NYPD competed with anti-LGBTQ Chechen authorities in Dubai

NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban visited Dubai after members of the department's emergency services unit traveled there earlier this year.
NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban visited Dubai after members of the department’s emergency services unit traveled there earlier this year.
Dean Moses

The NYPD’s emergency services unit recently participated in an international “swat challenge” in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) — where homosexuality is illegal — alongside dozens of international police agencies, including security forces from the Russian region of Chechnya, where authorities have gained international notoriety for torturing and murdering LGBTQ individuals.

New York City cops traveled to Dubai to participate in the competition to “learn from each other,” an NYPD official said in a video on X posted by the UAE Swat Challenge, which is the official name of the Dubai-based event. The competition was created as a way for police departments around the world to “connect with fellow experts, share strategies, and experience the latest in tactical equipment and technology,” according to the UAE Swat Challenge’s Website. The police squads participated in several different kinds of drills, from shooting contests to physical drills.

The Guardian first reported about the NYPD’s participation in the event. According to Politico, NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban also visited Dubai later in the month and met with UAE officials.

The website for the UAE event shows that the teams in attendance included the Chechen Akhmat Kadyrov, which, in addition to its documented anti-LGBTQ purges, was responsible for Russia’s barbaric siege of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol and other military excursions associated with Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Among other attendees included police forces from Belarus, which is under Russia’s sphere of influence and has been heavily sanctioned by the United States for aiding the Kremlin’s war effort in Ukraine. 

As for the Chechen group, it did not just participate in the event — it played a prominent role. The Akhmat squad won one of the competitions known as a tower event, which put the unit in the spotlight. Adam Kadyrov, whose father, Ramzan Kadyrov, is known for barbaric and deadly treatment of LGBTQ people in Chechyna, took part in a ceremony honoring his squad for their victory.

“Their remarkable achievements were celebrated in a grand honoring ceremony, where His Excellency Major General Abdullah Ali Al Ghaithi, assistant commander-in-chief for operations affairs at Dubai Police, in the presence of Adam Kadyrov, son of the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, senior officers, UAE SWAT Challenge’s sponsors, partners, and a global audience, awarded the winners their well-deserved trophies and accolades,” the UAE Swat Challenge website stated.

A widely-known documentary called “Welcome to Chechnya” outlines the horrific treatment of LGBTQ people in Chechnya, where queer people have faced beatings, murders, threats, and imprisonment.

A 2018 report published by an intergovernmental group called the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) found that anti-LGBTQ purges in Chechyna involved police kidnappings of civilians at homes, at work, or on the roadside. The report said victims were brought to a police station, where they were told they were taken “because you are faggots” and beaten in interrogation rooms, leading them with broken bones.

The NYPD, it turns out, has apparently attended the event for years, according to the UAE Swat Challenge’s website. The NYPD is listed as having also participated in 2023, 2022, and 2020. There was no event for 2021, presumably because of COVID. 

“Seeing other police departments and their training methods and what they do and how they maneuver I think is very important and vital,” Carlos Valdez of the NYPD’s emergency services unit said in a video posted on X by the UAE Swat Challenge. “We should always learn from each other and I think that’s the most important thing to take out of this — not just for my team but for all the teams…”

The NYPD then responded with a post of its own, saying, “In a friendly competition, our @NYPDSpecialops Emergency Service Unit team partook in the @swat_challenge and got to showcase their training and techniques—special thanks to @DubaiPoliceHQ for their invitation.”

Lyosha Gorshkov, an out gay professor who was exiled from his home country of Russia due to homophobic persecution and later founded the Brighton Beach Pride March in Brooklyn, described the NYPD’s participation in the event as “very disturbing” and “crazy.” In an interview with Gay City News, Gorshkov said he took issue with the NYPD’s proximity to the Chechen group as well as the police department’s decision to travel to UAE when it is known for its anti-LGBTQ laws.

“I’m surprised, but I’m not surprised,” said Gorshkov, who is a founding leader of RUSA LGBTQ+, a network of Russian-speaking queer people in New York City and other parts of the US. “To participate in some shady institution with criminals sanctioned by the US — I don’t know what benefit it brings. What are they trying to prove? We know Kadyrov started [attacks] against queer people and it is ongoing.”

Given the NYPD’s participation in the event, Gorshkov also raised questions about the authenticity of the department’s 2019 apology for its abuses of queer people at the Stonewall Uprising.

“I was skeptical then — and now they’re basically doing the opposite,” he said. “It is not surprising the NYPD did something like that because, by default, they are not protecting human rights. If they went to Sweden or the UK, I would have a different opinion.”

The NYPD did not respond to multiple emails or phone calls seeking comment for this story about its participation in the event or who funded the trip to Dubai.