NYPD Disciplinary Problems Linked To A 'Failure Of Accountability' The New York Police Department is one of the most sophisticated in the world, with advanced systems for fighting crime. But it's not so good at policing its own officers, criminal justice experts say.
NPR logo

NYPD Disciplinary Problems Linked To A 'Failure Of Accountability'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/369617159/377635641" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
NYPD Disciplinary Problems Linked To A 'Failure Of Accountability'

NYPD Disciplinary Problems Linked To A 'Failure Of Accountability'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/369617159/377635641" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's talk about one specific work place, the New York City Police Department, which is facing criticism for allowing problem officers to stay on. WNYC's Robert Lewis reports on the NYPD's track record of policing its own.

ROBERT LEWIS, BYLINE: Darvel Elliot was arrested in August, 2010 because he matched the description of a robbery suspect. He says he was already in handcuffs when the world went black. He came to...

DARVEL ELLIOT: In the hospital, Brookdale Hospital, face stuck to the sheet like Velcro.

LEWIS: Photos show his face covered with blood-soaked bandages. The robbery charges were ultimately dismissed, and he sued. The cops never got a chance to defend themselves. The city quickly settled for $20,000, a nuisance value.

ELLIOT: You think we're the danger, but you're the danger. Like, you're supposed to protect and serve us. We're not supposed to be scared of you. We're supposed to be safe around you.

LEWIS: The Brooklyn police officer named in the lawsuit is Donald Sadowy. He's been the subject of at least 10 lawsuits, including some for excessive force, in little more than two years. An 11th lawsuit was filed against him in November. And it's not just him. While police disciplinary records are confidential in New York, it's easy to find dozens of other cops with similar records, all of which calls into question just how seriously the NYPD polices its own.

SAMUEL WALKER: I think there's been, you know, a really systematic failure of accountability on the part of the NYPD.

LEWIS: Samuel Walker is a retired criminal justice professor and police accountability expert. He says the department keeps information on things like civilian complaints and disciplinary histories for its 35,000 officers. It also monitors cops who are accused of excessive force. But Walker says it's not enough. He says the NYPD puts a lot of energy and resources into spotting crime trends. It should do the same for problem cops. The city now spends more than $100 million each year to settle lawsuits against the police.

WALKER: If you could devise a system to identify them and to identify them early, you could prevent a lot of these inappropriate actions out there on the street.

CANDACE MCCOY: Ten lawsuits is too much.

LEWIS: Candace McCoy is a criminal justice professor at the City University of New York's Graduate Center.

MCCOY: The question is, what is the cutoff? What is the exact number beyond which you take this person off the street?

LEWIS: A lot of misconduct never results in a lawsuit. On the flip side, lawsuits often name several officers, including some that may have played a minor role. So departments around the country often look for combinations of indicators to spot patterns of questionable behavior. Many, for example, also look at cops who regularly charge people with resisting arrest. Again, police accountability expert Samuel Walker.

WALKER: There's a widespread pattern in American policing where resisting arrest charges are used to - for cover. And that phrase is used - the officer's use of force. Why did the officer use force? Well, the person was resisting arrest.

LEWIS: A small number of NYPD officers account for the bulk of such charges. Sadowy, the officer with 11 lawsuits, has more resisting arrest cases than all but a handful of other cops. Civilian complaints are another red flag. Here in New York City, they're confidential. But reports from the cities Civilian Complaint Review Board show 40 percent of the 35,000 officers on the force today have never been the subject of a citizen complaint. Another 20 percent have only one. Yet, about a thousand cops have 10 or more complaints. One has been able to rack up 51.

RICHARD EMERY: But if an officer has a pattern of a lot of complaints - let alone substantiated complaints - that officer is certainly worth watching and even warning and certainly retraining.

LEWIS: That's chairman of the review board, attorney Richard Emery. He says the department has not seemed too interested in using the board's records to spot problems officers.

EMERY: They've had access to it. But they've never asked.

LEWIS: The NYPD did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, nor did NYPD Officer Sadowy. Police Commissioner William Bratton has started a massive department-wide retraining on the use of force and spoken out about the need to get rid of bad cops.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COMMISSIONER WILLIAM BRATTON: There are some officers in the department, unfortunately, who should not be here. They're brutal. They're corrupt. And we'll work very aggressively to deal with that.

LEWIS: But in 2014, the department decided not to discipline a quarter of the cops the Civilian Complaint Review Board found committed misconduct. For NPR News, I'm Robert Lewis in New York.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.