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August 31, 2020

Mayor announces latest steps toward police reform, signing on for Obama Foundation pledge

By Paul Liotta

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that New York City would take its latest step toward police reform, and join an Obama Foundation pledge related to the topic.

A surge in gun violence and homicides throughout the city have raised concerns about growing crime, while protestors across the nation have called for police reforms following several high-profile instances of police brutality.

The city’s latest step toward reform, a disciplinary matrix, outlines the NYPD’s internal penalty guidelines. A draft of the matrix will be posted to the department’s website for 30 days during which the public can submit comment on the procedures.

City officials will review the public comments at the end of the 30-day period, and a finalized version of the matrix will be made available to the public by Jan. 15, according to the NYPD.

“We want discipline to be a very straightforward matter. We want it to be clear that when certain actions are taken and certain mistakes are made that there will be accountability,” de Blasio said during a press briefing.

“And it is so important for the public trust in our police – and that we’ve proven over the last seven years – when that trust grows, when that relationship grows, as it has in the city so many times, it allows us all to be safer,” he continued.

The announcement drew mixed reactions from parties on opposing sides of the issue.

Pat Lynch, the president of the city’s Police Benevolent Association, compared the public disciplinary guidelines to mandatory minimums, and predicted that the system to would not remain consistent.

“Apparently mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines are unfair to criminals but perfectly fine for cops. This matrix has nothing to do with fairness. It’s an avenue for the City Council’s policing ‘experts’ – the ones who brought chaos back to NYC – to manipulate NYPD discipline to further their radical political goals,” Lynch said.

“Just watch as the punishment guidelines are changed based on headlines and poll numbers, rather than any objective sense of justice or fairness,” he predicted.

The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) is an independent agency responsible for investigating allegations of police misconduct, and recommending disciplinary actions against officers. It was one of several organizations that city officials received input from when drafting the disciplinary matrix.

CCRB Chair Fred Davie characterized Monday’s announcement as a “first step” toward greater police accountability, and expressed his hope that it would lead to more uniformity between CCRB discipline recommendations and the decisions imposed by the commissioner.

"New Yorkers deserve accountability in policing. By raising standards for discipline in law enforcement and establishing a transparent procedure that will make the NYPD more responsive to independent civilian oversight, the proposed disciplinary matrix serves as a significant first step to achieving greater accountability,” Davie said.

“I am encouraged by some of the clear standards laid out in this new set of rules and look forward to reviewing it further with my fellow Board members and CCRB staff, and look forward to discussing this proposed matrix at a public board meeting,” he continued.

Some of the standards laid out in the matrix draft include “presumptive penalties” to a variety of misconduct determinations, and possible “mitigating” and “aggravating” factors that could be used to justify the commissioner’s deviation from the presumptive penalties.

“The presumptive penalty serves as the starting point for analysis during the penalty phase of a case, which must include consideration of the totality of the circumstances and any aggravating and or mitigating factors that may be relevant,” the draft reads. “The Police Commissioner, who is statutorily empowered to adjudicate discipline, makes the final determination and may deviate from the presumptive penalties.”

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea characterized the matrix and the broader Obama Foundation pledge as the latest steps in reform undertaken by the NYPD.

Since de Blasio took office in 2013, the NYPD has undergone several attempts toward reform, including the wearing of body cameras, and the implementation of several new training programs.

Earlier this summer, Shea announced the disbandment of the NYPD’s anti-crime unit -- a decision that some have linked to the spike in gun violence. The city and state legislatures also passed reform packages that included chokehold bans.

“Over the past nearly seven years, our NYPD officers have worked tirelessly to carry out a series of cutting edge reforms, all geared toward increasing fairness, impartiality and accountability in policing and to deepen our ties with those we serve in every New York City neighborhood,” Shea said.

According to a City Hall media release, de Blasio took the Obama Foundation Mayor’s Pledge in June. It commits the city to reviewing police use of force policies, engaging communities by including a diverse range of input, reporting the findings of the review, and reforming police use of force policies.

New York City joins a number of other cities around the country whose mayors signed onto the pledge, which was launched by the foundation of former President Barack Obama and his family, including Boulder, Colorado and Vienna, Virginia.