NYPD caught off-guard by spring protests

NYPD caught off-guard by spring protests

Moses Kuwema

The New York Police Department was caught off guard by the size of the spring protests after the killing of George Floyd and resorted to aggressive disorder control methods that stoked tensions and stifled free speech, the city’s inspector general said in a report released Friday.

The Department of Investigation report followed a six-month probe that focused on the NYPD’s institutional planning and response to the May and June protests after Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis, rather than on the actions of individual officers.

It criticized tactics that included trapping demonstrators with a technique called kettling, making mass arrests, using pepper spray and batons, and detaining protesters for hours. Too few officers were deployed early in the demonstrations, the report said.

The report also found that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to impose a nightly curfew after two days of looting exacerbated conflicts between demonstrators and police officers, who were given mixed messages on how it was to be enforced.

De Blasio’s executive order said the curfew applied to everyone, with exceptions for essential workers. In subsequent public statements, he said the curfew wouldn’t apply to “peaceful protesters.”

The Department of Investigation recommended the NYPD create a unit to lead protest planning and response, adopt policies and training that reinforce respect for First Amendment rights, and improve messaging during demonstrations, such as repeating dispersal orders and staging officers in riot gear out of the view of protesters.

It also recommended that the department no longer use for protests a rapid-response unit that deals in terrorism and other emergencies.

Responding to the report Friday, Mayor De Blasio said he agrees with it saying the city and the New York police department needs to do things differently going forward.

"I want to be very clear that those days of May and June were not like anything that has happened before in the history of this city. This period was challenging. We saw problems that we have not seen before in ways that we have never experienced. That made it hard for everybody but the point is that we have to do better," he said.

"Our police department has to do better. It means we have to hear people's voices and respect the will of the people while ensuring their safety. That's not easy. We saw something that made it a lot harder. We saw violence and looting that we have not seen in decades. I found those issues destressing," said Mayor De Blasio. 

Mayor De Blasio said he agreed that Black Lives Matter was something that needed to be put into action saying he was aware there was racism sworn into the fabric of New York City that needed to be torn.

"We can do it. The folks fighting in every neighborhood give me hope. The folks fighting violence, who are demanding accountability from the city and police you are making a huge difference. I feel it and I know we can make something that has never been done before. George Floyd didn't die in vain. The report really lays out ways in which we have to have a different approach, strategy and different ways of communicating right there on the spot when there was protests," he said. 

He said the individual officers that did something wrong according to the report, would have to be disciplined. 

Mayor De Blasio said the vast majority of the officers did their jobs and respected people's rights. 

"...But then there are things that happened not because the individuals made mistakes but they were strategic choices and good choices that ended up causing problems. We have to train our police officers differently," he said. 

"We have to create a new reality of reaching out to the people we serve, communicating with them. We got overwhelmed by the challenges but that does not take away that we have to stay clear and true to our principles.

Neighborhood policing is about listening to people, reminding people the police are for them," said Mayor De Blasio. 

Mayor De Blasio continued saying, "this is a season of reflecting. I wish I had done better. I am sorry I didn't do better and I have learned a lot of lessons and I want our police department to do better. These situations don't have to happen again in New York City. 

“I spoke to commissioner [Dermont] Shea and he agrees with the recommendations of the report, we are going to implement them right away. 

“We are going to reflect on what we did right and wrong and will go into the new year resolved to do better. It is a season of redemption."