Holding the Police Accountable

The police freely murder Black and Brown people in our city and across our country. They terrorize entire communities and neighborhoods in the name of “public safety.” It’s a privilege to feel safe around the police today, as law enforcement has largely been allowed to operate without accountability and without oversight. The violence that police departments across the country have inflicted upon communities of color, low-income communities, LGBTQIA+ communities, and disabled communities shows how crucial it is to fundamentally rethink our understanding of public safety. And when prosecutors fail to hold these officers accountable, as they have time and time again, it reinforces the idea that police can do whatever they want with no consequences. 

Upon assuming office, I will create a dedicated, independent unit to prosecute police misconduct and adopt an ironclad policy that any form of police misconduct will never be tolerated, including perjury at trials or hearings, physical abuse of members of the public, destruction, and theft of property, false arrests, and sexual assault. As a public defender, I know the enormously high cost that these actions have on individuals and communities. Justice and accountability are by no means equivalent, but holding police officers accountable for wrongdoing is the least that we can do. Holding police officers who commit misconduct accountable, and specifically removing them from the force, reduces the number of people in New York City who suffer abuse at the hands of police and saves taxpayer money by reducing the number of settlements that the city pays out.[1] When people are justifiably mistrustful of the police, it makes it harder for the criminal legal system to effectively hold people accountable when they cause real harm.

As District Attorney, I will advocate for broad, transformative changes to our understanding of public safety. Being anti-violence and pro-public safety means standing up to police brutality because our city is not safer when police officers are effectively allowed to terrorize and kill people. I will use the power of the office to hold the police accountable when they break the law, and I will fight for disciplinary consequences to hold police officers responsible when they engage in misconduct that does not rise to the level of criminality or cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Creating a Police Accountability Unit

There were 309,000 complaints brought against the NYPD in the past two years alone.[2] The Civilian Complaint Review Board, the agency tasked with handling misconduct cases, is understaffed and underfunded, only bringing charges in a small number of these cases even when the complaint is substantiated. These numbers are deeply disturbing, and show how essential it will be for Manhattan’s next DA to take police misconduct and police brutality cases seriously and bring charges in all cases where substantial evidence indicates that police officers have acted illegally. The work of the unit will address all forms of police misconduct, including false arrests, assaults, destruction of property, and perjury.

I will create a Police Accountability Unit within the District Attorney’s office, the work of which will be carefully siloed in order to remain fully independent from attorneys in the DA’s office whose work relies on police testimony. The Unit will be staffed with attorneys, investigators, and community liaisons with expertise in handling police misconduct. 

My office will ensure the Unit has the independence required to hold police officers accountable for misconduct by creating a firewall between the Police Accountability Unit and the other attorneys working in the DA’s office. While other units will need to cooperate with the NYPD in order to learn the facts of a case, the Police Accountability Unit will never interact with the NYPD except to bring police misconduct cases. The Unit will be located in a separate building from all such prosecutors, with separate systems and completely independent personnel.

The Police Accountability Unit will also create guidelines for other units within the DA’s office to use when dealing with the potential of police misconduct. For instance, these guidelines will include processes for determining if police acted illegally during an arrest or when gathering evidence, or if they have perjured themselves as witnesses in a case. The guidelines will also include clear steps other units can follow when prosecuting a case that relies only on police witnesses, to look out for evidence of misconduct in such cases. Where lawyers within the DA’s office determine that police misconduct may have taken place in an investigation, the guidelines will set out how to proceed, including whether to refer the case to the Police Accountability Unit, CCRB, or another oversight agency. 

Evidence Transparency

Defense attorneys — and particularly public defenders — often have an extremely difficult time receiving information about a police officer’s history of misconduct. Misconduct history, particularly when it rises to the level of illegality, is vital when an officer’s testimony, and thus credibility, is essential to a case. The repeal of 50-a and changes to the New York state discovery laws have helped address the problem. However, defense attorneys have reported that the Manhattan District Attorney’s office has interpreted its new evidentiary requirements as narrowly as possible.[3][4] For instance, prosecutors have opted to give summaries of officers’ personnel files rather than turning over the full records, which may contain detailed allegations of prior misconduct.

As District Attorney, I will turn over all information relevant to a case to defense counsel, and I will do so at the earliest possible moment. If the NYPD refuses to turn over evidence that may be relevant, I will join with defense attorneys to litigate for access to those records. 

