Last week, the NYPD gave the City Council nine years’ worth of previously confidential detailed reports on the department’s shooting incidents.
But members of the council’s Public Safety Committee, which ostensibly oversees the NYPD, were barking up the wrong tree if they thought these long-sought-after Firearms Discharge Reports were going to reveal anything about the racial makeup of the people shot by New York’s cops.
On the other hand, among all the statistics and analyses were detailed breakdowns of the breeds of dogs shot by cops.
In 1998, the same year the NYPD began reporting in earnest about its canine shooting victims, it stopped providing the racial breakdown of its human victims—and of the cops who shot them.
“We know more about the breed of dogs that have been shot than we know about the people who have been shot,” said committee chairman Peter Vallone.
The lack of detail on the race of human shooting victims should be a particularly touchy topic, given that it’s widely believed that a disproportionately high number of blacks and Latinos are shot by police. In addition, a lawsuit claiming that police searches for missing persons are racially biased has gotten the go-ahead from a judge to proceed to trial, as the Voice reported last week (“Missing in Action,” May 7–13).
NYPD statistics might shed light on the difference in justice—and injustice— received by New Yorkers on the basis of the color of their skin. Stats that have been pried out of the NYPD do show that blacks and Latinos also bear the brunt of an astonishingly high number of minor pot busts (“Weeding Out Blacks and Latinos,” April 30–May 6).
But when it comes to the more deadly stats—like those of police-shooting victims—dogs are a breed apart in the department’s eyes. We can now say, for example, that between 1998 and 2006, pit bulls were overwhelmingly the target of choice for New York City’s cops. According to the NYPD’s meticulous records, there were 78 dogs shot by cops in 1998. Some 234 shots were fired at those dogs—145 of which hit them, for a 63 percent hit rate. In 2006, there were 30 incidents of cops shooting dogs, during which cops fired 113 shots (without return fire, apparently), and 55 bullets found their targets.
Overall, the most popular targets during those years, after pit bulls, were Rottweilers, with German shepherds being third, according to the reports.
Vallone’s mild complaint—he followed it up with a compliment to the NYPD—was aired at a May 5 Public Safety Committee hearing to discuss several bills that would require the police by law to be more forthcoming with statistics on shootings, gun trafficking, and housing-project crimes.
Deputy Chief John Gerrish politely made the seemingly contradictory statement that “we’d gladly provide” any information the committee needs, but that the NYPD would fight any attempt to make providing such information mandatory because, he said, it would unnecessarily tax police resources. Gerrish cited the “confidential” Firearms Discharge Reports he’d just handed over as an example of why such laws are not needed.
What Gerrish didn’t tell the council members was that Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the NYCLU, had obtained those reports through a freedom-of-information request and had planned to hand them out to committee members at that same hearing.
“He stole my thunder,” Dunn told the committee.
When asked about the racial breakdown of NYPD shootings involving humans, Gerrish insisted that the department doesn’t collect that data.
But such breakdowns were routinely part of the NYPD’s pre-1998 Firearms Discharge Reports. After Gerrish testified, Dunn told the committee members that the NYCLU had also obtained the reports—then called Firearms Discharge Assault Reports—for 1996 and 1997, in which that information was included. In 1996, for example, under the listing “Ethnicity of Perps,” it shows that, of the 413 people shot whose ethnicity was listed on police reports, 239 were black. That’s about 58 percent, or more than double the percentage of the city’s black population. Of the remaining shooting victims, 134 (or 32 percent) were Latino, and 32 (or 7.7 percent) were white. The human shooting stats for 1997 were similar: 181 blacks, or 57 percent; 99 Latinos, or 31 percent; and 26 whites, or 8.2 percent. As Dunn pointed out, close to 90 percent of the NYPD’s shooting victims were black or Latino.
In 1996, 62 percent of the cops who fired their guns were white, 17 percent black, and 19 percent Latino. In 1997, about 59 percent of the cops who fired their guns were white, compared to about 20 percent for both black and Latino officers. (The report didn’t include the racial breakdown of the force in those years.)
Gerrish said that providing statistics on the age, race, and gender of each officer involved in a shooting as well as for the people who were shot is a waste of the NYPD’s time and resources, because “no meaningful conclusions may be drawn from such information, since every firearms discharge must be judged in light of the unique circumstances in which it occurs, and any conclusion drawn from the purely demographic data involved is fatally flawed.”
But it’s not just shooting statistics that the NYPD has been holding back. When asked why the department doesn’t provide to the Public Safety Committee a breakdown of crime by housing project, Gerrish replied that the NYPD has that information, but prefers to release it only as part of the overall precinct-crime stats. He also balked at providing reports by precinct on the number and type of weapons seized.
“We need to spend our resources on getting the guns off the street rather than compiling reports about our activity in doing so,” said Gerrish, who is the commanding officer of the Office of Management Analysis and Planning, the large unit solely responsible for compiling such reports.
Afterward, even the relentlessly pro-police Vallone had to admit that “when it comes to the last few years, [the NYPD has] clearly drawn a line in the sand when it comes to giving out information.” He added that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s philosophy when it comes to disseminating information has evolved into: “We can do it—we just don’t feel like it.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 13, 2008