Cameras, Drones and X-Ray Vans: How 9/11 Transformed the N.Y.P.D. Forever

It was an uncommon forearm tattoo that the police stated led them to Luis Reyes, a 35-year-old man who was accused of stealing packages from a Manhattan constructing’s mailroom in 2019.

But the fact was extra difficult: Mr. Reyes had first been recognized by the New York Police Department’s highly effective facial recognition software program because it analyzed surveillance video of the crime.

His responsible plea earlier this 12 months was not solely the results of keen-eyed detectives training old fashioned police work. Instead, it was a part of the sprawling legacy of considered one of the metropolis’s darkest days.

Since the fall of the World Trade Center, the safety equipment borne from the Sept. 11 assault on the metropolis has basically modified the method the nation’s largest police division operates, altering its strategy to discovering and foiling terror threats, but additionally to cracking minor instances like Mr. Reyes’s.

New Yorkers merely going about their each day lives routinely encounter post-9/11 digital surveillance instruments like facial recognition software program, license plate readers or cell X-ray vans that may see by means of automobile doorways. Surveillance drones hover above mass demonstrations and protesters say they’ve been questioned by antiterrorism officers after marches. The division’s Intelligence Division, redesigned in 2002 to confront Al Qaeda operatives, now makes use of antiterror techniques to struggle gang violence and avenue crime.

The division’s Technical Assistance Response Unit operates a drone fleet that was introduced in 2018. Credit…Uli Seit for The New York Times

Policing expertise has all the time superior together with the world at massive. And the police have lengthy used surveillance cameras to seek out suspects caught on video, publicizing photos of individuals and asking the public for assist figuring out them. But each supporters and critics of the shift say it’s nearly unimaginable to overstate how profoundly the assaults modified American policing — maybe most acutely in New York, which misplaced 23 of its personal officers that day, and lots of extra from 9/11-related sicknesses in the years since.

The Police Department has poured assets into increasing its surveillance capabilities. The division’s price range for intelligence and counterterrorism has greater than quadrupled, spending greater than $three billion since 2006, and extra by means of funding streams which are troublesome to quantify, together with federal grants and the secretive Police Foundation, a nonprofit that funnels cash and gear to the division from benefactors and donors.

Current and former police officers say the instruments have been efficient in thwarting dozens of would-be assaults. And the division has an obligation, they are saying, to repurpose its counterterrorism instruments for on a regular basis crime combating.

“It’s what everybody would want us to be doing,” stated John Miller, the deputy commissioner for the Police Department’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Bureaus, “instead of just saying, ‘Well, these were just for counterterrorism. So if it’s not a bombing we’re not going to use them. I’m sorry you got mugged.’”

But others say the prevalence of the division’s technological arsenal topics abnormal New Yorkers to near-constant surveillance — a burden that falls extra closely on individuals of colour. According to at least one estimate from a current evaluation by Amnesty International that was shared with The New York Times, an individual attending a protest march between Washington Square Park and Sixth Avenue is probably going surveilled by police cameras for 80 % of their march.

Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president and the heavy favourite to develop into the metropolis’s subsequent mayor, stated in an interview that he intends to audit and re-evaluate how counterterrorism and surveillance assets are deployed and utilized in the metropolis.

“I’m a believer in using technology to keep us safe,” stated Mr. Adams, a former New York City police captain. “I don’t believe in using technology to dismantle our rights that exist in our country.”

‘We’ve created a monster’

Derrick Ingram was accused of talking right into a bullhorn close to an officer at a protest. The police descended on his dwelling with a response he stated would have been acceptable for a terror assault. Credit…Laila Stevens for The New York Times

Derrick Ingram remembers the laser — that purple dot, hovering in his bed room, skilled there by an armed police officer posted throughout the courtyard from his condominium final summer time.

“It was one of the most intense experiences,” he stated.

The police had recognized Mr. Ingram utilizing facial recognition instruments they utilized to his Instagram profile, intercepted his cellphone calls and used drones to look inside his condominium. Dozens of officers descended. The response appeared suited to a terror menace, Mr. Ingram stated.

But Mr. Ingram, an organizer and activist, was not a terror suspect. Officers have been looking for him in connection together with his participation in a protest, the place they stated he spoke by means of a bullhorn close to the ear of a patrolwoman, inflicting her momentary listening to loss. He would later be charged with assault of a police officer — a case that was subsequently dropped.

The depth of the police operation was stunning, Mr. Ingram stated.

“It kind of felt stupid. I felt like it was a waste of taxpayer money and funds,” Mr. Ingram stated. “We’ve created a monster that’s kind of always existed within America, but we’ve given that monster — because of 9/11, because of other terrorist attacks and things that have happened — unquestionable, unchecked power.”

Safeguards meant to restrict the police’s skill to observe political exercise have been suspended. Thousands of extra cameras and license plate readers have been put in round Manhattan, a part of the Lower and Midtown Manhattan Security Initiatives.

Only lately — due to a legislation handed by the City Council final summer time, to police officers’ dismay — did the breadth of the Police Department’s surveillance dragnet start to develop into clear. The legislation, often called the POST Act, requires the division to supply a public accounting of its post-9/11 technological arsenal.

Police officers have confirmed reluctant to completely adjust to the transparency necessities, and have traditionally saved such expenditures secret even from the metropolis’s personal comptroller. But in accordance with figures maintained by the metropolis’s Independent Budget Office, the Police Department’s spending on intelligence and counterterrorism practically quadrupled between 2006 and 2021, as much as $349 million from $83 million in 2006, the earliest 12 months for which the workplace retains information.

