NY attorney general report calls for NYPD overhaul in response to protests

The New York state attorney general called for an overhaul of the New York Police Department — including an independent commission to manage the department, more oversight and a uniform use-of-force policy — as part of her investigation into clashes between police and protesters during demonstrations in response to police killing of George Floyd.

The 57-page preliminary report released by Letitia James on Wednesday is one of three probes underway in response to clashes between police officers and protesters across New York City that resulted in more than 2,000 arrests. The full report will be released at later date.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered James to review actions and procedures used by the NYPD. The two other probes include an internal review of officer actions and tactics by the NYPD, and another by the city’s corporate counsel and Officer of the Inspector General for the NYPD, an independent city agency.

James’ report was a summary of findings related to a three-day event in June where she heard testimony from demonstrators and community organizers who described violent clashes with police officers, some of which were caught on video.

“It is impossible to deny that many New Yorkers have lost faith in law enforcement,” said James at a news conference announcing her findings.

James said that since May 30 her office has received more than 1,300 submissions online and over the phone, some of which include video for the office to review.

In the report, James lays out several sweeping reforms to the structure of the NYPD that include creating a commission that would hire the policing commissioner, who is currently appointed by the mayor; more community oversight by civilian agencies and allowing community groups to have a say in high-ranking promotions as well as the ability to fire the police commissioner, among other recommendations.

“Progress cannot and should not wait,” James said. “We must begin the hard role of re-evaluating the role of police in society.”

The determinations made in the report are not mandates from the attorney general’s office and would need the NYPD, along with city and state lawmakers, to enact the recommendations. The report says James, who is the top law enforcement officer in the state, “will fight for these reforms to be adopted.”

In a statement a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said that while the mayor looks forward to reading the report, “we do not believe creating a commission to oversee the NYPD does that.”

“Change comes from accountability, something a commission lacks,” said spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein. “If we want to continue moving forward, more bureaucracy is not the answer.”

In response, the NYPD said the report was a “political and not investigative document.”

“Rather than rehash rhetoric we should come together — state and local law enforcement and electeds — and confront and solve the crisis at hand,” spokesman Richard Esposito said in a statement.

Cuomo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In her report, James suggested several other reforms to the NYPD.

She called for new oversight by a newly formed commission that has the power to hire and fire NYPD leadership, has access to all records and approves the NYPD’s budget. The report also recommends the NYPD seek public comment for any rule changes it wants to implement.

The report also noted that minor offenses must be decriminalized and the NYPD must be taken out of schools, mental health situations and traffic enforcement, measures that are largely being applied as part of $1 billion shift in funds away from the NYPD in the budget that passed last week.

Additionally, the report calls for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the independent agency charged with oversight of the NYPD, to be strengthened and have final disciplinary authority over the NYPD, the report said. Currently that authority falls to the police commissioner.

Other policies laid out by James include a call for body camera footage to be made available online and for all officers to go through a certification process that would allow for “decertifying,” or taking a badge away from an officer in a case of misconduct.

In testimony last month, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea was asked by James about officers’ use of batons and pepper spray — and responses to viral videos that included an NYPD vehicle accelerating through a crowd of protesters and another in which an officer, who was later charged by the Brooklyn district attorney, was seen shoving a young woman so hard her head smacked into the pavement.

“Some used these public demonstrations, protests and marches as opportunities to engage in acts of vandalism, arson, property destruction, looting and most notably targeted attacks against my police officers,” Shea said at the start of his testimony in June. “As police officers were trying to do their job they were attacked with bricks, knives, trash cans, glass bottles and other projectiles and other incendiary devices.”

The Police Benevolent Association, the largest police union in the city, said in a statement that “the report tells only one side of the story and delivers reheated proposals that have been part of the anti-police agenda for decades.”

Said PBA President Patrick Lynch, “If the goal is to heal the rift between police officers and the public … that won’t be achieved without giving meaningful consideration to the perspective of police officers on the street.”

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