Posing as delivery workers: New York police’s new ‘predatory’ tactic to patrol the subway
New York Police Department (NYPD) officers have taken on a new strategy for “deterring criminal activity” on the city’s subway: dressing up as mechanics, subway employees or even delivery workers to catch would-be criminals off guard. Since mid-June, several photos and videos shared online document the new tactic, which our Observer says represents a tendency towards “predatory policing” and puts real workers in danger.
A video of two NYPD officers wearing “plainclothes” in a subway station has garnered more than 220,000 views on TikTok. The man who took the video explained in the caption that he was “wrongfully arrested” at the Broadway Junction subway station on June 17, 2022.
@nilo3x I was wrongfully arrested by the #NYPD Transit District 33 at #BroadwayJunction on my way home from work 1 a.m on June 17 2022 I was released without seeing an Attorney or a Judge after being processed and sent to Central booking when I was released I went back to the precint to retrieve my belongings where I was assaulted right in front of the precint by a large group of police officers who then rearrested me once again for no reason#PoliceBrutality#NewYork #wrongfullyarrested#WhereIsTheJustice ♬ original sound Nilo
In the video, you can hear the man saying that he was on the way home from work when the two officers stopped him and took a boxcutter that he said he uses for work. One of the officers is wearing a black baseball cap and a uniform that says “Volvo”, typical of an auto mechanic. The other is wearing an orange vest that resembles subway employees’ uniforms of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). Both of the officers are wearing body cameras and the first has his badge visible.
The man, who is Black, asks the officers why he was being stopped when he was just waiting on the train platform like everyone else. They initially do not answer, eventually adding that he could not have a “cutting instrument”.
At 2:13 in the video, two more officers arrive and it appears that the man was put in handcuffs before the video ends.
‘I’ve seen them dressed as hotel staff, as MTA employees, FedEx, Amazon, United States Postal Service’
Michael Clancy is the president of the Brooklyn charter of the Copwatch Patrol Unit, a citizen group dedicated to monitoring and recording police interactions with the public to discourage police brutality and misconduct.
He took a video on June 16 of two officers dressed as an MTA employee and a hotel worker. In the video, he zooms in on their guns and badges.
I was doing the train patrol on the L train and I got off at the Canarsie stop [in Brooklyn]. I saw what looked like a hotel worker and an MTA employee who had an elderly Black gentleman up against a garbage can, asking for his ID and asking him to empty his pockets. He was co-operative but seemed confused as to what he had done. It seemed odd to me that two people dressed like this would be shaking this guy down. I started filming them and sure enough, the officer got his badge out. When they saw I was videotaping them, they let him go.
I asked them for their names and badge numbers and sure enough, they were valid NYPD, but dressed up as employees. Since then, I’ve seen officers dressed as hotel staff, as MTA employees, FedEx, Amazon, United States Postal Service…
In another photo shared online on June 30, an NYPD officer with his badge visible is wearing an Amazon delivery driver uniform, a blue vest with grey stripes on the chest. He looks on as two other men who appear to be officers write citations for people in the subway. One of the men is wearing plainclothes while the other – his back facing the camera – is wearing a FedEx delivery uniform, a black shirt with purple stripes running vertically.
According to the post, this photo was taken at the Broadway Myrtle subway station in Brooklyn.
Another photo shows these same officers from a different angle. This second photo makes it clear that both are badged NYPD officers wearing delivery drivers’ uniforms, with the FedEx and Amazon logos.
‘That makes it dangerous for those other city agency workers who do not have specialised police training’
Clancy said that in his 16 years of experience monitoring New York City police, this is the first time he has seen officers wearing company uniforms.
[Undercover officers] would always wear some sort of sports gear or maybe some kind of casual shirt but you would never see them with company logos. Now they’re using legitimate logos from companies or other city agencies. And that makes it dangerous for those other city agency workers who do not have specialised police training. If they’re dressed up as a bus driver, you’re going to get a bus driver hurt. Somebody is going to think the bus driver is a cop.
According to VICE, an Amazon spokesperson was unaware that the NYPD was using the company’s uniform to pose as delivery workers. A FedEx spokesperson declined to comment.
When contacted by email, a representative for the NYPD told the FRANCE24 Observers team: “Transit Officers conduct plainclothes patrols due to the unique environment and challenges presented in the New York City Transit system. These plainclothes officers concentrate their efforts on deterring criminal activity such as pickpockets 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.”
New York City mayor Eric Adams reinstated the controversial plainclothes unit of the NYPD in January after it was dismantled in 2020 after being involved in what the police commissioner described as a “disproportionate” number of shootings and civilian complaints. Advocates have long accused NYPD’s plainclothes anti-crime units of using excessive force and targeting racial minorities.
Initially brought back to deal with New York’s rising problems with gun violence, the unit has mainly made low-level arrests. The strategy follows along with the NYPD’s renewed focus on cracking down on “quality of life” crime – low-level offences like public urination, fare evasion or gambling – which they say will act as a deterrent and prevent more serious offences.
It’s considered predatory policing. Do we need security? Yes. But if you really want to stop somebody from jumping over the turnstiles, take a uniformed officer and stand them right there. Nobody’s going to jump in front of the cop. However, laying in the cut and waiting for some poor guy who doesn’t have $2.75 to hop the turnstile because they’re poor or indigent or homeless – that’s predatory. That’s like a lion waiting for a weak gazelle to cross the Serengeti.
Michael Sisitzky, senior policy counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union, told VICE: “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 realise 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.”