Joseph Ostapiuk

Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — New York Attorney General Letitia James unveiled a preliminary report Wednesday of her office’s ongoing investigation into the NYPD’s conduct during the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

“While our investigation remains ongoing, after 30 days of intense scrutiny, it is impossible to deny that many New Yorkers have lost faith in law enforcement,” said James.

James’s office received more than 1,300 complaints and pieces of evidence since May 30 — the onset of the investigation — and held a three-day public hearing that heard testimony from more than 100 protesters, community-based organizations, elected officials and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the Office of the Attorney General to conduct a civil investigation into police misconduct after multiple nights of violent interactions between the NYPD and protestors in various parts of New York City. No protests on Staten Island resulted in violence.

The investigation continues to dig into the NYPD’s use of force during the protests, the report said, including “seemingly indiscriminate use of batons and pepper spray, brandishing firearms at protesters, and pushing vehicles or bikes into protesters.”

Other tactics, including “kettling,” in which officers surround and block protestors from leaving an area, along with treatment of press, legal observers, elected officials and essential workers are also being extensively reviewed, James said.

Additionally, James said her office received evidence that indicated officers covered identification information found on their badges and numerous complaints regarding several officers allegedly using racist hand gestures towards protestors.

“With this report, Attorney General James and her team have begun the important work of chronicling the events surrounding the recent protests and ensuring that all voices — protesters, police, and elected officials — are heard,” said former United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “As this investigation continues, so must the vital conversations around transparency and accountability. These are the most important conversations of our time.”

James’s preliminary report also came with a series of proposed recommendations her office believes the “NYPD should consider implementing to address the concerns of the public and to start building community trust.”

Her preliminary suggestions include creating a commission to oversee the NYPD, its policies and leadership, the report said, and recommended, “The NYPD must also be required to seek public input on any rule it changes or implements that impacts the public.”

In the vein of calls for sweeping changes to police departments throughout the country, James said the role of policy in New York City “must be examined and redesigned” by altering the department’s role in areas such as homelessness, mental illness and school safety.

“This effort should be led by a transparent commission with full-time staff and resources to determine how to remove armed officers from these scenarios and replace them with dedicated professionals with specialized training,” the report said. “This process will take time, but bureaucracy cannot stand in the way of progress.”

Freddi Goldstein, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press secretary, said: “While we thank the Attorney General for her investigation and look forward to reviewing the report in full and working together to further reform policing in this city, we do not believe creating a commission to oversee the NYPD does that.”

“Over the last seven years, stop and frisk became a thing of the past, all officers were trained in implicit bias and de-escalation and outfitted with body cameras, and neighborhood policing improved trust in communities. Change comes from accountability, something a commission lacks,” Goldstein said. “If we want to continue moving forward, more bureaucracy is not the answer.”

On the heels of de Blasio’s announcement that the disciplinary records of about 1,100 pending cases against NYPD officers for alleged misconduct will be released online in July in an “easy to access” way, among other reform measures made in recent weeks, James made additional suggestions to “hold individual officers accountable.”

James said the authority of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) must be expanded and strengthened to have “final disciplinary authority” — something the agency does not have currently — and suggested “all police officers in New York should be certified through a process that allows for ‘decertifying’ officers engaged in misconduct, preventing them from remaining a police officer or being rehired by another department in the state.”

In a written response to James’s report, Richard Esposito, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of public information, said: “This is, of course, a political and not an investigative document.”

“Rather than rehash rhetoric, we should come together — state and local law enforcement and electeds — and confront and solve the crisis at hand,” Esposito said. “Meanwhile, we at the NYPD will continue to protect and serve the public as we have for 175 years.”

PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said, “Based on this preliminary report, the inquiry has reached a foregone conclusion.”

“Instead of an impartial review of the protests and their aftermath, the report tells only one side of the story and delivers reheated proposals that have been part of the anti-police agenda for decades,” Lynch said. “If the goal is to heal the rift between police officers and the public, that won’t be achieved without giving meaningful consideration to the perspective of police officers on the street.”

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©2020 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

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