Legislation to take final say on NYPD officer discipline away from the police commissioner emerged Tuesday as the current top cop defended his authority — and his decision to exonerate a lieutenant who pushed a funeral-goer into traffic.
Twin bills sponsored by state Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-The Bronx) and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) could dramatically change how police are punished for misconduct by turning ultimate power over to a civilian watchdog.
The police commissioner currently has the last word. An examination by THE CITY published Sunday found that on more than 40 occasions since 2017, the commissioner voided the findings or altered the penalties handed down by NYPD trial judges against cops found guilty in internal Police Department trials.
The legislation introduced by Bailey and Cruz would hand the final authority over to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), an oversight board that investigates misconduct accusations and makes recommendations for punishment.
The CCRB includes five members appointed by the mayor, five by the City Council, one by the public advocate and three by the police commissioner. The chair is a joint mayoral-Council appointee, and only the commissioner’s choices can come from law enforcement.
‘Show Me the Door’
During a Tuesday appearance on NY1, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea was asked about THE CITY’s report. He insisted that the commissioner must have final say to make sure the department is held accountable for misconduct.
“I think it would be a mistake” to change the current system, he said. “You have to have somebody that’s accountable. If I don’t do a good job, the mayor will show me the door and show somebody else in.”
The commissioner also defended his decision to throw out a guilty verdict against a lieutenant who was captured by a traffic camera pushing a man from a packed sidewalk into traffic. The man was among the crowd being dispersed outside Upper East Side funeral home where Prodigy of the hip-hop duo Mobb Deep was waked in June 2017.
The case was included in THE CITY’s story revealing details of instances in which a police commissioner overruled an NYPD trial judge’s verdict. In declaring the lieutenant not guilty, Shea also ignored the trial judge’s recommendation that the cop be reprimanded.
“If you look at that article and if you look at the video, there’s a lieutenant who has an individual in the middle of the street and he won’t get out of the street,” Shea said. “He didn’t push him hard. He didn’t hit him. He basically did what I would tell him to do tomorrow and that’s why I withheld” approval of the judge’s decision.
Shea didn’t address the dozens of other incidents where he or his predecessor nixed punishment for substantiated acts of police misconduct. The department did not respond to THE CITY’s request for the video Shea mentioned.
‘Improve Public Trust’
Bailey and Cruz said their legislation would grant “full authority and final decision-making on disciplinary actions” to the CCRB. The police commissioner would no longer be able to modify or reject CCRB findings.
The legislation would also provide accused cops with due process via a hearing officer who is “independent of the Police Department,” they said. The hearing officer would have the final say over discipline in those cases.
Internal NYPD trial judges currently oversee such trials, and issue verdicts and punishments.
“The Police Department’s outsized role in the disciplinary process has routinely resulted in the undermining of the CCRB’s recommendations and little to no enforcement of disciplinary action in even the most serious cases of misconduct,” Bailey said.
Cruz noted the legislation would overhaul “the entire manner in which the CCRB has been functioning over the past two decades.”
The Rev. Frederick Davie, the CCRB chairperson, recently asked the legislature to put forth a bill transferring final authority to the board. On Tuesday, he praised Bailey and Cruz in a tweet, writing, “We can increase police accountability and improve public trust in the disciplinary process by giving the CCRB authority to impose discipline in its cases.”
An Ongoing Case
The subject of final say also surfaced during a virtual Council hearing Tuesday on the NYPD’s budget when Councilmember Adrienne Adams (D-Queens) brought up the case of Delrawn Small, who was fatally shot in 2016 by an off-duty cop during a traffic dispute in East New York, Brooklyn.
The cop, Wayne Isaacs, was charged with murder and manslaughter. A jury acquitted him of all charges in 2017. But in January the NYPD served disciplinary charges against him after the CCRB found the evidence showed Isaacs used excessive force in the incident.
Noting that Isaacs is still on the force, Adams asked Shea, “What do you say to the family of Delrawn Small?”
The commissioner said he couldn’t discuss the specifics of the case because it will be the subject of an upcoming internal NYPD trial — over which he will have final say.
The pattern of commissioners overruling NYPD judges emerged in internal trial decisions the department made public recently after the courts ruled against police unions’ efforts to keep such records under wraps.
THE CITY reviewed 302 trial decisions issued from Jan. 1, 2017, through February 2021 and found that Shea and his predecessor, James O’Neill, altered the punishment in 43 cases of cops found guilty. In some cases, they upped the penalties, in most they lowered them. In a combined five instances, they overturned guilty decisions.