The police commissioner says officers have too few guidelines when they should be using force to apprehend someone, and he's making changes. The inspector general overseeing the department made the same assessment in a scathing report about police abuse. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.
Questions about the NYPD's use of force are often in the spotlight, such as during the police chokehold death of Eric Garner and the takedown of former tennis star James Blake, a case of mistaken identity.
Now, for the first time, the NYPD is issuing detailed guidelines for using and documenting force.
"Officers have an obligation not only to not use excessive force, but to prevent other officers from doing the same. And if they see excessive force or are aware of excessive force, they must report this to internal affairs," said Kevin Ward, chief of staff for the NYPD.
The reforms were announced on the same day the department's inspector general said the NYPD was not doing enough to prevent and document the excessive use of force.
The IG said the NYPD does not give officers clear guidelines on what constitutes excessive force, instruction on how to de-escalate encounters with the public, or guidelines on when to document the use of force.
The IG also said the NYPD too often fails to discipline officers who cross the line.
In announcing the new policies, Police Commissioner William Bratton acknowledged many of these shortcomings. As part of the new rules, there will be three levels of force defined, documented and investigated.
"Physical force and use of O.C. spray will be level one. Level two will be use of impact weapons or less than lethal devices. Level three will be the use of deadly physical force," Ward said.
Bratton said he was already making changes before the IG's report, including starting a 150-member risk management unit to detect abusive officers.
"Essential in providing early warning on officers that we might have concern with," he said. "But that unit is only as good as the information they get to work with."
The commissioner said that is why it's important that all use-of-force cases are documented.
The police union said this is another example of officers being turned into paper-pushers, taking them away from fighting crime. The commissioner said he's confident the package of reforms will be of significant benefit to officers.