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by Peter Moskos

September 8, 2015

CCRB and the NYPD

A new report from the New York's CCRB (civilian complaint review board) is out.

There are some interesting things here. Much more video evidence means more complaints are being substantiated. But overall complaints are down substantially (22%) from one year ago.

And this:
From January 2014 through June 30, 2015, one percent of identified officers on the force were responsible for 18% of all misconduct claims, five percent were responsible for 52%, and 10% were responsible for 78% of claims during this period. Five percent of officers were responsible for generating 100% of force complaints. Significantly, 86% of officers had no CCRB complaints during this period of time.
That's on page ix. There are another 62 pages after that I skipped.


Unknown said...

Smart drug dealers in the ghetto know the quickest way to get the cops off you in the city is to start making bogus complaints. The guys who get the most CCRB BS complaints are also the guys who make the most collars.

Anonymous said...

On one hand, we all know that cops who actually chase criminals and crimes get the most complaints while those that act like potted plants do not. At the same time we also know that there are some cops who shouldn't be there.

Anonymous said...

Without jumping to the previous commenter's conclusion, I would be interested in a more in-depth analysis of just what distinguishes these frequent flyers.

For starters, what is the denominator? All nypd sworn mos, regardless of rank, assignment, etc? What does the proportion look like when you remove mos who rarely contact the public?

Then can you control for busy vs quiet precincts? Poor vs rich? Etc.

Then finally, what does any correlation tell you about causation? If the poor, busy pcts have more ccrbs, is it because unemployed people have no opportunity cost in filing them, or is it because cops in those pcts really are unnecessarily aggressive?


Peter Moskos said...

It's a little of all of the above.

Certainly there's truth to the maxim: If you don't work you can't get in trouble.

You know who is not getting complaints? The guy or girl who never leaves the station house. Everybody who works in 1PP. So that's like 30 percent (?) of the department right there!

That said, we also know that within an active squad, there are some cops making plenty of arrests without pissing people off and getting complaints. Yes, some complaints are malicious and designed to get a cop off your criminal back (and it can work, too).

I wouldn't throw somebody under the bus just because they get a lot of complaints. But yes, it's a red flag. Absolutely.

And if you're part of the 1 percent getting 18 percent of all complaints? Odds are you are a problem. Compare apples to apples. Look at people in the same squad. Or with similar arrest numbers. But yes, a massive number of complaints is a red flag. You can be an active cop and arrest people and still treat people -- criminals and good citizens alike -- with a certain modicum of respect. (Even when the person did nothing to deserve being treated with respect, you still need to.) Part of the job is -- or at least should be -- not being a dick. Asshole cops do a lot of harm to policing. It's a simple rule: don't be a dick.

From my experience, some cops, not many, are unredeemable. And most of those do end up getting fired. (Or quit before the trial board.) But many other can improve. But the system is designed to punish, not help.

All that said, CCRB is something even good cops fear. And that's not productive, either.

Alex Elkins said...

Peter, I'm curious, what do you think of the "bad apples" theory? It's criticized in progressive academic/activist circles for obscuring--you name it--more systemic problems, e.g., a focus on patrol policy, by directing attention to individual officers. But the data I've seen on, say, violent-prone officers does suggest that a small percentage of officers tend to be responsible for a disproportionately large percentage of complaints/incidents, etc. Thanks.

Peter Moskos said...

One problem with sociology as a field is that they (or we) refuse to consider individuals acting independently of their social milieu. Of course your environment matters. I'm not saying it doesn't. We're all affected by our milieu. But the field of sociology is dedicated to and defined by the study of social interactions between groups. So the idea that one person can exercise free will and act independently, even to a limited extent, is often overlooked.

Of course there are bad apples. Independent of the organization. So I do not want to obscure the bad-apple theory. But that said, there is also the problem that a bad barrel makes some apples turn bad. I don't think the whole barrel is rotten, but, to keep a metaphor going, I think the police barrel (the departmental organization and structure) is very poorly designed if the goal is keep individual apples (police officers) from going bad.

