The NYPD allowed more than 300 cops convicted of serious misconduct such as beating civilians, lying in court, selling drugs and sexual misconduct to stay on the force, draw city-funded salaries and continue to interact with New Yorkers as the arbiters of appropriate behavior, according to a stunning new report from Buzzfeed news.
Just this weekend the New York Times further exposed the ongoing reality of NYPD officers lying on paperwork and in court in order to win convictions and prosecutors quietly dropping cases with questionable police conduct, preventing public accountability.
In response to these concerns, at a press conference last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill, complained that the public was focusing too much on the bad things happening at the NYPD and not enough on the so-called progress that the department has been making.
“We are building trust,” the mayor repeatedly says, a useful deflection anytime the facts on the street remind the public that the NYPD’s primary concern is protecting the brand of the NYPD, no matter the collateral damage inflicted on individual residents.
The NYPD, a city agency that uses force to ensure compliance with public order, thinks a bare minimum of 24 hours in custody, loss of employment, housing, or even custody of your children is a reasonable outcome for the 250,000 civilians accused of a crime by the NYPD each year, yet finds it completely unreasonable that officers should face a similar fate when convicted of wrongdoing. That’s hypocritical.
The NYPD has a lower standard of behavior for its employees than it does for the population in general, when obviously, the reverse should be true.
The fact that the NYPD takes such a light touch with officers who committed serious misconduct is particularly problematic in the era of Broken Windows policing where in the vast majority of criminal cases, the only witness involved is a police officer, whose history of perjury, misrepresentation, false arrests or brutality is conveniently shielded from scrutiny even as the history of the person accused is laid bare for all the world to see.
This lack of transparency, historically a problem, has gotten significantly worse under new legal interpretations of state law by the de Blasio administration.
The city is apparently a lost cause for holding police officers accountable—de Blasio refuses to fire even Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who choked Eric Garner to death on video and who had previously racked up one of the most egregious misconduct records in the department—a fact we only learned when a CCRB employee leaked his records to the press.
But prosecutors have the power and the authority to act as an important lever to combat police misconduct by refusing to prosecute cases brought in by, for example, officers who have perjured themselves in previous cases or beaten witnesses. There would not be a role in the NYPD for a street officer who could not clear cases.
Recently in Philadelphia, in response to a court order, prosecutors made public a list of officers they could not bring to the witness stand because of past histories of serious misconduct, cracking open the blue wall of silence, even for just a second.
However, here in New York City, prosecutors are instead complicit in protecting the police from accountability. They do not release similar lists of problematic officers, allowing these cops to continue to do dirt on the public – putting the residents of New York at risk of brutality and false arrests – so as not to ruffle the feathers of the boys in blue.
Just like the police, the true allegiance of prosecutors is to the law enforcement system itself, one where the status quo has become indefensible in its racism, punitiveness, hypocrisy and ignorance to the actual demands of justice and accountability.
Nick Encalada-Malinowski is the Civil Rights Campaign Director at VOCAL-NY—a grassroots, membership-based organization fighting to end HIV/AIDS, homelessness, mass incarceration and the war on drugs.