A new bill requiring the New York City Police Department to study how it could take a more standardized approach to disciplining officers is slated to be introduced in the city council Thursday.
The bill will call for the NYPD to research adopting a “disciplinary matrix,” a process used by some police departments to help ensure officers found guilty of misconduct are penalized in a consistent way.
Earlier this year, BuzzFeed News published an investigation into how the NYPD disciplines its officers and found dozens were kept on the force even after they lied, cheated, stole, or assaulted New York City residents. In addition to letting some officers off the hook, others said the system was arbitrary and used to penalize those who criticized department practices.
Council member Donovan Richards, chair of the public safety committee, told BuzzFeed News he plans to introduce the bill because he “wants to see more predictability” in the disciplinary process.
In addition to public concerns that the NYPD does not adequately police its own, he said, he’s also heard from members of the force who told him that high-ranking officers don’t receive the same punishment as the rank-and-file. “Everyone should be dealt with in an equitable fashion,” Richards said. “If you do ‘x’, you should be prepared to receive discipline ‘x.’”
Several other departments, including those in Newark, New Jersey; Phoenix; and Portland, Oregon, have adopted disciplinary matrices in recent years following complaints from officers and the community that police departments were not effectively combating misconduct.
The New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates complaints against officers in four categories — “force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, and offensive language” — recently began its own pilot program to help standardize its discipline recommendations. Its guidelines outline certain offenses that warrant the most severe action, such as chokeholds, strip searches, and excessive force. For less serious offenses, it takes into consideration other factors, such as the nature of the offense, the officers’ years of service, rank, command, and any other prior disciplinary history. The framework is not binding in the event that the board determines there were extenuating circumstances. Ultimately, the Civilian Complaint Review Board has no control over an officer’s penalty, which is determined by the police commissioner.
The bill is likely to meet pushback from some police unions.
“This bill takes an absolutely wrong approach to creating a fairer disciplinary system, because that isn’t the sponsor’s goal. A fair system tailors disciplinary consequences to fit the totality of circumstances, including the officer’s past record. Instead, the ‘matrix’ proposed by this bill would likely result in more arbitrary discipline,” said Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the largest NYPD union, in a statement.
The proposal does not prohibit the inclusion of an officer’s record as a factor in making disciplinary decisions. In response to follow-up questions about whether the union would support any kind of disciplinary matrix, it declined to comment further.
Earlier this year, Police Commissioner James O’Neill announced the creation of an independent panel of former federal prosecutors to scrutinize the disciplinary process. The panel is expected to release its report in January.
“The NYPD will review the legislation closely, and continue to collaborate with the City Council on these critical issues,” said NYPD spokesperson Phil Walzak.
If the legislation passes, the department will have 90 days to report back to the mayor and city council on the feasibility of implementing an internal disciplinary matrix.