For the first time in seven years, the number of complaints filed by New Yorkers alleging misconduct by NYPD officers has increased, according to the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
According to the board’s 2017 annual report, released on Thursday, the independent watchdog agency saw a 5 percent increase in complaints received in 2017, compared to the year before.
Last year, 4,487 complaints were filed alleging misconduct — ranging from offensive language to excessive force — compared to 4,285 in 2016.
After seven straight years of declining complaints, that increase of 202 complaints is notable, but the agency isn’t sure why.
“This reversal of trend is of note, but the reason for the increase in complaints is undeterminable,” the report reads. “Possible causes could include an increase in misconduct or a rise in reporting, the latter of which could be related to the CCRB Outreach Unit’s vastly higher number of outreach events over the past two years.”
The highest number of complaints in 2017, at 186, came from Brooklyn’s 75th precinct, which covers East New York and Cypress Hills. But the highest rate of complaints, at 16 per 11,000 residents, occurred in the 25th precinct in East Harlem, according to the report.
At 58 percent, the majority of all complaints filed in 2017 alleged “abuse of authority” by officers, which includes actions like unlawful searches of premises, refusals to provide a name or shield number and threats of arrest.
But not all complaints are substantiated by the board’s investigations. In 2017, the substantiation rate was 20 percent, meaning an investigation confirmed that the alleged misconduct occurred.
"2017 has one of the fewest number of complaints ever against police officers, with fewer substantiated complaints and uses of force," an NYPD spokesperson said in an email. "Last year, more than 36,000 police officers had more than 20 million interactions with the public and responded to nearly 5 million calls for help from New Yorkers. More than 90 percent of our officers have never had a single substantiated civilian complaint of any kind. The overwhelming majority of New York City cops come to work every day to do good, fight crime, and help people, making this city the safest it has been since the 1950s."
That rate is a decrease from 2016’s substantiation rate of 23 percent, according to the report, but still in within the “range” of substantiation rates from the last five years.
Some complaints are unsubstantiated, while others are closed because the officers in question could not be identified.
In 2017, the board substantiated 264 complaints against 367 officers (one filed complaint may name more than one officer). For those officers, the board recommended command discipline for 51 percent of them, up from 43 percent in 2016.
The board can only recommend discipline, though. The NYPD imposes the discipline, and did so on 73 percent of the cases where the board recommended command discipline, instructions or formalized training.
The addition of body-worn cameras for NYPD officers has become a “vital source” for the board to “develop a complete picture of an incident” alleged by a complaint.
The availability of video evidence doubles the likelihood that a complaint is substantiated — 31 percent, compared to 14 percent — according to the report. As the NYPD rolls out body-worn cameras to all patrol officers by the end of 2018, the board expects to request more footage from the department to investigate complaints.
“A factor in whether the board is able to make a clear determination about the facts of a case is the presence of video evidence,” said CCRB Executive Director Jonathan Darche in a statement. “Providing every NYPD patrol officer with a body-worn camera is a major step forward for accountability when misconduct is found. We must continue working with the department to ensure CCRB obtains footage in an expeditious, efficient manner which will enable the agency to investigate allegations quickly and thoroughly.”