Three-year probe shows three-fourths of abusive cops received “wrist slaps not punishment.” 71% of dismissals not investigated. Beat cops more likely to be disciplined than superiors. Advocate pledges to continue oversight until independent monitor exists.
Finding a “failed system that neither punishes nor deters substantiated cases of police misconduct,” Public Advocate Mark Green today released the most extensive case-by-case probe ever into police abuse, Disciplining Police: Solving the Problem of Police Misconduct. The 147-page report, analyzing 477 cases of substantiated misconduct involving 664 police officers over the past three years, was issued today at a news conference in Manhattan where Green was joined by members of his Police Accountability Advisory Panel.
“My number one goal is safe streets so that my family and all our families are protected,” said Advocate Green. “And the vast majority of officers deserve credit for much of the crime reduction and do their difficult job honorably. Unfortunately, our report documents Police Department mismanagement that refuses to acknowledge the extent of misconduct, refuses to admit the resulting distrust between cops and minorities, refuses to adopt available reforms–and tolerates a culture that protects rather than punishes abuse as the accepted cost of fighting crime.”
Disciplining Police revealed that police management failed to conduct any investigation for cases involving 71% of officers who were never charged by the Police Department. In addition, despite a recent overall rise in discipline rates due to increased outside scrutiny of the Department, 75% of disciplined officers received ‘slap on the wrist’ penalties — a reprimand from a superior, a note in their file, or loss of a few vacation days. (See Case Study 1 for illustration).
“Just as we cannot imagine a Mayor Giuliani declaring victory because of a slightly lowered crime rate in 1994, One Police Plaza cannot be satisfied with some favorable recent trends when police abuse is still far too high and higher in 1999 than 1993,” Advocate Green continued. “Apparently, however, the Department’s management failure tacitly assumes either that excessive force is unavoidable or that it doesn’t entail significant social costs. In fact, if San Diego and Boston — and some precincts in New York — can both suppress street crime and police abuse, so can we. And in fact, widespread resentment in minority communities against police misconduct imposes huge costs on our City. Consider the anger felt and multiplied when a public official behind a badge racially slurs, punches or hospitalizes a victim and is then ‘punished’ by a reprimand in a file or two lost vacation days, before the next promotion.”
Key findings of the report included:
- The Department is much less likely to bring charges against superior officers: While police officers were charged by the Department in 385 of 518 complaints — a rate of 74.3%; the rate for sergeants, detectives, lieutenants and captains was just 53.7% — 72 out of 134 complaints.
- The disciplinary process takes too long for victims and the accused: The report found that the Department took an average of 1.4 years after the case was given to it by the CCRB to reach a final disposition, both for officers found innocent and guilty. By contrast, the CCRB has cut the time it takes to review cases from 341 days in 1995 to 177 days in 1999. (See Case Study 2)
- Officers with substantiated complaints are more likely to be promoted than dismissed: Out of the 664 officers looked at in this report, 6 were dismissed and 28 were promoted while they were the subjects of civilian complaints. (See Case Study 3)
- The Department fails to bring action against officers who lie to the CCRB: Despite Commissioner Safir’s stated policy of automatic termination for officers who lie during investigations, only 6 of 39 officers with a substantiated complaint of lying to the CCRB were charged by the Department — and five were not punished at all. One lost vacation days.
- Most incidents of misconduct are triggered by perceived or real signs of disrespect to police officers: In 43% of cases where officers were actually disciplined, acts of misconduct occurred when officers believed that victims were being disrespectful. This includes cases where victims questioned the officers by asking why they were being stopped or requesting an officer’s badge number. (See Case Study 4)
- Most officers with substantiated complaints have a record of misconduct accusations: Of the 612 officers with prior records in the case filed, 509 — or 83.2% — had at least one prior CCRB complaint; the average per officer was five. (See Case Study 5)
- Police witnesses failed to intervene or provide evidence when substantiated misconduct took place in Precincts: Nearly a quarter (24.5%) of all substantiated cases occurred inside a precinct house. Although a large number of other officers were present in these cases, they almost never intervened or later provided eyewitness testimony. (See Case Study 6).
Advocate Green added, “Since effective policing needs residents to report crimes and provide evidence, the NYPD must now adopt reforms to rebuild the trust between cops and communities of color as a crime-fighting measure. And when it comes to police misconduct, the Department should embrace the ‘broken windows’ approach that not only has kept crime low but should also strictly punish small acts of misconduct in order to deter larger abuses from ever occurring.”
