The NYPD’s Inspector General has just released a report on the department’s use of force and there’s nothing in it that’s good news. It finds that the problem begins at the top and only gets worse from there.
[T]his Report analyzes and evaluates NYPD’s disciplinary system, including a close review of cases where OIG-NYPD, through independent review, determined that the use of force was not reasonable by any standard and not justified by any exigent circumstances or the need to protect an officer’s or the public’s safety.Historically, NYPD has frequently failed to discipline officers who use force without justification.
This is a failure of management. The report notes that the department’s guidelines on force usage are so minimal they’re almost nonexistent.
NYPD’s current use-of-force policy is vague and imprecise, providing little guidance to individual officers on what actions constitute force. NYPD’s current use-of-force Patrol Guide procedure, which is barely more than a page of text, is completely silent on what actions constitute “force.” The Patrol Guide likewise prohibits “excessive force” while offering no clarity on what constitutes “excessive force.” Officers are given few clear-cut rules when determining whether their actions constitute force and whether such actions must be reported.
With nothing to go on, officers make up their own rules as they go. And they’re seldom punished for their actions. This ties in directly with the lack of guidance. It’s kind of hard to punish someone for violating guidelines that don’t exist. (When you have little desire to punish officer misconduct at all, the lack of solid force rules makes punishment almost impossible.)
On top of the limited guidance for use of force, the department does not instruct officers to use de-escalation tactics, only making the tiniest nod towards it when bringing in new officers.
NYPD spends only a portion of a four-and-a-half-hour course teaching de-escalation, out of 468 classroom hours—less than one percent of the curriculum. There is currently no Academy course specifically devoted to learning and practicing de-escalation techniques.
Excessive force complaints continue to mount. Officers abuse citizens and nothing happens. The amount of sustained complaints against NYPD officers is little more than a rounding error.
This total of 207 substantiated force allegations is based on the data provided to OIG-NYPD by CCRB. The total number of substantiated force allegations represents approximately 2.0% of the more than 10,000 allegations of force received by CCRB from 2010 to 2014.
The Inspector General found that the department not only had no guidance on use of force but nearly no standardized reporting on use-of-force incidents. In addition, when use-of-force complaints are substantiated by the CCRB (Civilian Complaint Review Board), NYPD management often delivered less severe disciplinary measures than those recommended by the Board.
And it’s not just a few “bad apples.” Officers involved in excessive force complaints were often accompanied by other officers who did nothing to rein in their colleagues. (From substantiated excessive force complaints.)
The second officer failed to intervene when the subject officer initially lost his temper and stood several feet away with his hands in his pockets. The second officer remained passive and did nothing to intervene or take control of the situation, even once the complainant was on the ground and the subject officer continued to yell at him.
Throughout the entire encounter, one of the four officers has been standing to the side observing the interaction. This officer does not intervene after the first, second, third, or fourth strike to the complainant’s face, and he does not even move. The officer stands passively, a few feet away, with his thumbs hooked in his belt. Only once the man is on the ground and has been struck a fifth and sixth time does that officer approach, place one hand on the subject officer’s back, and appear to intervene halfheartedly.
And even when complaints are substantiated (in the 2% of cases that actually make it that far), nothing happens. (From substantiated complaints.)
CCRB substantiated the force allegation against the subject officer, but heultimately received no discipline.
CCRB substantiated the force allegation against the subject officer. The other officers’ force allegations were exonerated by CCRB. At the time of the writing of this Report, no disciplinary decision has been reached in this case, despite the matter being in the NYPD disciplinary process for the past seven months.
CCRB substantiated the force allegation against the subject officer. No other force allegations were made against the other officers. Discipline was not imposed in this case because the statute of limitation expired before CCRB forwarded the case to NYPD for disciplinary disposition.
CCRB substantiated the two force allegations against the subject officer. At the time of the writing of this Report, no disciplinary decision has been reached in this case despite the matter being in the NYPD disciplinary process for the past 20 months.
The OIG recommends a complete overhaul of the NYPD’s use-of-force policies, as well as the creation of new incident reporting systems. The problem is that these recommendations are being handed to a police force that clearly has no interest in fixing its problems.
As noted, OIG-NYPD examined 104 substantiated allegations from the initial complaint through investigation, prosecution, and final decision. From these data, OIG-NYPD found that the trends initially observed in the January 2015 Chokehold Report are not an anomaly, but appear to be endemic of a larger dissonance between CCRB and NYPD. In a number of cases, the Department has failed to meet its fundamental obligation to police itself.
The NYPD’s culture is rotten. This may be the beginning of a departmental overhaul, but this seems unlikely. The NYPD has weathered plenty of negative reports from oversight, thousands of excessive force complaints and dozens of civil rights lawsuits without it appearing to have any impact on the rank-and-file, much less the department’s upper management.
What this report does do is provide the public with more data on just how screwed up the NYPD is. This may seem useless on its own, but it fits into the larger scheme of things. Every bit of data, every damning piece of cell phone footage, every substantiated claim — whether punished or not — strips a little more the protective paint off the thin blue line.
I have worked in Brooklyn for years, mainly in criminal defense. Brooklyn is, unfortunately, ahead of the curve when it comes to understanding the true nature of policing. Brooklyn juries are receptive to the idea that a cop would plant a gun on a suspect to push a false arrest. They are open to the argument that the word of a cop is worth very little. They understand these things because they have seen NYPD misconduct first hand. When the black woman on your jury has a son that has been arrested repeatedly for merely walking around his own neighborhood, she is going to have a healthy (and realistic) dose of skepticism about the police narrative.
I am optimistic. There is so much wrong with our system but the way we fight that is to open our mouths and tell our stories. That is why the Fault Lines project is so important. Police in this country have remained untouchable because we refuse to touch them. We are witnessing a cultural shift in the way people see cops. The stories of police abuse that are so common to Brooklyn are now common everywhere. With each story, the great American jury pool is turning.
Add the Inspector General’s report to the growing pile of evidence that police officers haven’t earned the unquestioning deference that has been afforded them for far too long.
by Tim Cushing for Tech Dirt