Police Commissioner Bratton’s Statement Before the New York City Council Public Safety Committee

Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the wide variety of issues contained in the bills before you today.

Before we begin, however, I wish to state again, for the record, that the New York City Police Department is deeply grateful to the Council and Mayor de Blasio for the resources allotted to us in Friday’s budget. The expanded headcount you authorized will allow us to implement an unprecedented Neighborhood Policing model.

The model is described at length in our new, online Plan of Action, One City: Safe and Fair, Everywhere — for everyone, including my cops — which is available at the Department’s Internet site. By reestablishing, recasting, and revitalizing the relationship between the police and the public they serve, Neighborhood Policing will change many aspects of how cops and community interact, and thereby address many of the concerns that underlie the bills we’re considering today.

These bills are grouped into three main categories:

  • police use of force,
  • operational methods and guidelines,
  • and reporting standards and transparency.

I will discuss each of the bills in its particulars in a moment, but first allow me to comment on each of these categories.

Concerning the first, I am happy to report that police use of force is rarer than ever. Police work remains dangerous work, as the assassinations of Detectives Liu and Ramos and the murder of Detective Brian Moore demonstrate. Recent assaults on my officers show it, as well, including attacks with hammers, knives, and guns. Despite this, officers use their firearms less often in New York than in nearly every other large American city.

This year we are on track to have fewer officer-involved shootings than ever before. Officers also use less and less force of any kind. From 2010 to 2014, instances of force — of any kind — used during arrest are down 34%. In 2010, 2.5% of arrests involved the officer using force; in 2014, that figure was 1.8%. In other words, for every 100 arrests, fewer than two involve the officer doing anything other than putting handcuffs on the arrestee.

This is a testament to my officers, but also indicative of a public that understands that resisting arrest is NEVER acceptable under the law. Anything that diminishes law enforcement’s authority is counterproductive to maintaining — and encouraging — that understanding, which serves to keep all of us safer.

But despite these low rates, we want to do better. Our new training emphasizes de-escalation and communication techniques designed to avoid conflict. Every cop knows that talking someone into cuffs trumps force every time. But, in the 1-point-8 percent of instances when force is necessary, the training teaches officers to use the least amount possible to bring the situation under control.

We’re seeing the positive effects of this, too. Through the end of May this year, complaints to the Civilian Complaint Review Board are down 24.7 percent compared to the same period in 2014. This continues a five-year trend that saw complaints drop 27.4% from 2010 to 2014.

Furthermore, with the resource allocations authorized by the Mayor and the Council, and using our newly promulgated Plan of Action and the Neighborhood Policing model that is at its core, we believe that positive interactions and new relationships with the public will only accelerate in the coming months and years.

Concerning the second category of bill, operational methods and guidelines, I wish to say, respectfully but firmly, that these are the purview of the Police Commissioner and the Police Department and not of legislative control.

Furthermore, the concerns that underlay these bills — particularly Intro 541, the “Consent to Search” bill — have been almost entirely addressed over the past 18 months of Mayor de Blasio’s administration, and were, in fact, being addressed even during the last period of the previous administration.

In other words, these bills represent a solution in search of a problem. Practices have been changed and oversight has been established. There is a federal monitor, an inspector general, five district attorneys, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, two US attorneys, and the Department of Justice.

More importantly, both reasonable suspicion stops and marijuana arrests have been significantly curtailed. Reasonable-suspicion stops, or “stop, question, and frisk,” have declined 93% from their historic high in 2011. And they have declined an additional 53% year to date, compared to the first half of 2014. Marijuana arrests have seen similar decreases, and are down by half from 2011 to 2014, and, like reasonable-suspicion stops, are down 53% year to date.

In changing our practices, and in working with the Council on issues such as reporting on crime in the parks and in Housing, we have shown a good track record for collaborating with the Council. We want that to continue. But the NYPD’s operational prerogatives must be maintained for the good order of the Department and the city’s public safety.

Finally, concerning reporting standards, I believe this Department is a model of transparency.

CompStat set the country’s standard for distributing crime data, and since then the NYPD has created a range of programs and reports that share information with the public. The release of parks and Housing crime data is one example. Our posting summons data drilled down to the individual offense is another. And our Annual Firearms Discharge Report, which is the single most comprehensive such document in the nation, is a third example.

We are also exploring further data transparency initiatives. Such undertakings have to be considered in the context of resource strain and their burden on the agency’s administrative functions. We welcome discussions with the Council on our new initiatives, and their input as to the direction in which our data-release policies may expand.