I will also work to join with other New York City District Attorneys to create a joint database for sharing information about police officer misconduct. The NYPD operates across all five boroughs, and yet the Manhattan DA’s office may not have access to information about allegations that occurred in other boroughs. This type of information-sharing will ensure that prosecutors and defense attorneys always operate with a full picture of an officer’s prior misconduct. I will also keep records of grand jury testimony, in case evidence arises that a police officer involved in the case may have committed perjury. I will join administrative agencies and non-governmental accountability groups to support motions to unseal grand jury testimony in police misconduct cases in which no charges are brought. 

An unpublished report from the NYC Department of Health found that 105 people were killed by the police between 2010 and 2015 — a far higher number than the city officially reported, which demonstrates the persistent lack of transparency regarding police misconduct in New York.[5] The DA’s office can play a crucial role in bringing this problem to light and tackling it directly.

Holding police accountable throughout the DA’s office

The Police Accountability Unit will partner with the office’s Data, Evaluation, and Research team to create a fully public database of police misconduct cases. The database will draw from the CCRB, federal and state lawsuits, and internally corroborated records.

Our database of police officer misconduct will include lists of police officers who have proven themselves to be not credible or untrustworthy in testifying truthfully, or who have a record of other serious, credible misconduct allegations. I will refuse to prosecute cases that rely solely on testimony from police officers on those lists. Furthermore, a police officer’s misconduct history will always factor into my office’s charging decisions. Any time an officer is added to this list, their name will automatically be referred to the Conviction Review Unit to conduct a review of prior cases in which testimony from that officer was material in a conviction.

These lists of police officers who have committed misconduct have historically been created and used in the prosecution process in New York. For instance, the Queens District Attorney has kept an undisclosed list of police officers with severe misconduct histories. Some of these misconduct allegations were deliberately kept from defense attorneys, which may have resulted in guilty pleas that would not otherwise have been accepted.[6] I will continue to create and use these lists, but for the purpose of exposing and correcting systemic injustices, and to ensure that every person accused of a crime is treated fairly.

Additionally, the Data, Evaluation, and Research team will have automated flags in place so that if a case is written up in the Early Case Assessment Bureau and the arresting officer is on our list of officers who have committed wrongdoing, the accountability team will be immediately notified and can look into the case immediately. 

Assisting with administrative remedies

Not all police misconduct rises to the level of criminality, and as data shows, District Attorneys across the country struggle to prosecute police officers for official misconduct.[7] This trend is due in part to District Attorneys’ unwillingness to prosecute the same police officers alongside whom they work[8]. Allegations of this type of prosecutorial bias have been lodged here in New York City before[9][10]. A Police Accountability Unit is thus an essential part of my plan to hold the NYPD accountable — but the work can’t stop there.

As Manhattan District Attorney, I will hold officers accountable, both through direct prosecution when necessary and by assisting in administrative investigations when possible. If my Police Accountability Unit declines to prosecute a police officer with a misdemeanor charge or fails to secure an indictment through a grand jury, I will make clear through proactive public releases that our failure to secure criminal justice is not an acquittal from administrative guilt. 

When my office declines to prosecute a police misconduct case, we will release an accompanying memo explaining why that charging decision was made. Currently, a District Attorney’s decision to decline to prosecute is taken as evidence of innocence, preventing police officers from being held accountable through other administrative channels. Offices like the CCRB use a different standard than the criminal legal system, relying on a “preponderance of the evidence” standard rather than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that criminal cases require. The CCRB can bring disciplinary charges for non-criminal misconduct, like using racial slurs against people they’re arresting or abusing their authority for personal gain.

The memo my office releases will explain whether a case did not proceed because of a lack of evidence, because the misconduct did not rise to the level of illegality, or for another reason. When the CCRB or internal NYPD misconduct offices review the case, I will make all information available to them in order to ensure accountability is found at all levels.

This is critical, as the NYPD and police departments across the country will often cite the lack of a prosecution as a permission slip for non-criminal misconduct.[11] As often as we are legally able to, my office will proactively provide all evidence, testimony, and other material gathered through our work to relevant oversight agencies for further investigation and prosecution. When the attorneys in the Police Accountability Unit observe patterns or practices that are worthy of administrative investigation, such as abuse of body-worn cameras, my office will make sure we do everything we can to address these non-criminal issues with our partners in the administrative oversight system. For instance, if my office receives evidence that a police officer is consistently neglecting to wear their body-worn camera, we will refer the case to the CCRB and other city agencies to push for accountability in cases where the DA does not have jurisdiction to intervene.  

