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An Open Letter to NYPD Police Commissioner Dermot Shea on the Shooting of David Felix

To: The NYPD, the mayor’s office of New York, and the city council of NYC

My name is Ingrid Chang, and I am a reporter with Raise the Voices, an advocacy journalism organization. I am writing to you today to discuss the case of David Felix, a mentally ill Black man who was killed by the NYPD in 2015 in New York’s East Village, and to inquire about the effectiveness of reform of NYPD procedures. 

David Felix was a 24-year-old man diagnosed with schizophrenia, living in a permanent housing program for those with behavioral health disabilities. On April 25, 2015, former NYPD detectives Harold Carter and Vicente Matias ignored NYPD guidelines, falsely claimed to have a warrant, and fatally shot him instead of using de-escalation methods, even though David was unarmed. Despite Carter and Matias’s flagrant disregard for NYPD procedures for handling “emotionally disturbed persons” and egregious use of excessive force, they continued to work for the NYPD for the next two to three years without disciplinary action to the public’s knowledge. 

I’d like to ask what changes the NYPD has made to its de-escalation procedures, what future changes are planned, and what evidence the NYPD has of the effectiveness of these de-escalation procedures. In 2016, one year after David was killed, the NYPD’s public statistics report 4858 incidences of use of force. In 2017, the NYPD reported 7369 uses of force; in 2018, 7879; and in 2019, 8595. The NYPD’s current deescalation policies have evidently failed to prevent the use of force.

I am also particularly concerned about issues highlighted in the recent Propublica article, which reported that in the most recent data, 3,362 (9%) active members of service in the NYPD have featured in six or more CCRB complaints, with 753 (2%) active officers having had two or more substantiated complaints. Furthermore, unlike other police departments, civilian oversight investigators do not have direct access to body cam footage; there are more than 1,000 current CCRB requests for footage that the NYPD has yet to supply. CCRB recommendations for disciplinary action in cases of officers who misused force are also largely ignored by the NYPD and have only resulted in the offending officers losing some vacation days. 

This disciplinary action is not enough, and the public, whom the police serve, clearly do not think of it as enough either. 

Will the NYPD reconsider its termination process for officers who have repeated complaints of misconduct or have used excessive force? 

Will the NYPD once again increase transparency and release data on the demographics of subjects it uses force against, as the department did in 2016? The New York Times reported that the Health Department’s data showed that between 2010 and 2015, the NYPD killed more than double the number of people than it publicly reported, and that deaths for Blacks were five times higher than Whites. Will the NYPD reconsider its refusal to publish this report, considering its importance to transparency? Furthermore, a 2019 OIG report recommends that the NYPD publish public statistics on — to name a few — the status of complaints, demographics on officers and complainants, and the status of the Department’s efforts to prevent biased policing. The NYPD’s response states that this is “under consideration.” Can the NYPD speak to the status of this proposed reform and when it will come to a decision? 

Finally, does the NYPD have any plans in place to reform how the department handles cases with subjects who are mentally ill or otherwise “emotionally disturbed”, outside of the four-day Crisis Intervention Training it offers to its officers? David Felix’s case showed an intolerable lack of regard for human life on behalf of NYPD detectives Harold Carter and Vicente Matias that cannot continue. Police officers who flout NYPD procedures should face disciplinary action; officers who use excessive force should be permanently removed. David Felix’s life can never be restored. The NYPD should provide concrete proof that it is taking effective action in preventing such cases in the future. 

I hope to hear that the NYPD can offer such proof. 

Thank you for your time. This letter will be posted publicly as part of our advocacy journalism, along with any response from your office. 

Ingrid ChangReporter, Raise the Voices

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