Cops can generally identify the bottom 10 percent of the barrel. (This includes both cops that don't work and cops that do harm while working.) But there's no system of improvement. There's little formal structure of helping troubled officers (it does sometimes happen informally). There are negative incentives to getting close to bad officers, because there is guilt by association.

And because of civil service, bad cops can get promoted just as easily as good cops. Sometimes this is good because it limits their interaction with the public. But it's not good for the organization. What do you do if your sergeant is incompetent, vindictive, and generally horrible to work for? It's not like a private business. The bad boss's boss can't really even do anything. Certainly there's very little incentive to make waves. Civil service, union rules, chain-of-command, and the threat of discrimination lawsuits make it almost impossible to formally identify, much less fire, bad cops.

But before things reach that point, it would be nice if there were some good way to help bad cops be better cops. Very few cops enter the police department bad to the core. The hiring process is good for something. So what happens? Through some combination of incompetence, ego, paranoia, CYA, poor working conditions, and bad morale, apples get rotten.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

there's no system of improvement. There's little formal structure of helping troubled officers

That's a really interesting point. So much of the trouble seems to be that cops know who the bad cops are– by which I mean not the lazy ones as the ones who are actually committing assault on civilians– but don't do anything about it. But perhaps they just don't know what they can do, beyond hoping they're not in the car when their partner finally kills someone.

I ain't no fancy sociologist, and I'm certainly no police apologist, but the bad apples take has always seemed just plain old-fashioned true to me. It's a very small percentage of cops who do the shit that ends up on cell phone videos (though a larger percentage do the kind of weight-throwing that poisons community relations more insidiously). The problem is that this small percentage of cops, like the small percentage of molesting priests, goes unchecked, and this has consequences for everyone.

Peter Moskos said...

I know I said that, but I don't want to make it sound so easy. It's not like 90 percent of good cops can point their finger at 10 percent of "bad cops." There's a lot of gray. And bad cops are bad in different ways.

Some cops escalate too quickly. Some cops are too into authority. Some cops enjoy fighting (as opposed to seeing a brawl as something that is part of the job, but is best avoided, if possible). Some are bad drivers. Some cops are rude to too many people. Some cops want to make no arrests. Others want nothing but arrests. Some cops don't give a shit. Others think it's a holy crusade. But no cops is *all* that. And even good cops have some bad qualities. And bad cops have some good qualities.

I saw some very good policing that wouldn't look in 30 seconds on a video. What I'm saying is it's not like some blue wall of silence is preventing cops from speaking. It's that we all live in glass houses and nobody wants to throw a stone. Plus, the cop that might lose his temper too quick might literally save your friend's life some other day. Hell, then I can live with his temper. Plus you stay away from cops you think are bad. And then all you get is rumor.

All that said, yeah, cops can point fingers at some trouble-making cops. But then what is the standard for getting rid of them? That's an organization, union, and legal problem. And how do work some customer-service ideas (ie: don't be a dick) into a job that can't even figure out who its customers are, much less what it means to "serve" them?

David Woycechowsky said...

I wonder how the complaints break down as far as military combat veterans versus non-mcv's.

Peter Moskos said...

Seems like a very basic we should know the answer to, but do not.
I suspect it's lower among veterans, due the discipline instilled in the military. Less impulsive behavior. But that's just my guess.

Anonymous said...

The 90% know (and its not 90% because the percent of good cops is way lower). Look at the Blake takedown. Not a single one of his fellow cops would have reported him. It's not much different in other fields. Nurses and doctors know who is dangerous. Academics knew who was sleeping with students (probably less common now). Even cleaning staff know who does a crappy job. Part of the problem is that the process of sharing this knowledge does not exist except to make yourself a target (look at sexual harassment in the military).

Peter Moskos said...

I think Blake is a interesting case study. I'm certain the tactics the cop used to bring down and cuff Blake could have been just what was needed... in another situation. I'm sure his aggressive and hands-on tactics helped other officers in the past. So how do you educate cops? You can't simply make rules saying never bring a suspect to the ground. I'm willing to say there were and are better ways to detain Blake in this situation, given the totality of the circumstances. Absolutely. (The nature of the crime, the nature of the location, the demeanor of the suspect.) So how does one go about improving the system so that smarter cops do only what is needed, not more, and don't get hurt in the process? Those are the $64,000 questions. It's not just a matter of a lawyer writing another page for the Patrol Officers' Guide or book of General Orders.

