The New York Police Department was caught off guard by the size of the spring protests after the killing of George Floyd and resorted to aggressive disorder control methods that stoked tensions and stifled free speech, the city’s inspector general said in a report released on Friday.
The Department of Investigation report followed a six-month probe that focused on the NYPD’s institutional planning and response to the May and June protests after Mr Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis, rather than on the actions of individual officers.
It criticised tactics that included trapping demonstrators with a technique called kettling, making mass arrests, using pepper spray and batons, and detaining protesters for hours. Too few officers were deployed early in the demonstrations, the report said.
The report also found that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to impose a nightly curfew after two days of looting exacerbated conflicts between demonstrators and police officers, who were given mixed messages on how it was to be enforced.
Mr De Blasio’s executive order said the curfew applied to everyone, with exceptions for essential workers. In subsequent public statements, he said the curfew wouldn’t apply to “peaceful protesters”.
The Department of Investigation recommended the NYPD create a unit to lead protest planning and response, adopt policies and training that reinforce respect for First Amendment rights, and improve messaging during demonstrations, such as repeating dispersal orders and staging officers in riot gear out of the view of protesters.
It also recommended that the department no longer use for protests a rapid-response unit that deals in terrorism and other emergencies.
“The problems went beyond poor judgment or misconduct by some individual officers,” Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett said at a news conference.
“Our investigation found that the NYPD as an institution made a number of key errors or omissions that likely escalated tensions and the potential for violence and certainly contributed to the public perception that the department was suppressing rather than facilitating lawful first amendment assembly and expression.”
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, who told investigators he objected to the curfew, said in a statement that he intends to incorporate all 20 of the report’s recommendations into the department’s policies. And Mr de Blasio, in a video response, said the report “makes very clear, we’ve got to do something different and we got to do something better”.
The springtime protests in New York City often featured peaceful daytime rallies and marches that devolved into chaos after dark, as they did in some other cities. Some demonstrators firebombed police cars, vandalised buildings and attacked officers with thrown objects.