NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--An independent panel of law enforcement experts appointed by Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill of the New York City Police Department released its report today, setting forth its findings, observations, and recommendations on the NYPD’s internal disciplinary system.
The Panel, which includes panel chair Mary Jo White, former Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission and United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Robert L. Capers, former United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Barbara S. Jones, a former federal judge in the Southern District of New York and former Chief Assistant District Attorney for New York County, spent seven months examining the NYPD’s policies and procedures for investigating and disciplining officers who violate Department rules. The work was performed pro bono and independently of the NYPD.
The Panel’s 57-page report recommends reforms in four key focus areas: transparency, accountability, the appearance of favoritism and inconsistent outcomes, and unnecessary delay.
- Transparency: The Panel noted that Civil Rights Law § 50–a, which prevents release of virtually any information on specific disciplinary cases, is a serious obstacle to transparency and accountability to the public. The Panel called on the Department to support initiatives before the Legislature to amend the law and offered suggestions about how to change it. In addition, the Panel recommended that the Department enhance the avenues for transparency permitted under current law by, for example, releasing annually comprehensive Department-wide statistics on the disciplinary system and appointing a citizens’ liaison to ensure that those harmed by police misconduct have an accessible and respectful channel to obtain disciplinary case information.
- Accountability: The Panel observed that city law gives the Commissioner unlimited discretion over disciplinary cases, which carries with it a heightened responsibility for the Commissioner to be as transparent and accountable as possible. Although the Panel did not find any evidence that the Commissioner, who takes his disciplinary role very seriously, has abused his discretion, it recommended that he begin providing detailed explanations for modifying a settlement or a NYPD trial judge’s disciplinary decision. When the Commissioner makes such modifications, he is substituting his judgment for an outcome negotiated by the parties or found by the trial judge. The parties and others involved in the disciplinary process should receive meaningful explanations for the change.
- Favoritism and inconsistent outcomes: The Panel found that the disciplinary process generally produced fair results. The Panel examined whether—but found no basis to conclude that—higher-ranking officers consistently received better treatment under the disciplinary system than lower-ranking officers. But the Panel did find that decision makers within the disciplinary system are potentially susceptible to external pressure and inappropriate influences, and, accordingly recommended that the Department improve its procedures for safeguarding the integrity of the process. In light of the Commissioner’s plenary authority over discipline, the Panel also recommended that the Department engage external experts to periodically audit the disciplinary system for signs of favoritism, bias, or unexplained inconsistencies in outcomes and that it consider adopting a disciplinary penalty matrix setting forth the expected penalty ranges for each type of offense.
- Delay: The Panel found that while improvements have been made in recent years, disciplinary cases still take too long to process. The Panel recommended additional hiring for the Department Advocate’s Office, as well as streamlined procedures for fast-tracking less complex cases.
Beyond these four critical areas of focus, the Panel recommended that the Department pursue more aggressive investigation of, and stiffer penalties for, officer-involved domestic violence and instances of officers making false statements. In addition, and throughout its work, the Panel observed shortcomings in the Department’s technology infrastructure for tracking disciplinary cases and recommended that the multiple systems currently in use be streamlined and integrated into one seamless platform to manage all cases.
The report was commissioned by Commissioner O’Neill on June 21, 2018. It was provided to the Commissioner on Friday, January 25, 2019, and the Department was afforded one week to review it. The Department was not given the opportunity to provide edits or suggest changes to the report.
The Panel commends the Commissioner for opening up the Department’s disciplinary system to outside scrutiny and was honored to have been asked to provide an independent perspective on how to improve it. The Panel also expresses its gratitude to the many people and organizations, including victims of police misconduct and their families, who took the time to meet with the Panel over the past seven months and who provided invaluable information and insights. The Panel members also want to thank the many lawyers and staff from their firms who worked tirelessly in support of the Panel’s work.
The report is available for public review at IndependentPanelReportNYPD.net
Mary Jo White is the Senior Chair of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP; she formerly served as Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission and as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Robert L. Capers is co-leader of Arent Fox LLP’s Government Enforcement and White Collar practice; he is the former United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
Barbara S. Jones is a partner at Bracewell LLP; she served as a federal judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for 16 years and before that as Chief Assistant to the District Attorney of New York County.