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N.Y.P.D. Should Discipline 145 Officers for Misconduct, Watchdog Says

Amid a swell of protests following the murder of George Floyd two years ago, a flurry of videos showing officers behaving aggressively with protesters — charging into crowds and at times punching or pushing people to the ground — prompted a flood of complaints about their behavior to an independent oversight agency.

Now, after a lengthy review of a mountain of evidence including many of those recordings, the agency said on Wednesday that 145 city police officers should be disciplined for misconduct during the demonstrations, which drew thousands to streets across all five boroughs.

The agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, said that it found evidence to support 267 accusations of misconduct againstthe officers. For about 60 percent of them, it recommended the highest level of discipline, which could lead to an administrative trial and the loss of vacation days, suspension or termination.

At the time, the police response to the demonstrations provoked broad criticism from human rights organizations and residents. That year, the city’s Department of Investigation found that some officers used tactics that violated the First Amendment rights of protesters and that “excessive enforcement” often heightened existing tensions.

As protests continued, the review board began examining more than 750 complaints over officers’ actions.

Among the accusations that the review board substantiated were several high-profile incidents, including against three officers who were captured on video driving their vehicles into a crowd of demonstrators and against several others for using their bicycles as weapons against protesters.

The Police Department has said that the incidents were isolated, and has pointed to examples of protesters injuring police officers. The previous commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, said in a 2020 interview with the Department of Investigation that officers “did a phenomenal job under extremely difficult circumstances,” while stating that there were “a couple instances” where their conduct was inappropriate.

The deadline for the investigations into the complaints expired earlier this month.

The review board has said that its investigations were hampered by the Police Department’s lack of cooperation. In addition, about one in four fully investigated cases were closed because an officer could not be identified, since some covered their names and shields or wore another officer’s protective gear, the review board said.

The police have said that some officers shared helmets and equipment to protect each other, not to avoid accountability.

The wave of misconduct reports after the Floyd protests are reinvigorating a longstanding debate over whether the police commissioner should retain final authority over officer discipline.

The review board advises the department on what discipline it believes is appropriate for incidents in which it substantiates a complaint against an officer. But recommendations for the highest level of punishment have often ultimately been met with more lenient penalties from the department.

Among roughly 40 cases related to the protests that the department has finished investigating, it waived discipline for 23 officers and chose not to follow the review board’s recommendations in seven other instances. The police and review board agreed on penalties for 10 officers.

Advocates for police accountability have long said that the review board does not wield enough power to provide effective oversight over the police department. While the group’s responsibilities have recently expanded to include new types of complaints, including racial profiling or bias in policing and sexual misconduct, investigators must often rely on the department’s cooperation to gain access to evidence such as body camera recordings.

Arva Rice, the watchdog agency’s interim chair, said that review board members have been pushing for lawmakers to improve their access to police records and exempt them from laws that govern sealed cases. “We hope to see support from the city and state legislatures on these issues,” she said.

A spokesman for Mayor Eric Adams did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday. But the mayor has previously said that officers who break the law or behave abusively would not be allowed to remain on the force.

Christopher Dunn, the legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the lack of comments by Mr. Adams about the role of the review board in holding officers accountable is “in itself is a very loud message.”

“The city failed the test here,” he said. “It sends a clear message to the public that police misconduct is not a priority for this administration. And it sends an even more troubling message to the police department that they can get away with abuse.”

The department said in December that it had adopted more than two dozen recommendations from reports on protest policing, including the development of policies around tactics like mass arrests and kettling, when officers encircle protesters, block their exit and charge in to make arrests.

Even as the review board’s investigation ends, the fallout from the protests is expected to linger. The department is still investigating many of the incidents. And a series of separate lawsuits accusing the police of abusive behavior have continued to be fiercely battled in the courts. The Law Department recently fired a lawyer over her handling of the cases.

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