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Testimony on Community Policing and the New York City Police Department

March 3, 2015

The New York Civil Liberties Union respectfully submits the following testimony regarding Community Policing and the New York Police Department (NYPD).


The NYCLU, the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization with eight offices across New York state and 50,000 members and supporters. The NYCLU’s mission is to defend and promote the fundamental principles, rights and constitutional values embodied in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York. Protecting New Yorkers’ right to be free from discriminatory and abusive tactics in law enforcement is a core component of our mission, and we advocate for these rights through our legal, legislative and advocacy work.

From New York City to Ferguson, Missouri, the issue of police-community relations has taken center stage – the President has even established a Task Force on 21st Century Policing to hear recommendations from stakeholders across the country and make recommendations. In New York City, the deaths of Eric Garner and Akai Gurley at the hand of law enforcement have re-ignited the call for police accountability. New Yorkers are taking to the street to demand a different approach to community safety. We hope the City Council will lead the way in helping the New York City Police Department (NYPD) engage communities in a way that fosters good relationships, encourages respect for Constitutional rights, and promotes safety without the price of police abuse or misconduct.

Community policing is a term with as many meanings as there are communities, but most scholars agree it represents a policing model that entails greater community involvement in the definition of crime problems and solutions.1 In New York City, years of aggressive stop-and-frisk and selective, aggressive enforcement practices have driven a wedge between police and residents in the communities hardest hit by crime. In order to work with the community, specifically communities of color, the NYPD first needs to rebuild trust, and then must give New Yorkers meaningful input into what works and what doesn’t.

We have four recommendations today:

  • The Council should to put an end to the NYPD’s aggressive enforcement of nonviolent, noncriminal infractions, such as possessing an open container or riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. These violations account for almost half a million police encounters each year—all of which have the potential escalate into something far worse than a ticket.
  • The Council should work with the NYPD and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to improve collection and reporting of data about violation enforcement, particularly demographic information on summonses, which is currently not collected or reported by the NYPD.
  • The council should investigate how the NYPD recruits and promotes officers of color, particularly black men.
  • The Council should mandate that the NYPD commissioner provide regular comprehensive explanations to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) of why he rejects or downgrades discipline recommendations in substantiated cases.

I. De-prioritize Aggressive Enforcement of Violations and Misdemeanors

From 2002 through 2013, there were more than five million stops of New Yorkers. During that same period, there were more than six million summonses issued to residents for low-level violations, such as riding a bike on a sidewalk. While it’s easy to dismiss the summons process as minor, receiving a criminal court summons requires an in-person court appearance and can carry fees and severe collateral consequences; forty percent of summonses result in an arrest warrant being issued for a failure to appear in court.2 Arrests associated with low-level violations and misdemeanors can affect many areas of a person’s life, including eligibility for public housing and student financial aid, job opportunities, child custody and possibly immigration status. And, as was tragically the case for Eric Garner, aggressively enforcing these lowest-level infractions is not without the possibility of physical force, injury, and even death.

The NYPD should de-prioritize enforcement of low-level violations, especially in cases where there is no threat to public safety. Instead officers should use discretion to give warnings, both formal and informal, to New Yorkers about these violations, and to issue summonses instead of effectuating an arrest. A decrease in these aggressive tactics, and a move towards enforcement that does not rely on physical custody, will lessen the number and impact of encounters between police and communities of color. It will reduce the sense of being unfairly targeted for minor misdeeds that regularly go unnoticed in white neighborhoods, which itself will promote trust.

II. Increase Transparency about Police Practices

The data made public by the NYPD after they were required to collect and report on Stop-Question-Frisk practices (SQF) shed light on the inefficiencies and stark racial disparities of the practice. The data showed that not only was SQF discriminatory but it was not efficient at getting guns off our streets or rounding up criminals. Instead, it divided communities along racial lines and created a major rift between police and impacted communities.

A limited glimpse into data about enforcement of non-criminal violations, provided to the NYCLU by the Office of Court Administration (OCA), indicates the same troubling racial disparity. According to the demographic data available (approximately 30 percent of the dataset included race/ethnicity indicators), Black and Latino people in New York City bear the brunt of enforcement of minor non-criminal offenses. From 2002-2013, the NYPD issued nearly 81 percent of tickets for these offenses to Blacks and Latinos.

