Investigations into NYPD misconduct will be fast-tracked under sweeping new reforms Mayor de Blasio announced Wednesday — after fielding weeks of criticism over his handling of anti-police brutality protests.
The reforms, which come a day after de Blasio announced new guidelines on releasing police body camera footage, will require that the NYPD commissioner make a decision within 48 hours on penalizing cops involved in causing “substantial injuries” to civilians and that NYPD Internal Affairs’ probes be concluded within two weeks or less.
“It has never been this quick in the history of the city,” de Blasio said at his morning press briefing. “It has never been based on an open, transparent timeline like I’m discussing now. This is what we have to do in our city today.”
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea was noticeably absent from Wednesday’s briefing.
The mayor said there could be exceptions to his mandate for the police commissioner to render a decision to either suspend officers or put them on modified duty within 48 hours — in instances when a district attorney is involved, for example — but he noted that “the standard” would be 48 hours.
“People deserve to know that if an officer has done something wrong that the action involving their immediate status is very quick,” he said.
The response from the police officers’ union was quick — and severe.
“The mayor’s proposal amounts to ‘no process.’ The only way to complete every investigation — even large and complex ones — within an arbitrary political deadline is to predetermine the outcome in every case,” said PBA President Patrick Lynch. “In the current environment, every police officer knows what that outcome will be.”
The pro-police reform New York Civil Liberties Union, which has also been critical of the mayor, offered only a lukewarm response to the announcement.
“Given this administration’s open hostility to police transparency, we need to see the details,” said Christopher Dunn, the group’s legal director. “But what is clear is that the time has come for the city to make public comprehensive information about police officer misconduct and discipline.”
Civil rights attorney Joel Berger described the reforms as “baby steps.”
“It’s not going to solve the problem. Just getting a guy off the streets temporarily isn’t going to fix a disciplinary process stacked in favor of the officer,” Berger said. “At a very minimum, cases should be investigated by an outside agency and tried by an outside agency.”
With the recent state repeal of the 50-a law, which shielded police disciplinary records from public view, the city is also planning to release all trial decisions involving NYPD officers and, by July, publish data on every pending case within the NYPD — 1,100 in all.
“Those are the ones in the pipeline now,” de Blasio said. “We will publish the officer’s name, charges, the hearing date and the ultimate resolution when it occurs.”
The city will also create a “comprehensive” database available to the public online that will cover every active member of the police force.
Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society’s criminal defense practice, said the city’s move “is a clear step forward.”
“However, the devil is in the details, and we will monitor this process to ensure that any database is comprehensive, complete, and includes officers’ full histories of misconduct,” she said.
Detectives’ Endowment Association President Paul DiGiacomo pointed out that the “overwhelmingly” number of complaints against detectives are “unsubstantiated and unfounded.”
“For these complaints and others not even investigated to be publicly available will ruin the reputations of good detectives who’ve dedicated their lives to protecting the citizens and visitors to New York City — and adversely affect prosecutions of criminals across the five boroughs,” he said.
Lynch said airing the records in the way de Blasio outlined would supersede the city’s Freedom of Information law process.
“Mayor de Blasio has shown that FOIL does absolutely nothing to ‘protect’ police officers,” he said. “It allows employers to release whatever they want, whenever and however they want.”
De Blasio has recently taken issue with the release of police records regarding his daughter, Chiara, who was arrested at a recent protest. A record of her arrest was posted on Twitter by the Sergeants Benevolent Association, which the mayor criticized Tuesday for “racist activities.”
An NYPD spokesperson said the department is “committed to developing an online database of disciplinary records.”
“Work has already begun to develop an effective system,” the spokesperson said. “We will complete investigations and impose discipline as quickly possible.”