NYPD’s New ‘Game Truck’ Gets Critics’ Attention
The New York Police Department this month deployed a “play truck” in an effort to connect with young people, especially in low-income neighborhoods, where community relations with law enforcement have taken off. been strained by generations of mistrust.
“This here is going to be a game-changer this summer,” Jeffrey Maddrey, the department’s head of community affairs, vehicle presentation. “We come to your block, [and] we go out to your neighborhood. … Make sure our young people have a safe summer, a safe space, and just know that the NYPD is here to support them.
The “Game Truck” is outfitted with an assortment of video game consoles – including Nintendo Switches, PS5s, and the Xbox Series S – with the goal of connecting young New Yorkers with officers on video games. The exterior walls of the truck are painted with various Marvel characters and the words “NYPD Game Truck” in large print. The contents of the truck are due to a “generous donation” from the, a nonprofit organization that provides resources to the NYPD, according to Maddrey.
“Police departments have a long history of trying to engage with young people with extracurricular activities, not so much educational activities, but just bonding,” Kirk Burkhalter, a 20-year-old former NYPD detective, told Yahoo News . “So it certainly follows a tradition. “
The department began the program this month, and the first truck in service was held on the weekend of July 4 at the north end of East River Park in Manhattan, near several New York City Housing buildings. Authority (NYCHA), by Deputy Journalist Jason Koebler. Another truck was seen in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
But despite the NYPD’s stated intention, the gaming truck program has its critics.
“Some people might like to think it’s well-intentioned, but I think it really reflects the extent to which they are intertwined in our communities,” Olayemi Olurin, a
public defender with, told Yahoo News, adding, “It’s really just another way to indoctrinate people into believing that the police are necessary and must be present. And that’s another way the same communities are forced to have a constant police presence. “
Controversial past practices by the NYPD have also raised suspicions about the use of chase trucks. In 2018, when police questioned a 12-year-old boy suspected of committing a crime, they gave him a soda purchased at McDonald’s. When the interview was over and the boy was allowed to leave, the police recovered the straw from the drink and, without his knowledge or consent, used it to enter his DNA into a database, the . The boy’s DNA did not link him to evidence recovered from a crime scene, and his family had to go to court to have it removed from the police database.
Due to incidents like this, public defenders, in particular, have been among the fiercest critics of the gaming truck program.
“My first reaction was a ‘don’t go in there!’ Reflex. and I support him, ”MaryAnne Kaishian, senior policy adviser at a human rights organization, told Yahoo News. “For decades, the NYPD has aggressively sought to target and monitor New Yorkers, particularly black and brown youth, and to collect and catalog their data in secret internal archives such as the Gang Database. and the rogue DNA database. “
Kaishian believes that gaming trucks are an optimal framework for collecting “biometric information – such as fingerprints and DNA – to seemingly harmless information from social media and neighborhoods that will ultimately be used to tag and harass. young people permanently ”.
“It is a matter of security and protection of their private information, which the police have continually sought to obtain by all means,” Kaishian said. “Even inadvertently providing personal data to the police is not in anyone’s best interests.”
Other public defenders agree with this assessment.
“He’s a predator,” New York public defender Eliza Orlins wrote of him. “Over-surveillance is already a huge problem and the police will use any method at their disposal. As a public advocate, I have represented children as young as 15 whose DNA has been surreptitiously collected by the NYPD, such as from a soda can, a used straw or a bag of chips – items often given by cops to children. The last thing they have to do is get into cop vans on purpose.
The NYPD did not respond to multiple requests from Yahoo News to comment on this article. The New York City Police Benevolent Association also did not respond to a request for comment.
Disputes over the NYPD’s collection of private information are not new. In 2018, then Chief Detective Dermot F. Shea, who is now the New York Police Commissioner, announced that the NYPD’s Crime Database, or “Gang Database,” was made up of young men, especially black and Latino. Children as young as these have been added to the database and remain there indefinitely.
The department says the database helps police learn about gang affiliations, according to Shea, but the department has not been clear on how it protects individuals from being misidentified as members. Database entries can include a person’s name, address, social media accounts, and other personal information. Critics of the database say it replaced the city’s controversial stop-and-search policy, which ended in 2014 after a judge ruled it unconstitutional, in order to trap at-risk youth .
“Prosecutors constantly rely on this information from the police and they use it to seek higher bail in their cases,” said Anthony Posada, supervising lawyer at the Legal Aid Society. “People are being deported as a result of these allegations, because a simple allegation of gang membership can result in someone being detained by ICE.”
Burkhalter, the longtime former NYPD officer, says he understands the fear many parents may have of seeing their children get on the truck, but he says the intention of the program is to protect them.
“There’s no question in my mind that he’s absolutely well-intentioned by the police department,” said Burkhalter, who is currently a law professor at New York Law School. He also noted that there are easier ways for the police to obtain DNA for their database.
“As an investigator it would be much easier for me to go to your house and sift your trash outside and take a straw or a cup or a hairbrush and collect your DNA from that way, than to wait until you get into a chase truck, ”he said. “So I don’t think the purpose of the game truck is to just store data on individuals at all. “
Olurin of the Legal Aid Society believes that the mindset of seeing an entire community as potential crime suspects is exactly why distrust of the police is so prevalent.
“If you don’t want the community to feel [at odds with police], you have to listen to the needs and demands of the community, ”she said. “It won’t be a game truck. It’s about complying with the law and respecting people’s rights and autonomy to walk freely in their own communities instead of crowding into communities and controlling people’s behavior. .
Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Gwynne Hogan, NYPD Office of Community Affairs
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