Apparently the cop, not surprisingly, had a bunch of red flags.


So why didn't the department do something? I don't know. That's a departmental issue more than a colleague issue. Were the number of previous complaints made against the cop few compared to all the arrests he made? I don't know. But I bet other people working with him went about their job more professionally.

Anonymous said...

I call BS. His fellow officers knew he sucked. You know it; I know it; that's human nature; and you are being willfully obtuse if you say otherwise.

Peter Moskos said...

I don't know the guy from Adam, so forgive me for not slandering him.

But my point, in the abstract, is what do you do with a guy who does something bad or stupid or loses his temper... but just say, once or twice a year? What if it's once every five years? What if it's just once in his whole damn career? How do you improve? How do you punish. There should be a better system.

And even a cop who does something bad -- even repeatedly -- can be a good cop *most* of the time. Of course "most" isn't good enough. But it's not like every "bad" cop stands out like a sore thumb.

You don't expect any one cops to always do stupid shit. But then when it happens, you roll your eyes and go, "him again?!"

But repeated complaints? I'm reminded of the line from The Wire, about brutality complaints against Herc:

"None sustained."

"But all of them true."

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

But my point, in the abstract, is what do you do with a guy who does something bad or stupid or loses his temper... but just say, once or twice a year? ... And even a cop who does something bad -- even repeatedly -- can be a good cop *most* of the time.

This is a very odd statement. For just about everyone on earth, if you fuck up badly enough at work, for example, by getting physical (or even shouty) with a customer, no one is going to care about all the customers you didn't get physical with. You will be punished. And if you get physically aggressive with your customers, clients, vendors, or even office doorman once or twice a year? You will almost certainly be fired, and quite probably blackballed from the industry. If you are an absolute superstar, you might be able to get away with it once in a while, but once or twice a year, for years? No way.

It's really very strange, and perhaps characteristic of insualar police culture, to think that "Look at all the people I didn't physically assault!" is considered even vaguely exculpatory, or the officer in question or of all the superiors who failed to do their duty and punish him.

Peter Moskos said...

You raise good points but your analogy is wrong. It's more like a waiter who drops a tray of plates. Do you say, "accidents happen"? Do you make him or her pay for the plates? The entrees? Do you fire the waiter? Do you tell the waiter not to stack trays so high? Of course, as usual, it depends. And a lot of it would depend on how good that waiter was in the months or years preceding the incident.

Now you *could* say it's more like a waiter tackling a customer for ordering off menu. But it's different, because the police job does involve force. So when force is misused, yeah, it's less of a line-crossing moment than when force is used in a job where you're not supposed to use force.

Do you think the officer who brought Blake down and cuffed him should be fired -- if his record were otherwise exemplary of the years? I wouldn't. But I would give him a "what the hell were you thinking?" moment. I would ask "is everything was ok at home?" I would point out how he created a danger both to himself and others with his bad tactics (given the totality of the circumstances) and overly aggressive attitude.

And than what if, hypothetically, a year or two earlier, he literally dragged a shot colleague out of harms way, under fire. Would that change anything? Should it? How could it not?

But of course it seems his record isn't other perfect. I suspect that has something to do with him being thrown so quickly under the bus.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Except that people aren't plates. Offenses against people are– and should be– taken more seriously than offenses against property. If the officer had broken someone's window during a wrongly-addressed raid, or banged up a car during a chase, that should earn him no more than a stern talking-to. Physically assaulting someone is different, even when your job involves force. If a school security guard tackles a student who wasn't doing anything, that guard gets fired. If a surgeon performs the wrong surgery on a patient, that surgeon should at the very least get suspended, and if he's done it before, he loses his license. And no one, including surgeons, thinks this is unusual. It is only police who think you should keep getting mulligans on hurting innocent people.

Peter Moskos said...

