NEW YORK — The New York Police Department wants to create a unit to investigate incidents in which cops shoot civilians, the Staten Island Advance reported.
If the Force Investigation Division, as it's being called, comes to fruition, it will be one of numerous agencies that has the authority to investigate a police-involved shooting.
The division is the brain-child of Commissioner Bill Bratton, who created a similar unit in 2004, when he was chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.
In the past, Bratton has looked to the LAPD for inspiration when it comes to dealing with use-of-force issues. After an NYPD cop killed Eric Garner last year, he sent a group of officers to California to learn about tactics and training.
There are currently several agencies — both inside and outside of the NYPD — that are charged with investigating police use of deadly force. The District Attorneys take the lead whenever criminal charges could possibly be filed against the police officer. The NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau also conducts an investigation to recommend whether the office should receive administrative sanctions.
At the same time — assuming somebody files a complaint — the independent Civilian Complaint and Review Board conducts its own investigation to ensure the officer did not abuse his or her authority and power.
Beyond that, the new Office of the Inspector General and the nearly-defunct Commission to Combat Police Corruption also investigate the NYPD's use of force, though they do not have the power to issue individual sanctions to officers.
How the new unit would differ from the IAB and the other investigative agencies was not immediately clear. But a former NYPD cop told BuzzFeed News that officers would probably welcome the change, because current internal investigators do not understand the mechanics and risks of day-to-day policing, and generally take a prosecutorial approach to the investigations.
"Today, shootings are getting investigate by the IAB," which officers feel is more likely to find they were justified, said Graham Campbell, a six-year veteran of the service who currently works as a risk consultant in Washington, DC. "In this climate, the department is going to try to get rid of that responsibility as soon as possible, they are going to put distance between the department and the cop. An interdisciplinary team could help fix that."
Campbell cautioned that he did not know the details of the new unit, but said that a similar team exists in D.C. involving officers from across the department — including people who are familiar with defense tactics — rather than just full-time investigators, such as IAB.
But police-reform advocates were skeptical of the proposed unit.
"New Yorkers should not misread this as anything resembling meaningful reform, and remain wary of this special unit given the historical failure of the NYPD to genuinely pursue meaningful and punctual discipline for police brutality incidents," said Joo-Hyun Kang of Communities United for Police Reform, an alliance of activist groups that seek to change what they call discriminatory practices in the NYPD.
"Police departments – including the NYPD, specifically – have long investigated themselves, and consistently failed to hold officers accountable for police brutality and killings, which is a primary reason that unjust police killings of civilians continue year after year."
The NYPD did not immediately respond to questions about how the new unit would differ from the existing investigative and oversight bodies.
Nicolás Medina Mora is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Nicolás Medina Mora at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.