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New Report Calls Use Of Chokeholds By NYPD 'Alarming'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The NYPD and an independent agency tasked with investigating excessive force claims are inconsistent in determining how and when officers are held accountable for using prohibited chokeholds, according to a report released Monday by the city's new inspector general for police.

The review comes in the wake of the July death of Eric Garner and is the first report issued by the inspector general, Philip K. Eure. The report does not include the Garner case, which had been under criminal investigation until a grand jury declined to indict the officer, because the watchdog agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, has not made any determinations on the case.

WEB EXTRA: Read The Full Report (pdf)

The review recommends increased collaboration between the NYPD and the review board to streamline investigations and ensure consistencies.

New Report Calls Use Of Chokeholds By NYPD 'Alarming'

The report is "a deep-dive into cases involving this prohibited tactic to explore and demystify how these complaints are addressed internally,'' Eure said. "Our targeted analysis revealed troubling deficiencies from the top-down that must be rectified.''

The complaint review board investigates claims of officer misconduct and makes recommendations on whether to discipline an officer. Until recently, the NYPD could choose to try more serious allegations internally or ignore them. Under a 2012 agreement, the review board now tries some cases. The police commissioner has the final say on whether to discipline an officer.

As WCBS 880's Alex Silverman reported Monday, police Commissioner Bill Bratton emphasized that the report only referenced "past activity."

Bratton said the report actually focuses on a pattern under his predecessor, former Commissioner Ray Kelly, of rejecting recommendations of harsh punishment from the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Legal Affairs Larry Byrne said the new regime is already working on some of the reforms the report recommends.

"We've had many, many meetings with the CCRB as to how we can make the entire process fairer; more transparent," Byrne said.

PBA president Patrick J. Lynch issued the following statement Monday in response to the report: "As the Inspector General's report itself indicates, no systemic conclusions can be drawn from a review of ten isolated cases drawn from the thousands of unsworn complaints lodged against police officers every year. If anything, the report reveals the dysfunction and anti-police bias that is rampant in the investigations conducted by the CCRB. We were particularly disturbed by the discussion of a case in which the CCRB's board members substantiated a complaint despite the complainant's statement that the subject officer was not the one responsible. As the report notes, the CCRB consistently reaches its conclusions without reference to the circumstances surrounding an allegation. The cases detailed in the report illustrate the importance of this context in understanding what occurs during fluid and often dangerous street encounters. We welcome any training that will help police officers protect themselves and the public in these situations."

The inspector general's probe of 10 suspected chokehold cases in the past five years found that the review board substantiated all of the chokehold claims and recommended disciplining the officers. But the Police Department did not pursue discipline in most of the cases, according to the report. Instead, most of the officers were instructed on department policy.

The types of cases varied.

In one, from 2010, officers stopped a man in Brooklyn with a group of friends and asked if they lived in the building. The man showed his identification and when officers searched his name, they found an active warrant. A struggle ensued, and the man said he was grabbed in a chokehold from behind. The review board recommended discipline, but the police commissioner instead instructed the officer on policy.

In 2012, a man said he was wrongly frisked as he was walking his bike along a Queens street. When he resisted, an officer put him in a chokehold. The officer was found not guilty at a departmental trial.

The report notes that the review doesn't try to explain why chokeholds were used, and it doesn't assume the allegations are true.

Eure also calls it "alarming" that in several of the cases, a chokehold was the officers' first physical action in what started as a verbal confrontation, WCBS 880's Alex Silverman reported.

In one case from 2009, a man who was rapping in front of a public housing building in Brooklyn made a comment as officers passed by. One officer admitted he then put the man in a headlock. The review board recommended the harshest punishment, but then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly instead let the officer off with a review of the rules, Silverman reported.

In another case, a 15-year-old claimed a sergeant choked him while he was handcuffed at a station house in the Bronx. The review board said a witness, as well as the sergeant's own account, corroborated the claims, but the officer was not disciplined.

The report also recommends more transparency by the Police Department in determining why it departs from recommendations by the civilian review board, and it suggests the board be better at informing the NYPD's internal affairs division about a report of officer misconduct.

Garner died July 17 after officers tried to arrest him on Staten Island on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. An officer is seen on video wrapping his arm around Garner's neck, then the 43-year-old yelled "I can't breathe!'' 11 times before he loses consciousness. He later died. The officer said he wasn't using a chokehold, which is banned under NYPD policy, but rather a legal takedown maneuver. A grand jury declined to indict the officer on criminal charges.

This was Eure's first report. The office said it will be looking into other issues including the surveillance of religious groups and the pattern of low level arrests, Silverman reported.

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(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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