Should I file a complaint against the NYPD?
September 29, 2017 11:23 PM   Subscribe

This week, NYPD swarmed the alley behind my building, seemingly looking for one of my neighbors. Three officers crouched behind an NYPD vehicle with guns drawn and pointed toward the end of the alley for at least twenty minutes (I think it was closer to 35). They were later accompanied by an officer with a dog and then at least five more officers in helmets, vests, and a couple of riot shields.

I've been trying to research what happened, with nothing to show for it. This alley has driveways and small backyards where children often play. You know, an alley. Rumor has it now that they were after one neighbor in particular who has a dog who is not super well-behaved, so it's possible they were ready to shoot the dog. The whole situation lasted a couple of hours and seemed like such insane overkill that I'm left feeling profoundly uneasy about the whole thing.

How do I find out if this is standard procedure? I also have video and a written record of what I witnessed, and at least a couple of the police people knew I was filming them. What do I do about this? Anonymous because the police scare the crap outta me and I fear retaliation if I report anything.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What policy do you think the police actually violated here? To be honest, your description does not suggest any misbehavior on the part of the police, so if you want to make your complaint effective (as opposed to conceivably simply risking retaliation), you'll need to point to a specific violation of the law or NYPD policy... not just that they freaked you out.
posted by saeculorum at 11:40 PM on September 29, 2017 [21 favorites]

How would you know if they were overreacting if you don't know the reason why they were there?

I also am having a hard time figuring out how you were harmed by this.

Maybe slide a note under all your neighbor's door telling them that you have video and notes of the incident if they were harmed and were planning on taking some sort of action. Is your video of the full 35 minutes? Or, is it just snippets?
posted by AugustWest at 1:30 AM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you ask the police if they followed standard procedure, they will say that they did (if they answer at all).

If you were harmed or personally mistreated, you could file a complaint.

But it does not sound like you were harmed. Something happened, but it was happening in your vicinity, not to you.
posted by zippy at 1:53 AM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix about a volunteer organization that films the NYPD as they are interacting with the public. I do not recall the organization's name, but it was a newly released doc and I watched it within the last 6-8 weeks- I think it was called Watchers (?). If you can track down the name of the organization, they may be interested in the footage that you have. I can't imagine that ANY actual good would come from going to ask the police if what they were doing was appropriate.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 3:16 AM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I understand that witnessing this so close to home could be really upsetting and could cause anxiety. However, since you don't know what provoked this activity, I'm not sure how it can be deemed "insane overkill." Since you weren't harmed, you had no property damage, and you didn't witness any harm or damage to others, I think the only thing to do here is move on.
posted by bookmammal at 3:41 AM on September 30, 2017 [19 favorites]

Like everyone else, I don't see what the problem is. You can't file a complaint every time the police come to your neighborhood. You know literally nothing about what happened, and you're filling in the gapswith fantasy. They were ready to shoot the dog? How do you know that?

I'm not terribly familiar with NYPD, but where I'm from, the police don't send double-digit officers in riot gear to take a dog to the pound.

Consider the alternative, that the police did not respond to whatever situation existed. You would then be upset that there was a dangerous situation in your alley that was allowed to get out of control. They can't win.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:46 AM on September 30, 2017 [12 favorites]

I certainly see why you are concerned. And having people with guns drawn near my house would make me feel unsafe unless I were sure they were responding proportionately. The fact that they were police in the US might well not give you any confidence that they were responding proportionately or that they would be persuaded to alter their behavior if they weren't.

Don't be cowed into thinking that a police operation like this absent a reason is OK. (Good reason: suspected armed robber; bad: might have a scary dog) But maybe there was a reason. Have you enquired of a local newspaper or radio station? I'd look there before thinking of making a complaint.
posted by hawthorne at 5:59 AM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have to disagree with AugustWest's suggestion to slide a note under the neighbor's door. The neighbor could be quite dangerous and definitely doesn't seem like someone you would want to offer to help, which could get you in over your head really fast. Plus your footage doesn't sound like it shows any real wrongdoing.

I understand why you are shaken by witnessing all this; it is very disturbing. Hopefully you can redirect your efforts toward making yourself feel safe again. Talk to friends and take care of yourself however you do in the face of unrest.
posted by mermaidcafe at 6:03 AM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

File a complaint for what? You have no idea why they were there. How about giving them the benefit of the doubt that maybe they were doing their jobs? Do you honestly think they were in full riot gear just to get up to no good in some alley? I get that there are plenty of bad cops in the news, but don't generalize. Most are just trying to do their jobs and as part of their jobs, they put themselves at personal risk to protect you.
posted by amro at 6:07 AM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm not denying or defending against the fact that police forces have unquestionably been shown to use abusive levels of force, because we all know they have. You provide no information about the race of this neighbour, which we all also know is often a factor. However, you also have absolutely no information at all about what this neighbour was wanted for. I am not understanding why your default assumption is that it was not something serious that justified what you saw.

I do understand why this would make you feel unsafe and powerless, and I would suggest as gently as possible that you attend to that feeling. I think a lot of us can identify with that feeling after being subjected to fear and violence. The inclination to find someone or something to blame and resist and call to account is very natural, but also often misplaced.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:16 AM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I disagree with the above posters. It is completely valid to feel upset when people point guns at your home with no explanation and I don't think you need to know every detail of the suspected crime to determine that this was overkill (riot shields!?).

