Wall Street Journal
September 12, 2014

Chokehold Complaints Have Been Undercounted

Police Review Board Said It Misclassified Some Allegations


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Richard Emery, chairman of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, speaking at a news conference in July with Mayor Bill de Blasio.   

The city's police review board said it found more chokehold complaints against New York Police Department officers after discovering it had misclassified some of them.

From 2009 through June, the Civilian Complaint Review Board resolved 1,128 chokehold complaints. But now, officials said, dozens more allegations that the CCRB should have categorized as chokehold complaints will be investigated.

The agency found the discrepancies as it conducted a review of the 1,128 chokehold allegations, Chairman Richard Emery said at a public meeting Wednesday night. Those cases were either fully investigated or withdrawn for some reason.

"There was a lack of uniformity in the way that allegations were categorized as chokeholds or not categorized as chokeholds," Mr. Emery said.

The preliminary findings also show there is a "significant difference" between officers who have faced chokehold allegations and those who haven't, Mr. Emery said.

Officers who have been the subject of chokehold investigations might be more prone to receiving other allegations of abuse, Mr. Emery said.

"That's going to be a very serious finding and a red flag, a potential red flag for training purposes," Mr. Emery said.

His staff is still analyzing the data to determine whether chokehold allegations might predict future misconduct, or if an officer's complaint history is predictive of the potential use of a future chokehold.

"We're looking at whether factors in officers' complaint histories can be used, obviously to identify problem-prone officers," Mr. Emery said.

There is also a "strong correlation" that precincts with the highest number of abuse complaints also reported the highest number of chokehold complaints, he said.

"It seems fairly obvious, but it is still very important to document," he said.

The full report, being compiled by 10 staff members, which was originally scheduled for release in late-August or early September, will be out in the coming weeks, Mr. Emery said.

The CCRB's analysis comes after Eric Garner, of Staten Island, died in July after being put in an apparent chokehold by an officer who was trying to arrest him for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.

The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, has been placed on desk duty while the Staten Island District Attorney's office presents the case to a grand jury, which will determine if his actions were criminal.

The NYPD is conducting its own internal review to determine whether Officer Pantaleo's actions violated department policy. Using a chokehold is banned by the NYPD.

Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the union that represents NYPD officers including Mr. Pantaleo, said the CCRB is unreliable.

"The CCRB has become an advocate against police officers instead of the impartial fact gatherer and advisory body it was created to be," Mr. Lynch said.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said the administration looks forward to learning the final results the study.

The NYPD didn't return requests for comment.

Police Commissioner William Bratton has ordered staff to review its chokehold policy and retrain every officer in the use of force. Mr. Bratton has said he would cooperate with the CCRB's investigation.

Mr. Emery announced the preliminary findings at a meeting on Staten Island, held a few blocks from where the incident involving Mr. Garner occurred.

Mr. Garner's death has led to a series of largely peaceful protests across the city and scrutiny of NYPD polices—including how and when force is used and the broken-windows approach, which targets quality-of-life offenses as a way to deter more violent crimes.

Mr. Emery was appointed to lead the CCRB by Mr. de Blasio weeks before Mr. Garner's death. He has made the report into allegations of NYPD use of chokeholds a high priority, promising at the meeting a "very thorough and very carefully done" chokehold report.

He also promised to look not only at the NYPD but his own organization, in a bid to bolster its legitimacy by looking at how it handles complaints.

As part of the chokehold audit, CCRB analysts read over complaint narratives and found that the criteria determining what was classified as a chokehold has varied, mostly depending on who is investigating the complaint.

"That is not acceptable and has to be changed, and we're working to define this problem," he said. "We're going to do our own audit of how the CCRB handled allegations."

Civil-rights leaders said the determination was troubling.

"The prospect that the CCRB failed to identify and investigate a significant number of chokehold complaints is alarming," said Chris Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"If there is any category of police misconduct that deserves intense scrutiny it is the use of serious physical force," Mr. Dunn said.

Write to Pervaiz Shallwani at pervaiz.shallwani@wsj.com