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Testimony Regarding the NYPD’s Training on Use of Force

The New York Civil Liberties Union respectfully submits the following testimony regarding the NYPD’s use of force training.


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.

The death of Eric Garner in police custody raises serious concerns about how the NYPD’s use force, including deadly force, when interacting with civilians. The Garner incident, in which a man was held in a chokehold by an NYPD officer who suspected him of selling untaxed cigarettes, brought national attention to this issue. Three important questions to be considered in the wake of this tragedy are: How are officers trained in use of force? Should policy makers and the public have more information about and input into the training? And how many (and which) New Yorkers are impacted by excessive force?

According to the NYPD’s own data, thousands of police-civilian encounters, a good portion of which are due to minor offenses, escalate into situations where officers use force, even lethal force. This same data also point to a racial disparity in the use of force: Black and Latino New Yorkers are far more likely to have force used against them when they encounter NYPD officers. The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) has reported over 1022 chokehold complaints in the past five years, despite chokeholds being formally barred by the NYPD1.

Yet, NYPD trainings on use of force have thus far been unavailable to policymakers and the public. The NYPD patrol guide, intended to be an officers’ manual on how to effectively perform duties, is particularly vague when it comes to use of force. We also have no information on how often officers are trained on use of force. The New York City Council should use this opportunity to demand transparency from the NYPD regarding the frequency and substance of NYPD use of force trainings.

Community confidence in NYPD policies is vital to their success. The Council should increase its oversight of the use of force training to enhance community trust. There should be opportunities for the community, academics, and law enforcement specialists to comment on proposed changes or new trainings that the NYPD implements regarding use of force. The Council should demand access to all training materials, and when reasonable, should make those materials available publicly. Any new training conducted by the NYPD should include de-escalation tactics as well as cultural competency training.

Finally, we urge the Council to use its oversight authority to put an end to the NYPD’s needlessly aggressive enforcement of nonviolent, noncriminal infractions, such as selling untaxed cigarettes, possessing an open container of alcohol, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, and possessing small amounts of marijuana. These violations account for almost half a million police encounters each year—all of which have the potential to turn violent and even deadly as in the case of Mr. Garner. The Council should seriously consider whether New Yorkers should be subjected to serious penalties for these minor violations. We also ask the Council to demand transparency around violations, particularly demographic information on summonses, which is only collected about 4 percent of the time 2.

The NYPD’s Pattern of Excessive Force:

Unfortunately, Eric Garner was neither the first nor the last incident of excessive force used by NYPD officers against New Yorkers. The NYPD has demonstrated a pattern and practice of using excessive force. In the weeks after the Garner incident, additional videos and photographs surfaced of New Yorkers being held in chokeholds or having excessive force used against them by NYPD officers 3. While these incidents received extra attention due to being video recorded, data from the NYPD stop-and-frisk database and CCRB suggest that there are many more incidents of NYPD is overusing force on New Yorkers.

The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk database, which includes detailed information about the use of force by officers during reasonable-suspicion stops, gives us a glimpse into how often officers are using force during everyday encounters. According to our analysis of the database, officers recorded 1,381,843 acts of force in the 4,984,393 stops between 2003 and 2013 4 – more than 1 in 5 stops. This extraordinary number of acts of force self-reported by officers is particularly alarming when one considers that nearly 90 percent of stops during this period were of innocent people –people who were neither issued a summons nor arrested.

A second, though more limited, source of data is complaints filed with the CCRB. Between 2009 and 2013, the agency received 26,548 allegations of excessive force in the 31,246 complaints it received. That represented nearly one-third of the total allegations the CCRB received and was the second most common allegations 5. The stop-and-frisk and CCRB data plainly suggest that force is a significant problem with the NYPD. We recognize that these sources are neither comprehensive nor conclusive, but we urge the Council to discover whether the department maintains additional data which should be made publicly available for analysis.

Racial Disparities In Use of Force:

The New York City Council and NYPD should be also be concerned with the stark racial disparities in use of force during police/civilian interactions. According to the NYPD stop-and-frisk database, Blacks and Latinos who were stopped were significantly more likely to have force used against them (23.4 percent) than whites (17.1 percent) 6. Further, 81% of the complaints made to the CCRB are from Black and Latino New Yorkers 7 (55% from blacks, 25.3% from Latinos). Given that the second most common complaint alleges excessive use of force, we can conclude that people of color are often the targets of unnecessary force by NYPD officers. This disparity is not only counter to our values as a diverse and inclusive city, but counterproductive to efforts at building community trust.

