Posted On 08 Jul 2020
New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday proposed a series of police reforms she says should be “quickly” enacted following violent encounters between police and protesters during recent demonstrations after the death of George Floyd.
The 57-page report was released amid an investigation James is leading into police conduct during the protests against racial injustice. That investigation remains ongoing.
“Our investigation does not end today but it remains ongoing. But after more than 30 days of intense scrutiny, it is impossible to deny that many New Yorkers have lost faith in law enforcement,” James told reporters in a conference call.
“I believe at my core that we need to bridge the undeniable divide between the police and the public because trust is essential and critical to effective policing.”
In the report, James says the general public must be given oversight over New York Police Department policies, structure and leadership; that public safety needs to be “redesigned” and that the disciplinary system for officers needs to be strengthened.
She also recommended that any oversight body have statutory powers to address misconduct and said there “must be clear, carefully calibrated standards for the use of force with real consequences for violations.”
James’ proposed reforms could curb much of the NYPD’s commissioner’s significant power over firing or promotions.
“Not one individual, i.e. the police commissioner, should have sole discretion over so many functions over the police,” James said.
“Basically my point is police should not police themselves, period. And It requires change and it requires reform and it requires transparency and accountability. At this point in time why is it this one agency is treated so differently than all of the others?”
NYPD spokesman Richard Esposito discounted James’ report, saying, “This is of course a political and not an investigative document.”
“Rather than rehash rhetoric we should come together — state and local law enforcement and elected officials—and confront and solve the crisis at hand,” Esposito said.
“Meanwhile we at the NYPD will continue to protect and serve the public as we have for 175 years.”
James’ investigation found that between May 28 and June 7, the NYPD made more than 2,000 protest-related arrests.
Of those arrested, 44 percent were white, 39 percent were Black and 13 percent were Latino. Meanwhile, the vast majority of arrests made between June 2 and June 6, when an 8 p.m. citywide curfew was in place, took place after that curfew set in.
James identified a few areas of concern with police conduct during the protests. They included use of force, treatment of press, legal observers, elected officials and essential workers, as well as arrest-related practices including the use of tight zip ties and holding protesters for a “significant” amount of time after arrest.
The report comes after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked James in late May to begin such an investigation. James was assisted in the probe by former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and New York University law professor Barry Friedman, and she held multiple hearings in which protesters and police testified about conduct during the demonstrations.
“With this report, Attorney General James and her team have begun the important work of chronicling the events surrounding the recent protests and ensuring that all voices — protesters, police, and elected officials — are heard,” Lynch said. “As this investigation continues, so must the vital conversations around transparency and accountability. These are the most important conversations of our time.”
Tom Winter contributed.