Faced with the first targeted killings of New York City police officers in years, the city’s police leaders ratcheted up precautions for their vast patrol force on Sunday as officials described the predatory final movements of a gunman bent on killing officers.
“Watch what I’m going to do,” the man told two strangers on a Brooklyn street moments before moving toward a marked police car, armed with a silver Taurus handgun.
The man, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, circled the car — No. 4324 — parked just off Myrtle Avenue before approaching from behind. He fired four shots through the closed window of the passenger side and fled, pursued by two Con Edison utility workers who happened to witness the attack.
Both officers died in the fusillade, which roiled a city already on edge from weeks of protests over police practices.
On Sunday, some of those who had been protesting days before held a candlelight vigil in Harlem, while in Brooklyn, the police commissioner, William J. Bratton, visited the memorial emerging at the site where Officers Wenjian Liu, 32, and Rafael Ramos, 40, were shot dead.
President Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, called Mr. Bratton on Sunday to offer condolences as Jeh Johnson, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, visited the Brooklyn precinct where the slain officers worked.
As the city was thrust into mourning, with flags lowered and police badges ribboned in black, the way Mr. Brinsley had stalked the officers set off a bunker mentality across the department. Officers who in recent weeks had felt besieged by political attacks found themselves contemplating the specter of far greater peril.
From Brownsville, Brooklyn, to Memphis, at least a dozen violent threats against the police on social media stoked fear and prompted rapid investigations. Most, so far, were found to pose no credible risk to officers.
Mr. Brinsley, a Brooklyn native with a troubled past and a history of arrests mostly in Georgia and Ohio, had made a series of similar online threats before the killings, which officials called an “assassination.” He drifted in and out of jail and the lives of his relatives, who told the police of undiagnosed mental problems. And hours before he killed the officers, he tried to kill an ex-girlfriend in Maryland, the police said.
New York City officers going out on foot patrol were directed to work only in pairs. Sentries were posted outside station houses. The department suspended patrols by auxiliary officers — thousands of unarmed volunteers who act as the eyes and ears of the department in many communities. Detectives, who usually operate alone or in pairs, were told by the head of their union to go out in teams of three.
Taken together, the orders represented a retrenchment by a department that over the past year had been hewing to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s aim of easing strains between the police and many communities.
Instead, the ambush killing threatened to reverse that goal. A day after the killings, the top uniformed chief, James P. O’Neill, chief of department, told officers, especially commanders newly freed to ply social media, to limit all comments about the deaths to condolences for their two colleagues.
“They were assassinated — targeted for their uniform, and for the responsibility they embraced: to keep the people of this city safe,” read a message Mr. Bratton sent to all 35,000 members of the department, the nation’s largest. “Be safe.”
Meanwhile, a flurry of notices by police union leaders stopped short of urging members not to respond to calls for help, but prescribed steps for putting their own safety first, whether that created a deployment problem for commanders or not. The changes could reverse two decades of policing conceived by Mr. Bratton in his first stint as city police commissioner, and push the force into a reactive, rather than proactive, mode.
“Make sure officers are backing each other up at all radio runs,” said Lou Turco, president of the Lieutenant’s Benevolent Association. “Your main job is to ensure the safety of yourselves and your officers.”
The messages followed a stunning display of disapproval and disrespect as several police officers, led by Patrick J. Lynch of the patrolman’s union and Edward D. Mullins of the sergeants’ union, turned their backs of Mayor de Blasio as he entered a news briefing late Saturday at Woodhull Hospital.
That moment of tension stood in contrast to the outpouring of support for the officers and their families. The 13-year-old son of Officer Ramos, Jaden, wrote an emotional farewell to his father on Facebook that captured the mood of most in uniform and many outside of it.
“This is the worst day of my life,” he wrote. “It’s horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. Everyone says they hate cops but they are the people that they call for help.”
For weeks before the shooting, Mr. Brinsley frequently posted, to his Instagram account, antigovernment, anti-police messages. At the same time, he shared thoughts of personal despair, Chief Robert K. Boyce, the chief of detectives, said Sunday.
Mr. Brinsley’s family told the police of his troubled childhood marked by episodes of violence. But any mental health issues went “undiagnosed,” his mother told investigators.
“He may been on meds later on in life,” Chief Boyce said.
Despite a history of 20 arrests and a prison sentence for a loaded firearm, when Mr. Brinsley shot his 29-year-old former girlfriend, Shaneka Thompson, in the stomach early Saturday in Owings Mills, Md., it was “the only real act of violence that we could find in his career,” Chief Boyce said.
Less than 20 minutes after shooting her, Mr. Brinsley called her mother with Ms. Thompson’s iPhone to apologize and several times later to check on her condition. “I hope she lives,” he said at 6:05 a.m. “I shot her by accident.”
As Mr. Brinsley rode north on Interstate 95 in a Bolt bus, officers in Baltimore County were tracking the pings on the phone.
Once he arrived in New York City just before 11 a.m., Mr. Brinsley promised even greater violence, this time directed at the police, in Instagram postings. He invoked the memory of two unarmed black men who died in altercations with the police, Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Mr. Brinsley discarded the iPhone outside Barclays Center. Officers said he was familiar with the city: He was born in Brooklyn, where his mother lives; his sister is in the Bronx. He had been to the city at least once in the week before the killings.
Somehow, he made his way to central Brooklyn, emerging on Tompkins Avenue, off Myrtle Avenue, in Bedford-Stuyvesant. There, he struck up a conversation with two men, Chief Boyce said, and said three things.
“He asked them for their gang affiliation; he asked them to follow him on Instagram, and then he says, ‘Watch what I’m going to do,’ ” said Chief Boyce.
Mr. Brinsley went north on Tompkins. He passed the patrol car with Officers Liu and Ramos inside. He circled, crossed the street and came up behind the car. From the sidewalk, he fired four bullets. He ran.
Two men in a Con Edison truck saw the shooting and, rather than running away, sped after Mr. Brinsley. They shouted to nearby officers, pointing toward Mr. Brinsley, who then descended into a G train subway entrance on Myrtle and Marcy Avenues. Chief Boyce praised the heroism of the utility workers.
On the street in a cacophony of sirens frantic shouts, officers converged on their shot colleagues. The fatally wounded officers were lifted from the patrol car, each into a separate ambulance that sped away trailed by a stream of blaring police cars. Around the car lay the officers’ bloody bullet-resistant vests, a gun belt and bits of glass.
Other officers flooded the subway platform. There Mr. Brinsley was discovered. His last shot was a bullet to his temple, which officials said he fired himself.
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