Until last month, New York state prohibited the release of police officers' disciplinary records. Civilians' complaints of abuse by officers were a secret. So were investigators' conclusions. The public couldn't even know if an officer was punished.
The New York City police officer whose use of a prohibited chokehold led to the death of Eric Garner in 2014 had a record of misconduct. [...] The city investigator who revealed the existence of the officer's record was forced to resign in 2017; the officer himself wasn't fired until 2019. [...]
The CCRB receives thousands of complaints every year, but it is only able to substantiate a tiny fraction of them. In 2018, the agency examined about 3,000 allegations of misuse of force. It substantiated 73.
Investigators are often not able to reach conclusions on cases, in significant part because they must rely on the NYPD to hand over evidence, such as footage from body-worn cameras. Often, the department doesn't do so, despite a legal duty to cooperate with CCRB investigations.
In other cases included in our database, investigators concluded that what a civilian alleged did happen, but the conduct was allowed by the NYPD's rules. The Police Department's guidelines often give officers substantial discretion, particularly around use of force. In the curious jargon of police oversight, those cases are classified as "exonerated."
"I exonerated tons of cases that involved awful conduct that fell within the guidelines," said former CCRB investigator Dan Bodah, who now researches police oversight at the Vera Institute of Justice. "It's kind of haunting. The law and policy gives cops a lot of discretion."
A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the city from releasing disciplinary records. ProPublica has not been a party to the case and is not subject to the order.