By Brynn Gingras, Travis Caldwell and Emma Tucker, CNN
The second New York Police Department officer who was shot while responding to a domestic incident in Harlem last week has died, the NYPD commissioner said.
“It’s with great sadness I announce the passing of Police Officer Wilbert Mora,” NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said on Twitter. “Wilbert is 3 times a hero. For choosing a life of service. For sacrificing his life to protect others. For giving life even in death through organ donation. Our heads are bowed & our hearts are heavy.”
Mora, 27, and Officer Jason Rivera, 22, were fatally shot Friday when a suspected gunman opened fire in a Harlem apartment, authorities said. The suspect, Lashawn McNeil, tried to run but was confronted and shot by a third officer on the scene, police said. McNeil died on Monday.
Mora and Rivera are just two of five NYPD officers who have been shot in the nation’s largest city in the first month of 2022. In addition, a woman was pushed onto the subway tracks in Times Square and a baby was hit in the face by crossfire in the Bronx.
These acts of violence under a new city administration — coming off a year that saw an increase in homicides — have dramatically changed the tenor of policing in New York City over the course of just a few days.
Now, as officials enact plans to stem violent crime and illegal gun ownership, the city is preparing for the return of plainclothes units that had been disbanded nearly two years earlier.
Mayor Eric Adams, a former New York Police Department captain who began his term less than four weeks ago, touted his law and order experience during the election campaign. Now, lawlessness has become his biggest immediate challenge following a spate of high-profile attacks on residents and police alike.
Attacks at subway stations — with people being pushed onto the tracks — has transportation officials warning riders to stay away from the edge of platforms.
“I don’t want to tell people that they should stand on subway platforms and feel like they’re, you know, they’re in threat of their lives,” Metropolitan Transit Authority chair and CEO Janno Lieber told CNN affiliate WABC on Sunday. “But everybody should stand away from the edge of the platform.”
To try to provide greater security on city streets, Adams said a plainclothes unit will be reinstituted within the next three weeks to curb rising crime and gun violence.
“We have to make sure we don’t continue to put dangerous people back on the street and continue the flow of guns in our cities,” Adams told CNN’s John Berman on Tuesday on “New Day.”
The unit will patrol in unmarked vehicles while wearing clothing identifying officers as law enforcement, Adams announced Monday, adding that the new unit will be in addition to those already on the streets since August who patrol in unmarked vehicles while wearing police uniforms.
The mayor also laid out in a “Blueprint to End Gun Violence” goals to improve mental health care, launch a new youth engagement program to intercept those at risk from potential criminal behavior, improve communication between legal jurisdictions and increase the number of judges available.
“New Yorkers will see and feel these changes quickly,” Adams said. “We will ramp up enforcement, deploy more officers on the streets and in the subways, and get our courts at full capacity.”
Shooting of two officers spurred city action
While Adams made no secret during his campaign that he wanted a more active police force, the speed in which events were put in motion was hastened by the shooting death of Officer Rivera on Friday.
The gun used in Friday’s shooting, a Glock 45, was stolen from Baltimore in 2017 and had a magazine that can hold up to 40 additional rounds, according to NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig.
The suspect had another gun under his mattress, Adams said Monday.
“He could have emptied out his 40 (bullets) and still had another automatic assault weapon for every responding officer who responded,” he said.
The availability of illegal firearms has been paid particular attention, with Gov. Kathy Hochul announcing a multistate effort with federal authorities to get more weapons off the street.
Services for Rivera will take place Thursday and Friday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York said.
Sewell, the NYPD Commissioner, announced Mora’s death in an internal memo provided to CNN by a law enforcement official.
“The grief in this Department is incalculable. We will stand, salute and shed tears, yet manage to smile as we remember him during the extremely difficult days ahead,” she said.
“Police officers Wilbert Mora and Jason Rivera were dedicated, courageous and compassionate officers, loved by many. The pain their families feel is immeasurable. We pray for them; we will be strong for them.”
“You put yourselves in harm’s way every day to make this city safer. You are honoring the legacy and sacrifice of Jason and Wilbert, all while keeping our solemn vow to never forget our two fallen heroes.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement that Mora was “a hero until the end.”
“Officer Mora and his partner, Officer Jason Rivera, showed courage in the face of imminent danger to protect New Yorkers,” James said. “Their bravery exemplified their commitment to protecting the city they loved. Both will forever be remembered as heroes who dedicated their lives to making New York safer and stronger,” James said.
