Richard Drew/AP

In new policy, NYPD must record every use of force

New York City's measures, modeled after Seattle's, are meant to improve transparency and accountability for police

The New York City Police Department will soon start recording detailed data every time an officer uses force, even if the incident doesn’t end in an arrest, the city’s police commissioner said Thursday.

The announcement comes amid growing nationwide scrutiny of police tactics, following the deaths of unarmed citizens in custody or at the hands of officers. Some of the most controversial incidents took place in New York.

NYPD officers will be required to fill out a two-page form recording what kind of force they used and giving justification for it, the New York Times reported. That includes details such as whether an officer struck a suspect by hand, threw someone to the ground, hit someone with a billy club or dispatched a police dog after someone. 

The officers will also now be required to mark down what force the suspect allegedly used against them, if any. 

“With these new policies, we seek to improve our understanding of how often our officers are confronted by violence or resistance while providing them with better training in how to respond to resistance with the appropriate tactics,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said in a statement released Thursday.

While praising the department's record of keeping track of incidents in which police use firearms, Bratton conceded that paperwork on physical force be improved.  

The NYPD is modeling its system after one used by the Seattle Police Department, which lists three main categories of force; the third level includes the use of deadly force. The Seattle reforms came after the federal Department of Justice found that Seattle's police department policies violated citizens' rights, according to an Inspector General's report. 

The new policy requires almost any physical encounter to be documented, even if it don’t result in formal charges. Officers who don’t comply could face disciplinary actions, including dismissal.

The department told the Times it hopes to the use the information to get a better idea of what their officers are doing on the street.

The announcement comes alongside the release on Thursday of an NYPD internal review, which found that police don't have guidelines on what counts as excessive force and that their bosses often fail to discipline them for violations.

“Historically, NYPD has frequently failed to discipline officers who use force without justification,” the report from the Office of the Inspector General Phillip Eure said.  "The current NYPD Patrol Guide contains no definition of ‘force.’”

The report found that in about 37 percent of cases of “substantiated” claims of use of force, the department declined to discipline officers who broke the rules.

The NYPD police union reacted angrily to the announcement of new use of force rules.

“No amount of new training or additional paperwork will make necessary force that is lawful and properly used by police officers acceptable to those who want to return to the hands-off, reactive policing strategies that sent crime soaring in the past,” said a statement released Thursday by Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

Reactive policing usually refers to simply responding to 911 calls and other reports, as opposed to “proactive policing” — conducting foot and car patrols to sniff out even minor infractions. Supporters have credited the latter policy, developed during former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's tenure and during Bratton's first stint as police chief in the early 1990s, with drastically cutting violent crime in the nation's largest city.

Proactive policing, also sometimes called “broken windows” policing, has faced heated criticism from civil rights groups for allegedly targeting black and Hispanic people. Bratton’s boss, Mayor Bill de Blasio, ran on a platform that opposed stop-and-frisk, the most controversial aspect of the practice.

Stop-and-frisk encounters happen when an officer has reason to believe a person in public is committing a crime. This can include behavior as ambiguous as “furtive movements” or bulges in their clothing that could be guns or drugs. 

Since de Blasio took office in 2013, those stops have reportedly dropped significantly compared to their height during the tenure of Michael Bloomberg in the 2000s. But relations between communities of color and police remain strained. Bloomberg had touted the practice of stop-and-frisk as a way to take guns off the street, but the New York Civil Liberties Union found that most stops ended in the recovery of marijuana, not weapons

Some of the most controversial recent use-of-force incidents have occurred in New York City — including the summer 2014 chokehold death of a 43-year-old Eric Garner, who was slammed to the ground during an arrest for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. His death, and a grand jury’s subsequent decision not to indict the officers involved, touched off protests nationwide last year.

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