Nearly 150 New York City police officers committed misconduct, including using excessive force, while responding to the 2020 protests over the killing of George Floyd, according to a report released Monday by a civilian review board.
The city's Civilian Complaint Review Board, or CCRB, also found that many officers disciplined by the police department received punishment that was less than the panel recommended, and in some cases officers found to have committed misconduct were not disciplined at all.
Investigations into more than 600 complaints about police conduct during the protests had to be closed because officers could not be identified. In many cases that was because police purposely wore mourning bands over their badges or refused to provide their names, or because the department failed to track where officers were deployed, the 590-page report says.
The board received 321 complaints during the protests that were determined to be within its jurisdiction and 226 were investigated.
The document describes, for example, police actions during one protest in Brooklyn on May 30, 2020, that drew numerous complaints.
An officer drove a police vehicle into the crowd and knocked protesters to the ground. Another officer pulled down a demonstrator’s coronavirus-protecting mask and pepper sprayed him in the face. On the Brooklyn Bridge that day, officers tackled protesters and hit them in the head with batons, the report says.
The panel substantiated 269 allegations of misconduct against 146 officers, including 140 allegations of excessive force and 72 claims of abuse of authority, including officers refusing to provide their names or obstructing their badges. The allegations that were sustained included 34 for improperly striking people with batons and 28 for improperly using pepper spray.
“Protests against police brutality bred more instances of police misconduct,” Arva Rice, the review board's chair, said in a statement. “If this misconduct goes unaddressed, it will never be reformed.”
The document includes recommendations for change.
The NYPD said it objects to many of the board's characterizations. In a statement, it said many, if not all, of the review board's recommendations already have been implemented in response to the department's own review and proposals by other agencies.
“A key element missing from this report is any acknowledgement that officers were performing their utmost duty, protecting the city and its people, under what were often sustained, dangerous conditions,” the department said.
The agency also said the 226 complaints reviewed by the board contained 1,800 allegations, and only 15% of those were substantiated. The number of officers found to have committed misconduct was only a fraction of the more than 20,000 on duty daily at the height of the protests. Some demonstrators were looting, setting fires and destroying property, the department noted.
The NYPD said more than 400 officers were injured during the protests, including 250 who were hospitalized.
Patrick Lynch, the head of the Police Benevolent Association, also was critical.
“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," he said 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 board recommended charges and other discipline against 89 officers. Of those cases, three were resolved through guilty pleas, four officers forfeited vacation days, five officers retired or resigned before disciplinary action could be taken, nine officers were not disciplined by the department and administrative proceedings are pending against 62 officers, the report said.
It made a series of recommendations including that all officers get updated training on crowd control tactics. The board also said police should not interfere with members of the press, that officers' names and shield numbers should be visible at all times and that the department should assess how it uses various tactics and tools during protests.
The New York Civil Liberties Union said the report shows how officers responded with violence.
“This report gives the public a new window into the scale of officer misconduct, crucial access to troves of internal records and, in the end, stark evidence of the NYPD’s unwillingness to hold officers accountable," Molly Biklen, the New York ACLU's deputy legal director, said in a statement.