that the Commissioner issue written decisions in all cases in which he departs from a recommended outcome and that his decisions clearly and meaningfully state the reasons for his departure from the recommended discipline, including relevant precedent.
Allegations of systemic favoritism, bias, or significant inconsistencies in any adjudicatory system strike at the core of its legitimacy. In light of the frequently voiced allegations of favoritism in the NYPD’s disciplinary process by the media and echoed by various stakeholders, the Panel, among other steps, undertook a preliminary review of whether disciplinary outcomes reflect “white-shirt immunity”—punishing high-ranking officers (e.g., lieutenants, captains, deputy inspectors, inspectors, and chiefs) more leniently than lower ranking members (e.g., officers, detectives, and sergeants) for the same misconduct. The Panel also investigated whether decision makers at various levels of the disciplinary process may be subject to inappropriate influence from inside and outside the Department.
The Panel found no direct evidence that high-ranking officers generally received more lenient discipline than other members.
The Panel’s investigation into possible inappropriate influence revealed that certain decision makers may be susceptible to pressures, which could adversely affect the integrity of the disciplinary process. In this regard, the Panel found that the Department Advocate is particularly vulnerable to internal and external influences. To ensure the integrity of the disciplinary process, the Panel recommends that the Department establish protocols to insulate decision makers from inappropriate influences. The Department should also adopt written guidelines requiring documentation of informal input about ongoing disciplinary cases from internal and external sources and a recusal policy prohibiting the involvement in disciplinary cases of anyone with a personal or familial connection to the officer whose conduct is at issue.
Many stakeholders have complained that disciplinary cases are resolved too slowly. Representatives from police unions emphasized that protracted disciplinary proceedings leave officers in a state of limbo, uncertain about their futures, and ineligible for promotion or transfer. Representatives from citizen advocate groups observed that delay engenders a belief that wrongdoers can continue to work and collect benefits when they should no longer be on the job.
The Department has recently made significant progress in more timely resolution of disciplinary cases. There is, however, room for more improvement and a number of apparent ways to achieve it. DAO is significantly understaffed; only 10 line attorneys handle full caseloads, some of whom are responsible for over 100 disciplinary cases. Several supervisory positions within DAO have also been vacant or underutilized for some time, contributing to delayed resolutions. Currently, decision making within DAO is also highly centralized in a manner that creates bottlenecks and slows the resolution of cases. For example, nearly all settlements in DAO cases must be approved by the Department Advocate himself, even though there is no legal or institutional barrier to delegating such decisions to deputies, as has been done previously. In light of these findings, the Panel recommends that DAO consider hiring at least