The NYPD Is Already a Small Army—Now It Is Hyping Terror Threats to Militarize Even More

"You name it, we are buying it," says NYPD Chief Bill Bratton as city purchases $7.5 million in military-style gear.

Photo Credit: a katz / Shutterstock.com

The NYPD is already the largest and most well-resourced police force in the United States, with more than 34,000 officers on its payroll and a budget that hovers over $5 billion annually.

But now, the New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio are invoking the specter of ISIS-style terror and the supposed “war on cops” to spend at least another $7.5 million on military-style gear.

Their effort is part of a nationwide push by police departments to exploit the massacre at Orlando’s Pulse LGBTQ nightclub and the killing of five Dallas police officers to ramp up the militarization and funding of their forces. They do so as growing numbers take to the streets across the United States to charge that it is police who pose a threat to public safety, following the deadly cop shootings of black men Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

In a press statement released Monday, the NYPD directly referenced “instances of localized terror attacks, active shooter incidents, and even direct ambushes of police officers” in justifying the massive purchase.

“Twenty thousand ballistic helmets will be distributed to all uniformed members of the service assigned to patrol functions,” the statement continued. “Additionally, six thousand heavy ballistic vests, which contain a front and rear level three panel, will be furnished in 3,000 vehicles assigned to patrol duties (two per vehicle).”

The purchases come on top of the more than $320 million that “has been secured to fund a broad spectrum of equipment and training since 2014, including: ballistic vests; helmets and vehicles; tactical escape hoods and belt-worn trauma kits; M4 rifles, OC spray and Tasers; smartphones and tablets; along with a host of training initiatives,” according to NYPD News. The police-affiliated site states, “Much of this funding has been provided by City Hall, the City Council, the New York County District Attorney, among others.”

International Business Times reporter Cristina Silva wrote Monday, “Some special units will also receive automatic long guns, more powerful pepper spray and Tasers.” And indeed, guns are included among images of new equipment to be disbursed to the NYPD, in addition to the vests and helmets.

However, the NYPD refused to directly answer repeated requests from AlterNet for clarification on which pool of money will be used to purchase the guns, Tasers and chemical weapons.

The expenditures come on top of the at least $1.9 billion funneled into training and new equipment over the last three years, according to Bratton. Remarkably, the city is moving to purchase 6,000 ballistic vests after it already bough bullet-proof vests last year.

Meanwhile, the NYPD receives a windfall from the federal program known as Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI)—a “war on terror” creation that operates as a slush fund for the militarization of police forces nationwide.

“As the NYPD spends millions on military gear this week, it is key to remember that they’re also the number one recipient of UASI funds, securing $178 million just last year," Skanda Kadirgamar, organizer for the War Resisters League, told AlterNet. "UASI funds police militarization trainings--convincing cops there’s a war against them, and compelling them to wage war on us. The NYPD and its team of NYC politicians are right on cue, as electoral candidates continue fueling fear and hate, and twisting tragic loss of life to their ends.”

As for Bratton, he told reporters at a press conference on Monday, "You name it, we are buying it... There’s not a police department in America that’s spending as much money, as much thought and interest on this issue of officer safety."

Lumumba Bandele, a member of the New York organization Communities United for Police Reform, told AlterNet that such proclamations are alarming. “What do they think this is, shoe shopping?” Bandele asked. “The NYPD force is like a child who gets a new toy. Whenever they get new equipment, they can’t wait to get out in the streets and test it. This makes it more likely that they will engage in high-risk activities, leading to greater loss of life, particularly for our community members."

“At this point," Bandele added "we’ve gone decades attempting to demilitarize the NYPD."

Mayor Bill de Blasio rallied behind Bratton. "Obviously all over the country people have been deeply trouble by the attack on our officers," he said. "We made this decision quickly in light of the challenges we face."

The massive purchase comes amid growing outcry at the department’s aggressive and racially discriminatory policing, including Stop-and-frisk policies that overwhelmingly target black and Latino people, as well as law enforcement repression of Black Lives Matter protests, in which the movement is treated like a terrorist threat.

Bratton, one of the most powerful police figures in the country, has used the specter of terrorism to press for expanded police powers, including access to phone data and ongoing, massive law enforcement deployments throughout New York.

His administration has recently fallen under criticism for aggressive raids targeting public housing communities across the city, during which one man to plunge to his death in April.

“People are screaming at the top of their lungs that police are part of the problem,” Josmar Trujillo, a writer and grassroots organizer with New Yorkers Against Bratton, told AlterNet. “We literally have to get arrested and throw our bodies into the street to even be noticed.”

The NYPD announcement immediately followed a nationwide surge of protests, organized by the Movement for Black Lives, under the banner of “Freedom Now.” Police killings of black people in 2015 outnumbered lynchings of African Americans during the worst year of Jim Crow. At least 1,146 people total were killed by police that year, according to the Guardian, in what is likely a conservative estimate due to the underreporting of law enforcement killings.

“Regular people can’t get resources, can’t get money for communities and schools,” Trujillo said. “Police can stomp their feet and get what they want. Police get everything they want, even though they are part of the problem.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Election 2018
Environment
Food
Media
World