NEW YORK (AP) - New York City police officers have faced more than 320,000 complaints from the public since the mid-1980s, but less than 3% resulted in penalties, according to newly released data that offers a rare glimpse into the long-veiled realm of police misconduct and accountability.
The New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday published data on complaints against more than 81,000 current or former NYPD officers after prevailing in a fight with public safety unions that had sought to keep the records secret.
They include more than 18,000 complaints about “nasty words,” cursing or ethnic and homophobic slurs; 2,200 allegations of officers using flashlights, radios or guns to beat people; 5,400 instances of guns allegedly being pulled or pointed; and more than 1,700 complaints of officers using chokeholds, which have long been banned by the department and were recently outlawed. There were also more than two dozen complaints about conduct regarding animals.
The complaints touch virtually every part of the department, from beat cops to men and women who’ve ascended to top leadership posts.
Commissioner Dermot Shea’s record includes three substantiated complaints stemming from a vehicle stop in August 2003, when he was working his way up from captain to deputy inspector. He was ordered to receive extra instructions as punishment.
Crime Control Strategies Chief Michael LiPetri has been the subject of 25 complaints since he started at the NYPD in 1994 - but only three were substantiated, leading to minor punishment.
A message seeking comment was left with a police spokesperson.
The NYCLU posted the records to its website after the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a stay that had been blocking the organization from making them public despite a change in state law meant to promote transparency in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
“History has shown the NYPD is unwilling to police itself,” NYCLU legal director Christopher Dunn said. “The release of this database is an important step towards greater transparency and accountability and is just the beginning of unraveling the monopoly the NYPD holds on public information and officer discipline.”
A spokesperson for the unions, which represent city police officers, firefighters and jail guards, said the appeals court’s decision “in no way means the battle to permit constitutionally guaranteed right to due process for public safety workers ceases.”
“In fact, we continue to fight the de Blasio administration and the improper dumping of thousands of documents containing unproven, career damaging, unsubstantiated allegations that put our members and their families at risk. And we’re not done,” said the spokesperson, Hank Sheinkopf.
While it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from the data - for example, one officer was listed as having 64 substantiated complaints against her, but all seemed to stem from one incident - there are some broader takeaways.
According to the data, 8,699 complaints led to a penalty, 19,833 officers were named in five or more complaints, and 12 officers were terminated as a result of complaints lodged during the decades-long span covered by the records.
Those officers include Damian Marcaida, who had no complaints before he was charged in 1999 with beating a woman who asked for his name and badge number after the police killing of Amadou Diallo, and Charles Dorcent, who was exonerated of using excessive force less than a year before a videotaped beating in 2002 that led to his conviction on criminal charges.
A federal district court judge is expected to rule Friday in another aspect of the union lawsuit: whether to keep barring the city’s police watchdog agency, as well as the police department and other entities from releasing disciplinary records.
The unions sued the city July 15 to block Mayor Bill de Blasio from taking advantage of last month’s repeal of a decades-old state law, which had kept disciplinary records secret, by starting to post misconduct complaints on a government website.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla initially sided with the unions, pausing the release of disciplinary records and barring the NYCLU from publicly releasing records it obtained from the watchdog agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
Failla later reversed herself on the NYCLU, saying it was impossible for her to reach back and prevent the release of records that the organization received before the unions filed their lawsuit. That led to the union’s appeal and the ruling Thursday in favor of the NYCLU.
Scores of disciplinary records have already reached public view since the repeal last month of a law that had kept them secret for decades.
ProPublica published a database last month containing complaint information for thousands of officers, while news outlets including the AP have published numerous stories based on newly public disciplinary documents.
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