In the late spring and early summer, New York City, like the rest of the country, saw unprecedented mass protest in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade.
At the same time, between April and June, New York Police Department (NYPD) officers reported 160 uses of force during “crowd control” incidents—an eight-fold (or 742 percent) rise from the previous highest second-quarter number on record: 19 in April-June 2017. The NYPD’s second quarter (Q2) numbers for 2020 were published online on August 26.
The NYPD patrol guide states that “Force may be used when it is reasonable to ensure the safety of a member of the service or a third person, or otherwise protect life, or when it is reasonable to place a person in custody or to prevent escape from custody.”
Cops are required to record their use of force against a member of the public by completing a Threat, Resistance, or Injury (TRI) form—a monitoring system that was rolled out after a city watchdog’s 2015 report found the NYPD was unable to systematically account for its officers’ violence. The movement for justice for Eric Garner, a Black New Yorker killed by now-fired NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in 2014, sparked the changes. The tracking system, among other updated NYPD policies, was implemented in the second half of 2016.
This year’s Q2 boom in reported “crowd control” force does not mirror general changes in use of force—including, among others, in “emotionally disturbed person” and “prisoner” incidents—since the system has been in place. Total Q2 use of force incidents have shifted around, with the overall number of Q2 incidents decreasing from 2017 to 2020 (1,956 and 1,777, respectively), but increasing in 2018 and 2019, topping 2,000 each year.
Annual use of force for “crowd control” followed an upward trajectory from 2017 to 2019. Last year, such incidents spiked in the second half of the year—43 in Q3 and 52 in Q4, compared with just 14 and 12 in Q1 and Q2.
The stunning increase in uses of force for “crowd control” in Q2 2020 may be an undercount. In 2018, the inspector general for the NYPD found that officers do not have a deadline by which they must submit their report of the use of force incident, “creating potential accountability issues for officers who fail to document uses of force,” as the Department of Inspection stated in a press release.
First-hand accounts of police violence have been beamed online from when the 2020 Uprisings began in the city on May 28 to the final hours of Q2 on June 30—the evening when the City Council passed a budget squarely rejecting protesters’ demands to defund NYPD, and riot cops violently descended on Occupy City Hall.
Photograph of a riot police at a 2020 Uprising protest in The Bronx, by Filter