Comments of Bernard Rostker on release of RAND Corporation report “Evaluation of New York City Police Department Firearm Training and Firearm-Discharge Review Process”

Author Statement

June 9, 2008

Good morning. My name is Bernard Rostker and I am a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation. I led the effort by RAND researchers to conduct a comprehensive review of the New York Police Department's firearms training and firearms discharge review procedures. Before briefly outlining our findings, I want to thank Commissioner Kelly for asking RAND to conduct this review. It's been a pleasure to work with the Commissioner and the rest of the Department.

To give you an idea of the work that led to our recommendations, I and the six other members of our research team reviewed the NYPD's handgun shooting policies and the academy's handgun training procedures. In addition, we analyzed a variety of department data, including personnel records, pedestrian “stop, question and frisk” reports and booking information; collected information from other police departments. We sponsored a daylong discussion of the handgun issues with a national panel of experts; and observed the NYPD's training on use of force, both in the academy and the ongoing training by veteran officers.

Overall, our study found that the NYPD has excellent procedures for the review of firearms discharges and basic police skills training of new officers.

We have put forward a series of recommendations for changes and additions to the NYPD's policies and procedures that we believe can make the Department's good programs even better. The key recommendations fall into three main categories: increasing hands-on training, refining the discharge review process and expanding access to less-than-lethal force options.

Our key training recommendations:

Broadening the training of police recruits by replacing some of the police academy's observational training with more hands-on demonstrations, simulations and role playing to improve advanced handgun training. Training methods should be changed to provide recruits more time to practice the skills they are taught. In addition, trainees should be required to master skills before continuing their training.

One change the department should consider toward this goal is to enroll police academy classes every few weeks, instead of only once every six months as is now done. Such a change would allow recruits, if needed, to spend more time learning certain skills, and if necessary give them the option to join a later class once they mastered the technique.

In addition, we recommend that the periodic handgun certification required for veteran officers be changed to provide more scenario-based live fire instruction. We believe the current program that has veteran officers shooting at paper targets does not do enough to improve officers' skills or prepare them for the split-second decisions they must make out on the streets.

Regarding the review of firearm discharges we have two sets of recommendations:

First, based on our review of cases that came before the review board from 2004 to 2006 we found that among officers at or near the scene of a shooting, those officers with more than 3.1 negative personnel marks per year of service were three times more likely than their peers to have fired their weapons. While this finding was statistically significant, we note that there are 2,600 officers in the department that have 3.1 or more negative points and only 16 were actually shooters. We suggest the NYPD pay particularly close attention to shootings involving these officers to make sure they did everything possible to avoid using their weapons

Second, based upon our review of Board procedures we recommend the city's Firearms Discharge Review Board should expand its policies to include evaluations of the tactics officers used prior to any shooting. That would include issues such as whether officers needlessly put themselves into situations where they might need to use their weapons.

We also recommend NYPD build a formal lessons-learned process.

Our key less-than-lethal force recommendations:

We reviewed reports of about 455 NYPD shootings from 2004 to 2006 and identified 25 cases where we judged that had a less-lethal weapon been available, officers may have used it to subdue suspects instead of using their handguns.

We also note that when other departments have deployed Conducted Energy Devices or CEDs, commonly known by the brand name TASER, injuries to both suspects and officers have declined.

We recognize that some groups have criticized the deployment of CEDs, raising issues of safety, overuse, and misuse. As such we recommend that the NYPD undertake a pilot program for the deployment of CEDs.

Such a program should allow patrol officers in selected precincts to be trained and equipped with CEDs that can incapacitate suspects from a distance. We believe there is evidence that if NYPD officers had access to this device, some number of officer-involved shootings could be avoided, and injuries to both suspects and police officers will decline. A carefully designed pilot program conducted over six to 12 months in a few select precincts would give the department enough information to determine whether the devices would alter the way the NYPD officers apply force and whether the weapons could be used properly.

These are just the highlights of the major recommendations in our report. A more thorough listing of all our recommendations are in our report's executive summary, which is found at the front of the full volume made available to you here today.

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