The New York Police Department must overhaul its response to large demonstrations and better train officers to control crowds while preserving the right to protest, says a report released on Monday by an oversight body that examines police misconduct. The report concludes a review by the Civilian Complaint Review Board that included hundreds of investigations into clashes between protesters and the police during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that swept the city after the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, the New York Times reports. Thousands turned out for protests. The gatherings were scattered and sporadic, often continuing well into the night. While most protests were peaceful, some rioting broke out, resulting in smashed store windows, looted shops, and police vehicles set on fire. Protesters were accused of assaulting officers, who corralled them with pepper spray and batons. During and after the protests, the board received about 750 complaints of police misconduct, and launched investigations into 321 of them. The board recommended discipline in 146 cases involving 138 officers. So far, Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell — who has the final say on discipline — approved punishment in 42 cases.
The board argued that police officers should be better equipped and trained to handle large demonstrations, and should establish a clear chain of command. “Given what is happening across the country regarding reproductive rights, immigration, affordable housing, and police brutality, people will continue to protest for their rights,” said Arva Rice, interim board chair. Carrie Talansky, the Police Department’s acting deputy commissioner of legal matters, said officers faced “acts of lawlessness including wide-scale rioting, mass chaos, violence, and destruction” while trying to allow peaceful protests. At the peak of the demonstrations, 22,000 officers were deployed in a single day, Talansky wrote, adding that 400 were injured during the protests and 250 were hospitalized. Each complaint can contain several allegations, and the board found sufficient evidence of misconduct in only about 15 percent. Some officers exhibited problematic behaviors such as using batons to strike protesters in violation of Police Department guidelines and using pepper spray indiscriminately. Some officers covered up their names and shield number as well as failing to turn on body-worn cameras. To improve performance in future protests, recommendations included training every officer in crowd control, proper use of pepper spray and batons, and rethinking the tactics officers use during demonstrations to mitigate risks to people and property and preserve the right to peaceful protest.