NYPD Faulted For Inadequate Reporting On Use Of Force

Oct 1, 2015
Originally published on October 2, 2015 1:46 pm
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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The nation's largest police force announced some major changes today. Starting next year, officers in New York City will have to document each time they use force or see force being used by or against the police. This new rules comes more than a year after the death of Eric Garner. Garner died in police custody after he was put in a choke hold. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has the story.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton addressed problems with his department head on today.

BILL BRATTON: We, as an organization, were very deficient in the reporting of use of force by department members as well as reporting of force that was used against them.

WANG: Bratton unveiled a new system for the NYPD to report and investigate those kinds of incidents. While he says his department has actively tracked each gunshot fired by the NYPD, he admitted it was lagging on its policies and training on other uses of force, like hitting with a baton, using a Taser, spraying mace or striking by hand. His announcement came shortly after the city's police watchdog group, the Office of the Inspector General, said that tracking those kinds of incidents should have been in place long ago.

PHILIP EURE: I was surprised because I've been familiar with some of the practices of police departments around the country. NYPD was living a little bit in the dark ages with respect to its use-of-force policies.

WANG: That's Inspector General Philip Eure. His report looks at almost 200 cases between 2010 and 2014. It found that police officers in more than a third of cases with evidence of excessive force were not disciplined. The city's Department of Investigation's commissioner, Mark Peters, says the NYPD's new tracking system would address that issue, but he says there's still plenty of work to do.

MARK PETERS: We have not seen a detailed plan for proper training even though our training trails that of most major departments and discipline remains inconsistent.

WANG: The NYPD says more officers will be trained on how to deescalate tense encounters with the public. Still, some longtime advocates for police reform say they're taking a wait-and-see approach. Joo-Hyun Kang is the director of Communities United for Police Reform.

JOO-HYUN KANG: Until there's a clear signal from NYPD leadership and that officers actually will face consequences for excessive force and abuse of New Yorkers, there's no incentive for officers who do engage in those kinds of behaviors to change their behavior.

WANG: How the NYPD interacts with the public, as with many of the nations' police departments, has been under close scrutiny. Last year, a cell phone video captured an NYPD officer putting his arm around Eric Garner's neck in a banned chokehold.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC GARNER: I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe.

WANG: Carter's final words, I can't breathe, were chanted around the country by protesters against police brutality. And just last month, an NYPD officer tackled and handcuffed retired tennis player James Blake, who was mistakenly believed to be a suspect in an identity theft ring. Blake later met with the police commissioner and the mayor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES BLAKE: We're not looking for a quick lawsuit. We're looking for a lasting positive impact on the city and on the police force.

WANG: For now, the NYPD is betting on a new system that will require officers develop to fill out a new form any time they use force, but it won't be an easy sell to some of NYPD's rank-and-file. In a statement, the president of New York's largest police union, Patrick Lynch, said more paperwork coupled with a serious shortage of police officers and the continual second-guessing of their actions is a formula for disaster. But Brooklyn Borough president Eric Adams a former NYPD captain, says these reforms are a good start.

ERIC ADAMS: We can either pay for proper, well-trained, emotionally intelligent police officers, or we can pay the lawsuits and the millions of dollars that we have been paying to the use of force and the excessive use of force.

WANG: Earlier this year, New York City agreed to pay almost $6 million to head off a lawsuit by the family of Eric Garner. Adams says it's better to pay in the front end for a well-trained police force so the city doesn't have to pay in the back end. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.