Nine months after racial justice protests swept across New York City and videos showed police punching, kicking and trapping demonstrators, the city agency responsible for investigating abuses has revealed the number of officers who have so far faced serious disciplinary charges.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board released the figures on Tuesday after ProPublica reported that the CCRB was declining to disclose how much progress it had made on protest cases. The new numbers show about 60% of the agency's 297 protest-related cases are still open.
CCRB investigations can take a long time, about eight months on average. Its investigations into the summer protests have been slowed in particular by a lack of NYPD cooperation, as ProPublica detailed last week, and agency staffers have been discouraged from confronting the NYPD. After our reporting prompted pointed criticism from a City Council member and others, CCRB officials promised at a public board meeting last week to release figures as soon as possible.
So far, the agency has only been able to fully investigate 37 cases. About 75 cases were closed before a full investigation could be completed. Sometimes civilians did not follow up or decided to withdraw their complaints to pursue lawsuits.
The relatively few completed investigations have resulted in 14 complaints being substantiated so far. In 12 cases, the CCRB has recommended relatively minor punishment, which is to be decided by the officers' commanders. In the other two, the CCRB has moved for departmental disciplinary trials.
The CCRB said in an emailed statement on Wednesday that one of the two cases involved an officer who appeared to flash a white power sign, and the other concerned an officer who allegedly hit a protester with a baton.
The chair of the CCRB, Rev. Frederick Davie, also acknowledged at a City Council hearing on Tuesday that investigators have faced a challenge "around access to information from the Police Department."
As ProPublica's story last week noted, CCRB staffers emailed superiors that the NYPD repeatedly said it had no body-worn camera footage of an incident, only to have investigators later discover that there was, in fact, footage. In response to questions, the NYPD said in a statement last week, "We have spoken with senior executives at the CCRB who state they do not have any complaints" about footage.
The CCRB's statement Wednesday also said investigators have had difficulty identifying officers "due to the Police Department not keeping track of where officers were deployed and due to officers wearing protective gear with incorrect shield numbers."
The release of information about the protest cases comes as the city and the NYPD face increasing pressure to change the discipline process for officers. On Tuesday, state legislators introduced a bill to strip the NYPD commissioner of final authority over discipline. The move follows a New York City Council resolution in January calling for the legislature to act.
As ProPublica has detailed, commissioners have often used their discretion to overturn not only the CCRB's recommendations for punishments but also rulings by NYPD hearing officers and even guilty pleas agreed to by police officers.
Allegations of misconduct by officers can also be investigated by the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau, and the department has said that investigations of some protest encounters have been referred for disciplinary action. The department did not respond to a request this week for comment about the status of any discipline stemming from protest cases.
Mollie Simon contributed reporting.
Eric Umansky is a deputy managing editor for ProPublica.