In New York City, the days of overlooked and underfunded training of police officers are long gone, according to the NYPD’s First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, who credited the ongoing training of their officers for the “steady decline” in the number of instances deadly force is involved.
“We use our firearms probably far less than pretty much any other department in the country,” Tucker told Fox News. “Training is the reason that these numbers have come down over these years.”
According to the NYPD’s 2018 Use of Force Report, out of the 6.1 million 911 calls the NYPD received that, officers discharged their weapon only 35 times.
Tucker was instrumental in opening the new College Point training facility following the death of Eric Garner in 2014. The 39-year-old Garner, who was Black, died after officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold alleging that the man was resisting arrest.
Tucker said it was then he realized that officers who had received tactical training during the academy never received it again. Before his current role, Tucker was appointed as the deputy commissioner for training by Commissioner Bill Bratton.
“Once [officers] were assigned to the permanent commands and throughout their career, with very few exceptions, [they] didn’t receive any other tactical training,” Tucker said. “And so during that time, we decided to retrain the entire patrol force.”
That year, the NYPD’s 22,000 patrol officers were retrained and received body cameras.
“Having that video. It’s made our officers more effective, more efficient,” Tucker said.
Some believe police body cameras have helped improve the accountability of police departments. The video aids in corroborating the facts of police encounters so that discipline can be taken if needed. Like in the June 2020 suspension of Officer David Afanador, who reportedly held a Queens man in a chokehold while resisting arrest.
Tucker said body camera video does more than just help people see how officers are arresting people and who needs more training. He said the videos also allow the public to see the dangers that officers face every day.
“The bad guys have guns and we have guns. And so we know that’s the nature of the challenge. It is dangerous work. … Oftentimes it doesn’t look pretty. It’s, you know, this is physical contact, and so it is the kind of thing that is often necessary,” he said. “And that’s what police work is about. And I know many of our citizens see that and are sometimes shocked by it. But I think that’s just our reality.”
Tucker added that the type of force that is used on suspects is something officers contemplate in every situation, but the training NYPD officers receive specifically focuses on de-escalation. He said training takes place on a regular basis.
“In the last four years, we have probably averaged a dozen days straight [of training]. So it’s been pretty robust,” Tucker said. “And much of that training we conducted proactively.”
Other types of training are based on legislation passed by the New York City Council. Most recently passed was legislation that requires officers to avoid the diaphragm area during an arrest.
“When you add the diaphragm to the mix, that makes it much more challenging for officers [to make an arrest],” Tucker said, “This legislation that we’re talking about is, in our view, [the] most strict liability type of a statute. And basically, doesn’t require any intent.”
Police in New York City and other jurisdictions across the U.S. have been under increased scrutiny since the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. Although the NYPD has taken steps to address criticized methods and excessive use of force in their training strategies, some critiques say this training is too little, too late and that most of the NYPD’s training is reactive, not proactive.
“There is no preventive measures, there’s nothing to make policing more quintessential, there’s nothing that entails professional development to be proactive as opposed to reactive,” retired NYPD Lieutenant Darrin Porcher told Fox 5 New York.
“We need a system that works for not just police officers, but New York. Ultimately we need to keep both sides safe,” Porcher added.
According to a report released on Monday, police and law enforcement across the country used force against protesters in at least 125 separate incidents in the 10 days following the death of George Floyd on May 25.
Dounya Zayer, who was injured by the NYPD while protesting, is asking the police department to do better. “I want to know if the police aren’t upholding the law and they’re not following the law and they’re not protecting the people, why do we have police?” Zayer said at a June press conference. “I want to believe that there are good [police] out there.”
Protesters have taken to the streets in droves since Floyd’s death, and Tucker said they are “reviewing tactics used by the violent protesters” as well as their own tactics to handle these situations.
“The better we become at [training our officers], the better off we’ll all be,” he said. “Certainly the citizens will benefit from that.”