New York City Council members took NYPD officials to task at a hearing on Thursday for failing to discipline officers and a general lack of transparency about the discipline process.
Donovan Richards, chair of the council's Public Safety Committee, said he was concerned about “officers that act as if they are above the law and the system that does not hold them accountable.”
During the hearing, council members grilled top NYPD brass about the findings of a BuzzFeed News investigation that found the department let officers who lied and used excessive force remain on the job.
The city council is now considering several laws that would require the department to release more details about its discipline process, look into standardizing penalties for misconduct, and ensure that the NYPD provides prosecutors with information about officers’ records so they can assess their credibility.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, in a letter previously obtained by BuzzFeed News, said the department was failing to provide it with sufficient information about officers who had lied.
“These limitations frustrate our ability, not only to prepare for trial, but to make early assessments of witness credibility, explore weaknesses in a potential case, and exonerate individuals who may have been mistakenly accused,” wrote Carey Dunne, the general counsel for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, in the May 18 letter, adding that their concerns were shared by all five of the city’s prosecutors offices.
But Ann Prunty, a top NYPD lawyer, told the council the department regularly shares such disciplinary information with prosecutors; she said the letter was misinformed.
In response, council member Rory Lancman said the NYPD and the district attorney seemed to be operating under “two complete alternate realities.”
A recent independent report examining the NYPD’s disciplinary system, requested by police commissioner James O’Neill, recommended the department more aggressively investigate officers accused of lying and issue harsher penalties for officers who commit domestic violence.
The commissioner accepted the report’s recommendations in full, and Benjamin Tucker, the first deputy commissioner, said the department was already working to improve how it handled domestic violence offenses.
In a written statement, the largest police union representing NYPD officers blasted the proposed laws, claiming that the council has completely ignored the risks to officers safety.
Department officials told the council that in 2018 it documented more than a hundred treats against officers, and that release of disciplinary information needed to be sure to account for officers’ legitimate privacy concerns.
BuzzFeed News asked the Police Benevolent Association, the largest police union, for examples of officers who had been threatened because of the release of disciplinary information, but it did not provide additional information.
The union also charged that the council had failed to consider how the release of more information about allegations of misconduct could unfairly ruin an officer’s career.
At the end of the hearing, several family members of people killed by police officers testified that the NYPD could not be trusted to police its own.
Votes on the proposed laws are expected later this year.