One officer in Brooklyn pulled down a protester’s mask and pepper-sprayed him. Another officer shoved a young woman to the ground, knocking her head against the pavement and giving her a concussion. An officer in Manhattan pulled a gun and waved it at protesters after one of his colleagues was hit in the head with an thrown object.
These incidents were described in a lengthy report that the state attorney general released Wednesday after hearings into the Police Department’s handling of recent protests against police brutality and racism in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
Saying the protests had shaken New Yorkers’ belief in the Police Department, the attorney general, Letitia James, recommended that an independent panel — not the mayor — should appoint the police commissioner and oversee the hiring and firing of officers.
“It is impossible to deny that many New Yorkers have lost faith in law enforcement,” Ms. James said during a call with reporters to discuss her findings. “I believe we need to bridge the undeniable divide between police and the public.”
The report also recommended that the police suspend the use of aggressive crowd control tactics like kettling, a maneuver employed at peaceful protests last month in which officers surrounded protesters, then closed in, swinging batons, and arrested many of them.
Ms. James also called on lawmakers to pass into law the rules about the use of force laid out in the department’s patrol guide, making it easier to prosecute officers who violate them.
Appointing an independent commission to oversee the city’s police force would be a landmark change for the New York City government. Since the 19th century, the police commissioner has served at the mayor’s pleasure, inextricably linking the political fortunes of City Hall to the Police Department.
To change that arrangement would most likely require actions by the City Council and State Legislature and would face opposition not only from City Hall but from police unions and leaders of the Police Department, an insular institution that historically has been slow to embrace such foundational shifts.
The commission Ms. James envisions would include representatives appointed by the City Council, the mayor’s office, the city’s public advocate and the city comptroller’s office. Detroit and San Francisco, the report notes, have similar arrangements.
Richard Esposito, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, dismissed the report’s recommendations on Wednesday afternoon as unnecessary and called Ms. James’s investigation “political.”
A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio immediately rejected the proposal of removing the police from the mayor’s control. Ms. James is an ally of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has frequently clashed with Mr. de Blasio.
“While we thank the attorney general for her investigation and look forward to reviewing the report in full and working together to further reform policing in this city, we do not believe creating a commission to oversee the N.Y.P.D. does that,” the spokeswoman, Freddi Goldstein, said.
In her call with reporters, Ms. James noted the police department has not been subject to the same kind of legislative oversight as other city agencies. It can make rule changes, for instance, without public hearings.
“Why is this one agency treated so differently than all of the others?” Ms. James said. “The police should not police themselves, period.”
The report comes as a political movement to rein in police powers and hold officers accountable for abuse has gained momentum, not just in the city, but across the nation. In New York City, tens of thousands of people have marched in the streets protesting police brutality.
The demonstrations, which have lasted more than six weeks, have led to new state laws outlawing aggressive policing tactics like chokeholds and making police disciplinary records more transparent. Responding to calls from protesters to “defund the police,” the City Council has shifted close to $1 billion from the department’s $6 billion budget.
In May, Gov. Cuomo appointed Ms. James to investigate the interactions between the New York Police Department and the public, after widespread reports that the police had pepper sprayed, attacked and violently arrested peaceful protesters.
Ms. James, a Brooklyn Democrat who took office in January 2019, said her office had received more than 1,300 submissions from people reporting misconduct by the police during its enforcement of the protests.
She said her office was weighing whether to recommend criminal charges against specific officers who were found to have used excessive force. So far one officer has been charged with assault after a video emerged of him shoving a young woman to the ground during a protest.
Investigators with Ms. James’s office found that more than 2,000 people were arrested during the first week of protests in the city, from May 28 to June 7. Many were arrested after 8 p.m., she said, in the days after Mayor Bill de Blasio imposed a curfew, “suggesting the curfew was a significant driver of arrests.”
Of those arrested, Black and Latino protesters were more likely to be charged with a felony than white protesters, the report said.
It is unclear how many, if any, of Ms. James’s recommendations will be embraced by the City Council and State Legislature, which would have to enact some of them.
The governor’s office and leaders in the State Assembly and Senate said they were reviewing the report.The City Council speaker did not immediately respond to the report.
Ms. James, who is currently the highest-ranking Black elected official in the state, has no power as attorney general to institute the changes she has proposed, but she has been vocal in the debate over other policing issues.
As the city’s public advocate, for instance, she was an early supporter of outfitting New York officers with body cameras in 2016. Thousands of officers now patrol the city with the equipment.
Ashley Southall contributed reporting.