NYPD Strategic Response Group FOIL

srg_functions

In response to the most detailed FOIL request I have ever written, requesting basically any and all information about the NYPD’s new Strategic Response Group, which has swelled in size, duties, and firepower since its creation in January 2015, I received this five page disclosure.

Much of my request about their operations seem to have been denied because those operations consist of “non-routine techniques and procedures,” my request about staffing and/or activists and groups monitored by the SRG would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” and any other materials denied could potentially fall under the other two blanket exemptions cited: “endangering the life or safety of any person” and as “such records/information are inter-agency or intra-agency.”

While I do not believe those exemptions apply to my specific requests and will appeal, the disclosure is shockingly short on information even for what it is, but it is at least conclusive about the functions of the SRG, which NYPD officials have described in wildly different terms since its inception and never made clear.

The records access officer appears to have decided that the only records about the SRG that are not exempt from disclosure are Department Orders. Two of these were disclosed, starting with one citing the formation of the “newly established” SRG group, so it would follow that I should have received all of the Department Orders relating to the SRG.

The thing is, the Department Order announcing the SRG was written on May 26, 2015, a full four months after the public announcement of the unit, and at least one month after activists first noticed them deployed to police protests. (Notably, they were first deployed to a large protest in solidarity with protests in Baltimore over the death in police custody of Freddie Gray. This NYC solidarity demo was brutally, and almost immediately shut down by police, with over 120 arrests.)

It seems unlikely there would be no Department Orders about the SRG’s creation before it was announced, let alone deployed, especially since hundreds of uniforms, badges, vehicles, and weapons would have needed to be rebranded, chain of command created, orders given, etc. At the very least, it seems like there would have needed to be internal communication about the creation of the unit, which I specifically requested in my FOIL, unless Bratton and now the whole NYPD are never writing anything down, via e-mail or otherwise, as former Commissioner Ray Kelly claimed was the case for himself during the federal probe into the Department’s stop-and-frisk practices.

It also seems unlikely that Department Orders about the SRG only refer to language changes in the Department Manual, a bare minimum of functions, and chain of command, when the unit has been touted as highly armed and highly trained, policing some of the most important incidents in the city, both from a public safety standpoint and a protected speech standpoint. Where are the Orders on procedures? Training?

Still, the disclosure clears up the role of the SRG, which has been unclear since its inception. As I’ve noted before, Bratton originally said it would police protest and terrorist attacks with machine guns. After much outcry over policing protest with a heavily armed counter-terrorism unit, the NYPD later said there would be separate groups for protests and terrorist attacks, and the group that would police protests would be the SRG and it would leave its assault rifles in its vehicles. However, after a terrorist attack in Paris, the NYPD repeatedly said SRG was part of its counter-terrorism efforts, and members of SRG were seen around NYC, including at protests, with assault rifles. At the same time, Copwatch groups throughout the city have reported and documented the SRG performing basic crime patrol, doing stops in subways and on the street for minor offenses, mostly in communities of color:

As the excerpt I posted above makes clear, the function of the SRG clearly includes policing protests, counterterrorism, and also “effective crime…control.” The initial and persistent fear of political activists is now officially true: the group that is staffed, armed, and trained for counterterrorism is policing protests. However, it might be even more concerning that a group that is staffed, trained, and armed to fight terrorism, is also doing routine crime prevention, largely in communities of color. The reports and documentation of Copwatch groups coupled with the fact that one of SRG’s functions is “crime…control” indicate the SRG is allowed to police Quality of Life offenses.

Quality of Life policing in communities of color is already controversial. Why do we now need a counterterrorism unit doing quality of life policing?

In the SRG, the NYPD appears to have created a counterterrorism unit that is in charge of policing first amendment activity and also has free reign to police quality of life offenses throughout the city. If there was ever militarization of policing in America, this is it.

In addition to the .pdf linked to above, you can read the full disclosure I received from the NYPD here:

NYPD SRG FOIL Disclosure

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