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Police commission examines touchy blue subject: bad behavior, complaints, lawsuits, punishment

In its first report since the pandemic began, the Commission to Combat Police Corruption says several cops who should have been fired for terrible behavior and lies were allowed to keep their jobs.

July 11, 2022 Yoav Gonen, THE CITY
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Logo for THE CITYThis article was originally published on by THE CITY.

The NYPD let 21 cops who should have been terminated for serious misconduct in recent years remain on the job — including a veteran detective who inappropriately contacted several women who’d called a Crime Stoppers hotline, according to an oversight panel.

In the Commission to Combat Police Corruption’s 20th “annual” report, quietly released last month, the investigators said the discipline meted out by the NYPD was insufficient in 38 out of 338 cases — or just over 11% — that were concluded between October 2018 and September 2019.

That’s the same rate of disagreement revealed in the commission’s prior report, released three years ago in late 2019.

The five-member CCPC, established under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1995 to root out corruption in the police department, releases reports almost every year that gauge the appropriateness of NYPD discipline and the quality of the department’s internal probes. While the reports detail specific cases, they do not name the officers involved in them.

Among the recent outcomes the commission disagreed with was the case of William McGrade, a detective who crassly reached out to a tipster who had called the supposedly anonymous Crime Stoppers hotline in March 2019 to provide information about a home invasion.

According to the commission’s report, the detective — whose identity was obtained through NYPD records released to THE CITY — told the woman she “sounded sexy over the phone, and asked her what she was wearing, and whether she slept naked.”

He also sent her inappropriate text messages and a photo of him wearing a suit, the CCPC noted.

It was unclear how the woman brought McGrade’s actions to authorities.

When confronted by department investigators, the detective admitted to having earlier reached out to two other female tipsters — including one he eventually met in person.

He was punished by being placed on a one-year probation, where any further misconduct could lead to automatic dismissal, and the loss of 45 vacation days — but the commission said the discipline didn’t go far enough.

“We believe that termination would be more appropriate given the detective’s disciplinary history and the particular facts of this case,” the report says.

That history included similar misconduct in 2013, according to the commission, when McGrade was caught texting and calling a domestic violence victim in an effort to start a relationship.

For that misconduct he had been docked just two vacation days, which the commission called “inappropriately lenient.”

The CCPC members also pointed to the risks of compromising the public’s faith in the confidentiality of the tip line as an aggravating factor that should have led to the detective’s ouster.

“His misconduct was particularly serious because he breached the Department’s obligation to maintain the anonymity of tipsters’ identities,” the report says. “If the department does not vigorously protect that anonymity, potential tipsters might fear that their identities will be publicly revealed, or revealed directly to the individuals whom they report, resulting in threats or physical harm.”

Attempts to reach McGrade, who retired from the NYPD in June 2021 according to a police spokesperson, weren’t successful.

An NYPD spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment on any specific case, but said the commission’s agreement on 89% of the discipline decisions imposed in the period reviewed was a sign of a “strong” disciplinary system.

“The department appreciates the work of the Commission to Combat Police Corruption,” said the spokesperson, who did not provide their name. “Their analysis of the cases in which they disagree will be taken into consideration when evaluating future cases with similar conduct.”

Police brutality protesters kneel along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, June 2, 2020.
Photo by Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Who Decides Punishments?

The issue of police discipline and accountability has been a trying one for decades, and has garnered considerable attention as police killings and other misconduct have more often been captured on video in recent years.

One of the factors reformers have objected to is a structure that allows the NYPD commissioner to have full discretion in determining punishment for misconduct — including the power to overturn a guilty verdict made by an administrative judge at a departmental trial.

Following the local protests sparked in part by the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, there was a concerted push among some elected and criminal justice officials to alter that arrangement — which is governed by state law.

In December of that year, Fred Davie, the chair of the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board said that the body — which investigates and prosecutes certain types of police misconduct — should also be given the power to determine an officer’s discipline in cases that it handles.

A month earlier, The New York Times had reported that the NYPD only accepted the CCRB’s recommendations for disciplinary penalties in 29% of the most serious cases the board had prosecuted — doling out more lenient punishments in thousands of cases.

Within months, City Council members sought to pass a new law limiting the police commissioner’s absolute discretion, but then-Mayor Bill de Blasio — now a candidate for Congress — made it clear he wouldn’t support such an effort.

In part because of questions of jurisdiction, the Council ended up passing a solely advisory resolution — sponsored by then-Councilmember Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) — encouraging the state to give the CCRB disciplinary decision-making authority over its own cases.

And legislation introduced in Albany last year to limit the police commissioner’s disciplinary authority in cases sparked by complaints by civilians died in committee in both the state Assembly and Senate.

“You want to make sure that when disciplinary measures are taking place that they’re appropriate, and that they’re neither too lenient nor too heavy handed,” said State Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx), sponsor of the Senate version of the bill. “Sometimes maybe an independent body is the best arbiter for that.”

NYPD officers in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Jan. 20, 2021.
Photo by Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A Tangled Web

In a dozen cases where the CCPC flagged the discipline imposed by police brass as too lenient, the members determined that the punishment should have also included probation with the possibility of dismissal.

This included one case where an officer improperly accessed a license plate database to provide his friend, who owned a livery-car service, with the name and address of someone who was allegedly involved in a car accident with one of the service’s employees.

Police later learned that the livery employee was a drug dealer who had been selling fentanyl to the person whose plate the officer ran. And that person just happened to be a confidential informant (CI) for the New York State Police.

Using the information provided by the NYPD officer, the livery service employee reached out to the confidential informant, told him he knew where he lived, and threatened to kill him if he didn’t cough up $25,000.

That contact forced the state police to cut their investigation short and arrest the drug dealer prematurely, the report said.

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