July 8 (UPI) — Following weeks of protests over the police-involved killing of George Floyd, New York Attorney General Letitia James called for sweeping reforms of the New York Police Department in a new report, stating the public no longer had faith in their law enforcement.
Released Wednesday, the 57-page preliminary report by James’ office into the NYPD’s response to protests that erupted following the Memorial Day killing of Floyd found “it is clear that real, meaningful reform cannot wait.”
“While our investigation remains ongoing, after 30 days of intense scrutiny, it is impossible to deny that many New Yorkers have lost faith in law enforcement,” James said in a statement accompanying the report. “We must bridge the undeniable divide between the police and the public, and this preliminary report, and the recommendations included, is an important step forward.”
In the report, the Attorney General’s Office said it received 1,300 complaints concerning police conduct during the protest, many of them alleging NYPD officers used excessive force, including the indiscriminate use of batons and pepper spray and the brandishing of firearms at protesters as well as pushing vehicles or bike into demonstrators.
Other areas of concern include the NYPD’s use of the so-called kettling tactic where officers surround and block protesters from leaving a specific area, which often leads to violent clashes between the two sides; the officers’ treatment of the press, legal observers, elected officials and essential workers; and general arrests practices as well as and other practices that impair community trust, such as not wearing personal protective equipment during the protests amid a pandemic.
Within the report, James calls for a series of systemic changes that the city, state and NYPD should consider to remedy the concerns of the public, including redesigning the role of police in New York City, stating law enforcement being the “de facto response” to mental illness, homelessness and school safety must change.
The report calls for a transparent commission with full-time staff and resources to be formed to determine the best way forward in replacing armed officers from these scenarios with specialized professionals.
Minor offenses should also be decriminalized to reduce negative contact with police, especially among communities of color, it said.
Another sweeping change recommended is to increase public input and oversight of police policies and leadership through a commission that should have “unfettered” access to records and approval of its budget.
“The NYPD must be overseen by a commission that has the authority to hire and fire NYPD leadership, including the commissioner,” the report said.
The force should also seek public input on rules it changes of implements, removing this unilateral power from the police commissioner, it said.
Concerning oversight and disciplinary issues, a system independent of the NYPD must be created, the report said, stating the civilian review board must be expanded and authorized to have final disciplinary authority, among other changes.
“The police should not police themselves — period,” she told reporters Wednesday. “Why is this one agency treated so differently than all of the others?”
According to the report, 2,087 arrests were made during protests between May 28 and June 7, of which white people accounted for 44 percent, black people accounted for 39 percent and Latinos accounted for 13 percent. However, black and Latino protesters were charged with felony crimes at 16 percent and 8 percent, respectively, while less than 4 percent of white demonstrators faced such charges.
The vast majority of those charged with felonies occurred near the start of the protests on May 31 when there was widespread “plundering of businesses,” the report said, while the vast majority of the arrests occurred between June 2-6 when a curfew was in place, suggesting that it was a significant driver of detentions.
The report was commissioned by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo after protests erupted nationwide, including New York City, after Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed by a white police officer.
Video of the arrest showing Derek Chauvin — who has since been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and now faces murder and manslaughter charges — with his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes ignited simmering anger throughout the country following a series of high-profile incidents of white police officers killing black suspects.
James said a more detailed, final report will be released once their investigation is completed.
“We must begin the hard work of re-evaluating the role of police in society and ensuring that there are mechanisms for public oversight, accountability and input,” James said. “Progress is possible but, first, change and accountability are needed.”
The report came after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in late June that he and the city council have agreed on a plan to cut $1 billion from the NYPD’s budget and redirect the funds to communities of color.