Turning to the bills under consideration by the Committee today, we appreciate that significant discussion has already taken place regarding some of the bills, as well as many of the underlying issues they seek to address.

As I pointed out, we have addressed some of these. But so long as we do not compromise public safety or hamper officers as they carry out their duties, we can find ways to address other issues and reach common ground.

Indeed, as I have already described, and as many Council Members have observed personally, our new training provides cops with the tools to engage the community differently.

So in that context, I would like to start by discussing two bills that directly address police use of force.

Intro. 538, the “Proportionate Policing Act,” would create a new Administrative Code provision allowing NYPD members to use injurious physical force as is “proportionately necessary to protect themselves or others from the threat of harm or death, which they perceive to be imminent.”

Intro. 540-A would make it a misdemeanor to use a chokehold in the course of effecting or attempting to effect an arrest.

Both bills seek to impose new local standards on the use of force and therefore regulate in areas that traditionally have been addressed by State law. Penal Law Article 35, for example, sets forth the parameters for the use of physical force and deadly physical force by police officers. Those parameters historically have been implemented and refined at an operational level by the Police Commissioner.

Setting aside the potential legal implications of enacting local legislation on this subject matter, we have very serious concerns about the potential impact these bills would have on our officers. Intro. 538 would cast potentially deadly doubt in the mind of an officer who is making the split-second decision to use justifiable physical force. “Reasonableness” is the longstanding key to assessing whether the use of force is justifiable in a particular circumstance, but the bill would impose an additional and unfamiliar standard for taking action in such situations.

We respectfully oppose these bills.

We are, however, currently clarifying and strengthening our policies regarding the use of force. With respect to the definition of “chokehold,” we are already changing the Patrol Guide definition in a manner that echoes the language of Intro. 540-A. As we have for more than two decades, we continue to prohibit the use of a chokehold as a policy matter — but we firmly believe that this prohibition should remain a policy matter rather than become, on its face, a crime.

Now we would like to discuss the bills which have collectively become known as the “Right to Know Act.”

Intro. 182-A would require law enforcement officers to identify themselves and provide a reason when initiating law-enforcement activity, and, at the end of the interaction, it would require them to provide a business card, including their identifying information and the CCRB’s phone number.

Intro. 541 would require law-enforcement officers to provide particularized notice of a person’s right not to consent to a search, and obtain proof of consent to search individuals or their property.

Historically, State law — in this case the Criminal Procedure Law — has regulated interactions between police officers and individuals, and the Police Commissioner has overseen the preparation of operational guidance on such interactions.

Two weeks ago, at the investiture of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, President Obama noted that “the law is our map, and justice our compass.” That phrase resonated with me. The law is a map, but how we operationally follow that map and use that compass is the decision of the practitioner.

Imposing conditions on daily officer conduct at the operational level, whether on simple law-enforcement interactions or on searches — particularly when those conditions are not otherwise required by State law or by operational imperatives — raises new and serious questions.

As a policy matter, we oppose both bills as unprecedented intrusions into the operational management of the Police Department. They seek to legislatively mandate the manner in which police officers perform their functions. Further, enacting these bills would create great uncertainty regarding whether criminal or civil remedies would be available for alleged violations of the standards in the bills, even where the failure to comply is irrelevant to the issues of the case.

In short, local legislation is not the proper vehicle for addressing the detailed standards and operational direction that are now set forth in the Patrol Guide and similar departmental guidelines. Nevertheless, we understand fully the concerns underlying both bills. And we recognize that similar proposals have been included — as policy recommendations rather than legislation — in the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. This reflects the ongoing national discussion on police-community relations, and we are reviewing the Task Force’s recommendations.

Regarding Intro. 182-A, the Patrol Guide requires officers to identify themselves upon request. But we actually train our officers to greet the individuals they encounter, introduce themselves, and provide the reason for the stop or encounter, when it is consistent with situational awareness, proper tactics, and officer safety. Our goal is to reinforce every officer’s responsibility to treat the public with respect, which makes everyone safer.

With respect to the “Consent to Search” bill, we believe that the primary motivating factor has been significantly mitigated by positive steps we have taken. The proposal was initiated because of the widespread concern that individuals who were being stopped, questioned, and possibly frisked were being asked to turn out their pockets, thereby exposing marijuana to public view and resulting in an arrest.

As seen already, and as displayed by the charts behind me, the Department’s reasonable-suspicion stops have dramatically decreased, and the arrest of individuals for mere possession of a small quantity of marijuana in public view has been all-but eliminated. Regarding the documentation of consent, ironically, many individuals might object to a law that requires the Police Department to collect their identifying information for the purpose of complying with the bill’s requirements.

