New York, NY – A New York City police oversight agency has alleged police mishandled protests and enflamed tensions by using excessive force during the violent uprisings that occurred throughout the city over the summer.
The NYCDI said the officers lacked adequate training and were unprepared to handle the massive, angry mobs.
According to the report, police commanders treated the large gatherings like riots instead of protests, and relied too heavily on “disorder control tactics” instead of trying to find “an appropriate balance” between civil rights and public safety, The New York Times reported.
Over 2,000 people were arrested during the demonstrations and riots that took place in May and June.
“The department itself made a number of key errors or omissions that likely escalated tensions, and certainly contributed to both the perception and the reality that the department was suppressing rather than facilitating lawful First Amendment assembly and expression,” the NYCDI concluded.
They also should have done more to de-escalate tensions and to be more discriminate when using crowd control tactics, according to the agency.
“The N.Y.P.D. use of force and crowd control tactics often failed to discriminate between lawful, peaceful protesters and unlawful actors and contributed to the perception that officers were exercising force in some cases beyond what was necessary,” the report said.
The NYCDI also blamed the New York Police Department (NYPD) for not handling rioters differently when the rioters claimed to be protesting police brutality, The New York Times reported.
“The fact that the target of the protests was policing itself does not appear to have factored into the department’s response strategy in any meaningful way,” the oversight agency lamented.
NYCDI Commissioner Margaret Garnett declared that the police response to the uprisings “really was a failure on many levels.”
Garnett also blasted members of the force who defended the way they responded to the mass gatherings – especially those who said they wouldn’t have done anything differently, The New York Times reported.
“I don’t quite know what to make of that,” Garnett commented during a news conference after the report was released. “I hope the department is more self-critical and self-reflective than those statements reflect.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he agrees with the findings of the report, but noted that the vast majority of the officers who responded to the riots did so commendably and without violating people’s rights, The New York Times reported.
Police Benevolent Association (PBA) President Patrick Lynch said police are being shouldered with blame that should be directed at politicians who stood at a safe distance and criticized those on the front lines.
Lynch said the “report confirms what police officers knew on the first night of riots: our city leaders sent us out with no plan, no strategy and no support to deal with unrest that was fundamentally different from any of the thousands of demonstrations that police officers successfully protect every single year,” WCBS reported.
“Nearly 400 police officers were injured — struck with bricks, bottles, fire extinguishers and folding chairs — because of the mixed messages emanating from City Hall and Albany,” he continued. “No amount of new training or strategizing will help while politicians continue to undermine police officers and embolden those who create chaos on our streets.”
De Blasio said he regrets how he handled the months of rioting, but did not provide details regarding what he should have done differently.
“I look back with remorse. I wish I had done better,” he said, according to The New York Times. “I want everyone to understand that. And I’m sorry I didn’t do better.”
The mayor said the report “makes it very clear we’ve got to do something different, and we’ve got to do something better,” according to The Hill.
“I am saying to everyone in the NYPD – everyone needs to accept the results of this report. Everyone needs to implement them,” de Blasio said, according to WCBS. “If there’s anyone in leadership in the NYPD who reads that report and disagrees… they should leave now.”
The NYCDI recommended in the report that the NYPD establish a specific unit tasked with responding to protests and demonstrations, The New York Times reported.
The NYPD should also re-evaluate whether using officers assigned to units that handle riots and terrorist attacks is appropriate for responding to protests, according to the report.
The police oversight agency said all patrol officers need more training to learn how to best interact with protesters, and that the department needs to make protecting free speech rights a priority, The New York Times reported.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said the 20 recommendations contained in the report are all “logical and thoughtful,” and that he plans to implement them.
“We accept the recommendations of the Department of Investigation and we’re going to implement them right away,” Commissioner Shea and de Blasio said, according to The Hill.
The New York Civil Liberties Union and the Legal Aid Society released a joint statement blaming the mayor, Commissioner Shea, and other NYPD leaders for the “shocking violence” that unfolded over the summer, USA Today reported.
“Simply instituting more training and shifting responsibilities around is not a solution,” the statement read. “The fundamental problem is a Department whose leadership and culture allowed the events of this summer to unfold, refuses to confront its own conduct, and does nothing to address the root causes of these long-standing problems.”