New York AG Recommends Systemic Reform At NYPD After Review Of Protest Response

Mack Rosenberg
July 08, 2020 - 3:53 pm
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    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — New York State Attorney General Letitia James has released a preliminary report of her investigation into the NYPD's response to the recent protests over George Floyd's death.

    Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked the attorney general's office to launch the investigation on May 30, following violent clashes between police and protesters.

    Incidents during the protests included Molotov cocktails being thrown at police vehicles and NYPD cruisers lurching into crowds. Some officers were disciplined by the department for actions observed during the protests, including one officer who was seen on video roughly shoving a protester to the ground and another officer taking a demonstrator's mask off and pepper spraying him in the face.

    James said the 57-page report includes in-depth accounts of interactions between police and protesters between late May and June, recommendations for systemic police reforms — including removing unilateral power from the NYPD commissioner in favor of a commission, and areas of specific concern that will continue to be the focus of the investigation, which remains ongoing.

    “After 30 days of intense scrutiny, it is impossible to deny that many New Yorkers have lost faith in law enforcement,” stated James. “We must bridge the undeniable divide between the police and the public, and this preliminary report, and the recommendations included, is an important step forward. We must begin the hard work of reevaluating the role of police in society and ensuring that there are mechanisms for public oversight, accountability, and input. Progress is possible, but, first, change and accountability are needed.”

    James said "it is clear that real, meaningful reform cannot wait" and proposed a series of systemic changes that she believes the NYPD should implement "to address the concerns of the public and to start building community trust."

    Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch says the report "reached a foregone conclusion."

    “Instead of an impartial review of the protests and their aftermath, the report tells only one side of the story and delivers reheated proposals that have been part of the anti-police agenda for decades," Lynch said in a statement. "If the goal is to heal the rift between police officers and the public, that won’t be achieved without giving meaningful consideration to the perspective of police officers on the street.”

    Though, the attorney general said many New Yorkers have lost faith in law enforcement and she's calling for a seismic shift in how NYPD personnel, from officers right up to the commissioner, are hired and fired.

    "The police should not police themselves," James said. "And it's important again that not one individual, i.e. the police commissioner have sole discretion over so many functions over the police."

    She also wants a redesign in the roles of police officers, saying they are tasked with doing things that have little to do with solving crimes.

    "Such as conducting outreach to the homeless, responding to mental health crises, enforcing petty infractions, and overseeing school attendance and discipline," James said.

    She also recommends a codified  use of force policy.

    "Police are instilled with awesome power by the public, and the public should have a clear and direct say over how that power is used and what constitutes an unacceptable abuse of that power," James said.

    The following recommendations are included in the attorney general's report:

    — It is imperative that the public has input and oversight into police policies and leadership. The NYPD must be overseen by a commission that has the authority to hire and fire NYPD leadership, including the Commissioner; has unfettered access to records; and approves NYPD’s budget. The NYPD must also be required to seek public input on any rule it changes or implements that impacts the public. This model takes unilateral power away from the Police Commissioner and ensures that the police are accountable to the public.

    — The role of police in New York City must be examined and redesigned. Police have become the de facto response to many of society’s problems — including mental illness, homelessness, and school safety — and that must change. Minor offenses should be decriminalized with the goal of reducing negative contact with the police, particularly in communities of color. This effort should be led by a transparent commission with full-time staff and resources to determine how to remove armed officers from these scenarios and replace them with dedicated professionals with specialized training. This process will take time, but bureaucracy cannot stand in the way of progress. The commission should have no more than 12 months to prepare a roadmap, and the goal should be to transition these areas by 2023.

    — The system to hold individual officers accountable must be both independent of NYPD and transparent to the public. To achieve this, the authority of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) must be expanded and strengthened to have final disciplinary authority. Additionally, all police officers in New York should be certified through a process that allows for “decertifying” officers engaged in misconduct, preventing them from remaining a police officer or being rehired by another department in the state. The NYPD should create an open data portal and release body-worn camera footage to ensure that individual officer misconduct is truly transparent.

    — To achieve full oversight of systemic issues within NYPD, the authority of the Office of Inspector General should be expanded, and the office should no longer report to the Commissioner of the Department of Investigation. Instead, it should report directly to the New York City Mayor and be a fully independent agency.

    — Many of the standards related to officer use of force that are reflected in NYPD’s Patrol Guide are not codified in law, meaning disciplinary actions for use of force are ultimately determined by the Police Commissioner. Police officers must be held to uniform standards on use of non-lethal and deadly force and face meaningful consequences for violations. This establishes legal consequences for improper use of force, instead of a violation of the Patrol Guide, which is subject to internal consequences.

    More than 100 witnesses, including protesters, elected officials, community organizations and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, gave testimony during public hearings last month.

    The attorney general's office also received more than 1,300 complaints and pieces of evidence, as well as 300 submissions of written testimony. Many of the complaints were about police using excessive force.

    The office will continue to probe police tactics and arrest-related practices used during the protests, including the use of "kettling" which often led to violent clashes as police surrounded protesters and blocked them from leaving a certain area.

    The investigation is also looking into reports of officers arresting and using force against members of the press and essential workers. It is also reviewing complaints about members of the NYPD failing to wear personal protective equipment, covering their badges and allegedly using racist hand gestures.

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