The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) took 590 pages to tell the tale of NYPD misconduct during the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement. The official police watchdog’s report—published this past Monday, Feb. 6—substantiated allegations against 146 individual officers during the protests following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
“The Black Lives Matter Protests that occurred in the summer of 2020 were massive in scale, but not unprecedented in nature,” said CCRB Interim Chair Arva Rice in a statement. “Given what is happening across the country regarding reproductive rights, immigration, affordable housing and police brutality, people will continue to protest for their rights.
“It is key for New York to know how to best respond to protests, especially protests against police misconduct. It is also of the utmost importance that officers be held accountable in order to rebuild the public’s trust in the NYPD.”
The CCRB received more than 750 complaints over misconduct stemming from the George Floyd protests and that 226 of them have been fully investigated so far. Of those, 88 complaints carrying 269 individual allegations against the 146 officers were substantiated. More than half of the substantiated allegations involved excessive force, most with a baton or pepper spray. Rice later told the Amsterdam News such a report was essential for New Yorkers to feel safe about protesting police brutality without becoming subject to it.
“Being able to put together concrete cases of those times when there was misconduct that took place and to be able to put out a set of recommendations, I think is very strong for our city and we want to make sure that the police department hears us and is able to implement the recommendations that we laid out,” she said.
Such recommendations include updating crowd control training, designating medical treatment areas and providing voucher cards when property is seized. In addition, the CCRB suggests common-sense practices like not taking action against protesters who are compliant and dispersing, and not interfering with outside observers and members of the media.
“Many of the demonstrations were so dynamic and shifted, and were hard to predict as far as how many people [there] would be, what strategies would be involved in some of these demonstrations,” said retired detective Marq Claxton. “You caught the police department [at] the heels, and I think a lot of individual police officers may have been overcompensating for being caught off-guard and being under-resourced.”
But even after a 590-page report, there are still loose ends in the CCRB’s investigation. Rice says there are 59 unidentified officers in the received complaints, in addition to potential unreported victims. She cites failures to log officer activity properly and enforce proper identification and body-worn camera use as major roadblocks to a complete picture of misconduct during the George Floyd protests.
“Not being able to see officers’ badges and covering their badges [so] somebody couldn’t figure out who they were, the paperwork was sloppy, so we couldn’t figure out who was assigned to which march on any given day [and] the equipment wasn’t assigned correctly,” said Rice. “All those things made it hard, and all of this in the midst of a pandemic [make it moreso].”
Preliminary data from the protests show Black New Yorkers only made 12% of complaints about police misconduct during the George Floyd protests despite making the most overall complaints to the CCRB in 2020. While the CCRB stressed inconclusive findings, Rice recalls a 2020 rally led by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams she attended as the first Black Lives Matter protest with majority white participants. Claxton adds some organizations purposely put white protesters at the forefront to defend and protect their Black counterparts from police misconduct.
After the report, the CCRB can only make recommendations to Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell for discipline, so the ball is now in the NYPD’s court. Of the 146 officers, 89 are recommended for charges and specifications, which are reserved for the most serious allegations of misconduct and can result in revoked vacation days, suspension or termination if the department finds them guilty, according to the city’s website.
And the police are pushing back against the CCRB. The NYPD issued a response from acting Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters Carrie Talansky shortly after the report’s publication, claiming some of the findings and recommendations are obsolete or redundant. The letter says the NYPD assessed its crowd control strategies in April 2021 and said most uniformed service members received amended training by the end of that year.
The Police Benevolent Association of New York City (PBA), the union representing most NYPD members, criticized the CCRB’s report and defended the officers’ actions.
“Once again, the anti-cop activists at CCRB are trying to pin the blame on individual police officers for management failures and the chaos created by violent agitators,” said PBA President Pat Lynch in a statement. “We are still awaiting ‘accountability’ for the city leaders who sent us out with no plan and no support, and for the criminals who injured more than 400 of our brothers and sisters.”
The NYPD similarly blamed the hostile conditions for officers during the protests, commending them for the low percentage of substantiated allegations in the complaints made.
Still, disciplinary recommendations by the CCRB are frequently waved off by the department. Only Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner in 2014, was fired by the NYPD due to the board’s investigation. In 2020, the New York Times reported the department regularly rejects a majority of the CCRB’s disciplinary recommendations for serious misconduct.
“That is a challenge, because as a civilian complaint review board, we believe that we should be able to have a recommendation that is final,” said Rice. “The final arbiter for discipline in the NYPD is the police commissioner and we believe that [it] should rest with CCRB.”
The New York City Council also responded to the report, acknowledging some of the disciplinary measures made against the offending officers but demanded further accountability. It also mentioned NYPD responsibility for body-worn camera failures and the lack of EMT support.
“The CCRB’s report outlines misconduct and obstruction with investigatory efforts that must be addressed,” said Speaker Adrienne Adams. “Independent investigatory bodies need to have better access to body camera footage and compliance from the NYPD to investigate civilian complaints. The CCRB must play a vital role in police accountability that ensures public trust, and this will also require resolution of the agency’s understaffing. The Council will continue reviewing the report and consider legislative policy changes to help prevent these same issues from occurring in the future.”
The watchdog celebrates three decades as an independent agency this year. The CCRB was initially divorced from the NYPD by the city’s first Black mayor, David Dinkins, a decision met with a police-led riot—that included PBA leaders and Rudy Giuliani—that the city’s second and current Black mayor Eric Adams has likened to the Jan. 6 United States Capitol insurrection.
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.