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Report from State AG Letitia James recommends more public oversight of NYPD

New York State Attorney General Letitia James, shown

New York State Attorney General Letitia James, shown in January, released a preliminary report Wednesday on recent clashes between the NYPD and demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd.   Credit: Charles Eckert

A report released Wednesday by New York State Attorney General Letitia James called for increased public oversight of the NYPD but made no findings about how cops handled demonstrators during ongoing protests.

During a conference call with reporters, James acknowledged that her inquiry into clashes between NYPD cops and protesters wasn’t finished but as a result of her 30-day investigation, she said, “it was impossible to deny that many New Yorkers have lost faith in law enforcement.”

Due to what James said was a lack of trust between the NYPD and the communities it serves, she proposed a number of recommendations to ensure public oversight and accountability of the department. Among her recommendations: diluting authority of the police commissioner by establishing a commission with broad powers over the NYPD, including its budget and approval of all promotions above the rank of captain.

“The [NYPD] should be subject to the same rules as everyone else and should be required to seek public input on any rule it changes or implements and impacts the public.” James said Wednesday.

Her report and wide-ranging recommendations, which also included changes in the how the department disciplines officers, were immediately criticized by NYPD spokesman Richard Esposito as a display of political rhetoric.

 "This is of course a political and not investigative document,” Esposito said in a statement. “Rather than rehash rhetoric we should come together — state and local law enforcement and [elected officials] — and confront and solve the crisis at hand.”

 Esposito’s latter remark was an apparent reference to the burst of gun violence in recent weeks that has killed more than a dozen people and wounded hundreds.

Fred Davie, head of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, welcomed the recommendations on strengthening police oversight. And Richard Aborn, President of the Citizen’s Crime Commission, said a complete report was needed on what worked and what didn’t as cops attempted to quell demonstrations.

“A transparent, objective, thorough report, will be a significant step toward beginning to bridge the divide that now exists between communities and police,” Aborn said in a statement.

In June, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo tasked James with investigating how the NYPD dealt with demonstrators protesting the killing of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man who died May 25 after a white police officer there kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Cuomo criticized the police department for not having an effective strategy and said Mayor Bill de Blasio had underestimated the seriousness of the problem.

Since bystander video of Floyd in police custody went viral, NYPD officers have arrested more than 1,000 protesters. Nearly 400 cops and more than 100 protesters were injured, with about 50 police vehicles damaged and numerous city businesses looted, officials have said.

James said she expected to complete her investigation in about 30 days before eventually releasing a final report. As part of her probe, James took testimony over a three-day period from Shea and more than 100 protesters.

Other recommendations in the attorney general's preliminary report, which James acknowledged she lacked the authority to implement, included a "redesign" of public safety and the role of police in society, increased authority for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, setting up a statewide certification system for cops to ensure accountability and establishing a uniform use-of-force policy.

The recommendations would likely require action by the City Council and the state government before they could go into effect. It remained unclear Wednesday how much attention would be paid to the attorney general's report because of recent police reforms already enacted in Albany and the city's spike in shootings.

Former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton called James' report a “political hit job” and said it contained no criticism of demonstrators who assaulted cops, tossed Molotov cocktails and threw concrete at officers.

Police Benevolent Association head Patrick Lynch said the recommendations were a rehash of a decadeslong anti-police agenda.

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