July 29, 2014

In Aftermath of Death, Bratton Orders Retraining for Cops in Use of Force

Tactics Aimed At Avoiding ‘Chest Compression’


The Chief-Leader/Michel Friang  
A LOT MORE TRAINING NEEDED’: Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, with Chief of Department Philip Banks III to his right, parried critics’ complaints about the ‘broken windows’ policy that led Staten Island cops to confront a man for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, contending that the theory was sound but that officers need additional training in the tactics used in such confrontations to minimize the risk of injuries.  
The Chief-Leader/Michel Friang  
MUSTERING THE BRASS: Deputy Commissioner for Training Benjamin Tucker (far left) will spearhead the NYPD’s new training initiative, with staff being sent to Los Angeles to discuss use-of-force tactics implemented there when Mr. Bratton was that city’s Police Chief. The others at the press conference, which also dealt with the white flags placed on the Brooklyn Bridge’s towers instead of the Stars and Stripes, were, from left, Chief of Patrol James P. O’Neill, Chief of Detectives Robert K. Boyce, Chief of Department Philip Banks III, Mr. Bratton, Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller, and Deputy Commissioner for Operations Dermot Shea.


LORETTA LYNCH: May order civil-rights probe.

PATRICK J. LYNCH: Cops ‘need clear instructions.’

City cops will undergo extensive additional training in the use of force to avoid repeats of the situation in which a Police Officer apparently deployed a chokehold during the July 17 struggle with Eric Garner that ended with his death, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announced five days later at Police Headquarters.

A key element of that training, he said, will be “a constant reminder to put the person down on the ground so we don’t have the chest compression that can lead to serious problems.”

Complicating Health Woes

Sources said there were no bruises or other marks on Mr. Garner’s neck to indicate that the former Parks Department worker was fatally injured by the hold Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo took around his neck after he resisted being arrested for allegedly selling a loose cigarette. Mr. Garner, who was 43, suffered from diabetes and asthma and was extremely overweight, all of which may have been contributing factors in his death after the grueling struggle.

Mr. Bratton had previously ordered Mr. Pantaleo to surrender his badge and gun. He was placed on modified duty along with Officer Justin Damico, who had first confronted Mr. Garner and accused him of selling a loose, untaxed cigarette. Mr. Garner—who had been arrested for doing so previously on numerous occasions—heatedly denied having done so this time, and other witnesses said afterwards that he had actually just broken up a fight, the commotion from which had first attracted the attention of the officers from Staten Island’s 120th Precinct.

A series of demonstrations were held in Staten Island and other boroughs demanding that all the officers at the scene be prosecuted, with one complaint being that after Mr. Garner had been rendered unconscious and handcuffed, none of them sought to give him medical attention. Four emergency medical workers, none of them directly employed by the city, have been suspended by their hospital, Richmond University Medical Center, after the Fire Department refused to allow them to answer calls because they failed to take life-saving steps when they arrived at the scene.

DA Probing for Criminality

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan is conducting a criminal investigation of Mr. Garner’s death, and the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau is engaged in a parallel probe that for the moment will be somewhat limited in deference to Mr. Donovan. Mr. Bratton said he had met with the FBI’s Assistant Director in Charge for New York, George Venizelos, and “I would not be surprised if the U.S. Attorney decides to open a civil-rights investigation.”

He was referring to Loretta Lynch, who holds that post for the Eastern District of New York, which includes Staten Island.

Mr. Bratton hinted that one cause of the controversial handling of the situation by officers at the scene may have been a consequence of the thinning of the NYPD’s ranks over the preceding 12 years: insufficient available personnel to take cops away from patrol duty to receive additional training.

He said that he had instructed Deputy Commissioner for Training Benjamin Tucker to “look at some of the training issues. The department really does need to do a lot more—a lot more—in the area of training.”

‘Retrain Everyone’

This will result, he continued, in “a retraining of every member of the New York City Police Department in the weeks, months, potentially years ahead.”