I agree. When an officer clearly does something wrong. But wrong is hard to define. It's rarely clear cut. When it is clear cut? Fine. I've pointed out plenty of those situations right here on this very blog.

And it's worth pointing out that surgeons do not get punished when a patient dies. If it's the wrong surgery, sure. But what if it's a surgery that worked 100 times before but this time fails? Or what if it is the result of a misdiagnosis? Or what if it's overly aggressive treatment that might have been correct, but wasn't this time? (Which is more similar to what happens in the police world.)

Don't forget I started this by saying, yes, there are red flags that need to be more taken more seriously. I'm less trying to defend police misdeeds or bad cops than point out A) it's not so difficult to point to bad officers but B) it is difficult to rush to judgement on one incident caught, in part, on video.

Anonymous said...

Peter, you're blind. I hope the comments help you at least question your blindness. You always defend bad cops failing to see what is right in front of your face. Watch that video. Noone except cops and cop apologists see a guy doing his job and making a mistake. Everyone who is not biased sees an an aggressive a**hole doing whatever the hell he wants because he can. Open your eyes and talk to other people about your blindness; ask them for their honest opinion unfiltered by them being aware of who you are.

Peter Moskos said...

I might be blind. But you seem to be deaf. Like I've said, I don't think that was good policing. I think it was bad policing. I suspect it is a bad cop doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, this time caught on tape. What part of that is defending him? Do you just ignore part of what I say because you can't handle nuanced thought? I'm trying to raise greater issues. Deeper issues. You think you got me figured out? I'm a complicated man. Don't no one understand me...

Anonymous said...

You defended the tactic which is hard to do given the video. You defended his fellow cops. You are suggesting that if this was a one-off mistake then we should let it slide. Over and over again in this incident, you have your thumb on the scale against accountability for cops. For example, you gleefully published the motions made by defense lawyers in the Gray case and were totally silent when the judge denied them all. Does that mean you haven't written stuff that suggests some criticism of those officers? Not at all. But you are biased and it impairs your judgement.

Peter Moskos said...

Of course I'm biased! When one has knowledge based on facts and experience, you form, call it what you will, opinions. Intelligent bias beats impartial ignorance anyway.

So yes, in another time and place with another suspect, I certainly do defend that tactic used to put Blake in cuffs. There are many situations where this tactic is not only appropriate, but demanded. (This wasn't one of them.)

"Gleefully"? I tried to find anything gleeful on this blog. I wish I were gleeful. The only thing I can find related to the motions in the Freddie Gray case is a response to this quote in the Sun: "Either the State is withholding the information from its investigation, or there was no investigation." To which I commented: "I suspect the former. A judge will rule soon." Did I miss something? Or what the hell are you talking about?

And when I'm out of town, which is a lot, I don't post at all. This isn't a news feed. You want all the Freddie Gray news? Read the Sun.

what I'm really trying to do here -- you don't really seem to get the point of keeping this blog get -- I'm trying to create an intelligent discussion from which I and others can learn. I'm trying to go beyond outrage and blanket praise or condemnation. There's plenty of anti-cop outrage out there. There's plenty of pro-cop outrage out there. You're not going to find either of that here. You don't really need to read this at all.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to have an intelligent debate when you are constantly distorting reality. But let me tee up some answers. 1. The whole due process for firing cops is contrary to how other jobs work. In private industry, you don't really get a presumption of due process except for certain legislated or contractual exceptions which can lead to wrongful termination suits (success is a rarity). 2. Even then cops tend to get due process at the "beyond a reasonable doubt" kind of measure rather than the "preponderance of evidence" standard which it should be. 3. The cops basically hold the public and politicians hostage by staging temper tantrums that have both real (murder rate soars in Baltimore) and propaganda (turning backs on mayor) consequences. 4. There is no anti-cop outrage that really has mainstream traction. Look at the emphasis on all shootings of cops that now hits CNN front page even suicides staged as murders. 5. You continue to insist on a "bad apples" model with zero evidence except the results of things like internal investigations which already go through a filter of all of the above so of course the numbers are low. 6. Start getting video evidence and we see that all those assertions that its just bitter people upset at getting stopped/arrested are not true. In fact, a large number of these interactions show the cops as being a**holes.