Transparency in NYPD Use of Force Training:

We are pleased that Commissioner Bratton has decided to conduct a thorough review of the NYPD’s use-of-force policy and conduct extensive retraining. We urge that in this effort the NYPD be open and transparent with the public about the results of this review and plans regarding retraining. Currently, the public has no information about the training officers receive pertaining to use of force. The NYPD’s written use-of-force policy, as spelled out in Patrol Guide section 203-11, is vague and leaves much to be desired. Other than stating that force “must be consistent with existing law and New York City Police Department Values” and that deadly physical force “will be used ONLY as a last resort and consistent with Department policy and law,” section 203-11 provides precious little affirmative guidance to officers about the appropriate use of force. We do, however, recognize that it bars certain practices, like the chokehold that reportedly caused Eric Garner’s death.

If the police department has other written policies governing officer use of force, those should be available to policy makers as well as the public. The NYPD must be transparent about its current use-of-force training, including curriculum outlines, written training materials, and information about the length and frequency of such training. They should also make available specifics of the proposed new training. This will allow the public and relevant stakeholders the opportunity to comment and raise concerns about these trainings as well as provide new ideas and innovations in training.

If there are no additional written policies or trainings, we urge the Department to review its patrol guide and develop a policy to provide officers with much more specific and comprehensive guidance on the use of force.

Aggressive Enforcement of Violations:

In addition to excessive force, Mr. Garner’s death shines a light on an additional issue: the over-aggressive enforcement of low-level violations and infractions, sometimes known as “Broken Windows Policing.” Mr. Garner was interacting with officers because they believed he was selling un-taxed cigarettes—an interaction that escalated into the use of lethal force with no physical provocation by Mr. Garner. Such a minor act of misconduct should never result in the death of a human being.

During the Bloomberg administration, there was a significant increase in enforcement of low-level violations in New York City . From 2002 through 2013, there were more than five million stop-and-frisks, during that same period, there were more than six million summonses issued to New York City residents for low-level, noncriminal violations, such as riding a bike on a sidewalk 8. Aside from these actions potentially escalating to officers using force, they are responsible for sweeping hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system with direct and collateral consequences that far outweigh the seriousness of the offense.

Reliable data on enforcement of violations is limited; however, data that we have accessed from the Office of Court Administration suggest that Black and Latino New Yorkers bear the brunt of violations enforcement. While most of the summonses lack race demographics, from the sample of data that report a person’s race – a sample of over 1.5 million tickets – we see similar trends to stop-and-frisk: New York City police issue nearly 81 percent of tickets to Black and Latino people 9. Unfortunately, race was only captured on about 30 percent of summons forms for most of the Bloomberg administration. In 2013, nearly 100 percent of tickets captured no information on the race of a person receiving a summons.

While there is no comprehensive data available for 2014, Police Commissioner Bratton’s repeated endorsement of “Broken Windows” policing shows that this type of policing remains a NYPD priority. We urge the Council to seek better record-keeping and public reporting of this information by the NYPD. As New Yorkers, we are entitled to understand the impacts of various police practices on our friends, family members, and neighbors.


How the NYPD interacts with the public goes to the very heart of safety in our city. When communities cannot or do not trust the officers who are sworn to protect them we have a breakdown in the safety of all New Yorkers. How often and on whom the officers use force, or excessive force, has a direct impact on community trust for police.

The use of force on civilians, especially in the wake of very high profile incidents like that of Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham, and the many others before them, is something that we cannot allow to go unexamined.

Our recommendations to the Council today are as follows:

  • Demand transparency around violations enforcement, particularly demographic information and use of force;
  • Require that the NYPD produce information around the frequency and content of training officers receive regarding using force during police/civilian encounters;
  • Increase oversight of the use of force training used by the NYPD. This should include requiring that the NYPD create opportunities for stakeholders to weigh on proposed changes or new training, and ensuring the NYPD is adopting best practices in its training and policies.

We thank the Public Safety Committee for your contribution to the discourse by holding oversight hearings like this one. We urge the Council to take a proactive role in constantly increasing transparency and ensuring that all New Yorkers are treated with dignity and respect.



1 Civilian Complaint Review Board, Annual Report 2013

2 S. Riley et al., “Daily News analysis finds racial disparities in summons for minor violations in ‘broken windows’ policing,” New York Daily News (August 4, 2014)

3 Michael George, “New Video Shows NYPD Officer Putting Suspected Subway Farebeater in Chokehold” NBS 4 New York; August 21, 2014 and Emily Thomas “Pregnant Woman Allegedly Put In Chokehold By NYPD Officer”, Huffington Post; July 30, 2014

4 NYCLU Stop-and-Frisk Briefer: 2002-2013; August 2014

5 Civilian Complaint Review Board 2013 Statistical Appendix

6 NYCLU Stop-and-Frisk Briefer: 2002-2013; August 2014

7 Civilian Complaint Review Board 2013 Statistical Appendix

8 Taken from data NYCLU received from the Office of Court Administration – January 2014

9 Taken from data NYCLU received from the Office of Court Administration – January 2014


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