The NYPD announced today that it will begin implementing a new use of force policy, including requiring for the first time officers to track many uses of force, following advocacy by the NYCLU. Today’s announcement came two weeks after the NYCLU issued a letter to the NYPD and published an op-ed demanding that the NYPD track all uses of force reported after James Blake, a well-known tennis star, was tackled to the ground by an NYPD officer on video. The NYCLU welcomes the announcement but has some concerns.
“Today’s announcement is a welcome recognition from the NYPD that use of force is a serious problem and that we need real data in order to have real reform,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “We, like many New Yorkers, are concerned that what happened to tennis star James Blake is just one example of the harm suffered by countless New Yorkers at the hands of the NYPD, whose stories have largely remained hidden to the public.”
Currently, the NYPD only captures bits and pieces of information about all the instances where officers use force. Shortly after the chokehold death of Eric Garner, the NYCLU called upon the NYPD to reform its use of force policy. More recently, the NYCLU published an op-ed calling on the NYPD to develop a comprehensive reporting system for officer use of force, and again advocated that the NYPD update its use of force policy, which, at approximately a page in length, is “so non-specific as to be of extremely limited use to police officers.” Commissioner William J. Bratton responded to the op-ed with a public letter acknowledging holes in the reporting system and committing to the reforms announced today.
Today’s announcement indicates that under the NYPD’s new reporting policy, every police officer will have to detail on a Force Incident Report when they use certain incidents of force. The Police Department will make public an annual report analyzing the documented use of force episodes, which will also include race information. Full details have yet to be released on both the policy and the reporting form.
However, based on initial reports, two significant forms of force are not included in the reporting requirements. The NYPD will not record when a person’s hands are put up against a wall or on a car during a street stop, an omission that is concerning given how often this type of force is used by officers. For example, between 2003 and 2013, there were 153,894 incidents where officer put a person’s hands against a wall or on a car – amounting to 11.1 percent of all uses of force during that same period. Moreover, officers will not report drawing a weapon on a person, despite it being an obviously threatening action.
“Today’s announcement about planned reforms is encouraging, but we need to see an actual use of force policy before we know how meaningful these reforms will be,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Chris Dunn. “We also are deeply troubled by the Department’s apparent decision not to collect information about people being thrown against walls or having guns pointed at them, both of which are serious and traumatizing examples of police force.”