The NYPD’s new anti-gun teams are mainly conducting car stops to find illegal weapons as part of a recycled strategy that only turned up three firearms during the first few weeks, a Post analysis has found.
In addition to the paltry number of guns recovered during the car stops, most of the suspects pulled over by the anti-gun teams ended up being busted on low-level traffic offenses, arrest records show.
Since their launch, the new Neighborhood Safety Teams have made at least 52 car stops in neighborhoods plagued by gun violence, according to the latest data given to The Post by the NYPD. But the suspects were predominantly charged with minor infractions involving tinted windows, drug possession and bogus license plates, the records show.
The NYPD and mayor have repeatedly touted the program’s 135 arrests during its first three weeks and said 25 busts were for gun possession, including four involving minors.
They said the success of the team will depend on how the cases play out in court. But since the program started, 33% of the 107 adult arrests have already been dismissed or pled down and sealed, a review of court records found.
Of the open cases The Post was able to obtain records for, 66% stemmed from vehicle stops as opposed to arrests on the street. In one of the three car stops that turned up an illegal gun, the firearm wasn’t even found in the vehicle but was later uncovered at a suspect’s home after he allegedly told police about it, law-enforcement sources said.
At least another 13 illegal firearms were recovered during non-vehicle stops on the street.
The NYPD has said shootings in the Big Apple are largely linked to cars that are either unregistered or have fraudulent license plates.
The department started targeting such vehicles as a strategy to combat gunplay last summer, when investigators first noticed the connection, but the plan of attack has done little to stem the tide of shootings, which has only continued to rise.
“This criminal phenomenon is a byproduct of COVID-19, when the [state] Department of Motor Vehicles was shut down and provided limited services, and criminals [began] taking advantage and producing fake fraudulent paper plates in return for finances,” then-Chief of Department Rodney Harrison said at a press briefing last summer as he announced a crackdown on fake license plates to stem shootings.
On Jan. 24, when Mayor Eric Adams announced the creation of the NSTs – considered a revamped version of the NYPD’s controversial anti-crime unit disbanded in 2020 – he promised to employ “new technology” to identify people carrying guns.
He vowed that the new tech would involve everything “from facial-recognition technology to tools that can spot those carrying weapons” — but it’s not clear if those strategies were used during the program’s first couple of weeks.
Experts say the car-stop approach is the safest way to initiate an encounter with a potential suspect and will likely change as the department gathers data and re-focuses its strategy.
“This is very typical in any initial stages of crime-control strategies. You’ll start to analyze what has been working well in the weeks and start to fine-tune the strategy to get the results you are looking for, which is: How do we maximize getting guns off the streets?” said Christopher Herrmann, a shootings and homicide expert from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, to The Post.
“My guess is they are throwing out the big net to figure out where and how they are going to catch fish as they focus on those methods to catch guns. It doesn’t surprise me,” he said of the car-stop strategy.
Maria Haberfeld, a policing professor at John Jay, said she expects policing tactics in these units to slowly become more aggressive as shootings continue.
“When you have a new initiative introduced by the mayor and by the commissioner, such as the new and improved anti-crime unit, you have to be very careful so you cannot go directly to the more aggressive tactics. You have to start more on the safer side, which the car stops are,” Haberfeld said.
“It will take a long time to bring the city under control after what happened here in the last eight years. So it’s not some overnight panacea.”
The majority of the NST’s gun busts were made in The Bronx.
In addition to their gun busts, the teams’ rounded up suspects including a man who allegedly stole “gummies” from a store.
Jamie Sullivan, 30, was arrested for petit larceny and criminal mischief by an NST unit on March 17 for allegedly swiping the “gummies” from a Bronx shop and kicking its door. The incident happened a few weeks before the new teams were launched, but one of the cop crews picked him up, court records show.
Jason Westlee, 33, also was busted by an NST on March 26 after he allegedly stole $380 worth of personal care products from a Rite Aid on East Burnside Avenue.
Raymond Anderson, 23, was arrested by one of the teams for petit larceny in Queens.
As of Sunday, the NYPD has recorded 402 shootings so far this year at a rate of more than three shootings a day. It’s just below the number of shootings recorded year to date in 2021, which saw 405 incidents of gunplay, but it’s an 85% increase compared to 2019 and a 79.5% jump from 2020.
Since the units were created, gun violence has dipped in the Big Apple, but it’s too early to say if they’re making a dent, Herrmann said.
“Some of the numbers have come down. Obviously, they are going to take credit for that,” Herrmann said. “But whether they should be taking credit for that is another story.
“A pessimist like me would say they had nowhere to go but down. To me, this is a wait-and-see game. Are they going to be productive? How productive are they going to be?”
Additional reporting by Georgett Roberts, Reuven Fenton and Hannah Ferrera