NEW YORK CITY – This morning, the NYCLU, advocates and elected officials rallied outside of City Hall demanding transparency and accountability from the NYPD Strategic Response Group (SRG) just before the City Council held its first-ever oversight hearing on the unit. Following months of advocacy from the NYCLU and individuals impacted by SRG violence, the hearing took place after multiple postponements and the NYPD refusing to testify.
The NYPD Strategic Response Group (SRG) is a violent, overfunded, and unaccountable unit of the NYPD. notorious for its abuse of protesters, particularly those standing up for racial justice. Despite promises from the NYPD that the unit would not be deployed at protests at its 2015 founding, the SRG has consistently threatened, attacked, and arrested protesters, drawing condemnation from international human rights organizations, and litigation brought by the NYCLU and Legal Aid Society. Advocates and elected officials urged City Council to disband the SRG and reinvest its millions in funds back into our communities.
“The New York City Council must provide the leadership our city needs to reduce the size, scope and power of the NYPD, including by disbanding the reckless SRG,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Today, New Yorkers who survived SRG violence are finally able to exercise their right to question the SRG’s conduct at a City Council oversight hearing. City lawmakers must disband the SRG and its funds should be reinvested to serve, and not harm, New Yorkers. Militarized police forces do not belong in our streets.”
The SRG is a voluntary unit that attracts officers seeking action. They escalate violence against protestors rather than facilitate First Amendment activity. Their members have higher substantiated misconduct complaints and allegations of excessive force than the NYPD as a whole. The SRG uses tactics including the use of bicycles as weapons, excessive force when making arrests, and deployment formations that give rise to injuries, violence and false arrests, like kettling. The NYPD offers no transparency on the funding, staffing, and deployment of SRG in our communities. 21 City Council members issued an open letter in support of disbanding the SRG.
With at least 700 officers and a budget that has ballooned from $13 million to over $100 million dollars since 2015 with no public oversight, the SRG is trained to suppress protestors, especially those demanding racial justice. SRG training documents define two type of protestor crowds: “peaceful” and “violent.” Examples of violent crowds include the “BLM movement, Occupy Wall Street, and Anti-Trump Demonstrators.” These trainings include guidelines for the deployment of sound cannons and tactical formations to trap and mass arrest protestors. There is no focus on First Amendment protections or de-escalation strategies, and a clear bias against those calling for racial justice.
The NYCLU’s database of NYPD CCRB misconduct complaints shows that SRG officers in the database receive an abnormally high number of misconduct complaints compared to non-SRG officers:
- Of officers who were named in at least one complaint while in SRG, the median number of complaints since 2000 is six – double the median number of complaints received since 2000 for all officers on the force.
- 11% of misconduct complaints against SRG officers were substantiated by the CCRB, compared to 7.1% of complaints against all NYPD officers.
- The SRG also has a pattern of targeting people of color. Of those complaints that included a victim’s race, the impacted individual was a person of color 91 percent of the time. Sixty-six percent of victims were Black, 21 percent were Latinx, and nine percent were white.
“Two of the NYPD officers involved in my son's murder were from the Strategic Response Group. Hyper militarized units like the SRG do not make us safer. These officers come into our communities as if they are going to war. They escalate rather than de-escalate and all too often resort to excessive force. Rather than continuing to pour tens of millions of dollars into the SRG, this dangerous unit must be disbanded and those funds must be invested in services like quality mental healthcare that our communities need and deserve,” said Eric Vassell, father of Saheed Vassell, a New Yorker who was killed by the NYPD on April 4, 2014, and member of the Justice Committee.
"The Strategic Response Group is an example of a notoriously violent NYPD whose dangerous tactics are a threat to the safety of New Yorkers. The SRG should be disbanded and the millions of city dollars dedicated to this unit should be redirected towards community safety solutions," said Ileana Mendez-Penate, Program Director, Communities United for Police Reform.
“The Strategic Response Group has a long track record of violently suppressing peaceful protests, in violation of both Constitutional and human rights. It should be disbanded. A healthy democracy has no room for a militarized force that brutalizes civilians and stamps out dissent. It erodes trust in leadership and delegitimizes our government in the eyes of the people. Unaccountable to New Yorkers and counterproductive in our City’s shared pursuit of public safety, the SRG has no place in our city,” said Council Member Chi Ossé.
“In both 2021 and 2022, the NYPD stationed phalanxes of SRG troops near the endpoint of our annual Queer Liberation March. In both cases, SRG used the flimsiest of excuses to escalate into violence. Were it not for the de-escalation skills of our volunteer marshals, the SRG would have escalated the situation to the point of scores of serious injuries. They function as a roving occupying army treating New Yorkers attending non-violent protests like armed enemy combatants. While they claim they are "peace officers," the only violence ever committed at any of our marches have been instigated by NYPD officers and SRG. The SRG must be disbanded and the NYPD needs to give all its officers a re-education on the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights,” said Jay W. Walker, the Reclaim Pride Coalition.
"The United States has a long and tethered history in its mission to suppress non-violent protests by the people, and NYC is no stranger to that historical violence. The Strategic Response Group (SRG) is nothing more than a militarized arm of the NYPD whose sole mission is to quell non-violent civil disobedience by utilizing some of the most painful and harmful methods at their disposal. The SRG must be disbanded in the wake of hours of captured video and testimony by protestors who this violent group of officers took an oath to protect and serve,” said Jon McFarlane, a leader with VOCAL-NY's Civil Rights Union.
"The people have the right to protest and gather, to exercise their first amendment freedoms without being intimidated," said Council Member Shaun Abreu. "The NYPD Strategic Response Group has been deployed in a way that undermines this principle. Sending the SRG to peaceful protests is an unnecessary and inappropriate use of police resources, and we must put an end to it."
