Letter of Transmittal

The President
The President of the Senate
The Speaker of the House of Representatives

Dear Sirs:

On May 26, 1999, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights conducted a hearing in New York City to examine current police practices and their impact on civil rights in the community at large. The Commission had a strong interest in studying the methods used by the city to balance crime fighting with the exercise of appropriate restraint, particularly following the highly publicized tragedies involving Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo. This report is intended to offer insights into some of the tensions that exist between the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the communities that it serves.

In August 1997, the nation experienced shock and disbelief when reports emerged that Abner Louima had been beaten and brutally sodomized with a toilet plunger by a New York City police officer in the precinct where Mr. Louima was being held in custody. The Louima incident led to heightened tensions between the police department and many communities in and around New York City. In February 1999, these tensions increased when an unarmed man, Amadou Diallo, was shot and killed by four officers from the NYPD’s Street Crime Unit. These officers fired 41 bullets at Mr. Diallo in the vestibule of his home. The officers involved were acquitted of all criminal charges filed against them; nonetheless, the death of Amadou Diallo is considered by all to be tragic and unnecessary.

Although these incidents are not the focus of this report, the Commission cannot dismiss or deny the significant impact that they have had on police-community relations in New York City. Indeed, it is obvious from the testimony and voluminous documents produced as a result of the New York hearing that this city and others around the country could benefit from an honest dialogue about police practices and civil rights.

In previous publications by the Commission on police practices, it has been established that most properly trained, culturally sensitive officers handle the difficult and life-risking challenges of policing with the level of professionalism required to protect lives, civil rights, and property within the boundaries of the law. Professionalism is the key to effective police strategies. Police officers must be willing to remain professional and uphold the duties of their office, even in the face of mounting public criticism. The Commission is concerned, therefore, that at the time this report was being approved, the NYPD was facing new allegations that in June 2000, several officers failed to respond to calls for help from women who were being sexually attacked at an event in Central Park. It is our hope that these allegations against a few officers are not a sign, as some critics have suggested, of a frustrated force, weary of official scrutiny. This report should help law enforcement officials to better understand that police officer professionalism and stronger ties with the community are inextricably connected.

This hearing report is legally and logically supported by facts secured from the sworn testimony of witnesses who appeared before the Commission at its public hearing. The witness testimony is bolstered by written evidence contained in more than 32,000 pages of subpoenaed documents and a statistical overlay presented with charts and graphs reflecting information contained in more than 100,000 individual records regarding “stop and frisk” encounters stored on CD-ROM by NYPD officials. The witnesses included the city’s mayor, the police commissioner, the chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, other public officials, religious leaders, representatives of civic and civil rights advocacy groups, New York Police Department  officers, and individuals describing personal encounters with the NYPD.

In its report, the Commission examined the city’s policies and programs for police recruitment, for training cadets and officers, as well as how African American and Latino officers are treated within the NYPD. The Commission also explored how racial, ethnic, and immigrant communities are treated by the department. In addition, the Commission reviewed how police practices are monitored in New York City and how police misconduct, when it is established, is addressed in a systematic way.

The timeliness of the report’s discussion of monitoring and disciplinary systems is underscored by the recent revelations of the Commission to Combat Police Corruption, which was created in 1995 by the mayor after he successfully blocked a City Council attempt to create an independent agency with wide-ranging authority to investigate police corruption. According to news accounts, the mayor’s commission has strongly confirmed in its draft report that the current internal system for disciplining officers is slow and ineffective. The mayor’s commission recommends that some internal disciplinary cases should no longer be prosecuted by NYPD lawyers. The points raised in that draft report appear to be consistent with the findings and recommendations found in our report. In order to ensure viable community support for the NYPD’s crime-reduction strategies, it is crucial that a credible, independent monitoring and disciplinary mechanism be substituted for the current system.

As a result of its research, the Commission makes several findings of fact and recommendations concerning police practices in New York City. For example, the Commission finds that the NYPD does not reflect the diverse population of New York City and that most of its officers live outside the five boroughs. Because many residents have complained that the police force is not representative of the communities in which it serves, the Commission recommends that the NYPD revise its recruitment plans in order to attract more applicants and cadets from communities of color. Moreover, the NYPD should require all police officers to live in New York City, or at least increase the preference points for applicants from the city and add incentives for officers to move into one of the five boroughs.

The Commission also finds that cadets may not receive enough training time and experience, especially on the topics of diversity and sexual harassment. The Commission discovered that the NYPD uses training materials with offensive racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, and gender stereotypes. The Commission recommends that the NYPD enhance its training at the borough and precinct levels and include local community members in the development of courses. Furthermore, negative stereotypes embedded within training materials should be eliminated.

On the issue of police-community relations, the Commission finds that sustained community policing—in which officers work closely with neighborhood residents—can drive out crime and improve the relationship between the police and the communities they serve. Accordingly, the Commission recommends that the NYPD develop aggressive outreach programs to involve increased numbers of neighborhood residents in training and policy development. The department should also enhance its “Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect” training by placing more emphasis on diversity, conflict resolution, and interpersonal relations.

The Commission finds that the NYPD’s widely criticized “48-hour rule,” in which police officers suspected of wrongdoing are not required to speak to ranking officers until two days after they are identified as suspects, impedes investigations by the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). Additionally, the low number of substantiated complaints upon which the NYPD and the police commissioner have acted contributes to the pervasive public perception that the CCRB is an ineffective mechanism to control police abuse of authority. The NYPD would improve both future CCRB investigations and public confidence in NYPD handling of civilian complaints by providing explanations regarding the department’s decision not to impose disciplinary measures in particular cases and eliminating the 48-hour rule. New York City should also establish an independent board to publicly disclose disciplinary actions taken against officers engaged in acts of misconduct and/or use of excessive force, in order to guarantee an additional measure of accountability and strengthen the public’s relationship with the department.

Testimony at the New York hearing revealed a perception among some city residents that police misconduct cases place a tremendous strain on local government prosecutors, who rely routinely on the police to provide the evidence to prosecute criminal violations. Therefore, the Commission recommends that the City Council appoint an independent prosecutor in cases alleging serious police misconduct.

Finally, based on the analysis of data submitted by the NYPD, the department’s use of “pattern descriptions” of alleged suspects is a possible indicator of racial profiling. Although the Commission finds that the NYPD’s use of the COMPSTAT tracking system has proven to be an effective measure of crime rates in the city, the department must take aggressive steps to ensure that indicators of racial profiling do not occur. The NYPD should adopt and implement a written policy that carefully defines, expressly prohibits, and stiffly penalizes racial profiling as the sole motivation in the stopping and searching of individuals. The NYPD should also involve existing local organizations to begin or expand its efforts to educate local residents regarding the legal guidelines for a legitimate stop, search, and frisk. These efforts may help eliminate the public’s concerns about the possibility of being stopped by the police, particularly in communities of color.

The report contains several other findings and recommendations to assist the NYPD in improving relations between local law enforcement and the community. The Commission hopes that the implementation of these recommendations will lead to a renewed commitment by all concerned persons in law enforcement to search for, find, and follow the best practices, with the understanding that the police can only do their jobs responsibly when the members of the communities they serve have confidence that their rights will not be violated.


For the Commissioners,


 Mary Frances Berry