A city oversight agency on Friday sharply criticized the New York Police Department’s handling of protests during the summer, finding that the police were undertrained, were unprepared and had engaged in “excessive enforcement” that only heightened tensions with demonstrators.
In a 111-page report, the city’s Department of Investigation determined that some police officers used aggressive tactics that violated the First Amendment rights of protesters as the department made mass arrests during the demonstrations, which followed the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of the Minneapolis police.
The report also criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Police Department for taking actions that exacerbated already fraught tensions with protesters, who gathered by the thousands in May and June to protest police brutality and racism. More than 2,000 people were arrested, most of them while protesting peacefully.
“Some police officers engaged in actions that were, at a minimum, unprofessional and, at worst, unjustified excessive force or abuse of authority,” the report said.
“But the problems went beyond poor judgment or misconduct by some individual officers,” it went on. “The department itself made a number of key errors or omissions that likely escalated tensions, and certainly contributed to both the perception and the reality that the department was suppressing rather than facilitating lawful First Amendment assembly and expression.”
The mayor, in an unusual videotaped statement released after the report was made public, expressed regret over the department’s behavior.
“I read this report and I agree with it,” Mayor de Blasio said in a videotaped statement. “It makes very clear we’ve got to do something different, and we’ve got to do something better.”
“I look back with remorse,” the mayor added. “I wish I had done better. I want everyone to understand that. And I’m sorry I didn’t do better.”
For months, Mr. de Blasio and his police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, have defended the police department’s conduct during the protests, arguing that most officers showed restraint and that incidents of abuse or brutality were limited to a small number of problematic officers.
But the report chastised the entire Police Department for its tactics and strategies in handling the protests, saying the city “lacked a clearly defined strategy tailored to respond to the large-scale protests of police and policing.” The department, the report noted, employed the same kind of tactics and specialized units it might use to combat terrorism.
The report recommended, among other things, that the Police Department create a separate unit to oversee protest coverage and train all patrol officers on how to best interact with protesters.
Jeffery C. Mays, Emma G. Fitzsimmons and Ashley Southall contributed reporting.