The CCRB is flawed in many ways, and has been rightly criticized. It has also been over-burdened as one of a very small number of mechanisms available to hold the police accountable in New York City. Furthermore, the agency simply does not have the ability to ensure that officers found guilty of misconduct are appropriately disciplined — recent data shows that the NYPD has nullified the CCRB’s finding in 71% of cases over the past two decades in which the board recommended the highest level of discipline.[12] The CCRB, or another agency external to the NYPD, should be given direct disciplinary authority to ensure that officers found guilty of misconduct are held accountable for their actions, and the DA’s office must take a proactive approach in handling misconduct cases so that New Yorkers have a wide array of tools available to fight against police misconduct. 

Ensuring responsible use of technology within the NYPD

Technology can be a tool for police accountability — or it can be weaponized by the NYPD to intrude further into people’s lives and criminalize people of color. I will hold the NYPD accountable for responsible use of technology.

I will require the use of body camera or dashboard footage in order to admit police officer testimony about all police encounters, except in well-established exceptions such as interviews of sexual assault victims. While this intervention does not go nearly far enough toward creating transformative change within police departments, it is one useful tool for preventing misconduct and police officer perjury. Furthermore, I will require that all police officer interrogations have video and audio recording in order to use testimony in prosecution. No police officer testimony about an investigation will be used against someone accused of a crime if the testimony relies entirely upon the hearsay of a police officer. My office will turn these recordings over as discovery to the defense as soon as we receive it, as outlined in my discovery policy. 

I strongly oppose the use of the gang database, and will do everything in my power to abolish it. I will never use the gang database as part of any prosecution. The gang database relies on unsubstantiated claims. It is a racist tool.

Whenever police officers use surveillance technology as part of a criminal investigation, I will ensure that they use the necessary warrants in order to obtain that information. For instance, the use of “stingrays” to eavesdrop on cell phone technology should require a specific type of warrant; however, it remains unclear whether the NYPD obtains such warrants before using the device.[13]

I will engage an outside panel of technology experts and civil liberties experts to make recommendations about whether surveillance and forensic technology should be used in prosecutions, and if so what guardrails on its use should be established to ensure that everyone’s constitutional right to privacy is protected. As with all aspects of policing, we know that these technologies are disproportionately used to deprive people of color of their rights.[14] Some newer technologies, such as probability genotyping, have gained widespread acceptance despite serious reasons to doubt their validity in the courtroom.[15]

Rethinking public safety

In order to accomplish a truly just vision of safety in our city, we need to fundamentally transform the function and inner workings of the NYPD and establish an entirely new understanding of public safety. 

Public safety does not mean locking more Black and Brown people up. Public safety is accomplished when people are free to exist in their communities and have their needs met. Building communities that prosper includes creating environments where families and businesses do not have to live in fear of being harmed or of having their property taken. Safety is essential to eliminating the many other injustices that marginalized communities face. 

However, the DA’s office and NYPD to date have addressed this problem with violence and punishment. As the top law enforcement official of New York County, the Manhattan DA should be prioritizing public safety in a way that reverses the marginalization of Black and Brown communities.

Law enforcement has been used as a catch-all for a vast array of social ills — poverty, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and many more. These problems need to be addressed directly, rather than through our racist criminal legal and law enforcement systems. 

Someone in the grips of a mental health episode should be assisted by trained medical professionals, not police officers. Likewise, someone violating traffic laws should be issued a ticket by mail, or at the very worst stopped by an unarmed traffic officer, not a police officer with a weapon. Someone who is driven to petty theft because of poverty should be given the resources they need to survive and thrive, not an encounter with a police officer that might turn deadly.

Advocating for legislative changes

I will advocate for changes to the grand jury process. Grand jury proceedings should be released to the public when they decline to indict police officers in serious misconduct cases. 

I support legislation to put limitations on the use of surveillance technology by the police, including legislation to prohibit the use of biometric surveillance technology by law enforcement and establish a biometric surveillance regulation task force.[16]  

I support strengthening the CCRB and giving it additional funding and expanding its mandate. The concept of a civilian oversight board for the police is important, but the agency currently does not have the power to ensure real and reliable consequences for police misconduct. 

Finally, I recognize the importance of tangibly changing the power structures within the NYPD. To that end, I support a significant decrease in funding for the NYPD, and diversion of resources into social services, mental health treatment, drug addiction treatment, and other programs that proactively work to keep us safe.

