When rogue police are punished by the NYPD, it will be by the book — and if it isn’t, the public is going to know why, the city’s top cop pledged Tuesday.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said he does not plan to deviate from the punishments laid out in the department’s new Disciplinary Matrix.
“When we have a set of rules, whether as a police officer or a police commissioner putting out discipline, when we are working on agreed upon rules, the expectation is that they are going to be followed,” Shea told NY1.
“When we diverge from this, we already had a process where we notify the (Civilian Complaint Review Board) and I took the additional step,” Shea said.
“I said, ‘That’s not good enough.’ I’m going to notify the public why we diverge — that’s who we work for. Whatever we tell the Civilian Complaint Review Board in writing, I’m going to tell the public as well.”
The new guidelines, which were worked on with the CCRB, lays out how cops will be disciplined for a variety of transgressions, including the use of chokeholds and providing false information.
Yet critics have slammed the new matrix, claiming the wide-ranging penalties create an opportunity for bias when it comes to punishment.
The agreement, which is laid out in a memorandum of understanding, is also not legally binding and gives the police commissioner far too much discretion, critics charge.
Joo-Hyun Kang of the Communities United for Police Reform said the disciplinary matrix is “a fairy tale.”
“The only real reform that has happened is that the City Council has required some transparency, but the content is what’s important now, and the content is terrible,” Kang said. “Many of us believes that the matrix emboldens a spectrum of police violence against New Yorkers so cops know they won’t get fired.”
“If the rules of the playbook are crooked to protect crooked cops then it’s not actually a meaningful reform,” she added. “We see no proof that will change.”
Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn) said the matrix should be legally binding so the police commissioner would have no say in how much discipline is meted out.
“When something is in legislation, it goes through a hearing process, has public feedback and is legally binding,” Levin said. “My feeling is if they really are committed to this then they will get behind the legislative effort to change the final disciplinary authority and remove it from the commissioner.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union agreed.
“Finalizing a disciplinary matrix that gathers dust in a file cabinet won’t reverse the NYPD’s dismal track record on accountability. Neither will non-binding guidelines that are at the whims of the police commissioner to apply or ignore,” said NYCLU Senior Policy Counsel Michael Sisitzky. “NYPD leadership needs a culture shift before we can talk about building public trust.”
Shea said the new matrix is a “living document” and the punishments may change over time.
“If you look at it a year from now there’s a good chance it’s not going to look the same,” said Shea, who added that the matrix was an “important first step.”
“Hopefully it will go a long way to building some of that lost trust that’s been eroded over time,” Shea added.
Shea also noted during the interview that he has returned to police headquarters in lower Manhattan after three weeks of working from home with coronavirus.
He said the mild symptoms he suffered only bolstered his desire for the vaccine — a sentiment shared by many of his cops.
“Last week we did a survey internally on when we get more vaccines, who is ready to go,” Shea said. “We have thousands of officers and civilian members eager to get the vaccine ... As soon as we get them they will be in people’s arms.”