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DELAYED FINDINGS: More New Yorkers’ deaths were attributable to the NYPD than were captured by official statistics during a six-year period beginning in 2010, according to Health Department researchers. Their conclusions were not known until their draft report, completed in 2017, was released last week.

A previously unreleased draft report by the city Health Department found that deaths caused by NYPD officers during the six-year period ending in 2015 were higher than reported by the department. 

It also concluded that the rate at which black people were killed by police was “significantly higher” than for whites. 

 

Disparities

The 2017 draft report, undertaken during then-Commissioner Mary Bassett’s tenure, concluded that of the 105 people it counted who were killed following interactions with police from 2010 through 2015, 70 died by intended deadly force. 

According to the NYPD’s annual Firearms Discharge Reports for those years, 57 people were shot and killed.

The disparities were particularly significant for 2010, with the Health Department report concluding that 19 were killed by deadly force, while the NYPD stated that 8 were shot and killed. 

The Health Department’s report determined that during that six-year period, black persons were killed by intended deadly force at a rate five times that of white people. Hispanics were killed at three times the rate of whites. 

“The racial/ethnic disparities highlighted in the preliminary findings, combined with recent calls for increased transparency on police-related interactions requires complete, accurate, and timely surveillance of law enforcement related deaths moving forward,” Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot wrote in a preface to the report, which was released June 23 following a lengthy New York Times editorial four days earlier that reported on its provenance and questioned why it had not been made public. 

13 Bystanders Killed

Beginning in 2016, Health Department experts culled through death certificates and media reports available on open-access databases. Their research matched cases through death certificates and investigations by the Medical Examiner. 

The report placed the 105 law-enforcement-related deaths it identified into three categories: “legal intervention,” where police intended deadly force; arrest-related, meaning that a person died during pursuit, apprehension or while in custody; and “community/bystander,” meaning those people were not suspects. 

The researchers identified 61 legal-intervention deaths and 31 that were arrest-related. Thirteen bystanders were killed. Of the 105 deaths, 95 were male. More than half—54 percent—were black.

The study noted that “[s]ome authors have suggested that the higher rate of legal-intervention deaths among non-Hispanic blacks than non-Hispanic whites might be accounted for by increased numbers of interactions” with law enforcement. 

Notably, the researchers concluded that 33 percent of legal-intervention deaths were not initially categorized as such “often because [law-enforcement] involvement was not indicated” on death certificates. 

The report also found “significant racial disparities” among people killed who were unarmed. 

While six black people, or 18 percent of blacks killed, and five Hispanics, or 39 percent of those killed, were unarmed when they were felled by intentional lethal force, no unarmed white persons were killed. 

‘Tiny Audits’

The Health Department embarked on its research following a number of “high profile deaths of unarmed black men” during or after what it termed “interactions” with police, the draft report said. It was also galvanized by Department of Justice technical reports that found that a substantial number of “law enforcement homicides” nationwide—more than one-fourth—were not being included in key Federal databases.  

The report also cited, with caveats, investigative stories from The Guardian and Washington Post that documented large disparities in the official reporting of deaths at the hands of law enforcement. For instance, The Guardian reported that it had found 1,134 cases of people killed by police in 2015, more than twice the 444 enumerated in the FBI’s Supplemental Homicide Report for that year. 

The variances were in part attributable to the failure of coroner or Medical Examiner death certificates to note the involvement of law enforcement, the report said. 

But Eli Silverman, a Professor Emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, who studies how police collect and compile statistics, also attributed the disparities to the manner in which how data and statistics are characterized and classified by the NYPD. 

No Independent Review

“Every organization frames their statistics in a way that is most favorable to them,” he said. “There’s no independent agency that reviews the statistics, either the crime statistics of the New York Police Department or any other police department.”

Although police departments provide the FBI with statistics on people killed by officers and other data twice a year, those caches are subject to “a very tiny amount of audit,” Professor Silverman said.  

In a statement released shortly after The Times’s editorial was published online, the NYPD said the Health Department was given access to department data and had sole editorial oversight. Although the statement said “collaboration” between the two agencies ended when James P. O’Neill retired as NYPD Commissioner last year, the Police Department “will continue to share data with the Health Department…[to] support their efforts to modernize and improve critical data collection.” 

Referencing what are now called “Use of Force” reports documenting the years 2016 and onward posted on the NYPD’s website, the statement said “the public deserves access to this information.” 

Not Reconciled?

Given that the last year cataloged in the Health Department’s report was 2015, it was unclear if the disparities concerning deaths have been reconciled. 

In a letter to The Times published June 23 critical of the editorial’s framing of the NYPD’s role in the report remaining under wraps, First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker said that the department “has led the country with transparency about officers’ use of force” and cited its publicly available reports.  

“The Health Department should cure its flaws in data-keeping,” Mr. Tucker continued. “It should make any report public.” 

The NYPD did not reply to a request for clarification about which “flaws” the Deputy Commissioner had in mind. 

‘Go Beyond 2015’

But Professor Silverman said it was notable that Mr. Tucker “did not contest the results of the study.”

He called the Health Department’s report a “very thorough, substantial, respectable study” whose findings should be pursued.

“It would be worthwhile to take the same analysis and the same in-depth [view] of available resources to go beyond 2015,” he said. “It‘s a more- expansive look.”

While Ms. Barbot said the report was “intended to go through additional review at the Department and standard peer-review journal processes” and that it “remains an ongoing project,” she did not elaborate.

Hours before the report’s release, Mayor de Blasio suggested that the Health Department was not adequately following up on its findings. He said the report had “not been brought up...at all recently.”

Claims Problem Remedied

Following its release, the Mayor said “the important point is transparency” and that any follow-up should be prescriptive. But, he added that intentional weapons discharges by NYPD officers had been “systematically reduced” and were relatively few, with 17 recorded in 2018, the last year for which statistics were available and when, according to the Use of Force report for that year, five persons were killed by police. That assertion was also included in the report, which noted that “the incidence of legal intervention deaths in NYC was relatively low.”

But the attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society's Criminal Defense Practice, Tina Luongo, blamed Mr. de Blasio and the NYPD for keeping the report “away from public scrutiny” and said it was symbolic of their “antipathy to transparency.” 

“It also underscores Mayor Bill de Blasio’s unwillingness to hold the NYPD accountable for anything, perpetuating a culture that leaves entirely unchecked and, indeed, feeds police violence in Black and Brown communities across New York City,” she said in a statement.

The report called for “public health surveillance” to more accurately document deaths during interactions with police. 

“The [Health] Department has developed and piloted a novel surveillance system, but for it to be useful in understanding, preventing, and reducing law enforcement deaths, it must be routinely updated with timely data that only NYPD collects,” Ms. Barbot said in her note prefacing the draft. 

She wrote that she met with Commissioner Shea early this year to discuss how to continue with the pilot project “and secure an ongoing commitment from NYPD to share this data."

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