Top NYPD brass took pains Friday to allay fears that a new unit of counterterrorism cops might be patrolling political demonstrations with heavy weapons.
"They are not going to be handling protests, demonstrations, [or do] crime work in precincts," Chief of Department James O'Neill told reporters about the planned unit of critical response vehicles -- dubbed CRVs -- which will be part of the city's counterterrorism effort.
O'Neill had to clarify the unit's duties after some media reports indicated the heavily armed cops would be toting large automatic rifles and even machine guns at demonstrations, something that unnerved some activists.
The confusion stemmed from a speech Commissioner William Bratton gave Thursday to the New York City Police Foundation in which he appears to have misstated the roles of two new units being planned as a result of the NYPD reorganization.
In describing the job of a new "strategic response group," Bratton said the unit would be involved in "advance disorder control and counterterror" activities. Bratton added the SRG cops would be able to deal with "events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris."
Moments later, Bratton, who a source said was getting the flu, mentioned that the CRV cops would be part of a different unit that he didn't describe in detail.
Reports that counterterror cops would be used in demonstrations angered the nonprofit Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, which said Bratton was targeting free speech activity and comparing protesters to terrorists.
However, Bratton in his speech conflated the CRV unit's exclusive counterterrorism job with the SRG unit and the department's other crowd control, resulting in the confusion, a police official said.