‘There’s a lot of trepidation’: New NYPD ‘Game Truck’ met with mixed reaction of both praise and skepticism

The New York Police Department this month rolled out a video “game truck” in an effort to connect with youth, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, where community relations with law enforcement have been strained thanks to generations of mistrust. But despite the NYPD’s stated intent, the game truck program has its critics.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

- Hey, everybody. We're up here in the Bronx. And we're inside the new NYPD game truck. This right here is going to be the game changer this summer. We're coming out to your block. We're coming out to your neighborhood. This is going to be our great way to connect with our communities, our young people, our families, making sure our young people have a safe summer, a safe space, and just know that the NYPD here to support them. So I want everybody to be looking out for the NYPD game truck. It will be in your neighborhood. It will be on your block this summer.

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KIRK BURKHALTER: My name is Professor Kirk Burkhalter. I am a professor of law at New York Law School. And I'm also a retired New York City detective, a first grade detective. I served with the New York City Police Department for 20 years.

My initial reaction on the game truck was somewhat mixed. So the police department certainly has a long history of attempting to engage with youth with extracurricular activities, not so much educational activities but just forming a bond. So this certainly follows a tradition.

However, that being said, I will say as a parent-- my kids are older. They're not longer kids even though I call them that. It's hard for me to encourage kids to-- they already sit at home quite often for many hours, playing video games and so forth. And it's difficult to encourage that activity. There is no doubt in my mind that it is absolutely well-intentioned by the police department.

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OLAYEMI OLURIN: My name is Olayemi Olyurin. And I'm a public defender at the Legal Aid Society. My first reaction would be to roll my eyes. It's not shock, and it's not even really disappointment because I'm used to this kind of behavior from them.

I think some people might like to believe that it's well-intentioned. But I think it really just reflects the magnitude by which they intertwine themselves into our communities because even if you think that you need something or you need games or they need something, in other communities, they don't have to rely on police intervention or having to interact with the police in order to have it.

We could just provide resources as a charity. A charity could just give money to communities. Or the city could give money to the communities for them to be able to charter their own course. But instead, you create another means for police to be more deeply embedded in the same communities that are going to be profiling, arresting and incarcerating there. And it's really just another means of indoctrinating people into believing the police are necessary.

KIRK BURKHALTER: So there certainly is a lot of trepidation for children and young adults to participate or engage with the game truck based on the opportunity, perhaps, for capturing data and DNA and so forth. And I understand that fear. The other thing to remember is that this can happen anywhere.

When you apply for a job, your handwriting sample, there are so many jobs where you are fingerprinted and there's a background check. So it's not only the police department that collects data as such. And quite frankly, as an investigator, it would be far easier for me to go to your home and sift through your trash outside and grab a straw or a cup or a hairbrush and collect your DNA that way than to wait for you to enter a game truck. So I don't think the purpose of the game drunk at all is to just stockpile data on individuals.

OLAYEMI OLURIN: If you don't want community to feel this way about you, listen to the needs and demands of the community. But instead, for the last at least year but since inception, the communities have been saying exactly what they don't want from NYPD. They don't want NYPD engaging in this kind of violence, engaging in these different tactics.

NYPD says, no, we're going to show up at your protests heavily armed and resist that. So to me, it's like, we've told them, we've told NYPD and we've told the police departments what they need to do to make relations better. It's not going to be a game truck. It's abide by the law and respect people's rights and their autonomy to walk freely in their own communities instead of piling yourselves into the communities and then policing other people's behavior. So it's not a game truck.

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