Amid a series of nationwide protests over police treatment of African Americans, a report released Monday shows that 64% of civilian complaints against New York City police officers were filed by or on behalf of young black people ages 8 to 18 who claimed to have been mistreated after being stopped for innocuous activities like high-fiving and carrying backpacks.
The report by the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), a police watchdog agency, analyzed 112 completed investigations between Jan. 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019, showing an overwhelming number (nearly 90%) of grievances involved children of color (black and Hispanic youth).
The report also found that the number of complaints by youth of color was significantly larger than in the overall population (69.1%) and that nearly half of the complaints (46.3%) came from or were made on behalf of black male youth.
“Sadly, after years of witnessing news about police misconduct and possibly experiencing it themselves, even the youngest among us have an awareness of the tension that too often exists between the police and civilians,” CCRB Chairman Fred Davie said in a statement. “As young New Yorkers lead the way in calling for change in our city following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, it’s time for the NYPD to re-consider how officers police our youth, address disparities in law enforcement, and commit to swift discipline when officers engage in misconduct.”
Among the complaints probed was a March 2018 incident in which a group of black and Hispanic boys was stopped by multiple police officers simply for talking, laughing and playing with sticks picked up off the ground as they walked home, according to the report. A lieutenant had two of the boys, an 8-year-old and a 14-year-old, whom officers saw running with sticks in their hands handcuffed and taken to a police station in tears, according to the report.
Two of the officers testified that they were looking for "a group of Hispanic men in their 20s with a machete and a stick chasing and fighting other individuals" but their stories were inconsistent.
"The mother of the 8-year-old complained that her son was not treated properly and that his dreams of being a police officer were over," the report reads, adding that the complaint was substantiated and two of the officers and a lieutenant are facing a trial on administrative charges brought against them.
Other complaints substantiated by the board, include:
-- An 11-year-old black boy who was stopped and frisked by an undercover officer after they saw him shaking hands with and high-fiving a group of adults he knew in a housing project. "One of the bystanders told the officer that he should not be searching the victim as he was under the age of 13, but an officer replied that drugs can be given to younger children," the report reads. "The officers then got back into their vehicle and drove away."
-- A 16-year-old Hispanic boy stopped for jaywalking by an officer and a sergeant in plainclothes and searched without probable cause, according to the report. The officers discovered a small pocket knife on the boy. While the teenager was not arrested or issued a summons, the board "determined by a preponderance of the evidence" that the officers wrongfully invoked their authority because the boy's behavior did not amount to founded suspicion of criminality allowing the officer to question him.
-- A 15-year-old black boy was holding a deli bag and walking to a homeless shelter when a plainclothes detective and sergeant in an unmarked vehicle ordered him to stop without announcing they were police. The teenager ran but was tackled and handcuffed, suffering minor injuries. The bag the boy was holding contained a cheese roll and a piece of cake, according to the report.
In response to the report, NYPD officials said just one case of substantiated police misconduct is unacceptable.
“A top priority Commissioner (Dermot) Shea has set for the NYPD is to reimagine doing all we can to protect and serve New York City’s kids," the police department said in a statement. "After careful review, we accept each of the CCRB’s thoughtful and constructive recommendations -- some of which are already in the process of being implemented and all of which will strengthen our new Youth Strategy.”
The report showed that 407 total complaints were filed against New York City police by or on behalf of youth between Jan. 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019. Of the 112 fully-investigated complaints analyzed, 72% were filed by young people ages 10 to 18.
The report says that 42% of the fully-investigated complaints were unsubstantiated and 29% were substantiated. About 93% of the fully-investigated complaints involved young people ages 10 to 18 that were filed on their behalf by adults.
The CCRB also noted that between Jan. 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019, the NYPD reported 15,279 interventions with children ages 10 to 18. Of those interventions, 88% were with black or Hispanic children while just 6% were with white children.
The report was released along with a public service announcement encouraging young New Yorkers who experience police misconduct to call the CCRB.
The CCRB recommended that the NYPD use the report in taking steps to avoid the “over-policing” of New York City youths of color and make public its use-of-force data, including breaking it down by age and race.