An NYPD program aimed at identifying problem police officers before they get in serious trouble has singled out too few cops for retraining or other scrutiny, department critics say.
Since it began in August 2020, the NYPD’s Early Intervention Program has investigated service records of 1,132 cops.
Those officers may have been picked out for scrutiny because district attorneys declined to prosecute three of their cases in a year, if they were accused of racial profiling or using a racial slur, or if they drew three or more Civilian Complaint Review Board complaints.
Officers may also end up in the program if evidence they gather in a street or vehicle stop is suppressed, or if a judge formally finds their testimony in court not credible, among other reasons.
Of the cops investigated, 225 — about 20% — were reassigned, retrained, put under closer supervision or required to undergo other scrutiny of their work.
Some 84 of those 225 officers were also investigated by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau. Police would not disclose the outcomes of the IAB probes.
Police note that non-prosecution decisions often have nothing to do with police officers’ actions. For instance, several years ago, transit fare beaters and other low-level offenders were no longer being prosecuted, even as police were arresting them.
Intervention was ordered for only a handful of the officers who made such arrests, police said.
But all 42 of the officers flagged because judges found their testimony not credible were subject to more work scrutiny or other intervention.
The reassignments and additional supervisory attention to the officers’ work are not meant to be punitive, and aside from the changes to their working conditions the officers picked out for the program suffer no punishment such as loss of vacation days.
But a program that is not punitive probably isn’t effective, said Christopher Dunn, legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“We are concerned this program may be viewed as a substitute for discipline, which it is not,” said Dunn. “Officers who engage in misconduct must face real discipline, while those who engage in egregious or repeated misconduct also must be subject to the increased supervision and monitoring that come with this type of intervention program.”
There are advantages to an intervention program that doesn’t punish officers, said Christopher Herrmann, a former NYPD crime analysis supervisor who now teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
A punitive intervention program could make police supervisors hesitant to deal with officers’ professional issues, Herrmann said.
Still, he found it troubling that when the number of officers flagged for interventions spiked sharply in the fourth quarter of 2021 and the second quarter of 2022, the number of actual interventions decreased.
“When cases go up, you would hope that interventions go up,” Herrmann 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.
The data reports issued by the program are required by a 2020 local law, and replace an earlier tracking system ordered by a federal judge 10 years ago who ruled the NYPD’s stop and frisk tactics violated the constitutional rights of minorities.