Probe Calls for Sweeping NYPD Reform, Cites Deficiencies in Floyd Protest Response

The Dept. of Investigation, which acts as the city's Inspector General, issued a 20-point list of suggested reforms to NYPD protest response

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What to Know

  • NYC's Department of Investigation, in a scathing 111-page report, called for sweeping reform to NYPD protest response and oversight
  • It follows the NYPD's response to last summer's George Floyd protests, which led to widespread violence and hundreds of arrests
  • Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a lengthy video released early Friday morning, said he'd read the report and "I agree with it"

The city's Department of Investigation found "several deficiencies" in the NYPD's response to last summer protests over the death of George Floyd, and recommended wholesale changes to how the police department responds to protests.

The scathing 111-page report says "public trust is at a low ebb" and that the police department needs major structural changes to restore that trust.

"In sum, the scope and nature of the Floyd protests posed several challenges to NYPD’s ability to respond, raised questions about the legitimacy of that response, and revealed some shortcomings in the NYPD’s approach and preparedness for policing First Amendment protected protest activity," the report's conclusion says. "DOI’s investigation identified several deficiencies in NYPD’s policing of the Floyd protests, including its planning, strategy, tactics and enforcement, intelligence use, training, use of community affairs, and public communication. NYPD should
pursue reform in these areas."

The report includes a 20-point list of recommendations for changes to how the NYPD responses to protests. (To read the full list of proposals, scroll to the end of this story.)

Mayor Bill de Blasio released a six-minute video on social media responding to the investigation, saying "I read this report, and I agree with it."

The city's largest police union said the report validated its own position that its members were sent to deal with the protests without the proper planning or support - but also said more training wasn't necessarily the answer.

"No amount of new training or strategizing will help while politicians continue to undermine police officers and embolden those who create chaos on our streets," PBA President Pat Lynch said in a statement.

Protests rocked the city in late May and early June after the Minneapolis death of George Floyd, a Black man who was caught on camera begging for help while officers knelt on him. Multiple cops now face charges in his death, but the public outrage over his anguished final moments sparked a nationwide reckoning with policing and social justice.

At least one NYPD officer ultimately faced assault charges for shoving a protester during that violent period, which was so intense that the city imposed its first curfew since World War II.

Since then, the debate over reform has intensified -- not just for policing tactics, but also police accountability.

To that end, the DOI report also includes proposals for reforming police oversight, among them a unified body with the power to investigate complaints, conduct systemic police reviews and audit disciplinary records.

"While NYPD leadership may believe in good faith that they can effectively monitor themselves, we urge them to accept that in this moment their own efforts are not enough to restore and preserve trust with the public, and to seek a true partnership with robust civilian oversight," the report concludes.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea released a statement acknowledging the recommendations for reforming protest response -- without making any mention of the suggested oversight reforms.

"In general terms the report captured the difficult period that took place in May/June of 2020 and presents 20 logical and thoughtful recommendations that I intend to incorporate into our future policy and training," Shea said.

The full 20-point list of DOI recommendations for protest policing reform:

1. NYPD should draft a Patrol Guide policy specific to policing protests and protected First Amendment activity. NYPD should consult on this policy with individuals and entities outside of the Department, including civil rights attorneys, community organizations, and police reform experts.

2. NYPD should create a new Protest Response Unit, that does not report to Strategic Response Group, to lead the planning and strategy for response to large protests, to collaborate with the Community Affairs Bureau on community engagement, and to coordinate with other divisions, borough commands, and precincts on response.

3. NYPD should reevaluate the central role of the Strategic Response Group and Disorder Control Unit in response to large protests given their orientation to handle counterterrorism, riots, and other serious threats, and better calibrate their use to circumstances that require such specialized force.

4. NYPD should create internal written records explaining the reasons and documenting authorization for deployment of the Strategic Response Group, Disorder Control Unit, and other specialized units for disorder control purposes at protests.

5. To the extent NYPD deems the assignment of specialized units or officers in “riot gear” or “hard uniforms” potentially necessary to a protest response, it should stage those officers in nearby areas not visible to protesters for deployment only if necessary.

6. NYPD should develop a written policy outlining reasonable limitations on the use of disorder control tactics, such as encirclement and mass arrests, specific to their use at First Amendment-protected protests.

7. Through both training and policies, NYPD should expand incorporation of differentiation methods into their protest policing to reduce reliance on indiscriminate enforcement

approaches that fail to distinguish between those engaged in peaceful First Amendment activity and those engaged in violence or property destruction.

8. NYPD should employ standardized daily messages or instructions for use by commanders and supervisors during roll calls or briefings involving officers responding to protests, including guidance about the constitutional rights of protesters and the objectives of the response.

9. NYPD should play any LRAD dispersal orders or warnings at least three times from multiple locations at large protests and events, unless emergency circumstances do not permit.

10. NYPD should audio or video record LRAD dispersal orders or warnings when made at protests both from a location near the device and, if practicable, a location near protesters at the furthest distance from the device.

11. NYPD should consider expansion of instruction on de-escalation and crowd psychology in training relating to policing protests.

12. NYPD should involve the Community Affairs Bureau in the development and presentation of training related to policing protests.

13. NYPD should consult with community organizations and issue advocacy groups on the content of protest policing training and consider inviting civilians with relevant experience organizing protests or other First Amendment events to participate in such training.

14. NYPD should complete the deployment of its new training to officers as soon as possible to ensure that officers deployed to police protests have received recent and consistent training.

15. NYPD should ensure that the Chief of the Community Affairs Bureau is involved in discussions and decisions regarding the planning and strategy for policing large protests.

16. NYPD should formalize the use of Community Affairs Bureau officers and individual precinct Community Affairs officers in response to large-scale protests.

17. NYPD should require that the use of Community Affairs officers during protests be solely in a community affairs capacity and separate them from any patrol or enforcement functions, unless their alternative use is necessary due to an emergency, absence of other available personnel when immediate public safety or officer safety needs arise, or other compelling reasons.

18. NYPD should enhance and expand its public communication during protests, including additional use of social media; such communications should balance concerns about the First Amendment rights of protesters, officer and public safety, and police-community relations.

19. NYPD should establish data collection procedures to reliably track complete, relevant protest data, including but not limited to arrest data. These procedures may include mechanisms for officers to designate arrests as relating to protest activity and enter such information into NYPD databases accordingly.

20. To promote transparency around NYPD policing of protests, NYPD should report to the public regarding its responses to these recommendations and any additional changes or plans relating to policing of future protests within 90 days.

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