The report offers 24 recommendations for a more effective police disciplinary system, including:
- Establish a Deputy Commissioner for Police Integrity: Reorganize the Department Advocate’s Office so that disciplinary cases are prosecuted by an all-civilian group of attorneys directed by a Deputy Commissioner who reports directly to the Police Commissioner.
- Increase sanctions for superior officers who engage in misconduct: If a superior officer fails to report abuses or otherwise tolerates persistent abusive behavior on the part of any officers supervised, the superior officer should be subject to demotion.
- Substantially cut down the time it takes to investigate and adjudicate complaints: As it stands, accusations hang over officers and civilians for too long. The CCRB should be required to investigate complaints within 45 days. The Police Commissioner should make decisions regarding the filing of charges and specifications within 45 days and act on the recommendations of the administrative law judge within 30 days.
- Suspend promotions to officers who are subjects of an investigation: At the conclusion of the investigation, officers found not guilty should be awarded promotions retroactively. If the officer is found guilty, no promotion should be awarded.
- Require a college degree upon entry to the force, or by the fourth year on the force: Officers with a Bachelor’s Degree or more are significantly less likely to be the subject of a CCRB complaint. In 1998, for example, CCRB data shows the 19% of officers with four-year degrees accounted for just 10.5% of complaints. The Department should require a Bachelor’s Degree upon entry or two years of college and the completion of the additional two years by the end of the fourth year on the force.
- Expand the Police Cadet Corps program: To meet the new education requirements, by 2006 80% of all new candidates for the Police Academy should be Cadet Corps graduates. The Department should also offer financial assistance — both loans and grants — to officers seeking to complete their college education within four years of joining the force and as part of a campaign to increase the number of minority officers.
- Institute a uniform set of sanction guidelines, including a “three strikes and you’re out” policy: The report recommends that the Police Commissioner establish uniform punishments based on the severity of the misconduct and the officer’s prior record. Officers with a history of misconduct would receive more severe sanctions, including termination for officers found guilty of three misconduct violations within five years. And the City Council should enact legislation allowing the Commissioner to demote, suspend for up to a year, fine, or impose pay forfeiture on officers found guilty of misconduct.
- Assign more officers to patrol on foot in “neighborhood policing”: Residents frequently commented in meetings that police-community relations were significantly better with officers who walk the beat than those assigned to patrol cars.
- Require “tune-ups” of ongoing training and education: All officers should receive regular in-service diversity training and training on dealing with conflict resolution and verbal abuse.
- Create a permanent Independent Police Oversight Board: Rather than have a monitor federally imposed on the Department, the Mayor should drop his opposition to a local Board enacted by the City Council.
In addition to these recommendations, Advocate Green vowed to continue oversight of the Department’s disciplinary process under the Green v. Safir ruling. “As Justice Brandeis wrote, ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant.’ The secretive Police Department has only responded when it has been held up to that light — and it has a long way to go. So until the Mayor agrees to a local oversight board or the Justice Department requires one, as Public Advocate I’ll continue oversight of the disciplinary system and report publicly on any trends and developments.”
Under the City Charter, the Public Advocate has a mandate to investigate how city agencies respond to complaints about city services. Pursuant to that mandate, the Public Advocate in 1997 requested access to Police Department records that documented the Department’s response to substantiated civilian complaints of police officer misconduct. After the Commissioner refused to provide records, the Advocate filed suit. In 1999, after a State Supreme Court judge’s decision supporting the Public Advocate was unanimously upheld by the Appellate Division, he obtained access to these files and commenced the investigation.
Disciplining Police is the final report of the Public Advocate’s three-year investigation into 760 substantiated cases of misconduct involving 1084 officers. In September 1999 Advocate Green released an interim report on the first 283 cases.
Case Study 1 — 1998
The Victim was told by the Respondent police officer to stop holding the back of a truck as he was riding his bike. The Victim complied but says the Respondent later intentionally opened his car door in the bike’s path. When the Victim requested the officer’s badge number, the Respondent allegedly slammed him into the window of a restaurant, handcuffed him, punched him, slapped him and made racial and other remarks such as “nigger” and “your mother is a 50 cent bitch.” At the precinct the Respondent allegedly punched the Victim in full view of other officers.
