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Report: NYPD's use of banned chokeholds is "alarming"

New York City police officers.
New York City police officers.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

New York City police officers didn't face significant punishment for the use of chokeholds banned by New York City Police Department policy, a new report found.

The report, by the NYPD inspector general, looked at 10 cases involving chokeholds between 2009 and 2014. The Civilian Complaint Review Board recommended the most serious penalty in nine of 10 cases, but the NYPD reduced the punishment to lesser penalties — or none at all — in the cases that have been carried out to completion.

The NYPD's guidelines explicitly ban the use of chokeholds no matter the circumstance. But the inspector general found police officers, in a practice called "particularly alarming" by the report, sometimes used chokeholds "as a first act of physical force in response to verbal resistance."

The report asked the NYPD and Civilian Complaint Review Board to apply more consistent standards, increase cooperation, and improve transparency in disciplinary evaluations. One of the recommendations tasked the police commissioner with putting disciplinary decisions in writing, particularly when they differed from the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

"We really don't know why the police commissioner came out with a different result, a lesser result than the CCRB recommended," NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure told radio station WNYC. "That sort of thing undermines confidence."

A previous, more expansive report by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, reported by the New York Times, found the NYPD had eased its interpretation on its blanket ban of chokeholds. A major problem, according to the previous report, is the NYPD has narrowed its definition of a chokehold, allowing officers to more easily deny they're using them.

Following Eric Garner's death, the NYPD's use of chokeholds came under increased scrutiny

The new chokehold report came one month after a grand jury decided not to indict the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner by putting the unarmed, black 43-year-old in a chokehold.

Garner's death, which was caught on video, drew national media attention and led to protests in New York City and around the country. Critics viewed the chokehold as excessive. Police said the use of force was justified; they said Garner resisted arrest.

Protesters said the chokehold was another example of racial disparities in police use of force and the criminal justice system. Black Americans are disproportionately likely to be stopped, arrested, and killed by police, according to the available, limited FBI data. These racial disparities remain even in situations in which a victim wasn't attacking anyone else. Some of these victims were instead killed while allegedly fleeing, committing a felony, or resisting arrest.

In 2014, there were several high-profile police killings of black men and boys. In Ferguson, Missouri, former police officer Darren Wilson killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in a highly contentious shooting that sparked nationwide protests. In Ohio, police killed 22-year-old John Crawford and 12-year-old Tamir Rice after they mistook toy guns for actual weapons. In Utah, police killed Darrien Hunt as he fled after an encounter in which police said Hunt attacked them with a decorative sword.

Further reading: NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner in chokehold won't face criminal charges.

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