The NYPD fails to give its officers clear-cut guidelines on what constitutes excessive force and often declines to discipline them when they cross the line, according to a report released Thursday.
A rulebook for the nation's largest police department "is completely silent on what actions constitute 'force,'" said the report by Inspector General Philip Eure. The rules prohibit excessive force "while offering no clarity on what constitutes 'excessive force,'" it added.
An analysis by Eure's office also found that from 2010 through 2014, the NYPD opted not to punish officers in 37 of 104 cases where there was evidence of excessive force.
"In a number of cases, the department has failed to meet its fundamental obligation to police itself," the report said.
There are several examples of officers being in a position to intervene and potentially stop excessive force but choosing not to, the review said.
It cites a video showing an officer punching a cyclist in the face four times on a Queens street after the man refused to produce his identification as another officer stands a few feet away with his thumbs hooked in his belt. It mentions another case where a man who had locked himself out of his Manhattan apartment building was berated and pushed to the ground by an officer in a dispute over whether the man actually lived there.
Police officers "are not only missing opportunities to deescalate, but are sometimes actively escalating situations with members of the public," the report said.
The report recommends that the NYPD revise its patrol guide to give clearer guidance on when and how to use force, take stronger measures on holding officers accountable for exceeding force guidelines and give more training on how to avoid violent encounters.
The NYPD said in a letter Thursday that the department has been "in a dialogue with the OIG-NYPD and many other interested external stakeholders" and has already made several changes to its use of force policies.
Pat Lynch, the president of the department's rank-and-file union, lambasted the report, calling it a call for "reactive" policing policies that he blamed for the crime of the 1990s.
"We’ve lived through the era of reactive policing where cops could do nothing but respond to 911 calls, causing crime and disorderly behavior to run rampant in our neighborhoods. New York City police officers want to keep our streets safe," Lynch said. "To do that, we need support - not more reports."
There was no immediate response Thursday from the NYPD. But police officials have said many of the criticisms are already being addressed with various reforms and training initiatives.
The inspector general review comes in the wake of the police chokehold death of Eric Garner in 2014 and a rough takedown and handcuffing of former professional tennis star James Blake after officers mistook him for a criminal suspect in August — two videotaped incidents that intensified scrutiny on excessive force. The episodes remain under official review and were not part of the analysis.