Policy Changes
  • I will create a Police Accountability Unit to handle cases of police misconduct. The Unit will be completely independent of all other units within the District Attorney’s office whose work relies on police testimony.
  • As it pertains to records and information related to police misconduct, I will ensure that attorneys within the DA’s office turn over all information relevant to a case to defense counsel, and I will do so at the earliest possible moment. If the NYPD refuses to turn over evidence that may be relevant, I will join with defense attorneys to litigate for access to those records. 
  • The Police Accountability Unit will partner with the office’s Data, Evaluation, and Research team to create a fully public database of police misconduct cases. Our database of police officer misconduct will include lists of police officers who have proven themselves to be not credible or who have a record of other serious, credible misconduct allegations, and I will refuse to prosecute cases that rely solely on testimony from police officers on those lists.
  •  If my Police Accountability Unit declines to prosecute a police officer, I will make clear through proactive public releases that our failure to secure criminal justice is not an acquittal from administrative guilt and proactively assist with administrative remedies when appropriate. 
  • I will ensure that police officers use technology in accordance with legal standards, and engage an outside panel of technology experts and civil liberties experts to make recommendations about whether surveillance and forensic technology should be used in prosecutions.

[1] Offenhartz, Jake, “NYPD Misconduct Lawsuits Cost Taxpayers Nearly $69 Million Last Year,” Gothamist, Jan 31, 2020, https://gothamist.com/news/nypd-misconduct-lawsuits-cost-taxpayers-nearly-69-million-last-year.

[2] NYC OpenData, https://data.cityofnewyork.us/Public-Safety/Civilian-Complaint-Review-Board-CCRB-Allegations-C/xyq2-jjkn.

[3] Wykstra, Stephanie, “The Fight for Transparency in Police Misconduct, Explained,” Vox, Jun 16, 2020, https://www.vox.com/2020/6/16/21291595/new-york-section-50-a-police-misconduct.

[4] Rodrigues, Krystal, “Discovery Reform in New York,” Center for Court Innovation, May 2019, https://www.courtinnovation.org/sites/default/files/media/document/2019/Discovery-NYS_Full.pdf

[5] Gay, Mara, “Why Was a Grim Report on Police-Involved Deaths Never Released,” The New York Times, June 19, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/19/opinion/police-involved-deaths-new-york-city.html. The draft report is available here:https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/about/law-enforcement-deaths.pdf.

[6] Joseph, George, “Queens DA Releases Secret List of 65 Officers With Questionable Credibility,” Gothamist, Nov 27, 2019, https://gothamist.com/news/queens-da-releases-secret-list-65-officers-questionable-credibility.

[7] Thomas-Deveaux, Amelia, Nathaniel Rakich, and Likhitha Butchireddygari, “Why It’s So Rare for Police Officers to Face Legal Consequences,” FiveThirtyEight, June 4, 2020, 

[8] Lopez, German, “Police Officers are Prosecuted for Murder in Less Than 2 Percent of Fatal Shootings,” Vox, April 2, 2021,  https://www.vox.com/21497089/derek-chauvin-george-floyd-trial-police-prosecutions-black-lives-matter.

[9] “Mother of Sean Bell, Unarmed Man Shot Dead By Police, Calls for State Special Prosecutor,” CBS New York, March 11, 2015, https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/03/11/mother-of-sean-bell-unarmed-man-shot-dead-by-police-calls-for-state-special-prosecutor/.

[10] Blitzer, Jonathan, “The Case to Release the Garner Grand-Jury Records,” The New Yorker, March 10, 2015, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-case-to-release-the-garner-grand-jury-records.

[11] See, for example: https://twitter.com/KenoshaPolice/status/1382066056643117057?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet, and Umansky, Eric, “What Police Impunity Looks Like: ‘There Was No Discipline as No Wrongdoing Was Found,’” ProPublica, April 20, 2021, https://www.propublica.org/article/what-police-impunity-looks-like-there-was-no-discipline-as-no-wrongdoing-was-found.

[12] Southall, Ashley, Ali Watkins, and Blacki Migliozzi, “A Watchdog Accused Officers of Serious Misconduct. Few Were Punished,” The New York Times, Nov 15, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/15/nyregion/ccrb-nyc-police-misconduct.html.

[13] “Stingrays,” NYCLU, https://www.nyclu.org/en/stingrays,

[14] See, for instance: Crockford, Kade, “How is Face Recognition Surveillance Technology Racist?” ACLU, June 16, 2020, https://www.aclu.org/news/privacy-technology/how-is-face-recognition-surveillance-technology-racist/.

[15] Stiffleman, Ben. “No Longer the Gold Standard: Probabilistic Genotyping is Changing the Nature of DNA Evidence in Criminal Trials,” Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law, 2019.

[16] See NY Senate Bill 79