In the wake of the resignation of one Human Resources Administration peace officer who was embroiled in a Dec. 7 confrontation in which an 18-month-old child was yanked from a client’s arms, and the possible discharge of a Sergeant involved in the incident, Teamsters Local 237 President Greg Floyd said the agency was scapegoating the employees after failing to provide adequate training.
“No other peace officer in the state is treated like the HRA peace officers,” he said in a phone interview in early February. “They are told to go out and do the job without giving them training. They don’t properly train them in matters including 35 hours in dealing with deadly force,” as he said was required under state law. “They give them the bats and tell them to go out and do their job.”
‘Didn’t Know Enough to Ask’
He said that during a Feb. 4 City Council hearing regarding the December incident with 23-year-old Jazmine Headley, while individual Council Members “had their feel-good moment” in commiserating with Ms. Headley about the treatment she endured from both HRA security personnel and NYPD officers who were summoned to a benefits center in Brooklyn during a dispute over Ms. Headley’s child-care benefits, they “didn’t have the knowledge to ask the question” as to why the peace officers hadn’t been able to defuse tensions before the physical struggle.
HRA spokeswoman Lourdes Centeno responded in an e-mail Feb. 13 that Local 237 was “a crucial partner in our efforts to implement reforms benefiting HRA Peace Officers and HRA clients.” But she added that contrary to Mr. Floyd’s claim, “HRA peace officers receive all State-mandated training and we recently began retraining sessions for all HRA peace officers, with an emphasis on de-escalating disputes in HRA Centers that will be a mandatory annual requirement for each officer.”
The incident began after Ms. Headley, who reportedly spent four hours at the benefit center waiting to have her eligibility recertified, objected to an HRA officer’s command that she get off the floor where she was sitting with her son. Eventually police were called and succeeded in easing tensions, according to one source familiar with the incident, until Ms. Headley told the HRA peace officer, “You’re a joke.”
That employee reacted by using physical force, which resulted in the baby being inadvertently hit, the source said. In the ensuing struggle, part of which was captured on a cell-phone video, NYPD officers also joined in trying to yank the young boy from Ms. Headley’s arms. One of those officers then waved a stun-gun in the direction of several bystanders who objected to the force used.
One source, speaking conditioned on anonymity, characterized the HRA peace officer's departure as a firing, although the agency said she had resigned.
Sergeant on Desk Duty
One agency official said the HRA Sergeant has been reassigned to administrative duties while facing disciplinary charges that could lead to her firing. Neither of the two HRA peace officers has been identified by name.
The NYPD has declined comment on whether any action was taken against its officers, and Mr. Floyd claimed, “They’re not being disciplined.” In December, he expressed anger that Mayor de Blasio sharply criticized his members who were involved in the incident while insisting it was premature to question the actions of the police officers at the scene, saying one reason for his disparate treatment of the two groups was that the Mayor was afraid of antagonizing the Police Benevolent Association.
The union leader said following the February Council hearing that if Mr. de Blasio “would’ve taken the time to find out what happened and learned about the training, we would not be having this discussion today.” The lack of proper training for the small number of HRA officers Local 237 represents, he continued, had led to “a cycle of continuing to get it wrong.”
“You could have put that small group in the training given to the Department of Homeless Services,” which he noted remains under the control of HRA Commissioner Steve Banks. “And since he oversees both agencies, he should have been aware of the difference that training could make.” DHS security officers, Mr. Floyd said, get their training at the Atlantic Ave. Armory in Brooklyn.
HRA: Training Provided
One agency source contended that HRA security officers were receiving all necessary training through the agency’s Office of Police Operations, deploying “a certified instructor to provide 127 hours of [New York State] Division of Criminal Justice Service-required training to incoming OPO officers. With the completion of the DCJS training (with an additional 15 hours of training for a total of 142 hours), each OPO officer is given a must-pass test on the material as a condition of employment.”
Those who pass that test, the source said, “are then given an additional 40 hours of training in the field,” something HRA installed beyond the state requirements “to provide further exposure to HRA OPO officers on the operation of the HRA client centers.”
Periodic refresher training is given that includes de-escalation techniques, the source continued, and “there is a mandatory use-of-force training that is given once a year by a certified instructor.”
Mr. Floyd remained skeptical, saying in a Feb. 19 phone interview, “They have no academy, they have no curriculum. Who taught the class?”
Rather than waiting for a response from HRA, he said, “I will ask the state to come in to investigate where they do the training, and are they meeting all the state requirements?”
After the HRA source said later that afternoon that it was being conducted at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Mr. Floyd replied, “They just started giving them the training, if that’s the case.”