Mayor Eric Adams spent his first 48 hours in office straddling the same line he did during his campaign: Promising law and order, particularly through the restoration of a controversial anti-crime unit, while also protecting civil liberties.
Themes of public safety and policing defined the mayor’s first public events. On Saturday he visited a wounded NYPD officer as well as the police precinct where he was beaten as a teenager. And in a serendipitous moment while surrounded by press, he even called 911 to report a fight in progress while waiting for the subway to go to his first day of work.
“Justice and public safety go together,” Adams said on Sunday after meeting with relatives of victims of violence in Harlem. “And I don’t subscribe to the belief of some that we can only have justice and not public safety. We will have them both. Our police officers will be responsible, they will understand how to properly police our city. But we will also send a loud and clear message: You will not bring violence to this city.”
The messaging of Adams’ opening hours as the 110th mayor of New York City reflected his rhetoric during the campaign, when he focused on the need for safe streets as the pandemic saw a spike in shootings and homicides. The year ended with 479 murders, compared to 319 in 2019.
But Adams also moderated the law-and-order message by talking about his efforts as a police officer to stop police brutality. One of his first stops on his first day as mayor was to the 103rd precinct in Queens, where he spoke of the trauma and PTSD he suffered when, as a teenager, he was assaulted by officers after being arrested on a trespassing charge. “Today, the demon is off my back,” he said.
At the precinct for just the second time in five decades, Adams addressed a roll call of officers and told them that “we have their backs to do their jobs.” “But,” he told the press afterwards, “there’s a covenant that we’re establishing. We’re establishing this covenant where we will give them the tools and support they need. But we are also going to hold them to a high standard. We are not allowing abusive officers to remain among our ranks.”
On Sunday, after the roundtable in Harlem, Adams also promised that the NYPD would focus on crime victims and their families going forward. He said there were more than 1,800 shooting victims in 2021, a 141% increase over the prior year. “We must turn this around and we will turn this around,” he said.
To do that, his first plan is for newly installed NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell to create a plainclothes unit of officers to go after gangs and illegal guns. “It’s my mission, along with the mayor, to never stop working to rid our city of illegal guns,” she said.
Similar NYPD anti-crime units were disbanded in 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. At the time, former NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said the units, which operated out of unmarked cars, faced a disproportionate number of complaints about abusive behavior and were involved in a high number of shootings. Plainclothes officers have also killed New Yorkers, including Eric Garner in 2014, Sean Bell in 2006, and Amadou Diallo in 1999.
Adams actually brought up Diallo multiple times over the weekend, saying that as a police officer he protested such abuses and he wouldn’t allow it going forward. Proper policing is “not an infringement on the rights of people,” he said.
Still, plainclothes officers are needed to bring back the “unpredictability” part of crime fighting, he said. “We took away the unpredictable aspect of policing and that was dangerous,” he said. “And so we’re going to bring the unpredictable aspect of policing back. And I know how to do it right because I fought against how to do it wrong.”
The unit, which the commissioner is currently developing, will “zero in on locations” where gangs are terrorizing communities. Adams said it will be made up of top officers wearing body-worn cameras. “Every interaction that they have is going to be videoed and reviewed,” he said during an interview on MSNBC on Sunday.
Adams said his policing strategy also involves working with the schools to identify students who need special services before they commit crimes on the street, and partnering with the federal government to stem the flow of illegal guns.
After the event in Harlem, anti-violence activist Jackie Rowe-Adams, who lost two sons to shootings, voiced her full support for Adams’ message.
“Our mayor ain’t playing,” she said. “They’re going to stop killing each other.”
After the event, Adams went to the hospital to be with an NYPD officer who was being discharged after being grazed by a bullet while sleeping in his car between shifts.