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NYPD fails to define "excessive force," new report says

NEW YORK -- The New York Police Department fails to give its officers clear-cut guidelines on what constitutes excessive force and often declines to discipline them when they cross the line, according to a report released Thursday.

A rulebook for the nation's largest police department "is completely silent on what actions constitute 'force,'" said the report by Inspector General Philip Eure. The rules prohibit excessive force "while offering no clarity on what constitutes 'excessive force,'" it added.

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An analysis by Eure's office also found that from 2010 through 2014, the NYPD opted not to punish officers in 37 of 104 cases where there was evidence of excessive force.

"In a number of cases, the department has failed to meet its fundamental obligation to police itself," the report said.

There are several examples of officers being in a position to intervene and potentially stop excessive force but choosing not to, the review said.

It cites a video showing an officer punching a cyclist in the face four times on a Queens street after the man refused to produce his identification as another officer stands a few feet away with his thumbs hooked in his belt. It mentions another case where a man who had locked himself out of his Manhattan apartment building was berated and pushed to the ground by an officer in a dispute over whether the man actually lived there.

Police officers "are not only missing opportunities to deescalate, but are sometimes actively escalating situations with members of the public," the report said.

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The report recommends that the NYPD revise its patrol guide to give clearer guidance on when and how to use force, take stronger measures on holding officers accountable for exceeding force guidelines and give more training on how to avoid violent encounters.

There was no immediate response Thursday from the NYPD. But police officials have said many of the criticisms are already being addressed with various reforms and training initiatives.

CBS New York reports that in response to the report, police Commissioner Bill Bratton is expected to announce new guidelines that will require virtually all NYPD encounters using force -- not just during arrests -- to be documented and tracked.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, released a statement saying the use of force is an necessary tool for officers, reports CBS New York.

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"No amount of new training or additional paperwork will make necessary force that is lawful and properly used by police officers acceptable to those who want to return to the hands-off, reactive policing strategies that sent crime soaring in the past," he said in the statement. "More paperwork coupled with a serious shortage of police officers and the continual second-guessing of their actions is a formula for disaster. It is a call for police officers to disengage themselves from the very proactive policing that brought this city from the brink of disaster in the 1990s."

The inspector general review comes in the wake of the police chokehold death of Eric Garner in 2014 and a rough takedown and handcuffing of former professional tennis star James Blake after officers mistook him for a criminal suspect in August -- two videotaped incidents that intensified scrutiny on excessive force. The episodes remain under official review and were not part of the analysis.

In July, New York City announced a $5.9 million settlement with the family of Eric Garner.

The New York City Medical Examiner's office ruled Garner's death a homicide, caused by the officer's apparent chokehold as well as chest and neck compressions and prone positioning "during physical restraint by police."

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