First Look

NYPD brass let officers off the hook for excessive force, report finds

A report from the NYPD inspector general found that the department has 'failed to meet its fundamental obligation to police itself.'

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    Members of the NYPD Strategic Response Group stand outside St. Patrick's Cathedral prior to the arrival of Pope Francis, Sept. 24, in New York.
    Aristide Economopoulos,/The Star Ledger/AP
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A new report finds that the New York City Police Department doesn’t adequately train or punish officers in the matter of excessive force.

Penned by NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure, the report claims officers don’t receive lucid enough guidelines on what is considered excessive force and that the department often fails to carry out disciplinary action when they cross the line.

The department “is completely silent on what actions constitute ‘force,’ ” the report says, “while offering no clarity on what constitutes excessive force.”

The review cited several situations in which officers could have intervened to prevent the use of excessive force but chose not to, pointing to one video that shows a dispute between a cop and a man who had locked himself out of his apartment. The man was berated and pushed to the ground. In another video, a cyclist refuses to show identification and ends up being punched four times in the face by an officer while another watches on the side, thumbs hooked in his belt loop.

Sometimes officers even go as far as initiating these altercations, the report says, adding that officers are “not only missing opportunities to de-escalate, but are sometimes actively escalating situations with members of the public.”

The inspector general’s analysis found that between 2010 and 2014, 37 out of 104 officers in excessive force cases were not punished by the police agency.

"In a number of cases, the department has failed to meet its fundamental obligation to police itself," the report says.

The IG suggests that NYPD amend its patrol guide to reflect more concrete rules on how and when to use force, as well as strengthen its disciplinary measures to better hold officers accountable for breaking force guidelines. Additionally, the report recommends more training on how to avoid violent confrontations.

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NYPD has been under intense scrutiny this past year, after the filmed arrest and killing of Eric Garner. In July 2014, a bystander captured police officers accusing the un-armed 43-year-old man of selling untaxed cigarettes and subsequently using a chokehold, which caused his death.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported, the incident and subsequent high-profile killings of black men by white police officers in major cities around the United States has fostered a general sense of disillusionment around the nation:

Indeed, the year witnessed widespread civil unrest and a protest movement perhaps not seen since the civil rights era. It also began a year of bipartisan soul-searching as many began to contemplate the long, troubled history between law enforcement and the nation’s minority communities, and what needs to be done as the nation moves forward.

“There’s a new national awareness and movement about racial bias and policing, and this is a very good development,” says Harry Levine, professor of sociology at Queens College who studies the arrest patterns of the NYPD. “I think one of the most powerful forces affecting New York City and its police department is this growing awareness in the rest of America – it’s the policing equivalent of the Confederate flag.”

Although NYPD did not immediately respond to the report, officials have said various reforms and training initiatives are under implementation in order to address the criticism American police have received. 

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