“This week, we finally have an opportunity to hold the Strategic Response Group, a notoriously violent NYPD unit, accountable for its abuses. From unlawfully and unnecessarily brutalizing peaceful New Yorkers, to draining taxpayer dollars upwards of $90 million, it’s time to end this City-sponsored violence, disband the unit, and reinvest these dollars immediately into community safety,” said Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez.
“For years, the Strategic Response Group has been at the forefront of the NYPD’s war on our City’s Black and brown residents. They have beaten protestors and harassed everyday residents with impunity. Today, the Council takes the first step in dismantling their reign of terror,” said Council Member Shahana Hanif. “Our oversight hearing today is a long overdue step in moving toward a City without the SRG. Rather than arming cops with riot shields and legal amnesty, we should invest in housing, healthcare, and education. I’m proud to stand firm with the dozens of community organizations and progressive allies who dare to dream for a City rooted in care, not cages.”
"I stand with my colleagues and all New Yorkers in my support of the disbandment of the SRG. We must protect the right to protest free of fear to maintain a healthy and open democracy,” said Council Member Althea Stevens.
"The SRG is the poster child for mission creep," said Council Member Tiffany Cabán. "At the unit's inception, New Yorkers, still traumatized by the September 11th attacks, wanted protection from terrorism, and were instead given an unaccountable squadron that does everything from violently cracking down on legitimate protests to evicting our homeless neighbors from their encampments. Relatedly, over the years, SRG's headcount has also ballooned to multiple times its initially-intended size. The time is long past to disband this unit and redirect its funding to evidence-based public safety strategies, from mobile mental health services to overdose prevention centers to violence interruption programming."
“The NYPD Strategic Response Group’s aggressive tactics contribute to a culture of police brutality while empowering bad cops to act with impunity,” said Lori Zeno, Executive Director of Queens Defenders. “146 officers were recommended for discipline by the Civilian Complaint Review Board following the 2020 George Floyd protests alone, yet the NYPD continues to shield them from accountability. Public safety has never been achieved by putting needlessly aggressive police units on the street to target demonstrators. We demand the SRG be disbanded, and funding redirected to initiatives that address the needs of clients targeted by our criminal legal system including mental health and substance use treatment, access to safe and affordable housing, education and job training, and meaningful diversion programs.”
“The Strategic Response Group is a notoriously abusive unit in the NYPD, with a long history of inflicting egregious violence and surveillance primarily on New Yorkers exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Jackie Gosdigian, senior policy counsel with Brooklyn Defenders. “We must disband SRG and instead redirect funding towards community investments that actually create safety for New Yorkers, such as housing and education.”
“The SRG is not known by New Yorkers as a so-called ‘counter-terrorism unit.’ The SRG is known for brutalizing New Yorkers who are exercising their First Amendment Rights. Time and time again, the SRG abuses people who are protesting for Racial Justice, and for Black Lives. We have seen events with under 30 people attacked by 100 SRG officers. Whether protesters are in the streets, or on the sidewalk before a march even begins, the SRG attacks. It is time to disband this violent, anti-Black unit,” said Equity for Flatbush.
“As one of the leading organizing groups in New York City we have experienced first hand the extremely violent practices of the Strategic Response Group, a manifestation of one of the worst characteristics of the New York Police Department. We need to immediately disband the SRG and prioritize investing in our communities and developing non carceral solutions to public safety instead of relying on the same violent strategies that have continuously harmed communities. Especially those that are Black, people of color, and low income communities. Enough is enough and we must do better!” said Frantzy Luzincourt, Co-Founder & CEO of Strategy for Black Lives.
"The Strategic Response Unit is a stain on New York City and its existence represents government sponsored harassment. New Yorkers have the right to gather and protest peacefully without being intimidated by the police. Disbanding the SRG unit is not just the right thing to do, it's the right thing for public safety,” said Robert Willis, Justice Advocate Coordinator at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.
“The SRG already ensures that critics of police power have no right to public protest. Now the same violent volunteers – with their secret budget, their riot gear, their shields, bikes, Punisher skulls and Trump patches – will be occupying those communities that the wealthiest city in the world exploits most. Mayor Adams is draining these Black and brown neighborhoods of resources to advance gentrification and privatization, and he’s betting that he can control the resulting fallout with overwhelming force. He will lose this bet. Police can’t solve our problems: resources, community self-organization, and alternatives to policing can. And since we ourselves have suffered the SRG’s violence, we will keep fighting until the SRG is gone,” said Crown Heights CARE Collective.
“I’ve been part of many actions where we are fighting to keep our neighbors housed and the SRG has descended on us like animals. They instigate violence against tenants defending their homes against eviction. When they attack, they attack indiscriminately. I have seen them attack people of all ages, including elderly New Yorkers. They are completely indiscriminate in who they hurt in their hurry to protect capital and the financial interests of Eric Adams and all other landlords,” said Zara Cadoux, Steward of the Crown Heights Tenant Union.
“The NYPD’s Strategic Response Group, notorious for its racism and violence, is typical of the City’s response to the growing effects of disinvestment under the Eric Adams austerity regime. Rather than give people homes in the midst of a housing crisis, Adams is sending SRG riot cops into Black and brown neighborhoods most at risk of displacement to ensure that real estate tycoons continue to profit off the backs of everyday New Yorkers. The City Council must disband the SRG and reinvest its funds directly into communities targeted by police violence and chronic disinvestment to truly treat the root causes of harm in our city,” said the NYC-DSA Racial Justice Working Group.
Learn more about the NYCLU’s campaigns to transform policing here.