NY Attorney General Spearheads Major NYPD Protest Policing Reform Agreement

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The New York Attorney General, in conjunction with the Legal Aid Society and the New York Civil Liberties Union, ushered in a pivotal agreement with the New York Police Department, aimed at bringing about significant changes to the department’s policing of protests in an effort to shield the public and press from unnecessary uses of force.

Endorsed by New York Mayor Eric Adams and the police department, this joint agreement sets forth to empower the NYPD in law enforcement, while concurrently safeguarding legal free expression. However, this accord has been met with resistance from one of the city’s police unions, which has declined to join the settlement.

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The agreement is in response to litigation initiated by various groups criticizing the NYPD’s undue arrests and use of excessive force against protesters during the summer of 2020, provoked by the death of George Floyd. This new ruling obliges the NYPD to revamp its deployment strategy during public demonstrations, thereby facilitating the public’s exercise of their first amendment rights.

This agreement emerges two months after New York endorsed a payment exceeding $13 million to address a class-action lawsuit that charged the NYPD with employing unlawful methods against protesters in the aftermath of Floyd’s death by Minneapolis police officers.

Tuesday’s agreement, an outcome of law suits filed against the city during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, aims to foster consensus, equate safety with justice and protect all involved – protesters, bystanders, and law enforcement personnel – Mayor Adams stated.

However, the Police Benevolent Association, the union representing rank-and-file officers, expressed safety concerns and denounced the settlement. PBA President, Patrick Hendry, highlighted fears about the settlement’s potential impact on the safety of police officers and the general public during situations involving coordinated violent actions.

According to the settlement terms, a new senior role – the First Amendment compliance senior executive – will be established within the NYPD to monitor protest-related activities and formulate a tiered response. This senior official will also lead post-protest reports, documenting the NYPD’s response to a public demonstration.

The four-tiered response facilitated by the agreement allows the police to adapt their presence at demonstrations based on the size, scale, and prevailing conditions. In a situation that requires the lowest tier, the NYPD can dispatch qualified protest liaisons from the NYPD’s Community Affairs Bureau to communicate with demonstrators and ensure the protests remain peaceful. The highest tier, which involves dispersing protests, can only be activated with approval from the First Amendment activity executive.

The settlement also outlines fresh directives for the NYPD concerning the use of force and treatment of journalists. It demands an improvement in the NYPD’s treatment of press members, emphasizing access to protests for news coverage and training officers on the right under the First Amendment to record police activity in public.

An oversight committee comprising officials from the attorney general’s office, the NYC Department of Investigation commissioner, and representatives from the Legal Aid Society will supervise the NYPD’s implementation of these new reforms over the course of several years.

PBA President Hendry, delineated the concerns of police officers, pointing out the injuries inflicted by protestors. He criticized the lack of responsibility towards and repercussions for violent protesters.

Amid the 2020 protests, Police Commissioner Edward Caban acknowledged the challenges faced by officers in their attempt to protect people’s rights to protest peacefully while mitigating instances of lawlessness. He expressed hope that the redefined policies will adequately address these unique scenarios.

Referring to the $13 million settlement agreed upon in July, the NYPD directed enquiries to the city’s law department, where the deputy chief of staff, Stefan Mooklal, affirmed that the settlement was in the “best interests of all parties.”