'Omnipresence': The NYPD's New Secret Orwellian Tactic


As reported by John Surico at Vice, the NYPD has been quietly deploying a tactic called "Omnipresence," which involves floodlights pointed at housing projects all night long, parked police cars on sidewalks with their menacing blue and white lights flashing, and beat cops indefinitely stationed on street corners as a new means of policing pre-crime. Surico calls it "stop and frisk 2.0."

All of the lights!
Twitter/Katrina Lipinsky

Stop and frisk as commonly understood is barely practiced anymore, having died an ignominious death in 2013 when Judge Shira Schiendlin ruled that searches of black and Latino youths based on generalized suspicion was unconstitutional.

Former mayor and ardent stop-and-frisk enthusiast Michael Bloomberg defended the practice on his WOR radio show, "the kids think they're going to get stopped, so they don't carry the gun. And if you can't do that, you turn the city over to the criminals, literally overnight."

The post-Bloomberg NYPD is not about to let the city revert to a scene from "The Warriors" without a fight, so instead of instilling citizens with the fear that they can be stopped and searched for no reason at any time, they want the public to know that they are there, all the time, and always watching. If that sounds Orwellian to you, you're not alone. Surico writes of "Omnipresence":

"That's the comically Orwellian (and completely fucking terrifying) name for the freshest tactic in the NYPD playbook. To her, the bright beams mean one thing: The cops are here until dawn."

Unlike stop and frisk, very little public information exists on Omnipresence. It's barely google-able. Surico cites a single article in the The New York Times as the only other major outfit to report on it at all. The NYPD has made no public statements explaining the tactic. It's just there. 

Perhaps Mayor Bill de Blasio and his NYPD Commissioner William Bratton learned from the mistakes of their predecessors, who clung to stop and frisk even as it became a public relations disaster for them. During the trial of stop and frisk, Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain and New York State Senator testified that then-NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly hoped that stop and frisk would "instill fear" in the young men of Gotham's high crime areas, and that would in turn keep guns off the street. 

The experience of all-night flood lights on courtyards and the always unnerving sight of flashing police cruiser lights might just be instilling the fear Kelly envisioned. And by avoiding belligerent public pronouncements of impending anarchy, the new bosses can claim to be post-stop-and-frisk reformers. 

Still, with a name like "Omnipresence," it's going to be hard for the NYPD to keep this a secret for too long. 

Reason TV reported on the stop and frisk trial in 2013: