Friday, February 18, 2011
NYPD: Plan to Quit Bank Robbery Task Force
The New York Police Department has informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation that it plans to pull all six of its detectives from a joint task force that investigates armed bank robberies, according to law enforcement officials with knowledge of the plan.
The detectives, who are currently assigned to F.B.I. headquarters in Lower Manhattan, would be redeployed to police units around the city to focus on broader crime issues. The move would take place on Feb. 28.
In informing their counterparts in the F.B.I. in recent weeks, police officials have emphasized that the detectives would still be available to the Joint Bank Robbery Task Force on an as-needed basis. But with the department’s head count shrinking by 6,000 officers in the last decade and bank robberies reaching low levels, police officials said it made more sense to use the detectives differently.
“They can be better deployed working major cases throughout the five boroughs,” said Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman. He noted that the detectives could still aid the task force — the oldest joint venture between the two agencies — without “being in the same physical space” as the F.B.I. agents.
James M. Margolin, a spokesman for the F.B.I.’s offices in New York, declined to comment on the changes, which seem to come at an inopportune time: The city is experiencing a surge in the number of armed bank robberies, including seven attributed to Marat Mikhaylich, who has been called the Holiday Bandit for the heists that began to increase in frequency around Christmas. He is considered armed and dangerous, officials say, and last struck in Queens on Wednesday.
Although police officials sought to portray the move from 26 Federal Plaza as a deployment maneuver, one law enforcement official familiar with the effort described it as an effort by the police to “disband, without disbanding” the combined bank robbery unit.
Another official said: “It would be a bad thing. This was the model for F.B.I.-local law enforcement task forces, and it’s been effective. I think there is a concern that if this happens, that effectively indicates the end of a successful 32-year arrangement.”
Mr. Browne said that Phil Pulaski, the department’s chief of detectives, had informed F.B.I. officials that the six detectives, as well as a supervising sergeant, would remain with the dozen or so federal agents on the task force until the end of this month.
The seven officers will be sent to satellite offices of a separate police unit, the Major Case Squad. That unit currently has about 20 detectives and an annual load of 370 cases, including kidnappings, art thefts and commercial robberies, among other crimes.
But Mr. Browne emphasized that the department was willing to change its plans if the federal agency mounted a strenuous resistance.
He said he was not concerned whether the move suggested that the two agencies, which have had a history of long-simmering tensions over everything from the tactics of counterterrorism to credit for crimes solved, were having difficulties cooperating.
The Holiday Bandit’s bank robbery spree aside, the annual tally of armed bank robberies has fallen to a few dozen a year in the city, just a fraction of the more than 300 armed bank heists in 1979, when the unit was formed; police officials have cited the lack of cases as one rationale for sending its six detectives and a supervisor elsewhere. Also, the police say as bank robbery work has dwindled, to a historic low of 26 armed cases last year, the officers assigned have been pulled into task-force investigations that have nothing to do with bank robberies.
But the low number of armed bank robberies does not mean the investigators on the task force are idle, officials said.
Despite the joint bank robbery task force’s narrow name, its personnel also handle crimes on the high seas, fugitive and murder-for-hire cases and kidnappings, and more than a dozen other categories of crimes.