So stop with the cop-colored shades and maybe we can have an actual discussion, but until then, I will just try to remind you of how you are failing at fostering that discussion because of your bias. That's why I comment.

Peter Moskos said...

I'm still kind of interested in the "gleeful" part.

Peter Moskos said...

1. I agree. Of course I'm against the privatization of police.
2. It's in the constitution. It's true for all criminal defendants. Even cops. Departmentally cops get screwed at the whim of the boss.
3. I respectfully disagree, in part. But I did think turning backs to the mayor was a disgrace. As I wrote (you probably ignored it because it didn't fit your own ideology about who you think I am: "Many police hate Mayor Bill de Blasio (just as they hate President Barack Obama). Police tend to be conservative. The last time New York had both a liberal mayor and contract negotiations, police actually rioted. Drunken officers rushed the steps of City Hall, damaged cars and slandered Mayor David Dinkins with racial epithets. Reporters were attacked. Police even took over the Brooklyn Bridge."
4. "Suicides staged as murders"? Do tell. Maybe there's a case. I don't know. I'd be interested. "Mainstream traction"? Well, maybe the mainstream is more conservative than you (and me). But last I looked #blacklivesmatter was getting a lot of traction.
5. Whatever, dude. I was cop. Who the fuck are you? Seriously.
6. Most video evidence supports the cops. But that's dog bites man. When it's the other way, fine.

This is about as much discussion as I'm willing to have with an anonymous poster. Mostly because you don't get it. Neither this blog nor me. My whole point of being (professionally, at least) is to *have* cop-colored shades. That's what I do! I'm not out to "get" cops. I'm out to explain cops. I'm out to make cops better. If you're expecting something else, I'm sorry, but you've going to be very disappointed.

Adam said...

It looks like this debate is going nowhere fast, so I'll just add a quick point. Re: #1, of course the due process given to cops is contrary to how things work in the private sector. Cops are public employees, so the law is different for them, as it is for *all* public employees. The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits state governments from depriving "any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law ..." The right to continued employment is a property interest, which means a public employee must receive "notice, an opportunity to respond to the charges before his termination, and post-termination administrative review." Young v. City of St. Charles, Mo., 244 F.3d 623, 627 (8th Cir. 2001). Admittedly, there are some valid concerns about LEOBRs providing too much additional protection for cops. But as a general matter, cops absolutely can't be fired the way a private sector employee would be. The only way around that is, as Peter says, to privatize the police.

Peter Moskos said...

There's case law?! Public employment as a property interest? I had no idea. I thought it was just a matter of union negotiation and contract specifics. Thanks.

Adam said...

I'm afraid I oversimplified that. Not all public employees have a protected property interest in continued employment, but this is certainly something that extends beyond cops and LEO Bills of Rights.


Anonymous said...

Well, the protected property right concept is new to me. I don't really think the difference shown in employment practice is about that. It's about political clout and weakness in the face of assholism that sometimes rises to the level of thuggery (as Peter pointed out).

WRT why I referred to your post as "gleeful" it's because I saw that you highlighted it at all as an example of you engaging in confirmation bias. The pull quotes that you used in your post were certainly one-sided. In addition, maybe I am patting myself too much on the back, but it seemed to me that the chances of the judge buying these arguments was pretty slim - not impossible, but unlikely.

I would liken the persuasive effect of such arguments as similar to all the reporting by newspapers and other media regarding the Iran deal. Lots of quotes from right wing people such as Dick Cheney were reported and you could see them repeated on blogs as if they were actually news. In the meantime, the chance of Congress actually overcoming a veto was nil (and it didn't even get that far).

So, in short, the Freddie Gray defendants are in for a long slog where some are likely to eventually get convicted; some may get acquitted; and some may end up in a limbo (pleading to lesser charges, hung juries, or even cooperating w/ the prosecution). The defense attorney's public statements are, in my opinion, useless for accurately assessing the case which is why I thought your choice to feature them at all could only be because you hoped that what they said was true and would persuade the judge.