The store clerk said he thought he was going to be robbed.
The man had come at him with a screwdriver. But when police arrived, they arrested the clerk, first on suspicion of possessing a knife and, when no knife was found, for marijuana possession. He would later allege that during his arrest, one of the officers said to him: “aren’t you supposed to be home today praying to your f------ God whoever he is, Allah?”
Another man said he was awakened by police after he fell asleep inside a building. Although he was apologetic, officers shoved him against a wall, and showered him with curses: “You f------ Latino,” “estupido Latino” and “Mexican piece of s---.”
Those two allegations were among nearly 2,500 claims of discrimination levelled against NYPD officers during a four-year period. Subsequent investigations by department officials would substantiate not a single one, according to a report by an arm of the Department of Investigation.
The DOI’s Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD looked at all 2,495 complaints of “Bias-Based Profiling” brought by the public from late 2014, when the NYPD began to investigate and track those complaints, through 2018 that led to investigations. It determined that “NYPD’s investigators have not substantiated a single such claim out of the 1,918 complaints that were closed as of December 31, 2018.”
The assessment homed in on 888 of those allegations made over a 2 1/2-year period.
It found that nearly seven out of 10 complaints alleged officers had made wayward comments or assumptions based on race, ethnicity, color or national origin. Other complaints alleged poor conduct on the part of officers with regard to a person’s or persons’ creed, sexual orientation, gender, age or other characteristics. Two-thirds of the complainants were black.
Of those 888 claims, the department found that 569 were unfounded, meaning that an investigation determined that the alleged misconduct did not happen or was not committed by officers. Another 297 could not be substantiated. In another 17 cases, officers were exonerated, and there was insufficient evidence to prove five others.
Offensive But Unbiased
Although officers are prohibited from using racial slurs, the department does not consider an officer’s use of offensive or derogatory language as biased policing. It does, however, investigate an allegation of same as biased policing if an officer took police action, such as make an arrest.
“Biased policing, actual or perceived, undermines the core value of equal treatment under the law and also poses a threat to public safety because racial profiling and other types of biased policing undermine the public's confidence and trust in law enforcement,” DOI-NYPD’s Inspector General Philip K. Eure said in a statement accompanying the 57-page report. “NYPD must ensure that these complaints are thoroughly investigated and tracked.”
In response to the report, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Phillip Walzak said the department is determined to tackle misconduct “in any form” and has instituted policies and procedures to address biased policing.
He cited enhanced training, the outfitting of body cameras on all of the department’s 22,000 patrol cops and a considerable reduction in stop-question-and-frisk incidents. He said those efforts have led to a 33-percent reduction in biased-policing complaints referred to the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau in the year-to-year period that ended in May.
‘Still More to Do’
“The NYPD understands that constitutional, biased-free policing is foundational to building community trust and keeping New York City even safer,” Mr. Walzak said in a statement. “Even with the positive changes already made, and the full context of this report, the NYPD knows there is more to do.”
Both the report and Mr. Walzak highlighted the challenge of proving allegations of biased policing.
“Intent is a necessary element, and given the challenge of determining the subject officer’s state of mind and whether there was an intention to discriminate against the complainant, biased policing is often difficult to prove,” the report said.
Still, the report noted that the department’s zero substantiation rate “stands out” when compared to other large U.S. cities and with regard to other misconduct allegations made against NYPD officers.
“Specifically, NYPD’s [Internal Affairs Bureau] had a 29% substantiation rate across all categories of misconduct in the first eight months of 2016,” the report noted.
It also pointed out that the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates and prosecutes allegations of officer misconduct, does not investigate complaints of biased policing and instead forwards those to the IAB. In that regard, the CCRB diverges from other independent police review agencies associated with some of the country’s largest police departments, the report said.
Among the report’s 24 recommendations are that the NYPD classify and investigate offensive or derogatory language, such as racial slurs, as biased policing. It also suggested that an officer’s race, ethnicity or other protected status “should not be determinative” in substantiating a biased-policing allegation, including when the complainant is of the same race, ethnicity or other protected group.
It also recommended that the CCRB adopt a policy to classify and investigate allegations of biased policing by uniformed officers, rather than referring those allegations to the Internal Affairs Bureau.
CCRB Chairman Fred Davie said board officials have been speaking with their counterparts at the department and at the city’s Commission on Human Rights with regard to profiling. But, he said in a statement, the CCRB would need more money and more staff if it were tasked with the investigating, mediating and prosecuting allegations of biased policing.