NYPD fails to discipline officers who use excessive force, report says

New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton says 86% of his officers had no complaints against them.

Story highlights

  • The report details cases submitted to a review board that is independent of the New York Police Department
  • It says only 207 allegations, in 179 cases, were brought to the board between 2010 and 2014
  • But in "substantiated" claims of excessive force, officers received either minimal discipline or none at all 67% of the time, the report says

New York (CNN)A report released Thursday says the nation's largest police force tends to look the other way when officers are found to have used excessive force.

The 62-page report has been in the works since August 2014 and details cases that were submitted to New York City's Civilian Complaint Review Board, which looks at allegations of excessive force and is independent of the New York Police Department. The number of excessive force cases brought before the board between 2010 and 2014 is admittedly small -- there were only 207 allegations brought to the board in 179 cases, "a notably modest number," the report says.
The report points out that in the 92 cases where the board found "substantiated" claims of excessive force, the NYPD either gave minimal discipline or none at all to officers 67% of the time.
    Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters, who helped oversee the report, called this trend "troubling."
    "The NYPD's failure to impose discipline even when presented with clear evidence of excessive force is very troubling, and the fact that that issue hasn't yet been addressed by the NYPD even as of today should be a real concern," he said.
    NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure, who also helped put the report together, said his office relied on numbers from the review board partially because the NYPD doesn't require officers to report when they use force in some situations, including when an interaction didn't result in an arrest.
    "We don't have a larger picture of what's happening in these force encounters. This is a small window, but it's incomplete by virtue of NYPD not requiring (adequate reporting)" he said.
    The report looked only at excessive force claims that did not result in death. It showed that 66% of the claims were from physical force by officers, and nearly 8% of the claims were from an officer using a nightstick or other instrument.

    Escalating the situation

    The report recommends training officers more in a tactic known as "de-escalation," or slowing down an interaction so the officer has more time to assess a situation and look at ways to resolve it without using force.
    The report said that in nearly 15% of the cases from the review board, officers "actually escalated the situation at hand."
    One case centers on a 45-year-old man who left his apartment building to take out the trash and was locked out late one night. Video shows two officers approaching him as he attempts to explain what happened. According to an investigative report, the man grew frustrated as one officer told him he had to leave the premises and couldn't enter the building. The report describes video showing officers in a heated conversation when "the subject officer begins yelling and pointing his finger in the man's face. The subject officer then aggressively pushes the (man) to the ground."
    Another case involves a 26-year-old man riding his bicycle on a sidewalk when four officers stop him. One officer asks for the man's ID and then for his name, but the man doesn't comply. According to the report, video shows the man and the officer in a heated conversation when "the officer punches the man in the face four times ... then bends down and pulls out the (man's) legs from beneath him," causing him to fall onto the sidewalk. The officer punches him two more times while he is on the ground. The officer has not received any disciplinary action.

    Part of a wider problem

    The NYPD is not alone in having its officers criticized for use of excessive force and for failing to discipline those who do.
    A 2014 Department of Justice report on the Cleveland Police Department, which came on the heels of the killing of unarmed 12-year-old Tamir Rice by an officer who thought his toy gun was real, also pointed out that department's lack of holding officers accountable for crossing the line.
    "Discipline is so rare that no more than 51 officers out of a sworn force of 1,500 were disciplined in any fashion in connection with a use of force incident over a three-and-a half-year period," the report read.
    Cleveland city leadership worked with the Justice Department to map out reforms that included a commitment to "bias-free policing," crisis intervention efforts and changes to officer recruitment and discipline in May of this year.
    Also this year, the Justice Department released a report on the Ferguson Police Department in Missouri, where Michael Brown, who was unarmed, was killed last summer. The report said the department had "a tendency to use unnecessary force against vulnerable groups such as people with mental health conditions or cognitive disabilities, and juvenile students." Ferguson Mayor James Knowles later outlined a plan that the city would follow to comply with the Justice Department recommendations.

    Moving forward

    Unlike in the cases of most departments that are trying to reform, there is already an independent process, run by civilians, for residents to file complaints about being mistreated by NYPD officers.
    New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton publicized new use-of-force guidelines just after the release of the report and said that 86% of the officers on his 34,000-member police force had no complaints made against them at all, and 14% had one complaint against them.
    Bratton said the new use-of-force guidelines require officers to document all uses of force and implore officers who see inappropriate use of force to intervene. He said the department will release use-of-force reports yearly. The new guidelines will also define three different levels of force used, and Bratton emphasized that if force is used, "We will document it. We will justify it. We will review it."
    In terms of disciplining officers who use excessive force, Bratton, at a news conference Thursday, said he felt "very comfortable" with whether officers who had substantiated claims against them were disciplined or not under his term -- he has the final decision on whether or not they are reprimanded.
    Peters, the Department of Investigations commissioner, says he still thinks the NYPD needs to train officers in de-escalation tactics more and needs a better disciplinary process.