Mr. Adams began as a transit police officer, patrolling the subway or in a radio car, later using his associate degree in data processing to work on the department’s computer programs that tracked crime. In 1995, he became a member of the Police Department after the transit police was absorbed by the bigger agency.
On the force, he was not known as a dynamic, run-and-gun street cop.
“I wouldn’t say Eric was an aggressive cop, but he was competent,” said David Tarquini, who worked in the same command.
Randolph Blenman, who patrolled with Mr. Adams when both were transit officers, called him “a thinking man’s officer,” whether they were arresting someone or helping them. “He always did his best to get his point across without losing his composure,” Mr. Blenman said.
Mr. Adams moved up the ranks by taking tests, rising first to sergeant, then to lieutenant, and eventually to captain. But any further promotions would have been discretionary, and perhaps unavailable to Mr. Adams because of his outspokenness.
Instead, Mr. Adams quickly became well-known for his activism. He signed up with the Guardians upon joining the force, and ultimately became its leader.
Another officer, Caudieu Cook, recalled Mr. Adams working out with him and other young Black officers at a Brooklyn gym in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Mr. Cook said he was focused on getting in shape, while Mr. Adams spoke of his vision for the department and the city. His story of being beaten by the police as a child resonated with the others. Unlike him, they feared retaliation if they spoke out.
“You have to be very careful when you speak out against injustices because you could get ostracized,” Mr. Cook said. Mr. Adams, he said, “was just a driven, motivated cat.”