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What Was The NYPD's Anti-Crime Unit And What Does It Being Disbanded Mean?

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Police Commissioner Dermot Shea calls it a "seismic shift" for the NYPD.

He announced he is disbanding their Anti-Crime Unit.

So what was this unit, and what does this mean for policing in New York City?

They're part of the solution, or part of the problem, depending on who you ask, reported CBS2's Andrea Grymes.

Anti-Crime Units are often praised on the NYPD's Twitter feeds, getting illegal gun after illegal gun off the streets.

But now, Commissioner Shea has officially shut down the unit, reassigning some 600 members citywide.

"They have done an exceptional job, but I think it's time to move forward and change how we police in this city," Shea said. "We can move away from brute force."

Anti-Crime Units are made up of undercover, plainclothes cops assigned to each precinct and city housing. In addition to targeting illegal guns, they also combat local crime sprees, like burglaries.

Shea notes that because of the nature of their work, the unit has had a disproportionately higher number of complaints and police-involved shootings.

In 2013, for example, Anti-Crime cops shot and killed 16-year-old Kimani Gray in Brooklyn after police said Gray pointed a gun at them. Gray's family disputed the teen was armed.

Last year, Anti-Crime officer Brian Mulkeen was killed by friendly fire while struggling with an armed suspect in the Bronx.

The Legal Aid Society says disbanding the unit is long overdue.

"It has had a particularly problematic reputation among our clients and among the community for being hyper aggressive about policing," said Jennvine Wong of the Legal Aid Society. "I think we want to know where they're going to be reassigned to and what that means."

But Anti-Crime Unit supporters fear disbanding the group will only cause crime to spike even more.

Retired cop Angel Maysonet worked in uniform patrol, but also served in an Anti-Crime Unit in the Bronx.

"We were out there to be proactive and stop the robberies and get the guns off the streets before it happened," he said. "Aggressively, respectfully going out there and doing your job. Not profiling people. Not hunting people of color like it's being portrayed in the media."

Shea admits disbanding is risky, but he believes they can still get the job done with more modern tactics, like using video technology and intelligence. He says disbanding is something he considered for a year, and felt now was the time to finally make a change.

The NYPD will still have other undercover units - like transit and narcotics.

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