Disciplining Police Officers: Stronger Penalties

To the Editor:

Re “New York Police Shift Approach on Discipline” (front page, Sept. 21):

Regrettably, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton has not tackled the all-important issue of meaningful discipline for infractions that are not minor, such as false arrests and excessive force. If the officer is not discharged, the strongest penalty is a mere 30-day suspension with loss of salary. The police unions like to keep it that way.

More than 40 years ago the Knapp Commission called for more effective penalties: suspension without pay for a period of up to one year, monetary fines of up to $25,000 and demotion in grade or title with a commensurate reduction in salary.

The Knapp Commission’s report even observed that the absence of such penalties was “the most troublesome issue in the disciplining of policemen.” Since then the Mollen Commission, the Commission to Combat Police Corruption and Citizens Union have all recommended this strengthening of penalties.

The City Council alone can enact such a law; state legislation is not required. But such a law has always been bottled up in the council because of pressure from the police unions and lack of meaningful support other than lip service from mayors and police commissioners.

So long as the New York Police Department treats major infractions with a slap on the wrist, it makes no difference what the Civilian Complaint Review Board does, since the Police Department has the final say on disciplinary penalties. The victims of police misconduct will continue to turn to lawsuits instead, which cost the city money but usually have little or no impact on guilty officers, who frequently are repeat offenders. If Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton truly intend to improve police-community relations, they must address this problem.

JOEL BERGER

New York

The writer is a civil rights lawyer and former executive in the New York City Law Department.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/29/opinion/disciplining-police-officers-stronger-penalties.html?_r=0