NYPD to Rewrite Protest Engagement Rules After Landmark Deal

The NYPD has agreed to use less force against demonstrators and follow a measured approach to containing protestors as part of a lawsuit settlement.
NYPD to Rewrite Protest Engagement Rules After Landmark Deal
NYPD officers at Penn Station in New York on July 12, 2023. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Naveen Athrappully

The New York Police Department (NYPD) settled a lawsuit that alleged excessive use of force against people who protested the death of George Floyd, agreeing to overhaul how it responds to demonstrators.

The settlement agreement (pdf), filed in a Manhattan federal court on Sept. 5, would require the NYPD to deploy fewer officers in most public protests and use a four-tier system to determine appropriate police response—with a focus on de-escalating the situation. It also would prohibit the practice of ‘kettling,’ in which officers surround and confine a group of people to arrest them.

The agreement would also set up a collaborative committee that will evaluate how the NYPD responds to protests for the next three years.

The settlement must now be approved by a federal judge.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, The Legal Aid Society (LAS), and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) against the NYPD. The suit was filed in response to the police clampdown against mostly violent demonstrators who were protesting the death of George Floyd in 2020.

“Today’s agreement, stemming from the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, sets new protocols and policies in place for the NYPD when responding to spontaneous protests as we ensure that we are both protecting public safety and respecting protesters’ First Amendment rights,” said New York Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat.

“This agreement is the result of a collaborative process that seeks to build consensus, balance safety with justice, and protect protesters, bystanders, and law enforcement personnel.”

The Police Benevolent Association (PBA), the union for rank-and-file officers, isn't party to the settlement and has slammed the deal.

The association refused to join the settlement because it had “serious concerns about its impact on the safety of police officers and all New Yorkers in future situations involving coordinated violent actions,” PBA President Patrick Hendry said in a statement.

“Once again, police officers on the street are being left to bear all the burden of so-called ‘solutions’ to problems we didn’t create, while the real causes of the chaos remain unaddressed.”

Almost 400 NYPD members were injured in the 2020 summer protests, he said while pointing out that there has been zero accountability on agitators who used the protests “as cover to assault police officers.”

The settlement may end up encouraging “future violence,” Mr. Hendry warned.

“It creates a regime that will enrich anti-police advocates through yet another monitorship disguised as an ‘oversight process,’ and will expose police officers for more discipline for taking lawful and appropriate police action,” he said.

“The individuals and groups responsible for the 2020 violence and destruction will surely view this agreement as a green light to create more of the same.”

Lawsuit Allegations, BLM Violence

In the lawsuit (pdf) filed by the NYCLU and LAS, the NYPD officers were accused of having used “unjustifiable fist and baton strikes, chemical pepper spray attacks, and other acts of physical violence” to deal with protestors.
 Black Lives Matter activists in Los Angeles on Dec. 30, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Black Lives Matter activists in Los Angeles on Dec. 30, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

“At numerous protests, officers encircled groups of protesters to prevent them from escaping such violence using a tactic repeatedly endorsed by NYPD leadership called ‘kettling,’” the lawsuit reads.

“Protesters who were arrested were placed in excessively tight plastic handcuffs commonly referred to as ‘flex-cuffs’ or ‘zip ties,’ which caused pain, bruising and, in some cases, led to long-term injury.”

Speaking to the New York Post, an officer from the Bronx earlier said kettling was a standard practice used by officers to handle protests.

“Kettling? That’s what we do,” the officer said. “It’s not like they do it because these guys are model citizens. They’re doing it because they’re committing crimes or not following orders.”

In March, New York City agreed to shell out $3 million or $21,000 per individual to protestors who claimed to have been beaten or subjected to kettling by officers during the 2020 protests.

In July, the city agreed to pay $13 million to 1,300 plaintiffs who claimed to have been beaten or arrested by police during the demonstrations.

The George Floyd protests had unleashed violence, looting, and destruction in New York City, which had to impose late-night curfews to prevent the chaos, asking citizens to remain indoors after 8 p.m.
Several stores were looted. In one incident, a 24-year-old woman was attacked when she tried to stop looters from destroying a business.
During one protest, demonstrators were “screaming and yelling at officers, throwing plastic bottles with unknown liquids, and acting in a disorderly manner,” NYPD officials said, according to New York Daily News.

Authorities also claimed to have reclaimed gas masks, wrenches, and items “that could be used to cause injuries” from participants whom they had kettled and arrested.

A 2020 study by researchers from the U.S. Crisis Monitor found that 7 percent of the George Floyd protests triggered by the Black Lives Matter movement between May 24 and Aug. 22 that year involved violence.

The 4-Tier System

The new tier-based approach adopted by the NYPD will classify protests on one of the four categorizations based on how peaceful or problematic they are.

Tier 1 will be used for dealing with protests classified as peaceful. The NYPD will “temporarily accommodate” such protests as they pass through streets and sidewalks. Community officers will be deployed to liaise with protestors. Patrol officers will be used to direct crowds and enforce traffic laws.

 People carrying homemade Black Lives Matter shields march in front of protesters in Richmond, Va., on July 25, 2020. (Eze Amos/Getty Images)
People carrying homemade Black Lives Matter shields march in front of protesters in Richmond, Va., on July 25, 2020. (Eze Amos/Getty Images)

Tier 2 will be used if the NYPD believes that there could be an illegal activity taking place during a protest or if the protest is going to block critical infrastructure. In such a situation, the NYPD can station additional officers in the vicinity to deploy the necessary law enforcement intervention if needed.

If there's probable cause that an individual committed a crime during a protest, Tier 3 rules will apply. Enough officers will be deployed to deal with such individuals.

Tier 4 will be activated when protestors try to enter or block sensitive locations or crimes have spread to an extent that de-escalation isn't possible. The only viable option in this tier is to end the protest. The NYPD will issue dispersal orders before taking action to end the protest and identify a potential location for the protest to continue if feasible.

The committee that will evaluate the tiered approach will include police officials, police unions, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and The Legal Aid Society.