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August 19, 2023, 6:30 PM

More than 100 NYPD cops identified as potential problem officers were flagged second time, concerning NYCLU, police critics

By Rocco Parascandola

An NYPD program designed to identify police officers likely to break departmental rules has red-flagged more than 100 cops for a second time — raising concerns that efforts to rein in potentially problematic officers are ineffective.

Since it began in August 2020, the NYPD’s Early Intervention Program — aimed at curbing bad police practices without disciplining officers — has investigated the service records of 1,494 cops.

During the first three months of 2023, some 362 officers became part of that tally after raising eyebrows in the department for having multiple civilian complaints or other issues.

Of those 362 officers flagged from January to March of 2023, some 106 of them — 29% — went on to be flagged again between April and June, the data shows.

That so many officers were flagged twice in the first six months of 2023 is a “most alarming revelation,” said Christopher Dunn, legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“That is a clear indicator the Early Intervention Program is failing to curb misconduct,” Dunn said of the data presented in the program’s most recent report.

The Early Intervention Program aims to make sure officers comply with the law as they enforce the law by taking a close look at those who face such problems as accusations of bias, or having within a 12-month period at least three arrests that borough district attorneys decline to prosecute.

Other red flags that might signal officers are possible candidates for future rule-breaking include involvement in vehicle pursuits, having their courtroom testimony deemed non-credible by judges, a judicial ruling in which criminal evidence they present is suppressed, or allegations of multiple abuses of force.

The 1,494 reviews have resulted in 280 interventions — including 55 in the first three months of 2023. Under the program, interventions can include retraining, enhanced supervision or a change in assignment. The interventions are seen as a way to correct wrongdoings without disciplining the officers.

Notable in the report are 20 officers flagged for an assessment after being involved in a car pursuit or crash.

That’s 10 times the two officers investigated in both the third and fourth quarters of 2022 and comes as the NYPD has made clear it has ramped up efforts to catch fleeing suspects. 

“People thinking they can take off on us — those days are over,” NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell said at a news conference in July.

Critics of the intervention program’s effectiveness are also concerned that 265 cops were scrutinized in the first three months of 2023 because they had at least three arrests in a 12-month time frame that were not prosecuted.

The NYPD said the number of “decline prosecution” cases is not as high as it appears given that the category was not reviewed in the last quarter of 2023. And it noted that “prosecutorial discretion” was the main reason, with a spokesman adding that because of a change in policy, many low-level offenses are not being prosecuted.

Dunn, noting that only eight of those 265 cops with too many “decline prosecution” cases were subjected to intervention, said the NYPD “has to provide much more information about what’s behind these cases and why so few officers are facing consequences.”

The Early Intervention Program report also noted several categories for which no officer was subjected to a review, including suppression of evidence rulings and multiple allegations of excessive force.

Police unions are critical of the Early Intervention Program, with Police Benevolent Association president Patrick Hendry noting that the NYPD’s push for more proactive police work is at odds with asking officers to be more proactive

“The brass keeps pushing for more enforcement activity,” Hendry said. “But it’s the cop on the street who will land under the microscope for carrying it out.”

John Scola, a civil rights lawyer, doubts the Early Intervention Program will have any impact on cops’ behavior.

“The NYPD is always going to have biased and unlawful arrests when they use the number of arrests as a metric for economic rewards such as overtime and promotional opportunities,” Scola said.

City Council members began pushing for the Early Intervention Program in 2015 after an officer with a history of excessive force complaints tackled former tennis star James Blake outside a Midtown hotel in a case of mistaken identity.

The program was finally established in 2020 in a package of police reform bills the council passed in response to George Floyd’s death.