NYPD Continues Its Longstanding Tradition of Thwarting Misconduct Investigations and Evading Accountability
by Douglas Ankney
New York City’s Police Department (“NYPD”) has been described by journalists as being worse than the CIA and FBI when it comes to record requests. According to techdirt.com, the FBI and the CIA say the NYPD is worse than a rogue state when it comes to respecting rights.
In theory, the NYPD is subject to the somewhat independent Civilian Complaint Review Board (“CCRB”). But in reality, the NYPD answers only to two very powerful law enforcement unions, making it all but impossible to punish bad cops. The unions appear to believe “bad cops” are as rare as sightings of unicorns.
In 2017, the NYPD began using body worn cameras (“BWC”) as part of federal court-ordered reforms in response to lawsuits relating to the NYPD’s unlawful surveillance of Muslims and its “stop and frisk” program that targeted minorities. But when the CCRB requests BWC footage in connection with an investigation into a citizen’s civil rights complaint, the NYPD uses myriad methods at its disposal to thwart the investigation.
A favored maneuver is that upon request for BWC footage from the CCRB, the NYPD responds that no footage of the incident under investigation exists. Dubbed “false negatives” by the CCRB, it’s reported by the CCRB that these false negatives are discovered only much later in the investigation when other police documents, interviewed officers, or BWC footage released to the media reveal that the footage existed all along.
The NYPD also alters or redacts BWC footage before handing it over to the CCRB. In many of the investigations, the CCRB was either not informed the footage was altered or provided with no reason as to why the footage had been redacted. Covering up misconduct by altering the BWC footage is certain to increase as shown by the increase in frequency of redactions. Beginning in 2018, six percent of the requested BWC footage had been redacted. By the second quarter of 2019, the number of redactions grew to 63 percent.
The Inspector General proposed a solution: give the CCRB direct access to the BWC footage. But the NYPD vigorously opposed that recommendation. Until New York legislators empower the CCRB to genuinely act with authoritative oversight of the NYPD, the citizens of New York will continue to suffer from the havoc wrought by thugs who disgrace the NYPD uniform.
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