Eleven months ago, then-Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and Civilian Complaint Review Board Chairman Fred Davie reached an agreement that required the Commissioner to explain in writing his decisions in police-discipline cases where they deviated from the board's recommendations.
 
The Rev. Davie was sufficiently satisfied with the terms that he appeared on NY1's "Inside City Hall that evening and proclaimed the deal gave the CCRB the authority it needed, including the power to probe police misconduct without a member of the public lodging a complaint.
 
Yet six weeks later, when city and state legislators began serious consideration of bills that not only would give the CCRB final disciplinary authority but would repeal a state law requiring that discipline cases be tried under the Police Department's purview—rather than using the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, as most city agencies do—Mr. Davie threw his support behind those measures.
 
That abrupt change of heart meant it was no surprise when he recently touted those legislative measures again, while criticizing the department for two aspects of its handling of cases in which the board substantiated findings of misconduct against officers involved in skirmishes with demonstrators at rallies following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day 2020.
 
One was that while the CCRB substantiated 53 complaints out of 152 it had investigated—roughly 35 percent—the NYPD had completed disciplinary hearings in just 12 of them. The other was that in only three cases were punitive actions taken against officers.
 
If Reverend Davie suspected the wheels of police justice were grinding too slowly because Mr. Shea was repaying him for walking away from their memorandum of agreement, his anger was probably misplaced. It's in the NYPD's interests to resolve such cases quickly, both to take corrective action when warranted and to allow officers who were either exonerated or found guilty of just minor infractions to move out of the holding patterns their careers were in—no promotions or transfers to desirable assignments—while the allegations were pending.
 
And if what bothered him was that in only 25 percent of the cases that were completed, officers were subjected to disciplinary action, from our vantage point that isn't necessarily a legitimate gripe. The agreement called for Mr. Shea to offer written explanations when he deviated from the penalties called for under the relatively new NYPD disciplinary matrix in cases substantiated by the review board, with no guarantee that his reasoning would be to the Reverend Davie's liking.
 
He apparently provided such explanations, based on what Deputy Commissioner for Public Information John Miller told this newspaper's Richard Khavkine regarding those nine cases where no discipline was imposed. 
 
He said that four of them involved officers using pepper spray at a protest May 31, 2020—but only after "being pelted with bottles and other objects" by a group whose intent was anything but peaceful. That was a night, Mr. Miller pointed out, when patrol cars were torched and Molotov cocktails were thrown at cops, and "it was the Commissioner's judgment that imposing discipline on officers who were trying to protect themselves did not make sense."
 
In the instances involving the five other cops, he said, "common sense" persuaded Mr. Shea not to penalize those officers. We presume the Reverend Davie got a more-detailed explanation.
 
Too much of the outcry about police behavior during protests that began soon after Mr. Floyd's death and continued into that summer—from both elected officials and the media—failed to place the alleged misconduct in context. The large crowds of people engaged in protest from genuine anger and anguish over Mr. Floyd's death were sometimes infiltrated by anarchists, others who thought physically lashing out at police and their vehicles was justifiable under the circumstances, and those who took advantage of the marches to destroy property and loot stores.
 
A man who might be considered the human face of protest in this city, the Rev. Al Sharpton, grasped what was going on and noted during an appearance more than 18 months ago on MSNBC that when he organized demonstrations—going back to the 1980s—he explicitly instructed those joining them that violence would not be tolerated because it undermined the purposes of the rallies.
 
In situations where cops were hit by bottles or, in one egregious case, a brick that came flying out of the crowd, it's likely that in trying to grab or locate the offender, officers weren't gentle in pushing through the crowd to get at those persons. It's unfortunate if innocent persons got roughed up in the process, but that's the danger in being part of rallies that aren't tightly monitored by organizers to prevent such outbreaks.
 
In other words, there's nothing in the CCRB numbers to suggest that the compromise struck between Mr. Shea and Mr. Davie last February on increasing CCRB powers but leaving final disciplinary say with the Police Commissioner was a bad deal in need of undoing.   

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