NEW YORK - New York Attorney General Letitia James proposed sweeping changes Wednesday to boost oversight of the New York City Police Department, including forming an independent commission that would approve the department's budget and have the final say on officer discipline.
“The police should not police themselves — period," James, a Democrat, told reporters. “It's really important that we think of major reforms and not tinkering around the edges.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked James to investigate whether NYPD officers used excessive force to quell unrest and enforce a citywide curfew in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Floyd's death led to weeks of demonstrations in the city that became violent at times and prompted widespread allegations of police misconduct.
James did not rule out criminal charges as her investigation continues. In the meantime, she outlined several reforms intended to restore New Yorkers’ faith in law enforcement.
She made clear that none of her recommendations are binding upon city leaders but portrayed her report as a blueprint for transforming accountability in the nation's largest police department.
Mayor Bill de Blasio quickly shot down the prospect of an independent police commission, with a City Hall spokeswoman saying “change comes from accountability, something a commission lacks.”
"If we want to continue moving forward, more bureaucracy is not the answer,” de Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said in a statement.
In addition to a new oversight committee, James called for decriminalizing “quality of life” offenses like jaywalking and a statewide certification process that would prevent “bad officers from simply being passed from one agency to another.”
“Everything should be on the table,” the attorney general said. “The ultimate goal must be democratizing policing to create trust and systems worthy of that trust.”
A message was sent to the NYPD seeking comment.
Pat Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said James' report “tells only one side of the story and delivers reheated proposals that have been part of the anti-police agenda for decades.”
"If the goal is to heal the rift between police officers and the public, that won’t be achieved without giving meaningful consideration to the perspective of police officers on the street,” he said in a statement.
James' report followed harrowing testimony about New York City police officers slamming peaceful protesters to the ground, kicking a woman in the face and beating people with batons.
The attorney general said she had received more than 1,300 submissions over the past month, and that most of the complaints involved NYPD officers using excessive force, “indiscriminate use of pepper spray, brandishing firearms at protesters, and pushing vehicles or bikes into protesters.”
Other complaints concerned “troubling arrest-related practices,” including the use of “extremely tight zip ties" misgendering detainees and holding protesters in cramped cells.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told James last month that fewer than 10 officers were being disciplined for alleged misconduct toward protesters, including one suspended without pay and later charged with assault after he was caught on camera shoving a woman to the ground. Shea said he was “very disturbed” by the incident.
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The police oversight commission James proposed would redirect power from the department's commissioner to a new board with representatives appointed by the City Council, public advocate, comptroller and mayor.
“The commission should also hire and, if necessary, terminate the NYPD Commissioner as well as approve all promotions above the rank of captain,” the report says.
James also recommended NYPD officers be required to live within the five boroughs “so that they better reflect the communities they are required to serve and protect.”
De Blasio has said the city complied with James' investigation and pointed to recent steps to reform the police department, including disbanding the plainclothes anti-crime unit.
The city recently approved a budget that will shift $1 billion from policing to education and social services in the coming year following protesters’ demands to cut police spending.