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Inspector’s Review Says the NYPD Still Has a Huge Problem With Banned Chokeholds

The first report by the new inspector general for the NYPD found that officers who use the banned practice were hardly punished despite repeated calls for more serious consequences.

by VICE News
Jan 12 2015, 6:30pm

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A review of the NYPD's use of chokeholds — a prohibited practice that has faced increased scrutiny since the July killing of Eric Garner, who was choked to death during an arrest — has exposed both the continued use of chokeholds and the fact that officers have hardly been disciplined for them. Together, these issues have raised questions about the broader handling of police misconduct by the department.

The NYPD and the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) — the independent agency tasked with investigating police abuse in the city — were also found to be inconsistent about when and how cops face discipline for prohibited use of force.

The inconsistency was detailed by a report released today by the city's first inspector general, which recommended greater collaboration between police and the civilian review board.

"Our targeted analysis revealed troubling deficiencies from the top-down that must be rectified," Philip Eure, the inspector general, told the Associated Press.

"What OIG-NYPD found raises questions not only about the way in which NYPD has enforced the chokehold ban in recent years, but also, far more importantly, about the disciplinary process in general and interactions between NYPD and CCRB," the report notes.

The report, which examined 10 cases in which chokeholds were used, found that the officers involved faced little or no discipline from superiors. The cases, which were substantiated by the CCRB between 2008 and 2012, did not include Garner's case. In December 2014, a grand jury declined to indict the officer responsible for Garner's death.

Chokeholds are unequivocally banned by the NYPD, but in the cases examined for the report, officers were punished with mere loss of vacation days and "instruction" about police policy — if at all — despite the CCRB's calls for more serious consequences.

"If you have the CCRB at one end of the process making specific recommendations about discipline and you have a police commissioner at the other end of the process undercutting those recommendations with lesser penalties or no penalties at all, there's a huge disconnect," Eure told the Daily News. "That can be tremendously undermining of the police disciplinary process. You're talking about two city agencies coming out with two completely different results."

Since 2012, the CCRB — which investigates claims of police misconduct and recommends punishment — has also been able to try some cases, though the final decision to discipline an officer remains a prerogative of the police commissioner.

In four of the cases examined, cops used chokeholds on citizens who had only confronted them verbally — not physically.

"While the substantiated use of prohibited chokeholds by members of the NYPD in any context is troubling, the fact that several of the subject officers in the 10 cases reviewed by OIG-NYPD used chokeholds as a first act of physical force and in response to mere verbal confrontation is particularly alarming," the report stated.

"Rather than using communication skills and approved tactics to de-escalate tense encounters with members of the community, these officers immediately turned to a prohibited and dangerous physical act to try to control the situation," the report added — prompting the inspector general to further examine use of force cases, "in order to ascertain whether police officers are escalating encounters and using force too quickly in a systemic manner."

The Office of the Inspector General for the New York City Police Department was created in 2014 following widespread criticism of the department's controversial "stop-and-frisk" practices and its program to spy on Muslims.

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