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NYPD Faces Criticism After Officers Arrest A Protester Using An Unmarked Van

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The New York City Police Department faces growing criticism after plainclothes officers used an unmarked van yesterday to arrest a protester during a march in Manhattan. State and local officials say the arrest showed troubling parallels to tactics used by federal officers in Portland. NPR's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: The video recorded yesterday in New York City shows a gray minivan pulling up at an intersection during a peaceful protest march. Men in street clothes scrambled to drag a young woman identified as 18-year-old trans activist Nikki Stone into the unmarked.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Get back. Get back. Get back.

MANN: NYPD bicycle officers then sweep into the area, pushing back the crowd. That video went viral, and at a briefing with reporters today, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio condemned the arrest.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL DE BLASIO: A lot of us have watched in pain what's been going on in Portland, Ore. So anything that even slightly suggests that is to me troubling, and it's the kind of thing that we don't want to see in this city.

MANN: The NYPD issued a statement, saying the woman was arrested after she allegedly vandalized police surveillance cameras. They said officers were struck with thrown rocks and bottles while taking her into custody. That violence isn't visible on videos of the incident posted by protesters. De Blasio said police should have chosen a less volatile moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DE BLASIO: That was not the time and place to effectuate that arrest. Given this atmosphere that we're dealing with in our country and the real concerns people have, it just didn't make sense. It made sense to do it in a situation that was clearly not in the middle of an ongoing protest.

MANN: Others also criticized the arrest, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who called the timing and tactics insensitive and obnoxious. Even before President Trump deployed federal officers to confront protesters, police tactics during marches faced growing scrutiny across the U.S. Frank Straub is former police chief in Spokane, Wash., and works now for the National Police Foundation. He spoke with NPR after reviewing video of this latest incident.

FRANK STRAUB: I don't know that this was really the most professional police conduct. I see an officer at one point with his hand on his gun. I think that that's in and of itself inappropriate.

MANN: Straub said using an unmarked vehicle to make an arrest is a fairly standard police tactic. But he said doing so during a peaceful demonstration showed poor judgment, creating what Straub described as troubling optics.

STRAUB: You see an unmarked van pull up. You see people that are not identified as police officers grab somebody and thrown them in a van when we know that that is a point of challenge across the country.

MANN: City officials say they are reviewing the incident with NYPD commanders. The woman arrested during the march was released early this morning after five hours in custody.

Brian Mann, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.