Every now and then, a charge of police brutality hits the headlines. Such was the case when Staten Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo put Eric Garner in a chokehold last Thursday. Garner died. Somebody caught the whole thing on video. There has been much outrage since.
But browse through civil court dockets in any of the five borough, and you’ll notice that charges of police brutality are common. Many more don’t make it to court. Most are phoned in to the NYPD or the Civilian Complaint Review Board. From 2009 to 2013, the department faced 11,334 “force allegations,” according to a report by the CCRB. That’s more than 2,000 a year. Less than two percent were substantiated.
There are two ways to interpret that statistic, of course.
Some will see it and conclude that the vast majority of police brutality accusations are made-up. People going after cops they don’t like or exaggerations of minor and incidental contact. A product of any anti-police sentiment in the city.
Some will see that two percent as an indictment of the internal investigation process. A product of the Blue Line. A statement that police officers almost always get the benefit of the doubt and have a free pass to rough somebody up as long as there are no cameras around.
Among the 189 substantiated cases, nearly two-thirds fell under the category of “physical force,” which includes “dragged/pulled, pushed/shoved/threw, beat, punched/kicked/kneed, slapped, fought, and bit.” The next most common were “nightstick as club,” “pepper spray,” and “gun pointed.” After that was “chokehold,” with nine incidents.
In all there were 1,022 chokehold accusations. Of those, 462 were fully investigated. In 13 percent of cases, investigators were unable to identify the officers involved. The lion’s share of cases were ruled “unsubstantiated” or “unfounded.”
Complains against the NYPD spread disproportionately across demographics and precincts. The majority, 57 percent, among those who filed complaints were black. The majority, 61 percent, were between 15 and 34 years old.
Staten Island had the fewest complaints by far. Brooklyn had more than 10,000. Manhattan and the Bronx each had around 7,000. Queens had around 4,700. Staten Island had 1,300.
And yet Pantaleo’s precinct in that borough, the 120th, received more complaints than almost every other precinct in the city. From 2009 to 2013, people made 551 complaints against the 120th, a total surpassed only by one precinct in Brooklyn and three in the Bronx.
Next: the CCRB data.
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