The ‘Distracted Police Book’ Is a Zine Made for Eric Adams
An artist collective drummed up more photos of cops on their phones than they could fill a zine with.
12:39 PM EDT on May 19, 2023
Last April, Mayor Eric Adams gave New Yorkers an assignment: If you see a cop in a subway station looking at their phone, snap a pic and alert the Mayor's Office. “New Yorkers, you see that, send me a photo and I will be at that station,” he said. Now, a little more than a year later, a group of artists is answering the mayor's call—with a 132-page photobook.
Aptly titled "Distracted Police Book," the zine, as the group Exit Plan put it, "shows exactly how the NYPD like to allocate their time. Playing Candy Crush and texting their side-piece, not keeping us safe." In other words—cops "doing what they do best, fucking nothing."
Exit Plan, whose work generally focuses on the city's "urban exploration" community, has printed 1,000 copies of the zine for sale at a release party on Saturday, including 100 "limited edition" versions for $50 each that come packaged in an evidence bag, along with a sticker and a patch bearing a mock NYPD logo that says "Distracted Police, City of New York." Regular editions are $30 a book, and the collective plans on donating the majority of the book's proceeds to handing out backpacks full of winter gear and other supplies to the city's homeless residents.
We spoke to the three Exit Plan members who headed the project, who requested they remain anonymous. "Even though what we're doing is not illegal at all— we're literally just taking photos of police officers on their phone—it still puts a target on our back with the NYPD," one of the Exit Plan spokespeople told Hell Gate. (And yes, they do plan on sending the zine to Eric Adams.)
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Hell Gate: What was the inspiration for this zine?
X: This project kind of came about as a joke. I believe one of us saw the actual press conference of Eric Adams saying, "Send me a shot, New Yorkers, send me a photo and I'll be at that station." We all know that we see that on a daily basis when we're traveling around the city. I literally saw four or five distracted cops today.
Y: We just started taking photos for fun, but once we realized that we were seeing this everywhere, we said, "Oh, we can easily put a book together." Like, how funny would it be if we presented the mayor with an entire book of this kind of stuff? So it just escalated from there.
What's the game plan for making sure Eric Adams sees the zine?
X: We are going to send a copy to the Mayor's Office for sure. We've been trying to get it [to the mayor] in passing, too. It would be nice to actually hand it to him and explain what it is, because obviously it can get lost in the mail or maybe never even end up in his possession.
Y: It's hard to ensure that [Adams] sees it if we just send it. I've met Eric Adams personally a couple of times just walking around New York City, so I know if we're in the right place at the right time, we can just hand it to him—and all of us carry a copy of the book on us in case that were to happen. We definitely wanna get it to Eric Adams and have him eat his own words.
Has this project changed your perspective on the NYPD or policing in general?
X: At the end of the day, we all realize that it's kind of human nature for people to be on their phones. But I think I can speak for all of us when I say it's the one job you shouldn't be distracted at. You should be there one hundred percent of the time. Exit Plan does a lot of things that are illegal—we go into the train tunnels and we're on rooftops and bridges and things of that nature. So, the less distracted police are, the harder it is for us to do those things and document these beautiful places that we're not supposed to be in. But it is sad, in regards to seeing something happen and there not being police there to do exactly what they're supposed to be doing.
Y: Basically, they're in a position where they're not reacting when they should. And yes, it's human nature, yes, they're using it for their job. But another part of it is the fact that City funding went to something that will make it easier for police to be distracted and not do their jobs, as opposed to something else like housing, or mental health services, multiple services that a lot of people feel would be more useful.
Can you talk a little bit more about what you think the police are missing when they've got their eyes glued to their phones?
Z: When a train pulls up to a station, there's a lot of cops on platforms these days. But instead of being spread out throughout the platform to actually see what's going on on the train, you'll catch like five of them standing around a garbage can, showing each other photos of this and that. Maybe when the train pulls up, they'll all pick their heads up and see what's going on in the car in front of them, but what about all of the other ones? What are they doing for the greater good if there's this many people across the platform that can't really scream out or have any way of signaling them, because they're all in this isolated little area? I think that's a part of the point.
X: I've literally seen somebody being fucked with or messed with on the train, and, you know…New Yorkers are very, very good at minding their own business, unfortunately and fortunately. Then, that person who probably should have been stopped was not stopped, and you could see cops just sitting on their phones. I've watched them have altercations with somebody, and as soon as that person who started the altercation is out of the immediate area, the cops go right back to being on their phones instead of fully handling the situation.
What do you hope people who see the zine take away from it?
X: I hope people just laugh about it, but understand that it is...maybe not a serious issue, but it is a problem. To me, it seems like the one job you cannot be distracted at, and I know personally from jobs that I have had, I've been yelled at for being on my phone for doing something where somebody else could get injured! So it's just funny that cops, the people that have firearms, weapons, who can kill and do all types of things, are the people that are distracted?
Y: And even though we didn't focus on this too much, I want people to take away, "Well, damn. They put all this money into this, but why not put it into all the other services that the city has to offer?" The money [spent on policing] could have gone to something that was not encouraging the one position in New York City that needs to be the most aware at all times to be on their phones.
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