Police union argues against settlement that would change how NYPD responds to protests

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By Dan Sears

The city’s police union had its day in court Monday to argue against a settlement that would require the NYPD to overhaul how it responds to protests.

The settlement, which resolved a string of lawsuits filed after hundreds of people said police trapped them, hit them with batons and sprayed them with pepper spray during a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, was already approved in September. Later, the city’s largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association, claimed that it had not had a chance to argue its case.

The PBA’s objection prompted U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon to revoke her approval and agree to hear their arguments.

“In 2020, nearly 400 police officers were attacked and injured, and untold amounts of property was destroyed because violent agitators used the protests as cover for mayhem,” Police Benevolent Association president Patrick Hendry wrote in a statement on Monday. “The settlement is not only dangerous for the PBA members assigned to protests — it is also dangerous for peaceful protestors and the public at large.”

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If the judge approves the original settlement, it would require police to ban the use of “kettling,” where officers surround protesters from all sides before making a mass arrest. It would also require the department to create a new oversight committee to assess how the NYPD polices protests and impose new limits on the department’s controversial Strategic Response Group, among other measures.

Two police unions — the Sergeants Benevolent Association and the Detectives Endowment Association – signed onto the original settlement.

Corey Stoughton, an attorney representing the state attorney general, testified Monday that the settlement mandates “policing best practices” and accountability, while giving the NYPD ample discretion to deploy officers to large protests.

“It frankly often feels as though [the PBA] didn’t read [the settlement],” Stoughton said of the union’s argument.

Robert Smith, a lawyer representing the police union argued that Mayor Eric Adams himself didn’t agree with the settlement, referencing his words at a news conference last month.

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But McMahon was skeptical. “The one thing I’m not interested in is politicians,” she said. “I’m interested in the law.”

McMahon will present a ruling on the settlement by next week, she said.

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