The NYPD’s tactics in policing the recent protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd—pepper spraying state representatives, repeatedly using batons against peaceful protesters—prompted outrage from lawmakers and demands that the police department and their officers be held accountable for their actions. Multiple city and state agencies eagerly stepped forward to conduct investigations, which in the past have done little to fundamentally change the NYPD.
Here are the four entities who have pledged to examine NYPD misconduct—what they are looking at, what they aim to achieve, and when they are expected to issue their results.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Independent Review”
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last month that he wanted an “independent review” of alleged misconduct and excessive force by police at protests, even though he said he thought the NYPD handled the protests well overall.
“There are many things that I can tell you that I think were done right by the NYPD, especially the level of restraint,” the mayor said at a daily press briefing on May 31st. “But there also were mistakes, and there were individual actions that must be fully investigated and that must lead to accountability.”
De Blasio named James Johnson, who heads the city’s Law Department, and Margaret Garnett, Commissioner of the Department of Investigation. Both Johnson and Garnett are de Blasio appointees, and it is worth noting that the Law Department represents police officers in certain civil cases (as it does with other city employees).
Spokespeople for both departments claim there are measures in place to make sure the investigation is independent.
“To ensure fairness and to adhere to a high standard of ethics, we put in place ethical walls to make sure we can proceed with integrity,” Nick Paolucci, a Law Department spokesperson, said in a statement. “In this case, we have not only put in place ethical walls between the Corporation Counsel and any cases arising out of the events under review, but all factual investigation is being done by the DOI pursuant to its authority under the [City] Charter.”
Members of the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD, part of the Department of Investigation, are also taking part in the review.
The Department of Investigation would not comment on how many complaints it has received so far, but said it expects to issue a preliminary report prior to July 4th. A spokesperson for the Department of Investigation, Diane Struzzi, did not specify whether the report will outline findings of fact or if it will recommend taking any action.
“Because the protests and related complaints are ongoing, and there are a number of complex issues, we expect to issue subsequent reports thereafter, as necessary,” Struzzi said.
Struzzi noted the findings are not intended to supplant any criminal investigations by prosecutors or the disciplinary process by the NYPD’s internal affairs bureau or the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
The NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau investigates alleged misconduct reported by the public and internally by the department. However, the results of these investigations and any discipline that comes of it are kept secret.
This secrecy, along with a lack of consistent discipline for officers, is one of the main issues that fueled demonstrations in New York City in the first place. And it led to the repeal this week of a state law known as 50-A, which shields police personnel records from scrutiny (the governor is expected to sign the repeal).
When asked, police officials did not specify how many complaints related to the protests it had received from the public. Neither did they offer how many incidents of alleged misconduct were referred to IAB internally, even though Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told NPR earlier this month that at least six incidents were being investigated.
The NYPD has released some information on four officers who are being investigated for misconduct that occurred during the recent protests:
- One officer seen shoving a young woman to the ground has been suspended without pay until the commissioner decides on further disciplinary action. (That officer, Vincent D’Andria, has also been criminally charged by the Brooklyn District attorney.) D’Andria’s supervisor has also been reassigned for the time being. He has not yet entered a plea.
- An officer seen pulling down a young man’s face mask down and pepper spraying him, while the man’s arms were raised, has been suspended without pay. The commissioner could decide on further disciplinary action.
- An officer who opened a moving police car door, hitting a protester, is on modified duty and could face further discipline.
Police officials say that at the end of an investigation, if discipline is warranted, there are a range of penalties from loss of vacation days to termination. The police commissioner, Dermot Shea, makes the final decision on discipline.
The CCRB handles public complaints of certain types of police misconduct, including excessive force. It has so far received 751 complaints related to the protests — higher than the number of complaints the agency received for the entire month of May. The complaints stem from 129 distinct incidents at the protests, CCRB officials announced Wednesday.
A complaint, if substantiated, generally goes one of three ways: the CCRB recommends training or discipline, such as a loss of vacation days, though the NYPD has final say over that discipline; for the most serious types of allegations, the CCRB could bring charges and prosecute that officer in an administrative trial; or mediation, if the complainant chooses to resolve an issue with an officer face to face.
The NYPD does not have to accept the CCRB’s recommendations. The police department has routinely ignored or diluted the penalties recommended by the board, especially under the de Blasio administration.
The CCRB currently cannot even interview any police officers to conduct their investigations, because the city’s police unions won’t allow them to be interviewed by video conference, THE CITY reported. Legal proceedings across the country, including at the U.S. Supreme Court, have been conducted over videoconference, but the police unions claim that police attorneys can’t properly advise their clients without being physically present.
The Attorney General’s Office
At the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James launched an investigation at the end of May.
The attorney general’s office would not say how many complaints it has received, nor what penalties, if any, could be imposed if a review finds that officers used excessive force or acted inappropriately. A spokeswoman for the attorney general said only that the investigation is ongoing, and did not say whether the investigation would make any recommendations. Governor Cuomo did ask for a report of James’s review in 30 days.
On Wednesday, the attorney general announced that Loretta Lynch, the former United States Attorney General, and Barry Friedman, faculty director of the Policing Project at NYU, would advise the investigation.
“There is no greater responsibility of government than the protection of its citizens,” said Lynch, in a statement. “It is time to examine recent events to ensure that all New Yorkers receive truly equal protection under the law.
James plans to hold public hearings on the issue on June 17th.
Maybe the NYPD’s Federal Monitor
Civil rights attorneys last week filed a motion requesting that the federal monitor overseeing the NYPD’s stop and frisk reforms also investigate the NYPD’s enforcement of the citywide curfew. The attorneys expressed concern that the officers’ enforcement of the curfew would illegally target Black and Latino New Yorkers—bias that led to the landmark stop and frisk case and other lawsuits against discriminatory policing.
“Given the substantial evidence of racial discrimination by NYPD officers during this pandemic, we have no confidence that their enforcement of the mayor’s curfew will be any less biased,” said Jin Hee Lee, senior deputy director of litigation for the Legal Defense Fund. “If the court-ordered reforms in these cases are to have any credibility for the people in the streets demanding justice, we must thoroughly and vigorously investigate any concerns of systemic racial bias within the NYPD.”
A federal judge will rule on the motion any time after June 15.