I don't think anything productive will come from engaging the NYPD itself on this. I think the most productive thing you could do is engage with the neighbors who share the alley, and also perhaps contact an organization like CopWatch or whatever local NYC group is active.
posted by enn at 6:43 AM on September 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

Let's not hyperbolize. They pointed guns at the end of the alley, not at the poster's home.
posted by amro at 6:45 AM on September 30, 2017 [9 favorites]

I found that once I stopped thinking of the NYPD as public servants who are beholden to NYC citizens, and started thinking of them as the city's most prominent gang, a lot of my personal indignation at their behavior evaporated, because now I don't expect them to act in ways that are contrary to reality. I avoid the NYPD the way I avoid drunk panhandlers on the subway, and I expect about as much helpfulness and responsiveness from them as I'd expect from those panhandlers, too.

If you want to stop things like this from happening, complain to your representatives and your community board and the mayor. Don't bother telling the gang to stop acting like a gang. They will laugh in your face.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:31 AM on September 30, 2017 [19 favorites]

Yeah, the NYPD is well known for overkill. It wouldn't take that many officers in riot gear and a dog to take down even the most well armed bust the NYPD has ever had in the history of policing. And they shouldn't have needed to have their guns out in the alley. Col Cooper's rules - never point your gun at anything you're not prepared to shoot. In NYC with those flimsy walls that should be basically nothing but your target.

The problem is that this overreaction is standard policing. I would give the footage to CopWatch (you can find them on Facebook) and resolve to spend some spare time fighting against the over militarization of police.
posted by corb at 8:33 AM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Corb- that is exactly the organization that I couldn't remember the name of!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:14 AM on September 30, 2017

I would not assume the rumors about why the police were there are true.

The neighbor might not even be involved. Or it could have been a sting where they were expecting to bust a group. They could have been acting on info about weapons that didn't pan out. Any number of things. We can't know.

Can you get ahold of the police blotter for your area and see if you can match the incident to a call? Can you call the local station about the incident as a neighbor concerned about crime and wanting to know if everything is safe? You might get some info that way, rather than contacting them as a critic.

Have to second the warning not to communicate with the neighbor, parcticularly in writing, especially as you don't know the nature of the incident and aren't close to this person. Was this person arrested? Do they have counsel? If you were sure you witnessed something improper and you wanted to help this person's case, their lawyer would be the appropriate route. But if you aren't comfortable with that, then don't put yourself in a bad position.

I do understand this was very distressing and I'm always prepared to believe witnesses of police misconduct, but we and you truly do not have enough information or expertise to deem this overkill. Everyone acts like an expert but we really aren't. Standard procedure is going to vary based on the info the officers had at the time and they're not going to tell you that, particuarly if they were in the wrong.

What result are you looking to get? Watchdog groups like the aforementioned Copwatch might have some guidance if you have a specific goal.

You also may need to vent and talk it out with a loved one, as it sounds like a jarring, adrenaline-raising incident and not having answers is always frustrating.
posted by kapers at 9:43 AM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Generally speaking, though I'm not sure if this is true in NYC, you can call your local precinct's (non emergency) number and ask what's going on. I've done this in Los Angeles a couple times- sometimes they can and will tell you, sometime they won't. You could also go to the precinct in person and ask what was going on. I realize this may not be a good idea for you, especially if you're a POC, just wanted to throw it out there in case it's helpful.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:49 AM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

man, I hate the cops like nobody else I know, but even I wouldn't complain about an incident where they DIDN'T shoot somebody. if I were you I would find out all about the complaints process, but then keep it handy and save it for the day when they do actually hurt somebody or an animal and you're a witness. unfortunately, you will probably have the opportunity.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:03 PM on September 30, 2017

It seems to me like they were creating a dangerous situation by having their guns out and ready to shoot when they didn't have a target. I'd complain. What if a kid had walked into the area?
It may not be against policy now, but maybe a new policy is needed.

I have been pretty unhappy with my own local police for failing to set up perimeters around areas where things are happening. I drove up into an area on the street once and got stopped, and it turned out that I was diving over their evidence markers and bullets lying on the street. What do they expect when they don't block off the street?
posted by SLC Mom at 12:22 PM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think in this case mentioning it to your local political representative would be more productive than mentioning it to the police who don’t have a great record of self-policing. Something like “dear ward representative / alderman / [appropriate local pol here], on Sep 1 at 5pm five [city of X] police in riot gear drew their weapons in [Y alley], an area where children play, and pointing them at an occupied building [address of buliding]. This building is occupied by children, parents, and the elderly. Could you look into this and consider ensuring that use of force policy recognizes that there are certain areas where it is dangerous to bystanders and children to draw weapons?”

Something like that. It doesn’t use any info you’re unsure of, and it goes to someone who represents you.
posted by zippy at 1:53 PM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Where I live we have a community liaison from the police who (in theory) we can call with questions or issues around an event. Start there to inquire? If you don't feel comfortable complaining to the police directly about their action, do you have a local representation (city councilor etc.) you could reach out to?
posted by Toddles at 3:29 PM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Along with CopWatch, I would meet with a staffer at your city councilperson’s office to share your concern and footage. I live in NYC and would do that if they setup on my block with gun drawn and no one in sight. You can also make a complaint to the NYPD Civilian Complaint Review Board (
posted by gaelenh at 10:51 PM on September 30, 2017

I would also be anxious if men brandishing guns were hanging around. Their being cops wouldn't make a lot of difference. My response, rather than looking out the window recording them, would be to gather my family and exit the building on the other side from the gunslingers, and go to the park or a movie, or dinner, or something. If you're spending that time watching the cops, you weren't doing something else you had to stay home for. Wouldn't you leave the scene if this happened near you when you were away from home?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:34 PM on October 1, 2017

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