When he ran to be New York City Mayor in 2021, Eric Adams promised, “I will never ask New Yorkers to decide between the safety we need and the justice we deserve.” Adams pledged that police officers would treat New Yorkers with respect, and that the NYPD would hold those who mistreated civilians accountable.
But based on a recent report from the city’s police oversight agency, complaints of NYPD abuse have surged since Adams became mayor. Complaints filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) have increased 51 percent since 2021, according to the report. Overall, New Yorkers filed more complaints (5,604) against NYPD officers than they have in more than a decade.
New CCRB Complaints
The NYPD would have you believe this dramatic rise in complaints is simply due to police making more arrests. It’s true that the NYPD has ramped up arrests for minor infractions like having an open container of alcohol in public, but this doesn’t explain the increase. Complaint activity is much more likely driven by an escalation in officer abuse. There’s a huge difference between an officer lawfully arresting someone and a cop brutalizing an innocent New Yorker and the two aren’t related to one another.
When the CCRB confirms that an officer has abused someone, the ultimate decision on how to discipline that officer is up to the NYPD commissioner. Here too, the report illuminates a worrying trend. The police commissioner followed CCRB recommendations in just 55 percent of cases in 2023, down significantly from 71 percent in 2021.
NYPD-CCRB Discipline Concurrence
While this is alarming, it’s not surprising. Back in 2022, then Commissioner Keechant Sewell announced that the NYPD would impose less discipline on officers found to have committed misconduct. Sure enough, in 2023, the NYPD ignored CCRB recommendations almost half the time.
Even when the CCRB brought officers up on charges and a judge convicted them at a disciplinary trial – only the most serious allegations tend to go to trial – the NYPD fired none of these officers in 2023.
The NYPD has a long history of ignoring the CCRB’s recommendations that dates back well before the Adams administration. But this longstanding problem is getting even worse.
The NYPD has always made it very difficult for the CCRB to substantiate complaints against officers. The department is notorious for withholding body camera footage or failing to make officers available to be interviewed. These stonewalling tactics drag out investigations and can make it more likely that the person filing the complaint just gives up and drops their case.
And while complaints are on the rise, the Adams administration is further undermining the CCRB’s ability to keep pace and even conduct basic investigations. In December, the CCRB announced that it was suspending investigations into eight categories of misconduct allegations, because of mandated cuts to the agency’s budget. The CCRB’s ability to investigate the NYPD should be expanded, not curtailed.
The Board said it is suspending investigations into allegations that an officer wrongfully seized a person’s property, made untruthful statements, or even improperly forced someone to be hospitalized. This is a particularly concerning development given the Adams administration’s involuntary removals of people experiencing mental health challenges and homelessness.
Instead of giving these New Yorkers the treatment and access to affordable housing they need, the Adams administration is further criminalizing them. It is imperative that the agency responsible for investigating police abuse actually has the resources needed to conduct these investigations in the first place.
It is troubling that reports of abuse are up dramatically while the Adams administration is scaling back the scope of the CCRB’s investigative oversight. And it’s just as upsetting that the NYPD is more brazen than ever when it comes to ignoring its own oversight agency and allowing officers to abuse New Yorkers with impunity.
Despite Mayor Adams’ promises, if these trends continue, New Yorkers won’t have the safety they need or the justice they deserve.