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NYPD Commissioner Talks About Police Response To The Protests In New York


Now to New York, one of the cities that saw peaceful protests yesterday followed by scenes of unrest last night. Dermot Shea is the commissioner of New York's Police Department. And my colleague Ari Shapiro spoke with him earlier today.


When you look at your department's response to the protests so far, is there anything you would have done differently?

DERMOT SHEA: Well, it's always a fluid situation. We take a look at how it plays out and try to adjust. I mean, we have a game plan, as you always do. We train for these things. We carry out protests on a daily basis in New York City. These have been a little different, and the primary difference has been the violence and the speed of the violence. While we are not uncommon to have some protests that get a little dicey, if you will, these protests beginning Thursday, Friday started off and, right from the start, got pretty violent. So...

SHAPIRO: There are a number of troubling incidents that I would like to ask you about. I mean, there is a video from a protest in Brooklyn that shows two police SUVs surging into a crowd that has surrounded them.

SHEA: Yup.

SHAPIRO: Do you know who was behind the wheel of those SUVs? And can you tell us why they drove into the protesters?

SHEA: Sure. We absolutely do. That incident is under review. I would just tell everybody that in that particular incident and other incidents, which is very disturbing, obviously, it's difficult to watch as the officers drive towards the crowd. What you also, I think, need to talk about is the fact that the officers were going to a call for assistance, and they were intentionally set upon and ambushed by this crowd and blocked in with barriers. Items struck the police vehicle. We've had in the days leading up to this as well as that day other incidents like that. We've had Molotov cocktails thrown at police cars while the police officers are in it. So...

SHAPIRO: If I may...

SHEA: ...It is a very, very tense and difficult situation.

SHAPIRO: I mean, there were several other incidents as well. And I know that our time is limited. But Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed one of them today, which appeared to show an officer drawing his gun and pointing it at a crowd of people. The mayor said that officer should have his gun and badge taken away today. Has that happened?

SHEA: So all of those incidents are under review, and what we do promise is a swift investigation into - we're looking at about six incidents that have happened over the course of four days. And right now, they are all being investigated by our internal affairs.

SHAPIRO: You say the investigation will be swift. In Atlanta, a video emerged of officers smashing the windows of a car that was leaving the protests and tasing a man riding in that car on Saturday night. The very next day, Sunday, two officers were fired. Could disciplinary action not happen that quickly in New York?

SHEA: As opposed to Atlanta, unfortunately, it could not - different labor rules.

SHAPIRO: There's another incident that I'd like to ask you about. Video taken by a reporter shows groups of police beating people with batons after they are already on the ground. Is that an appropriate response?

SHEA: Again, all of these incidents - I met with my internal affairs chief this morning and discussed about six separate incidents. Each of the incidents that you have mentioned were in that review.


SHEA: In four or five of those incidents, we have identified the officers. The investigations are well underway already. In a few of the incidents, we have not yet identified the officers. I think it's down to one now.


SHEA: We're also working on identifying the complainants and urging anyone with information to come forward. We're working closely with the prosecutors as well as outside agencies that are looking at that one agency with the vehicle. We will be transparent throughout this entire process. And if discipline or change of duty status is warranted, it will be accomplished.

SHAPIRO: In our last minute, Commissioner, as you know, the reason for these demonstrations is anger at police violence against black people and lack of accountability for those police. Are you concerned that these incidents we are talking about are going to exacerbate the issue and make the problem worse?

SHEA: I absolutely am concerned about the possibility of that. I think it's - you know, you bring up valid points. And one of the criticisms of the past has been the perceived lack of transparency. And to be honest, it's probably been appropriate to say that that's actually been the case. So we've strived in recent years here in New York City to be as transparent - to post what we are doing, to inform the public of what we are doing and to make sure that that's done in a way that then the public holds the police department accountable as well. So for all of these things, you know, what we don't want to happen is what we're seeing now, not only in New York but across the country. And I think we got to work together.

SHAPIRO: Dermot Shea is the commissioner of the New York City Police Department.

Thank you for talking with us.

SHEA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.