NEW YORK CITY – Monday morning, the NYCLU, advocates and elected officials rallied outside of City Hall demanding transparency and accountability from the NYPD Strategic Response Group (SRG). The City Council has again cancelled what would have been first-ever oversight hearing on the unit, following months of advocacy from the NYCLU and individuals impacted by SRG violence.
The hearing was supposed to take place Monday, after being rescheduled from December 9, 2022.
The NYPD’s Strategic Response Group (SRG) is a violent, overfunded, and unaccountable unit of the NYPD, notorious for its abuse of protesters, particularly those standing up for racial justice. Despite promises from the NYPD that the unit would not be deployed at protests at its 2015 founding, the SRG has consistently threatened, attacked, and arrested protesters, drawing condemnation from international human rights organizations, and litigation brought by the NYCLU and Legal Aid Society. Advocates and elected officials urged City Council to disband the SRG and reinvest its millions in funds back into our communities.
“A twice-cancelled City Council oversight hearing on an unaccountable unit of the NYPD is no coincidence, and these efforts to skirt transparency must end,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The New York City Council must provide the leadership our city needs to reduce the size, scope and power of the NYPD, including by disbanding the reckless SRG. New Yorkers who survived their violence should have had the right to question their conduct at a City Council hearing. City lawmakers must disband SRG and its funds should be reinvested to serve, and not harm, New Yorkers. Militarized police forces do not belong in our streets.”
SRG is a voluntary unit which attracts aggressive officers, who are then trained in escalating tactics like mass arrests, dispersal, kettling, and Long-Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs), with long misconduct records. The NYPD offers no transparency on the funding, staffing, and deployment of SRG in our communities.
With at least 700 officers and a budget that has ballooned from $13 million to $90 million dollars since 2015 with no public oversight, the SRG is trained to suppress protestors, especially those demanding racial justice. SRG training documents define two type of protestor crowds: “peaceful” and “violent.” Examples of violent crowds include the “BLM movement, Occupy Wall Street, and Anti-Trump Demonstrators.” These trainings include guidelines for the deployment of sound cannons and tactical formations to trap and mass arrest protestors. There is no focus on First Amendment protections or de-escalation strategies, and a clear bias against those calling for racial justice.
“Two of the NYPD officers involved in my son’s murder were from the Strategic Response Group. Hyper militarized units like the SRG do not make us safer. These officers come into our communities as if they are going to war. They escalate rather than de-escalate and all too often resort to excessive force. Rather than continuing to pour tens of millions of dollars into the SRG, this dangerous unit must be disbanded and those funds must be invested in services like quality mental healthcare that our communities need and deserve,” said Eric Vassell, member of the Justice Committee and father of Saheed Vassell, a New Yorker who was killed by the NYPD on April 4, 2014.
“Historically riot suppression squads like the SRG have been a major site of political repression and source of high levels of complaints of abuse and frequent and often costly lawsuits, exposing cities to extensive financial risk as seen with the Ramparts Scandal in Los Angeles and the Gun Trace Task Force in Baltimore,” said Professor Alex Vitale, author and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College.
“The SRG is a repressive manifestation of the NYPD’s continued violence against the people of this city, targeting the most vulnerable communities. The terror we all witnessed the SRG cause during the 2020 protests, especially against young Black organizers, is more than enough reason to disband them and reallocate the money towards actual and meaningful efforts to improve the lives of New Yorkers. The City Council must act and eliminate the SRG now,” said Frantzy Luzincourt, Strategy for Black Lives.
“The SRG represents an outdated an ineffective method of policing crowds, and the NYPD uses it selectively against Black and Brown demonstrators while it escorts the Proud Boys through the subway gates,” said Andrew Case, LatinoJustice PRLDEF.
“The NYPD does not enforce New Yorkers’ right to access abortion; rather, it enables harassment and intimidation of patients and providers in New York City who attempt to practice their right to reproductive health care as protected by law. Eric Adams made a big show of strengthening access to abortion in New York City when Roe fell, yet his administration undermines its alleged support for abortion by financing a bloated police budget used to deploy militarized forces against abortion activists in the form of the Strategic Response Group. Since the Dobbs decision in June, the SRG has made violent arrests at our clinic defenses and have exhibited escalatory behavior against clinic defenders. The violence we experience at our clinic defenses is emblematic of the SRG’s wider pattern of abuse against protestors in New York City. The SRG is a threat to our communities, and we will not settle for anything less than the unit’s full disbandment,” said NYC for Abortion Rights.
“Legal Aid regularly sees the brutality SRG inflicts on our battered clients in arraignments and in the communities where we live and serve. SRG is yet another unit of NYPD that consumes massive resources and delivers militaristic culture of abuse enabled by insufficient accountability. Meanwhile our clients struggle with affordable housing, reliable access to essential services including mental health care and substance abuse treatment, access to essential public spaces like libraries, and diminished resources in public schools. It’s time for this Council to stand up and listen to their constituents – Disband SRG,” said Jennvine Wong, Legal Aid Society.
The NYCLU’s database of NYPD CCRB misconduct complaints shows that SRG officers in the database receive an abnormally high number of misconduct complaints compared to non-SRG officers:
Of officers who were named in at least one complaint while in SRG, the median number of complaints since 2000 is six – double the median number of complaints received since 2000 for all officers on the force.
11% of misconduct complaints against SRG officers were substantiated by the CCRB, compared to 7.1% of complaints against all NYPD officers.
The SRG also has a pattern of targeting people of color. Of those complaints that included a victim’s race, the impacted individual was a person of color 91 percent of the time. Sixty-six percent of victims were Black, 21 percent were Latinx, and nine percent were white.
“The NYPD’s Strategic Response Group has a history of inflicting violence on non-violent Black and Brown protestors. Instead of de-escalating and protecting New Yorkers, their main objective is to terrorize our most vulnerable communities who are simply exercising their first amendment rights. It is time to fully disband the NYPD’s SRG unit and reinvest their $90 million in city funds to housing, healthcare, education and jobs. This is what our communities deserve!” said Melanie Dominguez, lead community organizer at the Katal Center for Equity, Health and Justice.
“During the summer of 2020 and since then I have experienced and witnessed SRG violence and escalation at numerous peaceful protests. Anytime we see the SRG there, we know the situation is about to get much worse, more brutality and unlawful arrests. They treat New Yorkers as if we’re terrorists in our own city. City Council, permanently disband the SRG and give their money to communities,” said Cristina Rodriguez-Hart, Democratic Socialists of America Racial Justice Working Group
“In the racial justice uprisings of 2020, the SRG repeatedly kettled and brutalized young protestors of color. I witnessed multiple attempts to intimidate, harass and brutalize young people of color at protests, including using techniques such as pushing protestors over and grabbing them by their feet, removing and flinging away their backpacks and other belongings, and gathering in large groups to punch and kick a single protestor who was on the ground, not resisting or fighting back, as well as unlawful arrests. The use of these tactics actively reduces community safety. Our communities deserve culturally sensitive, trauma-informed, mental health literate case management and support, and our community tax dollars and resources would be better used in support of these services,” said Marina Weiss, Democratic Socialists of America Racial Justice Working Group, Resource Generation NYC Abolition Circle
Learn more about the NYCLU’s campaigns to transform policing here.