By Kevin Deutsch
An eight-man team of NYPD Emergency Service Unit members went on an all-expenses-paid trip to the United Arab Emirates earlier this month to compete in a SWAT competition—an event which doubled as a propaganda tool for the UAE’s ruling monarchy, Bronx Justice News has learned.
The oil-rich Emirates–which foot the bill for the NYPD team’s entire trip–has a long history of human rights abuses that include police crackdowns on speech, secret detention of citizens, and state-sponsored disappearing of political dissidents. The UAE is considered a police state by most of the international community.
The NYPD team was one of just four U.S. law enforcement agencies invited to compete in the UAE SWAT Challenge, which ran from Feb. 10 to 14 in Dubai and included cash prizes for the winners, organizers said. The other American agencies were the Flagler, Alachua, and Osceola County sheriff’s offices in Florida, The Florida Times-Union reported.
The American teams flew in several days before the event began in order to prepare, officials said. At least 48 teams form 29 countries participated in the challenge, which included sniper and tactical contests.
The NYPD trip, including travel and accommodations, came from funds controlled by the UAE’s Ministry of Interior and Dubai Police.
The competition jury consisted of NYPD and Dubai Police members, with the Dubai team finishing in first place, organizers said.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding its members’ visit to the UAE, or whether they were paid by the department while abroad. ESU members routinely conduct tactical training at the NYPD’s Rodman’s Neck facility in Peham Bay Park in the Bronx.
An NYPD detective confirmed the NYPD’s participation in the UAE event in a video interview recorded during the competition. The event’s Twitter account also posted a photo of the NYPD team’s arrival in Dubai.
“We don’t really do this stuff, this is a first time invitation that we got that we had about a month to prepare for,” Detective John Nodalny of ESU told GulfNews.com.
“I just want to say thank you for the invitation here,” Nodalny said.
To improve its reputation, UAE’s government has gone on an international spending blitz in recent years, making large donations to a number of municipal governments and law enforcement foundations across the U.S.
The UAE and NYPD have links that go back nearly a decade. In 2017, UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba met with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill to announce a $2 million grant to the New York City Police Foundation. Another $1 million donation was made to the foundation in 2012.
An NYPD anti-terrorism detective has been posted in the UAE since 2009 as part of the NYPD Intelligence Division’s International Liaison Program. In 2013, then NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly signed an agreement with the UAE to “help enhance the department’s worldwide counterterrorism efforts and share information on training methods,” according to a press release issued by UAE’s American embassy.
Police in the Emirates use cameras and facial recognition technology to conduct mass surveillance on citizens and help stifle dissent, international monitors say. The government also closely monitors social media for anti-government posts, and police routinely make arrests for “defamation.”
None of the press materials released by the UAE as part of the SWAT contest mentioned those tactics. Instead, they heaped praise on the hometown team.
“Besides Dubai’s pursuit of the most advanced technology in crime prevention, policing and forensics, the Dubai SWAT team is a tactical force of strategy and endurance that ranks with the world’s best,” organizers wrote on the event website.