October 5, 2015 5:30 pm


As NYPD IG Criticizes Handling of Use-of-Force Cases, Bratton Unveils Strict Reporting, Monitoring

Requires Cops to Detail Excessive Force; PBA Blasts Policy


PATRICK J. LYNCH: ‘A formula for disaster.’  

Police Commissioner Wil­liam J. Bratton Oct. 1 announced a new policy on officers using force, requiring a report on every single punch, baton strike and dog bite, mandating that each instance be investigated exhaustively by supervisors up to the First Deputy Commissioner, and mandating that officers report any excessive force used by their colleagues.

“It is a very, very significant change,” he said at a press conference at Police Head­quarters. “Where we are going is where American policing is going to be going; that’s the reality.” The policy will take effect Jan. 1.

‘Document, Justify, Review’

“When we use force, we will document it, justify it and review it,” said his Chief of Staff, Kevin P. Ward.

The new 54-officer Force Investigation Division, established in July, will investigate firearms discharges and deaths in custody, and the Risk Management Unit will identify officers who use force too frequently and need retraining or discipline. Mr. Bratton said an officer’s assignment will be taken into account by the unit; anti-crime and narcotics cops, for example, are expected to use force more often.

Whether an incident will be investigated by a Sergeant, the precinct commander or the First Dep will depend on the degree of force used and the injuries, if any, to the civilian involved.

On the day of Mr. Bratton’s press conference, the NYPD Inspector General issued a report that was critical of the department’s use-of-force policies. The IG, a post created in 2013 in the Department of Investigation, said the department gives officers little guidance on force, should establish uniform policies for reporting and investigating its use, and must provide training in tactics that allow cops to de-escalate incidents. The IG also questioned wheth­er the department was adequately disciplining officers for using force.

Denies It’s in Response

Mr. Bratton addressed most of the IG’s issues at the press conference, saying they were dealt with in the new policy. He said the press conference was not scheduled in response to the report. Rather, he said, it was called the same day the department’s 2014 Annual Fire­arms Discharge Report was released.

That report found that on- and off-duty officers had discharged their weapons 79 times, two fewer than in 2013 and a record low since the department started keeping figures. This year may break that record; there have been 50 incidents so far as opposed to 61 at this point last year.

Mr. Bratton noted the steep decline in firearms incidents, from a high of 994 in 1973. He expressed hope that the increased scrutiny and the new annual report on lesser uses of force would cause those to decline as well.

He said the new use-of-force policy was part of the department’s 20-month-long re-engineering effort and was not triggered by either the IG report or the case of Eric Garner, who died in July 2014 after police officers forcefully brought him to the ground when he refused to cooperate with an arrest for allegedly selling loose cigarettes.

PBA: Will Be Detrimental

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association criticized the new policy. “No amount of new training or additional paperwork will make necessary force that is lawful and properly used by police officers acceptable to those who want to return to the hands-off, reactive-policing strategies that sent crime soaring in the past,” PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement.

“More paperwork coupled with a serious shortage of police officers and the continual second-guessing of their actions is a formula for disaster. It is a call for police officers to disengage themselves from the very proactive policing that brought this city from the brink of disaster in the 1990s.

“We’ve lived through the era of reactive policing where cops could do nothing but respond to 911 calls, causing crime and disorderly behavior to run rampant in our neighborhoods,” he continued. “New York City police officers want to keep our streets safe. To do that, we need support—not more reports.”

Mr. Bratton responded, “I would disagree with Pat on that. I believe this would enhance officers’ safety…by reducing uses of force by and against the police.”

Some Key Changes

Chief Ward said the Patrol Guide entries on use of force will be expanded and clarified. He gave some specifics of the policy, which was not released to reporters:

• A new form will be created for officers to report incidents.

• Officers are forbidden from using physical force to keep suspects from swallowing narcotics.

• Those who witness a colleague using excessive force must report it to the Internal Affairs Bureau. (The IG’s report contained several case studies that described officers assaulting civilians while their partners stood by, not joining in but not interfering either.)

• When possible, a supervisor must be called to the scene when officers think they may have to use physical force.

• When time permits, officers must inform suspects who are not cooperating that they are risking arrest for resisting and that non-lethal force, such as chemical spray or a Taser, may be used against them. (Tasers are currently issued only to Emer­gency Service Unit officers and patrol supervisors, but Mr. Bratton said that more cops will receive them under a pilot program.)

• After an officer uses force against a suspect, he or she will ask whether the suspect needs medical attention.

• A suspect who injures himself fleeing from police—say, a man who breaks a leg while jumping a fence—will be documented in the same way as an injury due to an officer’s use of force.

• A suspect’s use of force against an officer will be reported as well.

• The policy will give officers guidance on when they should draw their weapons. No specifics were given.

Mr. Bratton mentioned that the department is working on a new performance-evaluation system. Officers complain that the current system gives them credit only for arrests and summonses and not other achievements, such as delivering a baby, heading off a gang fight or solving community problems.

Speaking of the IG’s release, the Police Commissioner said, “It was not a devastating report.” The IG look­ed at 179 cases in which the Civilian Complaint Review Board had substantiated complaints about use of force between 2010 and 2014. Mr. Bratton noted that most of the incidents covered occurred before he took office, and added for perspective that the NYPD makes 2 million arrests a year.

Goes Medieval on IG

He took offense at IG Philip Eure’s comment to reporters earlier in the day that “when you look at some of what other police departments are doing, the NYPD was living a little bit in the Dark Ages with respect to its use-of-force policies.” Mr. Bratton was informed of the wording by a reporter at the press conference.

The Commissioner demanded an apology. “Describing us in the Dark Ages in any way, shape or form” was unacceptable, he said. Mr. Eure declined to apologize.

Communities United for Police Reform criticized the new policy, saying it “will have little practical impact without fixing the department’s failure to hold officers accountable in an adequate, timely fashion.”

Dick Dadey, executive director of the good-government group Citizens’ Union, questioned Mr. Bratton’s assertion that his announcement was not connected to the IG report. The Commissioner’s press conference “was clearly intended to blunt the sharpness of the report issued hours later by the NYPD Inspector General that was critical of the department’s tracking and handling of officers use of force,” he said.

He continued, “That the NYPD action and the IG report come from separate arms of the same City Hall creates confusion…the public must be provided one cohesive action supported collaboratively by both the IG and the Police Commissioner.”