A damning report from the city’s police misconduct watchdog says the NYPD has a chokehold problem.
While chokeholds have been banned by the department for more than 20 years, complaints about the prohibited tactic are on the rise, the report says, and neither the police nor the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the agency tasked with investigating misconduct in the ranks, are doing enough about it.
It’s an issue we wrote about in this week’s cover story, where we highlighted the case of Angel Martinez, a 24-year-old from Brooklyn who says he was choked by an NYPD officer in 2012. We also delved into the history and periodic efforts at reform of the CCRB, which has long been dogged by allegations of leniency and incompetence.
The CCRB report, an unfinished draft of which was leaked to the New York Post, says chokehold allegations are on the rise, having reached their highest frequency ever in the past 12 months; there were 6.8 chokehold allegations per 100 total complaints between January and June of this year. In 2001, that rate was just 3.8 per 100.
Of 1,128 complaints received by the CCRB between 2009 and 2013, only 10 were substantiated, or determined to be true based on a “preponderance of evidence.”
Martinez’s case is the only one so far to go through the “disciplinary trial process” — read about it here.
That low figure, the report says, was at least partly the result of the fact that the department had “redefined” what a chokehold is for disciplinary purposes, ignoring the definition contained in its own patrol guide, the manual for police officers in the field.
The two-part definition in the patrol guide mentions both “pressure” on the throat and restriction of breathing:
Members of the New York City Police Department will NOT [emphasis in original] use chokeholds. A chokehold shall include, but is not limited to, any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air.
The report says bluntly that the NYPD “failed to enforce the patrol guide rule,” allowing officers to evade discipline, and that department-employed judges in the disciplinary process “repeatedly refused to apply the rule as written during the last 10 years.”
Many of the CCRB’s investigators were also unclear about what constituted a chokehold, with different investigators using different standards. The inconsistency meant that 156 incidents that should have been classified as chokeholds were not recorded that way, because investigators relied on the less strict, “degraded” definition.
Chokehold complaints were most common in the 73rd Precinct, which includes Brownsville, and the 75th Precinct, which includes Angel Martinez’s neighborhood of East New York, although his alleged incident occurred in Queens.
A spokesperson for the CCRB said only that the report was in a draft form, and wouldn’t comment on its contents. The Voice reached out to the CCRB’s new chair, Richard Emery, for comment just before press time, and we’ll update this post if we hear back.