Amid Criticism, Elite Crime Teams Dwindled. Then the cities brought them back.
In 2020, about three weeks after George Floyd’s death, New York’s police commissioner at the time, Dermot F. Shea, announced the disbanding of the department’s anti-crime units, plainclothes teams that had been involved in numerous police killings, including the death of Eric Garner in 2014.
Mr. Shea described the move as “a seismic shift in the culture of how the NYPD polices this great city.” A year ago, facing rising crime rates, Mayor Eric Adams announced he was restoring a version of the units, declaring, “we will not surrender our city to the violent few.”
In Chicago, the police department has launched and quashed several specialized units over the years, either as a result of scandal or because they created tensions with their aggressive tactics. The most recent units — the Community Safety Team and the Critical Incident Response Team — launched in 2020 and are still in operation, although the department declined to answer questions about their size or mission.
At the time the new teams were announced, the Chicago police superintendent, David Brown, made a point of differentiating the new units from those of the past, saying they were not “a roving strike force like what CPD has had in the past,” according to The Chicago Tribune. The city’s most notorious unit, the Special Operations Section, or SOS, was disbanded in 2007 after several officers were convicted of an array of offenses, including theft, federal civil rights violations and, in one instance, seeking to have a fellow officer murdered.
Anthony Driver Jr., president of the city’s civilian police oversight board, said his group had questions about the units even before Mr. Nichols’ death in Memphis, and is pressing for more information.
“We have concerns and we need answers,” he said.
Atlanta’s renewed use of specialized units — which have operated under the names Apex and Titan — has come under scrutiny in the wake of Mr. Nichols’s death because Cerelyn Davis, the Memphis police chief, once worked in Atlanta and oversaw the Red Dog unit, which was blamed for a series of policing abuses, including the killing of Ms. Johnston, for which three officers were sentenced to prison.