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Chokehold Audit Paints Grim Portrait of NYPD

MANHATTAN (CN) - In a report prompted by the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, city investigators found the New York City Police Department failed to put officers on trial for using chokeholds in 10 substantiated cases.

Less than two years have passed since NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo put Garner, 43, in a fatal chokehold while wrestling the man to the ground for suspicion of selling loose cigarettes outside the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

When a grand jury declined to indict the officer, massive protests snarled traffic across New York City highways, tunnels and bridges in late 2014.

Responding to popular outrage, the inspector general overseeing the NYPD commissioned a study on Jan. 12, 2015, studying how the department responds to complaints of officers using long-banned chokeholds.

Data shows the NYPD barely followed through at all, according to the 45-page report released Friday by Inspector General Philip Eure.

When the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) recommends charges, complaints typically go to the Department Advocate's Office (DAO) for further disposition.

"In those cases where CCRB substantiated chokeholds, recommended administrative charges, and DAO became involved, none of the substantiated cases ever went to trial before a NYPD trial commissioner," the report states.

Departing from the board's recommendation "every time," the departmental advisers pushed for either "lesser penalties or no discipline whatsoever," the inspector said.

"The police commissioner has the authority in all cases to make a final determination about discipline," the report notes. "In those substantiated chokehold cases presented to the police commissioner, he rejected CCRB's disciplinary recommendation, imposing a less severe penalty than that recommended by CCRB or deciding that no discipline was warranted at all."

Eure said the NYPD has either implemented, partially implemented or accepted in principle his office's recommendations on this issue.

In assessing 179 use-of-force incidents, the inspector likewise found troubling inaction, with the police commissioner refusing to impose discipline on 36 percent of all cases.

The NYPD does not have any centralized form for reporting use of force, no departmentwide system for tracking such incidents, and poorly trains officers on de-escalation tactics, according to the report.

Do not expect dramatic improvement on this issue following the inspector's criticism.

Of the 15 recommendations Eure made for improvement, the department rejected three, partially agreed to three others, and placed another "under consideration."

Eure also urged the department to use data from lawsuits and legal claims more effectively.

"From fiscal years 2010-2014, the city saw more than 15,000 lawsuits filed against NYPD at a cost of over $200 million," the report states. "By carefully reviewing the information contained in these lawsuits and legal claims, and omitting causes of action that are clearly without merit, NYPD and the city can begin taking necessary corrective actions to drive down these costs."

With the NYPD's pilot program body-worn camera well under way, the inspector found confusion among officers about when to roll tape. The department's policy calls for activation once an officer finds "reasonable suspicion" for an arrest, but investigators learned that officers have been "inconsistent" about turning on their cameras during traffic stops and arrests.

The department pushed back against the inspector's recommendations to correct this issue, rejecting one proposal outright and putting four others "under consideration."

The NYPD did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

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