Of all of the complaints filed against officers, a small percentage are found to be substantiated. And when they are substantiated, an even smaller percentage have faced some sort of disciplinary action.
When someone wants to file a complaint against an NYPD officer in New York City, they file it with what's called the Civilian Complaint Review Board or CCRB. It's an independent board that investigates complaints and gives recommendations to the NYPD on possible disciplinary action.
When Elon Williams got pulled over driving his new red Nissan in the Bronx, what happened next caused him to file a formal complaint.
The mechanic just finished building his dream car and was taking it for a test ride when he got pulled over by police. He believe officers mistook a car backfire for a gun shot
"For the entire time it was happening I did not think I was going to survive," Williams said.
The pull over and arrest was captured on a parking lot surveillance camera. The video shows Williams putting his hands in the air and he describes what happened next.
"There was maybe a circle of five or six of them around me," said Williams. "I got boots to the head, I got punches over 20 times," he said.
Williams said he received head wounds and five herniated discs before getting arrested and released.
Williams said he didn't hear anything back after filing his complaint with the CCRB a decade ago.
"I didn't hear anything else from the CCRB," he said. He took his case to civil court to get action, where he won a $2.3 million settlement.
"He drove his car and parked it in front of a camera, got out with his hands up as you can see in the video and was just beaten by the police and the Bronx jury saw through the defense," said Williams' attorney Michael Ronemus.
Williams said he was traumatized by the event and decided to move out of the country after it happened and he still lives abroad.
"I don't think justice was served at all," said Williams.
Earlier this year, the NYPD made its disciplinary records public of the first time. 7 On Your Side Investigates reviewed about two decades worth of records and found the top complaints against NYPD officers included abuse of authority, use of force and discourtesy.
More than 103,000 complaints have been filed over the past two decades. Our analysis found the CCRB found only a small percentage of the complaints substantiated, about 7.5%.
To search for a complaint made against a particular officer, click here.
Reverend Fred David has been the chair of the board for the past three years.
"There are always situations that slip through the cracks and we want to minimize those," said Rev. Davie. "You'll see over the last three years or so the agency is bringing many more of these cases to full investigation," he said.
The board forwards the substantiated cases to the NYPD to follow through where our data shows 3.5% of the officers were disciplined.
When officers did get punished, they were most likely to get "instruction" or "formalized training." That and they lost vacation days, more than 7,395 days.
"The CCRB may substantiate a complaint, but then it goes to trial," said Chief Matthew Pontillo who works for NYPD Risk Management. "The data doesn't tell the whole story, we've really got to do a deep dive and do a qualitative review."
Pontillo said, the punishment overall has not been a slap on the wrist. He said training helps improve the performance of officers and that losing vacation days is a fine no officers wants.
"It has a significant impact on you, your home life and it's a net reduction in your salary for that year," said Chief Pontillo. "A complaint is not proof of any type of inappropriate conduct or action all of these have to be vetted."
This year, both sides agreed on new penalty guidelines that are meant to streamline and standardize discipline. But at the end of the day, it's the police commissioner who has the final say so.
"There's a memo saying the NYPD will follow the CCRB disciplinary recommendations," said Rev. Davie. "It is a game changer. We need for the agency to have final authority on disciplinary matters. We do independent investigations but the discipline recommendations have been or can be influenced by the NYPD so we want final authority on those discipline recommendations."
He also said video has been a game changer. The CCRB chair says a majority of cases involving video have a clear outcome and are helping them to investigate cases more quickly.
The NYPD says close to 90% of officers have no substantiated complaints filed against them.
"The complaints are low compared to the amount of encounters police have with the public every year," said Chief Pontillo.
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