As part of that initiative, staff will go to Los Angeles this week to talk to police officials in that city about use-of-force procedures that were implemented when Mr. Bratton was Police Chief there following allegations of frequent brutality under previous regimes. The Commissioner noted that while there, he developed an early-warning system to identify officers who might be prone to brutality.

He said he also would be meeting with Richard Emery, the longtime civil-liberties lawyer and Bratton friend whom Mayor de Blasio a week earlier had named to head the NYPD Civilian Complaint Review Board, on coordinating operations. The Mayor has asked Mr. Emery to do a use-of-force review, and the Police Commissioner said, “We will certainly work with and support any of the efforts he undertakes.”

Mr. Bratton said he had met for a couple of hours prior to the press conference with community and church leaders in the Staten Island office of City Council Member Deborah L. Rose. There will be “community involvement in that training review,” he said.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch, who previously had criticized the placement of Officer Pantaleo on modified duty as an “unwarranted, knee-jerk reaction for political reasons... that effectively pre-judges the case,” had a more-measured but still-wary reaction to the training change.

A Delicate Balance

“We need equipment, training and staffing in order to function effectively,” he said in a statement. “What we don’t need is training that only tells us what we can’t do when a person resists arrest. Our members need effective, clear and precise instruction regarding how to safely arrest an individual who is physically resisting that takes our officers out of harm’s way both physically during the arrest and legally after the arrest. Otherwise, the job of a police officer will be impossible to do.”

Mr. Garner had been arrested numerous times in the past for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, with some businesses complaining that he provided unfair competition by selling individual butts where they were compelled to sell whole packs. A video of his fateful confrontation shows him talking to Officer Damico about previous disputes they had, while loudly insisting that he had not sold cigarettes to anyone in this instance and stating that he was tired of being “harassed” by police.

Some community members, as well as ex-cop and current John Jay College Professor of Law and Police Studies Eugene O’Donnell, have questioned the wisdom of having police take enforcement action for such a seemingly petty offense, with Mr. O’Donnell expressing concern that cops would wind up being scapegoated for the tragic result of a dubious enforcement initiative.

Mr. Bratton, however, said there would be “no change” in the NYPD’s aggressive enforcement of quality-of-life issues that is a centerpiece of the “broken windows” theory of policing.

Cites Fare-Evasion Results

He explained that a problematic condition, “if left undeterred... tends to proliferate.” Harking back to his tenure nearly 25 years ago as the Chief of the now-defunct Transit Police Department, he said that the crackdown on fare evasion he launched, which turned up numerous people carrying weapons and/or with outstanding warrants for more-serious offenses, had been the beginning of greater safety in the city subway system that still persists.

What he will re-emphasize, he said, is that unlike Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly while working 

for Mayor Michael Bloomberg—who tended to measure performance to an extreme degree based on numbers—“I’m not looking for arrests, I’m not looking for summonses, I’m not looking for [stop-and-frisk forms]. I’m looking for quality...

problems being sufficiently addressed.” If an officer could produce results with a conversation or an admonishment rather than an arrest, the Commissioner said, he would be happy.

Soft on Chokeholds?

The New York Times reported last week that there had been more than 1,000 allegations of chokeholds by police between 2009 and 2013, but only nine of them were substantiated by the CCRB. In those cases, however, only once did the NYPD discipline an officer, and that came in the form of lost vacation days.

Asked whether the low numbers may have led officers to believe they would not be held accountable for using chokeholds even though they had been banned by the NYPD for more than 20 years, Mr. Bratton replied that he had not reviewed the individual cases to determine whether the lack of significant penalties was appropriate.

Denies Race a Factor

Asked about the fact that Mr. Garner was black and the officers who responded were all white, the Police Commissioner said, “I personally don’t think race was a factor in this particular tragic death.”

He added, however, that he wanted to ensure “that our officers understand the importance of consistent policing,” meaning that actions will or will not be taken regardless of the color or race of the individual who attracts attention.

Responding to the issues raised by Mr. Garner’s death poses a challenge, Mr. Bratton said, but also an opportunity “to develop a state-of-the-art training facility.”

That, he said, would increase officers’ ability “to build confidence rather than create fear” in the communities they patrol.