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NYPD must improve use-of-force training for police officers, inspector general's report says

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, pictured Sept. 8, 2015,

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, pictured Sept. 8, 2015, is set to announce new rules on the use of force by cops on Oct. 1, 2015. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang / Yeong-Ung Yang

NYPD officers will have to report all cases in which force is used, as well as instances in which a suspect is injured, under new rules unveiled Thursday by Commissioner William Bratton.

The new use-of-force doctrine developed by Bratton and his staff includes a prohibition on use of force to punish or retaliate, as well as a ban on using force to prevent someone from swallowing a controlled substance, NYPD officials said.

Bratton told reporters in a news conference at police headquarters the new rules, which take effect Jan. 1, have been in the making for 20 months. The recent incident involving former tennis pro James Blake, who was tackled to the ground last month by an undercover officer in a case of mistaken identity, had no impact on the changes, Bratton insisted.

"These processes have been underway, have been finalized for several weeks," Bratton said.

The new policies are part of a broad plan to reduce the use of force by officers, including the use of firearms, Bratton said.

"The sanctity of human life has to be something we consistently seek to respect," Bratton said.

Among the measures announced were a major revision of the patrol guide, which spells out police practices and procedures, on the use of force, officials said.

"We will document all uses of force, we will investigate uses of force and injuries, we will create [an] oversight mechanism," Chief Kevin Ward said. "Basically our use-of-force policy tells us things we can't do . . . our new policy is going to give officers guidance on what they can do, we are going to emphasize de-escalation."

Bratton's announcement came the same day that the special police inspector general released his findings that the NYPD doesn't properly teach officers how to de-escalate tense encounters with the public and is burdened by a fragmented system of documenting excessive-force incidents.

In a review of use-of-force incidents that occurred from 2010 to 2014, the report by inspector general Philip Eure noted that the NYPD imposed no discipline in more than a third of the cases in which it appeared force officers used was "not warranted under the circumstances."

While Mayor Bill de Blasio backed the new rules, they drew strong criticism from the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the police officers union.

"More paperwork coupled with a serious shortage of police officers and the continual second-guessing of their actions is a formula for disaster," PBA president Patrick Lynch said in a statement. "It is a call for police officers to disengage themselves from the very proactive policing that brought this city from the brink of disaster in the 1990s."

He added, "We need support -- not more reports."

Bratton acknowledged that the new rules will cause more paperwork for cops. But he bristled when told that Eure characterized the NYPD during a news conference as being in the "dark ages" on the use-of-force issue.

"If he said it then I would expect an apology," Bratton said.

City Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark G. Peters, who works with Eure, responded by saying the NYPD proposals were "an important first step, but only a first step."

Reports of use of force will be compiled and released in a public report at least once a year, officials said. In addition to better documenting of use of force by officers, the NYPD also will report cases in which force is used by the public against officers.

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