NYPD Releases New Disciplinary Guidelines, But Commissioner Still Has Final Say On Penalties

January 16, 2021

The NYPD released a set of new guidelines for officers found guilty of misconduct, outlining penalties for violations like excessive use of force, making false statements, or racial profiling under a first-of-its-kind “disciplinary matrix” that takes effect immediately.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea called the matrix a “living document” that could evolve. Shea said in a statement that the purpose of the matrix is to eliminate the “perception of favoritism or bias” that can undermine the department’s approach to meting out discipline.

“The matrix reflects my commitment that every member of the service is held accountable for his or her conduct based upon reasonable standards,” Shea said in a statement.

The 57-page document provides a lengthy list of misconduct violations by category. The recommended penalty for an officer that uses a chokehold resulting in death, for example, is termination. An improper stop and frisk could mean an officer is penalized with the loss of three vacation days.

Michael Sisitzky, senior policy counsel with the New York Civil Liberties Union, called the discipline matrix a long-overdue step and important for laying out the NYPD’s disciplinary policies. But he noted that the matrix is only a guide, since the police commissioner is the final arbiter on matters of discipline.

“It’s only as useful as the willingness to apply it,” Sisitzky said of the matrix. “And to hold officers accountable when they engage in misconduct.”

The chart of misconduct violations and their penalties does indeed have nuance. A supervisor found guilty of misconduct, for instance, may get a harsher, or “aggravated,” penalty compared to a lower-ranking officer. Likewise, an officer may get a “mitigated,” or more mild, penalty according to a long list of mitigating factors, such as whether the misconduct occurred because of a lack of sufficient training or whether an officer takes responsibility for his or her actions. For example, while the recommended penalty for an improper stop is a loss of three vacation days, a mitigated penalty is training.

But the discipline matrix could also further codify a practice that has irked the public: allowing officers guilty of egregious acts of misconduct to retire or resign with benefits rather than be fired outright. Such a penalty falls within the mitigated column of the disciplinary matrix.

For example, the recommended penalty for the use of hate speech is termination, according to the matrix. But if the NYPD finds that mitigating factors apply, the expected outcome is a forced retirement or resignation. A possible case in this category would have been that of James Kobel, a high-ranking officer who is currently being investigated for posting hateful messages to an online forum. The NYPD confirmed that he filed for retirement earlier this week. Kobel’s union said he is expected to retain his full pension.

“Mayor [Bill] de Blasio and the NYPD are counting on the opaqueness and complexities of the NYPD’s discipline system to obscure that their guidelines provide cover and protect cops who kill, brutalize, sexually harass and lie in official capacity,” said Kesi Foster, a spokesman for the coalition Communities United for Police Reform, in a statement.

Foster called many of the penalties mere “slaps on the wrist,” that further embolden officers to subject New Yorkers, especially in communities of color, to police abuses.

De Blasio called the discipline guide part of his own plan to fulfill an Obama Foundation pledge signed in August to reform policing. He touted the matrix as “cutting-edge reform” in a statement, yet he released the matrix just before the start of a holiday weekend.

An outside panel recommended the NYPD create a matrix nearly two years ago. But it was the City Council that required it as part of a package of police reforms passed last June. The legislation came amid a massive push for racial justice following citywide protests.

The Civilian Complaint Review Board said it will hold an additional meeting later this month to publicly review the disciplinary matrix.

Topics: NYPD Discipline Matrix