Patrick Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association police union, said Mora “will live on in the heart of every New York City police officer from this day forward” and that he “showed us what it means to carry out our mission with courage, skill and humanity.”
Critics worry new units will be a return to old ways
As the city moves forward with the return of plainclothes units, some community leaders and advocates are questioning whether the mayor’s plan is an appropriate course of action.
Some critics derided plainclothes units for years as counterproductive and argued they were a relic from the stop-and-frisk era of policing, used instead as a bludgeoning tool that more negatively affected Black and brown communities.
Rivera had prior experience with the stop-and-frisk policy before joining the force. Writing to a commanding officer while in police academy less than two years ago, he detailed a negative experience with his brother who was frisked, and said he was moved by later NYPD efforts to get away from such tactics.
He wanted to be the first person in his family to become a police officer in what he called “the greatest police force in the world,” he wrote, intent on pursuing a career.
The NYPD reassigned plainclothes officers off such assignments in 2020, closing a controversial chapter of the city’s anti-crime units.
And a group of public defender groups — while lauding other aspects of the mayor’s initiative on mental health and youth services — expressed reservations about bringing back such units.
“Reinstating the NYPD’s Anti-Crime Unit without also addressing the culture and policies that drove that unit’s decades-long pattern of harassment and violence targeting Black and brown New Yorkers is a mistake,” The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders and The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and Queens Defenders said in a joint statement Monday.
“Today’s announcement gives the community members who live with the legacy of hyper-aggressive policing no comfort that Mayor Adams’s Anti-Crime Unit will be different from its predecessors,” the statement said. “The Mayor must focus on addressing long standing problems with NYPD’s culture of impunity before he doubles down on strategies that will only perpetuate the harms of that culture.”
Mayor has ‘unique ability and credibility’
The rise in violent crime and the recent shootings of police officers are not unprecedented circumstances for a New York City mayor who is just taking office, according to Susan Kang, associate professor of political science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
What is unique, Kang said, is how quickly the five shootings occurred within just a short period of time after Adams was inaugurated.
“In terms of a political narrative and the way it dominates the news cycle, it’s certainly making a strong impression on people’s assessment of Mayor Adams,” Kang said.
“The increased perceptions of violence matter and they put Adams in a tough spot because he really sold himself as the guy who would make public safety a backbone of his campaign,” she added. “I think it was a mistake because a lot of aspects of public safety are not related to things that a mayor can necessarily do. A lot of it has to do with larger socioeconomic issues.”
Kang said Adams is tasked with figuring out a way to “placate his critics” as there are concerns police reform efforts will be scaled backward in an “attempt to weed out the gun violence.”
Stu Loeser, former press secretary for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, told CNN that the recent shootings of NYPD officers have presented Adams with the right time and public attention to roll out his policing agenda.
“I don’t think any mayor other than Eric Adams, in his third week in office, could propose a massive reshaping of criminal justice reform in New York,” Loeser said.
Adams’ mayoral campaign focused on the message that he has the “unique ability and credibility” to spur changes in policing while improving public safety, Loeser said.
“He knows more about policing than anyone else in politics,” he said. “He ran on the premise that he was able to fix this as a career police officer, as someone who performed within the police department throughout his career.”
In an interview before Mora’s death was announced, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards told CNN the fatal shooting of Rivera, who wanted to improve the relationship between officers and the public, “struck a different chord” across the city in many Black and Brown communities that continue to call for better policing.
“As we talk about crime perception versus reality, when we see officers being shot — whether it’s a perception problem, whether murders are down, whether shootings are down, is beside the question,” Richards said. “If the people who we trust to protect us and serve us are not safe in the streets, how can the everyday New Yorker walk down the block and feel safe?”
Adams, who is only the second Black mayor in the city’s history, has said he is keenly aware of overcoming the gaps between communities and a police agency historically at odds.
“There’s a subtext to this story that I don’t want to be missed,” he said at a vigil for the officers Saturday. “The three officers that were involved, two of them were born outside this country, one in India and one in the Dominican Republic, the third is a first generation.”
“And so when you start talking about the contribution of the immigrant community to this city, you better understand the reality that they are putting their lives on the line for the city and country that they love,” he said.
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CNN’s Sonia Moghe, Kristina Sgueglia, Kiely Westhoff, Artemis Moshtaghian, Mark Morales, Laura Ly, Melanie Schuman, Rob Frehse, Shimon Prokupecz, Holly Yan, Dakin Andone and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.