A New York City police officer was accused of pepper-spraying a woman, then denying her medical treatment as she was handcuffed in a holding cell. Another officer slammed a man arguing with restaurant workers onto the floor, knocking him unconscious. A third officer was accused of tackling a gay man during a pride parade and using a homophobic slur. The independent oversight agency that investigates police misconduct found enough evidence to conclude that the officers should face the most severe discipline available. Senior police officials downgraded or rejected the charges, and the officers were given lesser punishments or none. It is the kind of outcome that has left the Police Department facing a crisis of trust in its ability to discipline its own, reports the New York Times.
The pattern of lenient punishment holds true for 71 percent of the 6,900 misconduct charges over two decades in which the Civilian Complaint Review Board recommended the highest level of discipline and a final outcome was recorded. In case after case, the police department used its power to nullify the review board’s determination that serious misconduct had occurred and that the stiffest punishment should be imposed. The department regularly ignored the board’s recommendations, overruled them or downgraded punishments, even when officials confirmed that officers had violated regulations. The city paid millions of dollars to resolve lawsuits from people filing complaints in some of the same cases. Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected on a platform that included reining in police misconduct, but the trends have gone largely unchanged. The release of discipline records comes as police departments are under mounting pressure after the George Floyd death to remove problematic officers. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea has imposed the board’s recommended penalty in only two of the 28 cases in which charges were brought.