A new report commissioned by Arnold Ventures analyzed the recently released data on New York Police Department (NYPD) officer misconduct complaints and revealed a disturbing pattern of race-based results.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, New York State repealed Section 50‑a of its civil service law, which up until now has allowed law enforcement to shield police misconduct records from the public. These disciplinary records have now been publicly disclosed, increasing systemic accountability through transparency. The NYU Public Safety Lab analyzed 323,911 misconduct complaints filed against officers of the NYPD with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, released to the New York Civil Liberties Union in the wake of Section 50-a’s repeal. The NYU Public Safety Lab has also made all of the data and code used to produce the report publicly available for replication.
“New Yorkers have a right to expect policing that is both responsive and fair. Unfortunately, that’s not what we found in the data,” said Anna Harvey, Director of the NYU Public Safety Lab. “The patterns revealed by our analysis indicate that how a neighborhood is policed depends on how many of its residents are Black.”
The NYU Public Safety Lab benchmarked NYPD officer misconduct complaints filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to city-year data on numbers of sworn NYPD officers between 1986 – 2018, and to precinct-year data on the number of annually reported crimes between 2006 – 2019, to identify years and precincts in which complaint volume was both higher and lower than its expected value. The research team found:
An increase of 1,000 sworn officers per year was associated with an additional 270 misconduct complaints per year.
- The annual number of misconduct complaints was lower than expected between 1995 – 2001, a period during which reported crime fell by 51%. Misconduct complaint volume was higher than expected between 2004 – 2011, a period during which reported crime fell by only 16%. The latter period of excess misconduct complaints coincides with the period during which the practice of stop and frisk grew to peak levels. These findings may help policy makers identify citywide policing practices that can promote increases in public safety while minimizing officer misconduct.
An increase of 1,000 reported crimes per precinct per year was associated with an additional 7.5 misconduct complaints per precinct per year.
- The precincts with complaint volume between 2006 – 2019 was both lower and higher than expected given the precinct-level reported crime volume over the same period. The identification of precincts with atypical complaint volume may allow policy makers to identify policing practices that are associated with fewer officer misconduct complaints.
Precincts with higher percentages of Black residents had higher levels of excess misconduct complaints between 2006 – 2019.
- Precincts with higher percentages of non-Hispanic white and Asian residents had lower levels of excess misconduct complaints between 2006 – 2019. This finding suggests a need for policy makers to focus on reducing officer misconduct in precincts with higher percentages of Black residents.
Precincts with misconduct complaints that were more concentrated among smaller numbers of officers had higher levels of excess misconduct complaints between 2006 – 2019.
- This finding suggests policy makers may effectively reduce excess misconduct by focusing on the officers who have the largest numbers of misconduct complaints.
Precincts with higher percentages of Black residents experienced not only disproportionately high levels of misconduct complaints between 2006 – 2019, but also misconduct committed by disproportionately fewer officers.
- This finding suggests that policy makers can target not only excess officer misconduct, but also racial disparities in the experience of officer misconduct, by focusing on the officers who have the largest numbers of misconduct complaints.
Overall, NYU Public Safety Lab’s analysis shows there is more officer misconduct in precincts with a higher number of Black residents; that when reported crimes increase, misconduct increases; and that misconduct complaints are often concentrated on a few officers. These are important findings that demonstrate one of the ways neighborhoods with a higher percentage of Black residents are treated differently by the police; the findings also suggest steps policymakers can take to minimize officer misconduct while advancing public safety.