Another bill on the agenda today is Intro. 607, which would create a “Body-Worn Camera Task Force.” The ten-member task force would be responsible for issuing a report to the Mayor and Council on the feasibility and implications of equipping NYPD officers with body-worn cameras, including costs, privacy implications, best practices for storage and usage, and evidentiary issues. The Department’s use of body-worn cameras is being examined by the federal monitor, and relates to the Department’s compliance with the judge’s order in the Floyd litigation. A separate local task force charged with essentially the same responsibility would be duplicative, and its work would be secondary to the federal court’s oversight. In light of the federal monitor’s ongoing work, we respectfully suggest that the bill not go forward.

Finally, the Council’s agenda includes several reporting bills. The first two require publishing data about the Police Department’s use of force on the Department’s website.

Intro. 539, the “Use of Force Transparency Act,” would require the Department to publish detailed cumulative reports relating to the use of force, including incident summaries and associated CCRB complaints.

Intro. 606-A would require quarterly reporting on the use of force generally, and specifically when used in connection with a range of offenses described as relating to quality-of-life enforcement.

As you know, the Department has made great strides sharing Police Department data. Our quarterly report to the Council contains a wealth of information, and we consistently respond to myriad requests for information from Council staff as well as from individual Council Members. Rather than enacting a set of reporting bills that impose information-sharing as a mandate, we should sit down together and work out how relevant information may be shared, taking into account the manner in which the information is collected and maintained — and our available resources.

It is worth noting that the Annual Firearms Discharge Report was voluntarily developed and published by the Department before being codified and required under Administrative Code Section 14-150(b).

Intro. 809, “High Crime Area Social Service Planning and Accountability,” would require the Department to compile an annual report of high-crime areas at a geographic level of precinct sector or below. The report would include major felonies, weapons possession, shootings, and controlled-substance possession and sale. Social service agencies would then use the report to develop a plan to target resources in the 35 highest crime areas.

Here we have determined that the Department could provide these crime statistics at the sector level, but, because there is no population data available for individual sectors, the per capita analysis envisioned by the bill would be unavailable. Instead, should the Council wish to pursue this proposal, we would suggest drilling down to the level of census tract, for which the Department may obtain population data in order to produce the per capita comparison.

Other aspects of the bill, however, beyond its data reporting provisions, lie outside the purview of the Police Department and will require further discussion with the Administration as a whole.

Another reporting bill, Intro. 824, would require the Department to post an annual report listing the commands to which particular officers are assigned.

Specifically, the bill sets forth three categories of allegations against police officers:

  • CCRB complaints,
  • substantiated CCRB complaints,
  • and civil lawsuits alleging police brutality.

The bill would require that the commands of the 200 officers with the highest number of CCRB complaints and substantiated CCRB complaints be posted, as well as the 500 officers with the highest civil lawsuits filed against them alleging “police brutality.”

Separate and apart from the fact that no City agency collects or reports on a civil lawsuit category denominated as “police brutality,” we question the utility of the reporting contemplated by the bill. At best the report would be a snapshot of the subject commands, with Department assignments changing daily. It would also reply, for the most part, on allegations rather than substantiated cases or findings of guilt.

The Department is already devoting extensive resources to analyzing complaints and lawsuits, through its work with the NYPD Inspector General, the New York City Comptroller, the Law Department, and the CCRB. We have also established an NYPD Risk Management Bureau tasked with, among other functions, using this in-depth analysis to address police conduct that may be generating complaints or liability. Again, rather than mandated reporting as outlined in the bill, we believe that there may be better ways to approach its underlying concerns, and we would welcome further discussion of how relevant information may be collected and reported, in consultation with the CCRB and the Law Department.

IN SUMMATION, the position of the Department is that many of the bills currently under consideration today would be better achieved through collaboration and dialogue — dialogue between the Council and the Department, and dialogue among various city agencies and community stakeholders — rather than through legislation.

Furthermore, while many of the issues that gave rise to these proposals have been addressed, still others are being rectified by training, and they will be further resolved as Neighborhood Policing and the Plan of Action’s proscriptions take root. We suggest that all involved allow for time to see the effects of the plans your new budget has made possible.

We truly believe that we can achieve a city that is safer and fairer, everywhere for everyone.

I thank you for your attention, and the opportunity to discuss these matters, and I and my executive staff welcome your questions.