City Hall and the New York Police Department are feeling the heat after a recent Buzzfeed report on the disciplinary action taken against abusive officers.
According to Buzzfeed, between 2011 and 2015, at least 300 NYPD officers who committed offenses such as assaulting civilians, falsifying records and stealing kept their jobs. The website developed its story going through internal NYPD files, phone calls, court records and interviews with prosecutors and officers.
Police reform activists and legal officials called out the NYPD for its lackadaisical effort in firing abusive members of the force.
“The NYPD’s broken accountability system, failing to meaningfully discipline officers who are engaging in some of the most serious abuses and misconduct, is in a state of crisis,” said Rama Issa-Ibrahim, a representative for Communities United for Police Reform, in a statement. “This is dangerous, because abusive officers disregarding their most fundamental oath to the public are being allowed to continue as officers and commit increasingly worse abuses, which can include killings of civilians after they are not held accountable by the department.”
Activists want the NYPD to fire all the officers mentioned in Buzzfeed’s report, commit to public notice all NYPD disciplinary hearings, automatically fire any officer who engages in abuse, misconduct or falsifying reports, end obstruction of delays of disciplinary proceedings and commit to ending the city’s alleged misuse of state law 50-a to shield abusive officers from public scrutiny.
Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said the currently disciplinary tactics used for abusive officers is unacceptable.
“Officers who commit heinous crimes receive a mere slap on the wrist, plain and simple,” said Luongo in a statement. “This is an insult to every New Yorker—especially our clients—who suffer a much different and much more severe criminal justice system. If Mayor Bill de Blasio is sincere about improving police-community relationships, City Hall must address these core issues of police brutality, corruption, transparency and accountability.”
During a crime press briefing, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill pushed the “bad apples” and “working with Albany” cards to explain the revelations.
“My team and I have raised it repeatedly in Albany, including at my budget testimony, and in private conversations with a number of legislators, a number of leaders in Albany,” de Blasio recently told reporters. “You know, we’ve been talking about this now intensely, publicly, for the last year or more. There’s no one in Albany that doesn’t know this issue is on the front burner, and if they pretend they’ve not heard about it, they’re not telling you the truth.”
De Blasio also said that this should be a non-partisan issue no matter where in New York State you reside. “When you hear people like Jimmy O’Neill, and Bill Bratton before him, saying they want this, I don’t know what else there is to ask. These are the greatest police leaders in America, what else do you need to know?”
De Blasio and New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo have publicly showed support for releasing records. Going back to 2016, the mayor presented section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law to tell the people his hands are tied. Starting in 1976, section 50-a treats the personnel records of law enforcement and uniformed personnel as confidential. The records are used to evaluate potential promotions or employment opportunities. Currently, records can only be disclosed with a court order or with the written consent of the employee in question.
“There’s many things we do well in the NYPD—we fight crime well, neighborhood policing is going well,” stated O’Neill at the news conference. “Letting people know about our internal disciplinary process, that’s not something we do very well at all. You know, if you read the newspaper, or if you watched TV, you would think that police officers, NYPD officers, there’s no discipline. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
According to NYPD officials, since 2014, there have been 362 officers who have either left with pending disciplinary proceedings or were outright terminated. Out of that group of officers, 199 were forced out or terminated and 163 resigned.
“A lot of time and effort is put into training our police officers, and some people, and there’s 36,000 cops, and we recruit from the human race, some of those 36,000 do not deserve to wear a shield—the NYPD shield and the uniform,” said O’Neill. “And we do our best to make sure that they are terminated from the Police Department so we can move forward and continuing to keep this great city safe.”