The Respondent pled guilty in a negotiated plea at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) and the charges were dismissed. The Respondent was given Command Discipline A — a reprimand and/or loss of up to 5 vacation days that does not go in an officer’s permanent file.
Case Study 2 — 1997
The Victim was in a double-parked car when the Respondent in an unmarked police car arrested and handcuffed her. The Victim demanded officer identification. “Apologize and I will uncuff you,” the Respondent allegedly replied. In the car to the precinct, the Respondent and his unidentified partner allegedly told the Victim that she was “the best looking one all night.” At the precinct, the Victim says she was handcuffed to a pole or a chair, and harassed by other unidentified police officers. Eventually the Respondent told the Victim to go home, allegedly saying, “all I tried to do is teach you a lesson.” The Respondent says that the Victim was vulgar and uncooperative. The Respondent admitted that several unidentified other officers made “comments” to the Victim while she was handcuffed in the precinct, because “she is an attractive woman and all.”
After bringing charges, the Department Advocate’s Office (DAO) dismissed them because, the DAO stated, the Victim and witness were unavailable and uncooperative. In the two years since the complaint was originally filed, the Victim and the witness had moved to Florida. In the week before the trial, the DAO told the Victim that there was a warrant for her arrest in New York due to the summons for disorderly conduct and double parking that arose from this incident.
Case Study 3 — 1998
During the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration, the Respondent was attempting to lift a barricade when the Victim (an off duty police officer from a department outside the City) came to grab the other end. The Respondent, without saying anything, allegedly swung upward with his nightstick and hit the Victim in the head with it, causing a laceration. EMS was called to the scene and the Victim was taken to the hospital and received stitches. The Respondent at first said the Victim intentionally hit him in the groin with the barricade and he had to defend himself, but later claimed his nightstick hit the Victim’s face accidentally because he was falling.
The DAO brought charges, but then the Department Advocate recommended no disciplinary action and dismissal of the charges because the Victim did not want to pursue the case. The First Deputy recommended dismissal of the charges and Command Discipline A, but the Police Commissioner signed for no disciplinary action and dismissal of all of the charges. The Respondent was promoted to detective during the course of the investigation of this case.
Case Study 4 — 1998
A 13 year-old Victim was with a group of friends when he threw an egg, which landed near the Respondent. The Respondent caught up to the group and said, “Which one of you girls threw an egg at me?” The Victim admitted it was him and said he was a boy. The Respondent allegedly replied that he looked like a girl and should cut his hair and called him a “sissy.” The Victim said, “fuck you.” The Victim alleges the Respondent then slapped him, threw him against a gated store window and handcuffed him. The Respondent claims that the Victim put his arms toward him and so he took a defense position and blocked him with one hand and slapped him with the other. He was taken to the precinct house, and allegedly handcuffed to a cabinet there and teased by the officers. The Respondent pled guilty at an OATH trial and received a penalty of five vacation days.
Case Study 5 — 1998
Three people were on a street corner near a van when an undercover patrol car pulled up. One of them said, “What the fuck are you looking at?” The officers exited the vehicle to question them. One of them was placed against the van. The Respondent allegedly grabbed the Victim by the backpack, yanked her toward the car and pushed her against it and cursed at her several times, saying “shut the fuck up” and “get the fuck out.” Hospital medical documentation indicated injuries including contusions to shoulder and lower back pain. The Respondent and witness police officers also told contradictory stories as to the Victim’s attempt to escape and whether she was handcuffed.
A plea was negotiated without an OATH judge and the Respondent pled guilty. Nonetheless, all charges were dismissed and the Respondent was given Command Discipline A because he had a “good record.” This record included 50 prior CCRB allegations, and placement on the Disciplinary Task Force list. The Disciplinary Task Force is the program designed to monitor the most seriously problematic officers in the Department.
Case Study 6 — 1998
The Victim accidentally bumped a woman on the street, and the woman responded she was going to get her boyfriend, a cop. The Victim said the next day he was told the police were looking for him. He went to the precinct and the Respondent (believed to be the woman’s boyfriend) arrested him for assault. After processing, the Respondent allegedly followed the Victim into the precinct bathroom where he slapped him, kneed him in the groin, punched him and threatened him. All departmental charges were dismissed by the DAO because the Victim and witness were unavailable. There was no disciplinary action.