After a spike in hate crimes against Asians in NYC related to racist misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, the NYPD is tapping more than two dozen Asian-American detectives to work with victims on finding perpetrators of verbal and physical attacks against Asian New Yorkers.

Asians have faced verbal and physical attacks on trains, buses, in parks or in restaurants in a total of 21 hate crimes against Asians since the beginning of the pandemic, said NYPD Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison.

17 of 21 hate crime incidents since late March have resulted in an arrest. This time last year, Asians faced three hate crime incidents, according to NYPD's most recently available statistics.

"This increase was cultivated due to the anti-Asian rhetoric about the virus that was publicized and individuals began to attack Asian New Yorkers," Harrison said.

One woman told us earlier this year she began carrying pepper spray and wearing a hospital ID badge on the train on the way to work out of anxiety around commuting as an Asian woman. In July, an 89-year-old Asian woman was slapped and had her clothes set on fire in Bensonhurst, which sparked a march against racism and the police decision not to investigate the incident as a hate crime (the NYPD did not immediately provide an update on the investigation and whether it is being investigated as a hate crime).

Harrison said that four of those 17 arrests were enhanced by the task force's efforts, formally made the Asian Hate Crime Task Force on Tuesday.

Twenty-five Asian American detectives will be a part of the team, which collectively speaks a range of Asian languages—Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and others.

"This task force will build a bridge with our victims, whether it be the language barrier that we previously mentioned, social, cultural differences or just a general mistrust of police," said Deputy Inspector Stewart Hsiao Loo. "Putting this task force together is about addressing many concerns. Not just the fear of being a crime victim, but more importantly the fear that no one cares and no ones doing anything about it and that Asian Americans are not as important as other people."

"This hit home for me," said Loo. "I have friends, families, who are legitimately afraid to go outside because they fear for their safety."

Chief of Detectives Harrison said he'd like to make the task force permanent and evaluate if this type of effort should be expanded to other groups facing disproportionate impacts of hate crimes.

A key point in this task force is encouraging those impacted by hate crimes to come forward and cooperate with police on investigations, Harrison said. The department has noticed reluctance among Asian Americans to come forward compared to other communities, like Jewish New Yorkers, who have faced the highest number hate crimes—70 out of 177 this year, as of August 16th.

Overall, hate crimes have decreased by about one-third compared to last year, and among anti-Semitic incidents, decreased by 50 percent.

Some lauded the NYPD's initiative, which comes after fears that the uptick in hate crimes would only worsen as NYC reopens its economy and more people leave their homes as the coronavirus infection rate drops.

"The rise in hate and bias incidents during the ongoing pandemic was further illuminated when, earlier this year, the NYPD Hate Crime Task Force had to create an entirely new motivation category of crimes called 'OTHER CORONA', and a substantial portion of those targeted were of Asian descent," Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee said in a statement.

"Words matter and have consequences, especially when misnomers like 'Chinese Virus' and 'Kung Flu' are promulgated," she added, referencing xenophobic terms that President Donald Trump has used to describe the coronavirus.

But the policing effort also arrives during a reckoning with the role of the NYPD in NYC, as activists push to defund the department, which continues to disproportionately arrest New Yorkers of color for low-level offenses.

One of the members of Take Out Racism, a recently formed Asian activist group, said they were not comforted by the creation of the new hate crime unit.

"It goes against Black Lives Matter," said the activist, who asked that his name not be publicized because of the group's policy. "We just fundamentally don’t think more policing is going to fix the problem of racism."

On Saturday, the group fanned the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bay Ridge to put up posters protesting racism.

During that time, the members said they were accosted multiple times by people on the street who later tore down down their posters.

The activists specifically targeted the neighborhood because racist flyers surfaced on lampposts in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights in June.

The flyers, which were titled "Chinese Are Destorying [sic] Bay Ridge," blamed Chinese people for a host of issues, from illegal home conversions to prostitution in massage parlors to the coronavirus pandemic. The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force and the 68th Precinct subsequently opened an investigation on the posters.

Loo, who is also the president of the Asian American Police Executives Council, called the new task force a "milestone" within the NYPD, especially considering the barriers with relying on translators.

Loo described the goal of the task force in personal terms: "Being an Asian American, I'm very involved with the Asian American community. And the sentiment among the Asian Americans is that not enough is being done. There's not enough resources allocated to us. If you look online, on any article, and you see the postings, everyone's saying the same thing: 'The police don't care. Asian Americans voice don't matter.' This task force is saying otherwise, that we are equal and we do matter."

With reporting contributed by Gothamist's Elizabeth Kim.