Nearly two years after Black Lives Matter protests swept through New York City, the city’s police watchdog agency released new figures on its investigations into civilian complaints made against officers for alleged misconduct during the demonstrations, showing that very few charged with serious allegations faced any discipline.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board said this week it has confirmed 187 allegations of misconduct against 104 members of the NYPD so far. Among those, 61 face the highest level of discipline recommended by the CCRB for serious cases of misconduct, which involves an administrative trial at One Police Plaza in Manhattan.
However, only 24 of those more serious cases have been finalized as of yet. Among those, the NYPD has only decided to impose discipline on 10 officers – translating into a concurrence rate of just 42% between what the CCRB recommended and what the NYPD carried out.
Under the CCRB’s structure, the police commissioner has ultimate authority over disciplinary action.
CCRB Executive Director Jonathan Darche said it’s still too early to tell whether the rate will improve as more cases are tried under NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, who succeeded Dermot Shea in January.
“I'm very hopeful that the police commissioner will concur with the recommendation made by the CCRB, and her reputation from her prior job is that she takes discipline very seriously,” Darche said in an interview with Gothamist.
In response to questions from Gothamist, an NYPD spokesperson, Lt. Jessica McRorie, said the department will continue moving forward with adjudicating protest-complaint cases and that “the NYPD has made significant strides and continues to work toward making our discipline processes transparent.”
“Commissioner Sewell, with the assistance of her team, examines each case individually based on the facts, testimony, videos, and other evidence. The commissioner’s decisions on discipline are based on the specific circumstances of each case,” McRorie wrote in an emailed response.
Complaints stemming from police action during the 2020 protests, following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, have proven to be a challenge for the CCRB to investigate. Scenes of police action were often chaotic. Videos from the protests, which spanned several weeks, showed police pushing and pepper spraying seemingly peaceful protestors, kettling groups of demonstrators and hitting some civilians with batons.
Current and former CCRB employees who’ve spoken with Gothamist, but who did not want to be named out of fear of retaliation, said they routinely encountered 2020 protest cases where officers covered their shield numbers, wore police helmets with numbers that did not match their department IDs, and where the NYPD did not adequately track the locations it was dispatching officers to during specific times and days. They also said the department was slow to turn over body-worn camera footage in the early stages of investigations and that the pandemic disrupted the process of interviewing officers.
Of the 2020 protest cases that have been fully investigated, 32% were closed because investigators were unable to identify officers, and just 36% have substantiated instances of misconduct, according to the CCRB — a rate that has not changed since its previous update on protest cases in December.
Now, the agency is racing to meet a statute of limitations deadline of May 4th for all protest-related complaints and other cases that arose during then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency pandemic orders. The CCRB’s most recent monthly report showed the number of fully investigated case resolutions more than doubled from January to February this year and members of the board are holding more panel meetings in order to push cases through.
“The investigators, other members of staff, and the board members have been working really hard to close these cases in an efficient way as we get closer to that deadline," said Darche, who, along with members of the agency’s board, has repeatedly called on the city to take disciplinary decisions away from the commissioner and grant that power to the CCRB in order to strengthen its oversight ability.
In February of last year, amidst widespread calls for police reform, the CCRB signed a memorandum of understanding with the police department that introduced what it called a “disciplinary matrix” for substantiated complaints in which the NYPD agreed to follow set guidelines for disciplining officers for specific forms of misconduct.
But instead of increasing the overall number of times the NYPD followed disciplinary recommendations, the general concurrence rate – including more than 2020 protest-related cases – fell from 73% in 2020 to 68% in 2021. And in more serious cases of misconduct involving an administrative trial, the total concurrence rate was just 27% in 2021, according to testimony during a City Council hearing last week by the CCRB’s Interim Chair Arva Rice, who was appointed to the temporary position by Mayor Eric Adams last month.
“Unfortunately, results were not what the agency hoped for,” Rice told Councilmembers, “These low concurrence rates for cases where misconduct had been substantiated is an argument for why final disciplinary authority should not be left with the NYPD.”
Lt. McRorie, the NYPD spokesperson, said the department will use the disciplinary matrix as a framework and pushed back against the assertion that disciplinary decisions should be handed over to the CCRB.
“The Police Commissioner does, and should have, the final say on discipline. In most instances, Police Commissioners impose discipline based on the CCRB’s recommendations or within the range set by the agreed-upon discipline matrix. In some cases, the commissioners have imposed harsher penalties than those recommended by the CCRB. In that the Police Commissioner is the single official held accountable for the conduct of police officers, the final say on discipline should remain with the Police Commissioner,” McRorie said.