The New York City Police Department is disbanding a 600-person plainclothes anti-crime unit in a move that a top official described Monday as the end of its controversial stop-and-frisk program.
The unit, which has operated in every precinct in the city, was charged with proactively finding guns and taking them off the streets.
Addressing a small group of reporters from 1 Police Plaza headquarters, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea called the move "a seismic shift in the culture of how the NYPD polices this great city."
"I would consider this in the realm of closing the last chapters of stop, question and frisk," he said.
As used by the department, the tactic gave officers wide latitude to detain suspects. A class-action lawsuit led to a federal ruling in 2013 that found more than 80 percent of the stops involved Black people and Latinos. The stops rarely resulted in the seizure of contraband.
Shea said the decision wasn't an indictment of anti-crime officers, who he said have done an "exceptional" job. But he said policing in 2020 is different from what it was a decade ago.
"We can do it with brains. We can do it with guile. We can move away from brute force," he said.
The death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 prompted mass demonstrations. In the weeks since, protesters across the United States have condemned police violence and systemic racism.
Some protesters have accused New York police officers of abuse and excessive force during the rallies, and some officers have been suspended.
Monday's announcement also came as law enforcement agencies and officials grapple with demands from many to "defund" or "abolish" the police. In Minneapolis, a majority of the City Council pledged to "dismantle" its police department. In Los Angeles, elected officials promised to "reimagine" policing.
Full coverage of George Floyd's death and protests around the country
And New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that every community in the state would have to implement "major" reform aimed at redesigning public safety.
"How do we change the police?" he said. "How do we take this moment and institutionalize it to have progress?"
Shea called the discussions about reform "thoughtful" but added that the move to disband the anti-crime unit could backfire.
"This is not without risk," he said. "The risk will fall squarely on my shoulders."
CORRECTION (June 16, 2020, 5:25 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the first name of the New York City police commissioner. He is Dermot Shea, not Dermott.