NYPD Announces Landmark Reform to Bolster Public Protest Management


A significant restructuring of the New York Police Department’s approach to handling public protests has been announced. This momentous reform, hailed as a “landmark agreement” by the New York Attorney General, the Legal Aid Society, and the New York Civil Liberties Union, is intended to shield both the general public and the press from excessive force during protests.

According to New York Mayor Eric Adams, this agreement gives the NYPD space to uphold the law while ensuring that the right to lawful free speech isn’t compromised. However, a city police union chose not to participate in the settlement. The agreement looks to resolve litigation arising from the NYPD’s so-called inappropriate arrests and excessive use of force during the spontaneous demonstrations sparked by George Floyd’s tragic demise in the summer of 2020. This will necessitate a significant shift in how the NYPD mobilizes its officers at public demonstrations, which is expected to reinforce public’s first amendment rights.

Arriving on the heels of a $13 million settlement New York agreed to pay in response to a class-action lawsuit accusing NYPD of using illegal tactics against Floyd’s protestors, the freshly minted agreement offers hope for a more balanced approach to law and protest enforcement. However, the Police Benevolent Association, the union representing rank-and-file officers, expressed security concerns and stated it will not be a party to the agreement.

Among the agreement’s stipulations, a new role will be established within NYPD to supervise all protest-related activities. The new First Amendment activity senior executive will develop a graded response to public protests, create relevant policies, procedures, and police officer training programs that align with the agreement’s expectations. This senior official will also lead post-protest reports documenting the NYPD’s handling of public demonstrations.

The settlement also introduces new protocols concerning NYPD’s use of force and handling of journalists. The agreement urges the NYPD to better accommodate members of the press, such as granting them access to protests for news coverage. It also mandates educating the officers on the constitutional right to record police activity in public.

However, despite these changes, some officers have serious reservations. Patrick Hendry, the union president, raises concerns about the lack of accountability for violent protesters amid the mass demonstrations in 2020 and fears the new agreement may embolden them further.

NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban acknowledges the unique challenges faced by the police force during the 2020 protests. He maintains that while striving to protect people’s rights to peaceful expression, the NYPD also dealt with acts of lawlessness. Caban also stresses that the NYPD has recalibrated its policies for policing protests to better handle these complex situations.

Therefore, the unanimous agreement reached on Tuesday lights the path towards a balance of safety and justice while safeguarding protestors, onlookers, and law enforcement personnel. The implementation of these reforms is expected to roll over several years under an oversight committee comprising officials from the attorney general’s office, NYC Department of Investigation commissioner, and representatives from the Legal Aid Society.


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