Justice for All: Gun violence up after disbanding of Anti-Crime Unit
Cops say it was one of the most dangerous jobs on the police force.
"You see the crime, you see the criminal, you go get it," retired Anti-Crime Unit cop Angel Maysonet said.
It was also a job that ultimately ended the life of NYPD Detective Brian Mulkeen, who was killed by friendly fire while struggling with an armed man in the Bronx. Mulkeen was part of the NYPD's Anti-Crime Unit in 2019.
"Being in Anti-Crime or Street Crime was proactive policing, jumping out on people, chasing people," Maysonet said.
Maysonet worked out of the 48th Precinct's Anti-Crime squad in the Bronx.
"In the 4-8 specifically there was a drug spot on almost every corner. So, where there was drugs, there had to be people protecting the drugs with guns," Maysonet said.
The squad was made up of plainclothes officers with one main job - getting illegal guns off the street.
"Growing up in the hood, it was exciting for me to help make a difference," Maysonet said.
The squad often came face to face with some of the city's most violent criminals.
"The criminals back then weren't emboldened -- they didn't carry guns -- because they knew at any moment a cop could jump out of a nondescript vehicle, grab them, and get a gun off them," Maysonet said.
But the NYPD disbanded its Anti-Crime Unit last June after a united call for police reform following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea at the time cited a "disproportionate" number of shootings and civilian complaints.
"We can do it with brains, we can do it with guile, we can move away from brute force," Shea said during his announcement.
Years prior, the NYPD had eliminated the very similar Street Crime Unit sometime after officers had fatally shot an unarmed Bronx street vendor, Amadou Diallo, in a barrage of 41 bullets.
Bronx Councilman Kevin Riley tells News 12 he has had several run-ins with Anti-Crime prior to becoming an elected official.
"I was so afraid at that moment," he said. "They held us against the wall, put our hands behind our back," Riley continued.
Riley said he was 23 when Anti-Crime officers ambushed him and his friends while they were hanging out on 219th Street in the Bronx.
"Just because we look a certain way doesn't mean we're criminals and that's how we were treated that night," he said.
Riley said the cops thought they were robbing a house and they were ultimately released, but left with a bad taste.
"Whenever I see a siren behind me and I am getting pulled over my heart drops like literally below my stomach and I am doing nothing wrong," Ivan May, one of Riley's friends, told us.
Critics say the Anti-Crime squad escalated tensions between cops and the community -- but gun violence is soaring without them. This year, so far, there’s been more than 600 shootings compared to last year’s 300 plus. And more than double the amount compared to 2019, according to the NYPD’s CompStat tool. For Maysonet, it’s painful to watch.
"It's like bringing a friend from the brink of death -- saving him and now watching him die a slow death," he said.
But police are still making gun arrests even without Anti-Crime. At least 455 more this year compared to the same time last year, according to the NYPD.
"We're moving forward -- we are re-imagining now what is neighborhood policing," NYPD Chief of Patrol Juanita Holmes told News 12.
Holmes said the NYPD is still getting the job done using precision policing, which is concentrating more cops in specific high-crime areas. She said the department is also expanding technology like ShotSpotter, which uses artificial intelligence to detect gunfire.
"Forty-four percent of the times we responded, arrests were made and that's key," Holmes said.
The chief of patrol also made a point that cooperation is just as important.
"But in order for the community to do that -- they need to trust."
When Anti-Crime was disbanded -- the cops either made detective or went back to patrol. Some also became part of Public Safety -- working with other officers to grab guns -- but in uniform rather than plainclothes. Critics have slammed these moves -- calling them "surface-level."
"You cannot take the violence out of the police by moving them from one place to another," Sala Cyril, spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, said.
Communities United for Police Reform continues to push for defunding the NYPD and re-allocating the money to mental health and youth services. Councilman Riley said getting rid of Anti-Crime has increased transparency and that's a step in the right direction.
"I want to see my NYPD officer, I want to know your name, I want to be able to come to you if I have an issue, I really feel like that Anti-Crime Unit didn't give us a chance to do so."
But Maysonet said it was Anti-Crime that gave some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers a shot at a safer life.
"If you make enemies with the police you better make friends with the criminals because that's your only alternative."
Text and reporting by Anthony Carlo