This practice is of continued concern because of Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton’s vocal commitment to “Broken Windows” policing. In this context, it should be especially appalling to discover that the NYPD has essentially stopped gathering any data on race and ethnicity of people charged with violations (in recent years only 4 percent of summonses include any demographic data whatsoever). The City Council must ensure the NYPD is regularly collecting and reporting the number of summonses issued, disaggregated by charge, precinct, race, ethnicity, and age of the person charged, and whether the person was arrested or ticketed.

Mandated reporting of violation and misdemeanors enforcement is vital to understanding and improving street policing in our city.

III. Increase Racial Diversity of the Police Department

Black New Yorkers encounter police officers more than any other demographic group in New York City. For example, in 2013, black people constituted 55.8 percent of all stops. Young black men (ages 14-24) represented close to 26 percent of stops though they only accounted for 1.9 percent of the city’s total population.3

While Black men are encountering law enforcement often, they are usually met by officers who do not look like them. Recent data made public by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams suggest that the number of black men on the force is shrinking. According to the data, less than 16 percent of the city’s police officers are black, and black men only make up about seven percent of the city’s police academy.4 Additionally, Black people are all but non-existent in the command posts, or positions of captain and above. In 2013 Blacks made up less than seven percent of total command positions.5

The perception of the department as fair is vital to community engagement. The NYPD should increase diversity of patrol officers and command officers to begin to restore community trust and collaboration.

IV. Increase Accountability for Officer Misconduct and Abuse
Achieving real accountability for officers who perpetrate abuse is essential to improving police-community relations. The NYPD has a demonstrated pattern and practice of using excessive force, most often on people of color, according to data from the NYPD stop-and-frisk database and Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB).6 And these acts of misconduct and abuse are often met with little to no punishment for the offending officer.

One reason for the lack of accountability for police abuse is that police discipline is concentrated in the hands of the police. Currently, the NYPD refuses to discipline officers in 40 percent of complaints substantiated by the Civilian Complaint Review Board. 7

Community trust in police is diminished every time an officer is not brought to justice for misconduct or abuse of authority. While the Council cannot change the commissioner’s authority to discipline officers, we recommend the Council use its oversight power to require regular comprehensive explanations for why he rejects or downgrades recommended discipline by the CCRB. The role of law enforcement in our community is far too important to go unchecked. At the very least, the city deserves to understand why the commissioner made his decision—the alternative is the pervasive sense that our only civilian oversight mechanism is consistently and systemically undermined.

Paramount to any successful policing model is a strong collaborative relationship between the police and the community it serves. The NYPD cannot focus on a real community policing strategy until it first rebuilds trust in all communities. New York City can’t afford to continue to promote or accept NYPD practices and policies that burn bridges between the police and communities that need their services the most.

We recommend that the City and police department take progressive steps to create a more positive, respectful relationship between the department and New York communities. The over-aggressive enforcement of non-violent con criminal violations should not be the priority of our police department. These practices continue to create distance between police and communities who feel over policed and harassed for minor behavior. And apparent racial disparities in who bears the brunt of low-level enforcement further adds to the mistrust between communities of color and the police force. The council should seek to improve transparency around low-level enforcement by mandating regular reporting on which New Yorkers are being ticketed for non-criminal offenses.

The racial diversity of the force is the visible showing of how the NYPD prioritizes building relationships with a city as multi-cultural as New York City. The Council should work with the NYPD to develop strategies to increase the racial diversity, particularly increasing the number of black officers, of the NYPD rank and file as well as the command staff. Our police force should represent the population of the city

Years of unchecked officer misconduct and abuse continues to divide police from minority communities across the city. To increase trust between the groups, there must be oversight and accountability when officers engage in bad behavior. The Mayor, Council and NYPD could increase accountability by ensuring that officers are disciplined for substantiated misconduct charges by the CCRB.

We thank the Public Safety Committee for your contribution to the discourse by holding hearings like this one. We urge the Council to continue to take a proactive role in increasing transparency and ensuring that we have a police department that promotes public safety while protecting the rights of all.

1 David Weisburd and John E. Eck “What Can Police Do to Reduce Crime, Disorder, and Fear?” ANNALS, AAPSS, 593, May 2004
2 Taken from data NYCLU received from the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice – December, 2014
3 NYCLU 2013 Stop-and-Frisk report
4 NY1 Exclusive: Number of Black Men on NYPD Force Shrinking; Dean Memimger, February 9, 2015,
5 Office of Equal Opportunity Report, March 3, 2014
6 See eg, Civilian Complaint Review Board 2013 Statistical Appendix and 2013 Stop & Frisk report, New York Civil Liberties Union
7 Civilian Complaint Review Board, 2013 Annual Report

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