and getting owners to activate
the “find my I-phone” application, which allows us to pinpoint the
locations of unsuspecting thieves.

The technology revolution
that we’ve all experienced in our lifetime, and that continues to
unfold, has been filled with promise and problems for American policing.
On the positive side, two weeks ago the NYPD announced a decision to
video record interrogations conducted by our detectives in cases of
felony assaults, sex crimes and murder. After running a pilot program in
five precincts, we found that the system was not only manageable
logistically but that the performance of our detectives was such that we
expect there will be little if no downside for the prosecution. While
some may fear this videotaping “how the sausage is made” – so to speak
— during interrogations might negatively influence juries, our
experience suggests otherwise. None of the 300 cases in our pilot
resulted in the defense opting for a jury trial. In fact, they were
often eager to enter a plea once they saw the video recording of the
interrogation. In only one case did the defense counsel claim the
defendant was unlawfully intimidated in the interrogation and move to
have the confession quashed. The judge was able to view the
interrogation because it had been recorded and he ruled against the
defense.

I recognize that many police departments have already
decided to go down this road. Larger departments may be encouraged to
follow suit knowing that no department faces greater logistical
requirements in terms of equipment purchases, space renovations and
video storage than the NYPD. For us these concerns were significantly
lessened as the equipment became smaller, cheaper and more reliable.
Based on our pilot, we’re confident that jurors will be impressed by our
detectives, and not repelled by the standard techniques they lawfully
employ during interrogations. Furthermore, there’s the CSI effect. Not
only do jurors expect to see in the courtroom the forensics they see on
television, they also expect to see the video interrogations that are
dramatized on police shows. Videotaping is good for the police. It will
provide documentary evidence to rebut specious allegations of brutality
or other misconduct in the interrogation room. I believe we should view
this as an advance for American policing.

Just as we believe
cameras in the interrogation room will help us, there’s no doubt their
presence in public spaces where there is no expectation of privacy have
been a boon to counter-terrorism and conventional crime-fighting. Over
the past decade, we’ve continued to invest heavily in technology to
protect New York from another terrorist attack. We had no choice, with
the city being the target of two successful attacks at the World Trade
Center alone, and the subject of 14 unsuccessful plots since then. In
developing our counterterrorism capacity, we’ve taken advantage of
systems that are helping us to fight conventional crime as well. Perhaps
the most ubiquitous, in terms of use by law enforcement nationwide, are
license plate readers. We’ve deployed more than 100 LPRs at fixed
locations at tunnels and bridges, and another 100 mobile versions
mounted on the trunks of police cars. And while they’re essential to our
Lower Manhattan Security Initiative – a project to protect the city’s
financial district from another attack – they’ve also been used
successfully by our Detective Bureau to track down murder suspects and
other criminals.

Similarly, a sophisticated camera system
developed initially as a counterterrorism tool helped us earlier this
year to identify and capture someone who sexually assaulted a woman on
her way to work on Wall Street. We have more than 3300 cameras in our
Lower and Midtown Manhattan Security Initiative operated by the private
sector and the NYPD. They’re networked together so that from our
downtown coordination center we can view live and recorded footage from
any of them. Using special software, we can quickly sift through the
massive amount of data we receive and flag items of concern. If a bag is
left unattended or a car is driving against the flow of traffic in view
of one of our cameras, the software uses an algorithm to recognize the
pattern and sends us an alert.

Despite the public’s
overwhelming support for our expanded use of this technology, here too
we anticipated concerns about privacy. For that reason, when we launched
our Lower and Midtown Manhattan Security Initiatives we developed a
statement of privacy principles to govern what we do, and posted it on
our website. In my experience, it’s always better to implement your own
policies before others do it for you. Designed in consultation with one
of the nation’s leading legal think tanks, our privacy policy sets
limits on the retention of data, which we keep for 30 days, and uses
other safeguards to reduce the potential for misuse.

Thanks to
the Department of Homeland Security, our Lower and Midtown Manhattan
network also includes 2,600 radiation detectors that have been
distributed to officers on patrol. Through a unique partnership with
Microsoft, we’ve linked all of these tools together to form the Domain
Awareness System. This is proprietary technology, developed by police
officers for police officers with the help of Microsoft experts. It
allows us to layer data from multiple sources on a single dashboard,
giving us a comprehensive view of potential threats and criminal
activity. In addition to the obvious benefits to public safety, in a
“first of its kind” agreement, Microsoft has consented to pay New York
City 30 percent of its gross revenues on the sale of the system to
customers worldwide. These funds will be used to support other
cutting-edge crime-prevention and counter-terrorism programs.

Doing more with less has become a way of life for police agencies across
America. These are challenging times, but I believe that by continuing
to focus our resources strategically and harnessing the power of
technology, we can remain effective. Every locality is unique. There are
no “one size fits all” solutions for public safety. However, the goal
here at IACP is not to dwell on how we differ but rather, on how to
adapt one another’s best ideas and proven strategies to fit our own
needs. If we can do that successfully, I’m confident we can build on the
tremendous gains made in reducing violent crime across the nation and
save more lives in the process. Thank you for all you do to protect
cities and towns throughout America and keep up the outstanding work.

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