Inspector General: NYPD Poorly Tracks Excessive Force and Rarely Punishes It

The NYPD has rarely disciplined police officers who use excessive force—a behavior it poorly defines for cops and poorly track, according to a report from NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure.

Members of the NYPD. (Photo: Will Bredderman).
Members of the NYPD. (Photo: Will Bredderman). (Photo: Will Bredderman for Observer)

The NYPD has rarely disciplined police officers who use excessive force—a behavior it poorly defines and poorly tracks, according to a report from NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure, released just hours before Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is set to announce a new system to track uses of force.

“Historically, NYPD has frequently failed to discipline officers who use force without justification,” the report concludes, based on a review of 179 non-deadly cases in which the Civilian Complaint Review Board substantiated some 207 uses of force between 2010 and 2014.

The inspector general—who works under the umbrella of the Department of Investigation, lead by Commissioner Mark Peters—also found that the department’s procedure for documenting or reporting force is “fragmented across numerous forms,” with no unified system for tracking uses of force.

“NYPD operates on a patchwork system that only requires certain force incidents to be documented, and can vary from form to form,” Mr. Eure told reporters today at a briefing in lower Manhattan.

In addition to problems with discipline and tracking, the report also found that the NYPD’s patrol guide “does not properly instruct officers to de-escalate encounters with the public”—and that in some cases officers made the problem worse by escalating the conflict.

The report is likely to be a bit overshadowed by the announcement from Mr. Bratton later this afternoon, which was outlined in the New York Times this morning. While officers today are only required to report a use of force if it comes during an arrest—something the IG’s report suggests changing—the new system will require them to report a use of force in every interaction with the public.

“It’s not hand-in-hand in the sense that we’re an independent entity,” Mr. Peters said of today’s announcement from Mr. Bratton. “As to the reason that Commissioner Bratton has chosen last night and today to announce changes, and whether that’s a pure coincidence, is something you need to ask commissioner Bratton.”

But Mr. Peters said he believed the report did spur the changes being announced today, and that the department had been briefing the NYPD on the “serious problems” it had uncovered. Still, he said today’s announcement did not address all three of the problems in the report—monitoring, training to prevent excessive force, and disciplining officers for it.

“The changes announced today only deal with the first issue,” Mr. Peters said.

NYPD IG Philip Eure and DOI Commissioner Mark Peters at a previous press conference. (Photo: DOI)
NYPD IG Philip Eure and DOI Commissioner Mark Peters at a previous press conference. (Photo: DOI) Department of Investigation

Still, Mr. Peters and Mr. Eure deemed that first issue an important one, with Mr. Peters saying it was “absolutely unacceptable that there is not a central mechanism for tracking and reporting use of force.” And Mr. Eure said many other departments, including Mr. Bratton’s former department in Los Angeles, do track all uses of force whether an arrest is involved or not.

“NYPD was living a little bit in the dark ages,” Mr. Eure said.

It is not the first time the city has sought to get out ahead of one of Mr. Peters’ announcement—earlier this year Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would end its contract with the troubled medical provider at Rikers Island, Corizon, at the very same time Mr. Peters issued a report on the vendor. (Mr. Peters later told the Observer that such change is the goal, and that “independence is not isolation.”)

In compiling the report, the inspector general’s office conducted its own independent review of the CCRB complaints that substantiated use of force between 2010 and 2014, and the IG independently confirmed a use of excessive force in 104 of them. But in 37 of those cases, or 35.6 percent of the time, the NYPD did not discipline anyone, the report says.

“In the period reviewed, NYPD frequently failed to impose discipline even when provided with evidence of excessive force,” the report says.  

And the trend is toward less discipline, not more, the report found: between 2010 and 2013, the NYPD disciplined someone 44.1 percent of the timel in 2014 and 2015, it was just 11.1 percent.

Also at issue is how the officers found to have used excessive force should be disciplined—in a review of 92 substantiated use-of-force allegation, the IG’s office found that the NYPD opted for a lesser punishment than that recommended by the CCRB 67.4 percent of the time. That is becoming less common: in 2014 the rate of downgrading discipline dropped to 20 percent.

The report also argued that the department should do more to prevent the use of before it needs to keep track of it, by helping officers learn to de-escalate situations. Sometimes, officers are doing the opposite—in 14.5 percent of the 179 CCRB cases it studied, the office involved “actually escalated the situation at hand.”

Mr. Bratton has previously outlined plans to try to de-escalate conflicts in the wake of the death of Eric Garner, who was killed when a police officer used an apparent chokehold in trying to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes. Asked whether that training was enough to address his concerns, Mr. Eure seemed hopeful.

“I have every reason to believe that they’ve been working in good faith to develop good policies,” Mr. Eure said.

While Mr. Bratton will doubtlessly expound on the report at his press conference this afternoon, the police department also responded to the inspector general in writing, outlining some of the changes the department will announce later today.

“For almost a year, the NYPD conducted an exhaustive review of use of force policies and related issues,” Mr. Bratton wrote. “The result of this review is significantly enhanced policies, procedures and training along with the standardization of investigative tactics and reporting.”

Patrick Lynch, the head of the union representing the city’s police officers, said officers “need support—not more reports.”

“More paperwork coupled with a serious shortage of police officers and the continual second-guessing of their actions is a formula for disaster,” Mr. Lynch said. “It is a call for police officers to disengage themselves from the very proactive policing that brought this city from the brink of disaster in the 1990s.  We’ve lived through the era of reactive policing where cops could do nothing but respond to 911 calls, causing crime and disorderly behavior to run rampant in our neighborhoods. New York City police officers want to keep our streets safe.”

Inspector General: NYPD Poorly Tracks Excessive Force and Rarely Punishes It