Mayor to Streetsblog: No, I Have Not Fired Any Bad Cops Yet

It’s another type of vision zero.

Mayor de Blasio on Thursday said that no bad cops had yet been fired since he promised, almost exactly a month ago to fire “anybody who should not be a police officer.”

He blamed the coronavirus pandemic for putting the NYPD’s disciplinary process on hold, and reiterated that he still “fundamentally” believes what he told reporters on May 31: “We need to make sure that anybody who should not be a police officer is not a police officer. We need that system to work and work better and work faster.”

“I think the vast majority of officers are in it for the right reason and do very difficult work the right way,” he said on Thursday. “I think there’s a small number who should not be police officers and that’s true for every profession: doctors, lawyers, teachers, everybody. And we have to do a better job of identifying and acting. The disciplinary process at the NYPD will be resuming soon; like everything else in the world, it was on hold because of the coronavirus. And then you will see for yourself the results.”

He also said NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea deserves “credit” for “much quicker action on modifications and suspensions where they were needed and the process of bringing charges,” a reference to suspensions made under new rules that require the commissioner to decide on the appropriate discipline within 48 hours of a cop being accused of misconduct. The mayor had also promised last month that police disciplinary records would be put online and be easily searchable, though that system has not yet been created. There is no way to know yet whether a given officer has a history of abusive behavior on his or her record.

But the larger issue remains: no cop involved in violence against protesters — including officers who drove their squad cars into a crowd of people, officers who used their bikes as weapons, officers who abused protesters in other ways — has been fired (though some have been charged by prosecutors as part of a normal criminal process). It is extremely difficult to punish cops under the best of circumstances, though many bad cops exist (indeed, only 41 percent of officers have no CCRB complaints against them, the agency said in its 2018 end-of-year report). The difficultly stems from basic police culture coupled with limited oversight.

The Civilian Complaint Review Board receives thousands of complaints against rogue cops every year, but very few result in any discipline because of several factors:

  • Not every complaint can be verified.
  • Not every verified complaint is deemed worthy of a full investigation.
  • Not every full investigation results in a recommendation of charges.
  • And the main problem: all cases where the CCRB has recommended charges are heard in an NYPD court with an NYPD judge — with the police commissioner making the final decision.

So consider this: in 2018, the CCRB received about 4,700 complaints, and 1,208 were deemed worthy of full investigation. Of those, complaints against 326 were substantiated. Of those, only 73 were brought to the NYPD court. In the end, the police commissioner did indeed agree with the need for charges just 17 times.

And in the first two quarters of 2019, according to the group’s semi-annual report, the CCRB brought 14 substantiated cases to the NYPD court. A judge threw out six cases (43 percent) and then-Commissioner James O’Neill agreed for discipline in just three cases (21 percent). O’Neill’s concurrence rate was as low as 17 percent during his years as the top cop.

Only one CCRB case has ever led to the termination of a police officer: the case of Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner in 2014.

In addition, Last month, The City reported that an obscure police corruption panel reviewed 45 cases of disciplinary action taken by the NYPD and found that more severe punishment was warranted and that 11 cops should have been fired. Instead, they typically were docked a few days of vacation time. (None of the cops are named in the report.)

Neither City Hall nor the NYPD responded to a request for comment.