The NYPD’s new and much-hyped disciplinary matrix will not change the fact that the police commissioner still has ultimate discretion over how punishments are meted out for cops’ misconduct, Mayor de Blasio revealed Thursday.
De Blasio spent much of the morning talking up a recent agreement between the NYPD and the Civilian Complaint Review Board on a set of new guidelines that lay out how cops will be disciplined for a variety of transgressions, including the use of chokeholds and providing false information.
But the agreement, which is laid out in a memorandum of understanding, is not legally binding and, according to critics, gives the police commissioner far too much discretion when it comes to disciplining cops.
During a City Hall press briefing Thursday, the mayor described the new guidelines and the Police Department’s agreement to adhere to them as a “sea change” that’s been two years in the making.
He said he’s confident the new matrix would rarely, if ever, be circumvented in practice and claimed that if the police commissioner does decide to stray from the new guidelines, he or she would have to publicly explain such a decision.
“If there were one of those very exceptional situations, then that specific choice would have to be made public in writing,” he said. “But I want to be clear, I do not see a situation like that. I have not seen, in over seven years, a situation like that.”
Despite those assurances, police reform advocates said there is no existing law that could compel a police commissioner to publicly explain such a decision.
“As far as we know, there’s nothing legally binding or informally binding,” said Joo Hyun Kang, director of Communities United for Police Reform. “I don’t put any faith in what the mayor says. He consistently lies and misleads the public about the NYPD and policing.”
De Blasio noted that state law gives the police commissioner the power to work outside the disciplinary matrix, but did not raise the prospect of any push to try to change it. His press office did not immediately release the memorandum of understanding between the NYPD and CCRB.
Councilman Stephen Levin praised the city’s adoption of the new matrix, but said that to make it truly effective, it should be codified into law and the police commissioner removed from the process.
“If they agree with the principle, they should agree with having it codified by law,” Levin said. “I haven’t gotten any indication that they’re supportive of that.”
Allowing the police commissioner to use discretion when disciplining officers is also problematic because there are inherent conflicts of interest in doing so, according to Levin. A system more closely resembling the military’s court-martial process — in which those within the chain of command are removed from disciplinary proceedings — would make more sense, he added.
Absent from the discussion on the new developments Thursday was Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, who recently tested positive for COVID.
When asked why no one from the Police Department was in attendance to field questions on the new policy, de Blasio responded that the NYPD “has been a part of it, of course, from day one.”
“The NYPD is fully committed to this,” he said. “There will be ample opportunity for Commissioner Shea and other members of the NYPD to speak to it.”