Bill Bratton agrees to chokehold report recommendations, defends Ray Kelly

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton during a press conference at One Police Plaza on Jan. 12, 2015.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton during a press conference at One Police Plaza on Jan. 12, 2015. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Monday he agreed to the principal recommendations in a chokehold report released by the city’s NYPD Inspector General, while defending his predecessor Ray Kelly’s record.

The first report released by the city’s NYPD Inspector General, made public Monday, was conducted by the city’s Department of Investigation after the death of Eric Garner in July from an apparent chokehold. In part, it analyzed 10 cases between 2009 and 2014 where the Civilian Complaint Review Board substantiated the use of a chokehold, a practice prohibited by the NYPD.

“I would reinforce that the Inspector General’s report looked at 10 incidents,” Bratton said during an unrelated news conference at police headquarters. “As of this juncture I have not had a so-called chokehold report come across my desk yet from CCRB.”

Garner was placed in an apparent chokehold on July 17 when police tried to arrest him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. On Dec. 3, a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict the officer involved, Daniel Pantaleo.

The report recommended several steps, including greater coordination between the CCRB and the NYPD to streamline officer discipline, and providing more transparency with respect to the commissioner’s disciplinary decisions.

Lawrence Byrne, deputy commissioner for legal matters, said the NYPD has already started implementing the recommendations and “welcome the independent confirmation” they were on the right path.

The report, however, categorically criticized former Commissioner Kelly for going against CCRB recommendations in several substantiated chokehold cases and imposing lesser or no penalties. Bratton defended Kelly Monday.

“In deference … to my predecessor, Commissioner Kelly, none of those were required during his time,” Bratton said. “And having had the opportunity over this last year to sit in on a lot of disciplinary cases upon which I make decisions, you can’t read too much into some of the decisions he made absent understanding the information available to him at the time that he made those decisions.”

Kelly could not be reached for comment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the report only analyzed 10 suspected chokehold cases, and while it is useful as part of the discussion concerning police tactics, things have already started to change.

“I think it raises a question about how to create consistency in whatever process is undertaken, once a complaint is filed,” de Blasio said during an unrelated news conference, noting that he had only read a summary of the the report at the time “But, I don’t want to overstate the scope of the report, or suggest that it refers to the current moment, because I think a lot of changes are occurring — as I said, a great reduction in the number of CCRB complaints, and the retraining of the police force, to try and make sure that people use the proper tactics.”

Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said a comprehensive conclusion simply can’t be drawn from only 10 cases.

“If anything, the report reveals the dysfunction and anti-police bias that is rampant in the investigations conducted by the CCRB,” Lynch said in a statement. “The cases detailed in the report illustrate the importance of … context in understanding what occurs during fluid and often dangerous street encounters. We welcome any training that will help police officers protect themselves and the public in these situations.”

An attorney for the Garner family, Jonathan Moore, called the report troubling, but added it was a step in the right direction. Moore said the NYPD has been complacent and the department needs to discipline officers who break the rules.

“Unless you start doing that, you’re not going to change the way officers act on the street. That change, that’s not going to come overnight — you’re talking about a culture change in the police department,” Moore said. “I think [the report] is an important step in that direction. It reinforced the need for, one, better training and, two, better discipline.”

City Councilmember Jumaane Williams said the chokehold report is only the first step in a larger look at police force tactics.

“It can’t be the last word. It’s not even comprehensive,” he said. “For what it was supposed to be, it’s good enough.”