“It seems as if the process is broken if someone can have multiple charges of misconduct and still be on the force,” said a New York City Council member during a Committee on Public Safety recently. The topic was whether to pass a package of reforms recommended by an independent panel. The reforms are intended to increase police accountability in cases of misconduct, including officer-involved fatalities.
One of the main reforms proposed is the repeal of the law called “50-a,” which maintains the confidentiality of police disciplinary proceedings. Critics believe the law hides bad actors with multiple disciplinary complaints from the view of victims’ families and even from officials tasked with responding to complaints about police.
Another bill would require detailed reporting when police arrest someone for one of several offenses the council’s speaker described as “catch-alls” — nonspecific offenses the police could use to hide their own misconduct. Those offenses include assaulting an officer, resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration. Under the proposal, officers would have to record specifics such as:
- What specific assault on the officer occurred
- Which government function the arrestee was obstructing
“We want the NYPD to justify these arrests so we know they’re not just catch-alls,” said the council’s speaker.
Many lawmakers and advocates at the meeting, including victims’ families, seemed to believe that the NYPD hasn’t done enough to take accountability for proven misconduct and use of force issues, even after Governor Cuomo’s 2015 special order to investigate “police-related civilian deaths.”
As the council pointed out, police commissioners have the power to overturn any officer’s not-guilty verdict in a misconduct case and hold that officer to account. Failure to do so can result in an officer simply resigning from the NYPD and getting a job in another department.
“When there is a high-profile case, wouldn’t there be much more value for the commissioner to come out and say something was wrong? Don’t the people need to hear that?” the council’s speaker asked police officials. “What offenses does one have to commit to be fired for misconduct?”
Police commissioners who attended the meeting opposed the reforms. They argued that requiring specific reports in cases of assault on an officer could expose the officers’ private medical information. They also argued that the NYPD doesn’t have the tools to allow for that level of detail.
If you have been the victim of police misconduct, it can be deeply frustrating to lodge a complaint and see no obvious change. If you are considering filing a complaint, it can be helpful to work with a lawyer who is experienced in police misconduct cases.