For a division that was working whole precinct homes on single computer systems at the time of the assaults, the enlargement has been gorgeous, stated Raymond W. Kelly, whose second stint as New York Police Department commissioner started simply months after the assaults. Mr. Kelly led a frantic, speedy effort to deliver the division up to the mark.

“We brought in thousands of computers and lots of other technology to try to get the department into the 21st century,” Mr. Kelly stated in an interview.

Raymond W. Kelly took over as police commissioner not lengthy after Sept. 11 and oversaw the transformation of the division. Credit…Katie Orlinsky for the New York Times

He challenged the notion that the surveillance equipment in New York troubled many residents; most Americans are used to having their photos taken even whereas buying in a division retailer, he stated.

“Your picture was probably taken 30 times while you were in that store,” stated Mr. Kelly. “I don’t think the average person has the concern about privacy that many of these activist groups have.”

In paperwork launched earlier this 12 months, the police acknowledged their use of an enormous community of license plate readers, hundreds of surveillance cameras, cell X-ray vans and digital instruments which are used to wash social media profiles and retain deleted data. Much of the ensuing information will be collected and saved with out a warrant.

The techniques have develop into ubiquitous in prison instances, together with investigations of low-level crime. Asked to determine current instances during which the police used such surveillance measures, public defenders from throughout the metropolis stated it was troublesome to think about one which had not.

“My office defends tens of thousands of cases each year, and I would be shocked if we have a single case of any level of severity that did not include some form of surveillance technology,” stated Elizabeth Vasquez, the director of the science and surveillance challenge at Brooklyn Defender Services.

Most usually used, legal professionals say, is the Police Department’s Domain Awareness System, which fuses information from a number of completely different surveillance instruments — license plate readers, closed-circuit tv streams, photos that may be analyzed with facial recognition software program, or cellphone name histories — and associates the information with an individual or handle.

The division has acknowledged that the platform was not developed as a crime-fighting instrument, however relatively, has been repurposed into one: “Originally designed as a counterterrorism platform, D.A.S. is now a program that aggregates a substantial quantity of the information N.Y.P.D. personnel use to make strategic and tactical decisions,” learn a draft coverage paper posted on the division’s web site.

The police say safeguards exist round the data that the division collects — warrants, for instance, are typically required to question saved information, and facial recognition software program can’t be the sole motive for an arrest. But civil liberties advocates say the kaleidoscopic information community collected by the police has successfully turned the metropolis right into a surveillance state, even for law-abiding New Yorkers.

Donna Lieberman, the government director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, stated her group was already involved with creeping police surveillance in the 1990s; not lengthy earlier than the assaults, the group had mapped out each digital camera they may discover in the metropolis. In hindsight, she stated, the train would show naïve.

“We made a map, and we had dots — we had pins at that time — where there were cameras. And when we did that, there were a couple of thousand,” Ms. Lieberman stated. “We repeated the survey at some point after 9/11, and there were too many cameras to count.”

The remaking of the intelligence division

Inside the Real Time Crime Center at One Police Plaza, analysts search databases for data.Credit…Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

In the months and years after Sept. 11, the Police Department below Mr. Kelly set about constructing a system that may defend the metropolis from one other assault.

The division established a counterterrorism bureau and remade its intelligence division, together with the so-called Demographics Unit — a secretive police unit that saved tabs on Muslim New Yorkers, even with out proof of against the law.

“The theory was, in the course of regular policing, police officers around the country would run across little bits of information that, when added to other kinds of information, would potentially reveal terrorist plots in the making,” stated Faiza Patel, the director for the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program, which researches the intersection of civil liberties and surveillance. “In order to do that, they really lowered the threshold for information collection.”

The division nonetheless defends its practices, however later settled a lawsuit alleging it had illegally spied on Muslim New Yorkers, and officers say it not employs the sorts of demographic surveillance it used following the Sept. 11 assaults. Today, lots of the division’s assets have returned to monitoring gang conflicts and gun crime (it additionally maintains a division to trace extremist teams).

Still, the scars from the surveillance of Muslim New Yorkers stay, and the policing strategies behind it — information assortment and intelligence-gathering — have caught.

Mr. Ingram, the activist who was arrested after a Black Lives Matter protest towards racism in policing, was considered one of a number of individuals concerned in final summer time’s demonstrations who stated they have been finally interviewed by metropolis and federal counterterrorism officers.

“When the definition of ‘terrorism’ becomes anyone you don’t agree with, that’s utterly terrifying,” stated Hannah Shaw, who was arrested throughout a protest final summer time and turned over to federal antiterrorism brokers for questioning.

Police departments have been already starting to develop surveillance expertise earlier than the Sept. 11 assaults, stated Fritz Umbach, a historical past professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“There’s certainly more police presence,” Mr. Umbach stated. “That is an ongoing trend that predates 9/11. It continues for reasons that have nothing to do with terrorism.”

What has modified, he stated, is the instruments that police have at their disposal.

“Government funding developed these tools for war and then they get repurposed for policing,” he stated. “And that’s a real issue.”

For these in legislation enforcement who lived by means of the strain of a post-9/11 world in New York, the nexus between counterterror work and policing avenue crime appeared a pure development.

“It’s hard to explain sometimes how difficult the work was early on, with all the threats that we were facing, and the expectation that we were going to stop every single thing,” stated Carlos Fernandez, a former F.B.I. agent in control of counterterrorism in New York City who labored carefully with the Police Department after Sept. 11. “That was a very challenging environment to work in.”

The instruments developed in the aftermath of the assaults proved to be helpful in combating avenue crime too, Mr. Fernandez stated.

“I think to a large degree it’s been very beneficial,” Mr. Fernandez stated. “But without the proper checks and balances, anything that’s good can also be used for bad reasons.”