While stories about police misconduct are unfortunately common, an investigation released this week sheds new light on the surprisingly far-reaching repercussions of New York City’s problematic system for dealing with errant cops.
Two days ago, BuzzFeed News published “Secret NYPD Files: Officers Can Lie And Brutally Beat People — And Still Keep Their Jobs,” an exposé of internal New York Police Department files that details how over 300 NYPD employees who committed serious offenses between 2011 and 2015 were able to stay on the force, keep getting paid, and sometimes, abuse again.
“Many of the officers lied, cheated, stole, or assaulted New York City residents. At least fifty employees lied on official reports, under oath, or during an internal affairs investigation. Thirty-eight were found guilty by a police tribunal of excessive force, getting into a fight, or firing their gun unnecessarily. Fifty-seven were guilty of driving under the influence. Seventy-one were guilty of ticket-fixing. One officer, Jarrett Dill, threatened to kill someone. Another, Roberson Tunis, sexually harassed and inappropriately touched a fellow officer. … At least two dozen of these employees worked in schools.”
The mechanism by which these offenders were able to go unpunished and remain employed is called “dismissal probation” — essentially a reproof in name only. Those serving a term of dismissal probation, typically a year, continue to do their usual job at their usual salary; they just won’t be promoted and may get less overtime. When the probation period is over, these restrictions are lifted.
One of the reasons such a flimsy form of discipline has been allowed to flourish, according to Taggart and Hayes, is the secretive and inherently biased system in which NYPD employee cases are tried. Hearings are held privately at police headquarters, are not overseen by independent judges, and, ultimately, the police commissioner decides the case. “There are no rules governing that decision,” the authors write.
The implications of these findings reach far beyond the problem of treacherous cops being allowed to keep patrolling neighborhoods. BuzzFeed News also found that:
NYPD employees found to have repeatedly made false accusations have sent wrongfully convicted people to jail or prison.
Taxpayers foot the bill to settle accusations against unruly employees. In one case, the city paid a total of about $900,000 to several accusers of a single officer — one who remains on the force, and earned nearly $120,000 last year.
New York’s police misconduct records are tightly shielded from public view; only Delaware and California have similarly strict laws. (The confidentiality of NYPD body camera footage under the same law is currently being hashed out in court.) Therefore, defendants have little way of knowing if the officer they’ll go up against during their trial has a documented history of wrongdoing. “So they are forced to make life-changing decisions,” Taggart and Hayes wrote, “such as whether to fight their charges in court or take a guilty plea — without knowing, for example, if the officer who arrested them is a convicted liar, information that a jury might find directly relevant.”
In some cases, a kind of opposite effect can happen: a person who is actually guilty can be acquitted because the officer testifying in the case is found to have a history of making false statements.
Dismissal probation is also used as a form of revenge to punish non-offending officers for reporting misconduct within their ranks, or just for irritating their superiors.
The BuzzFeed investigation did not name Bushwick’s 83rd Precinct, though a recent New York Times article summarized the current federal court case of Hector Cordero, a cashier at J&C Mini Market on Irving Avenue and Troutman Street. Cordero alleges that officers wrongfully detained him in 2014 following an interaction they first deemed to be a drug deal — but that wound up looking more like a chance to rack up some overtime pay.
The Times reported last October that one of the officers involved in arresting Cordero, Hugo Hugasian of the 83rd Precinct, “had previously been suspended from the force for 60 days and required to pay $1,203.74 in restitution for claiming overtime pay for hours he did not work.”
“If any of the officers [in Cordero’s case] are found liable,” the February Times article stated, “another trial will be scheduled, one that could represent the biggest challenge to New York policing practices since stop-and-frisk. The second trial would examine the broader question of whether the city’s police officers habitually use false arrests to bolster their pay.”
Such high-profile court cases could move the needle on reform at the NYPD, as could efforts like the database BuzzFeed News plans to publish over the coming months of information about department employees who have received dismissal probation.
Bushwick Daily reached out to the 83rd Precinct for a comment about other possible implications of the BuzzFeed report, but did not receive one. We are following up with other members of the community who may have been affected, and will continue to publish our findings as we investigate our local precinct further.
If you have a personal story about possible wrongdoing by the 83rd Precinct and wish to share it with the Bushwick Daily community, please email us at [email protected].
Cover image courtesy of Meriç Dağlı