New Approach To Handling Protests

Published on September 05, 2023, 2:14 pm
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New York City Mayor Eric Adams, New York City Corporation Counsel Sylvia Hinds-Radix, and New York City Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Edward Caban today announced that the NYPD has implemented new practices to better address the unique challenges that arise during spontaneous protests, keep New Yorkers safe, and respect every person’s First Amendment rights to free speech. The new four-tiered approach to handling protests is codified in a legal agreement stemming from lawsuits filed against the City of New York during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. The approach lays out clear protocols for engaging with protesters, better training for police officers, and specific guidelines for arrests at each tier.

“The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental part of American freedom, and the right to public safety is essential for our city to function — balancing these two important rights is one of this administration’s core missions,” said Mayor Adams. “I spent my career fighting for police reform and accountability, and now as mayor, our administration is committed to improving our policies to keep New Yorkers safe and protect their civil liberties. Today’s agreement, stemming from the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, sets new protocols and policies in place for the NYPD when responding to spontaneous protests as we ensure that we are both protecting public safety and respecting protesters’ First Amendment rights. This agreement is the result of a collaborative process that seeks to build consensus, balance safety with justice, and protect protesters, bystanders, and law enforcement personnel.”

“The rights guaranteed by the First Amendment are what allow the voices of over 8 million New Yorkers to be heard,” said Corporation Counsel Hinds-Radix. “While we acknowledge these rights, there must be a balance between what is a protest and what is breaking the law. In a world where social media sparks spontaneous assembly, we must be prepared to adapt to these changing times. This settlement acknowledges the work the NYPD is committed to doing to ensure that the voices of New Yorkers can be heard in a safe and peaceful manner.”

“During the summer of 2020, the frustrations of a global pandemic, a tragic killing, and the use of spontaneous demonstrations throughout the city drew people from all over the country — some with good intentions and some with bad,” said NYPD Commissioner Caban. “This presented many unique challenges for officers, who did their best to protect people’s rights to peaceful expression while addressing acts of lawlessness. Now, the NYPD has re-envisioned its policies for policing protests to deal with these unique scenarios. This agreement represents the department’s commitment to continually improving to ensure the public remains safe and individual rights are protected.”

The reforms codified by the agreement — negotiated by the New York City Department of Law, the NYPD, the Office of New York Attorney General Letitia James, the New York Civil Liberties Union, The Legal Aid Society, and more — will allow the NYPD to better calibrate its response based on specific conditions at each demonstration, ensuring it can enforce the law while protecting lawful free expression. The approach combines multiple law enforcement strategies, including the use of more community affairs officers to liaise and de-escalate situations with protesters, the presence of patrol officers to enforce traffic laws and direct crowds, and the deployment of specialized units, including the Strategic Response Group (SRG), as necessary to ensure public safety. The agreement also establishes a collaborative committee that will evaluate the NYPD’s response to 12 protests over the next three years.

Tiered Approach to Policing Demonstrations and Protests

Each tier defines NYPD protocols and practices for engaging with protesters based on conditions on the ground. The approach allows the NYPD to move progressively from Tier 1 to Tier 4 or begin its strategic response at Tier 3 if necessary.

  • Tier 1 is used for a peaceful protest. Under Tier 1, the NYPD will temporarily accommodate peaceful protests passing through the streets or sidewalks. Community affairs officers can liaise with the protesters while the NYPD retains the ability to use patrol officers to enforce traffic laws and direct crowds.
  • Tier 2 is used when the NYPD believes that illegal activity may be about to occur or that the protest is going to block critical infrastructure. The NYPD can station additional officers, including the SRG, in the vicinity of the protest in anticipation of the need for law enforcement intervention.
  • Tier 3 takes effect once there is probable cause that an individual has committed a crime. The NYPD will deploy enough officers to address the individuals breaking the law. Specialized units, such as the SRG, may be deployed as necessary in this tier.
  • Tier 4 commences when the protest must end. It is activated when either (1) protesters are trying to enter or blocking entry to sensitive locations or (2) crimes are so widespread that de-escalation and/or targeted enforcement has not worked or cannot work. In this tier, the only viable option is to end the protest. Before ending the protest, the NYPD must issue dispersal orders to warn the crowd, point out exit points, and identify a location where a protest could continue if feasible.

Three-Year Collaborative Committee to Evaluate Tiered Approach

Under the agreement, the NYPD will adopt training procedures for the new tiered approach. After that, a collaborative committee will be formed consisting of attorneys for the plaintiffs (including the Office of the New York Attorney General), as well as the New York City Department of Law, the NYPD, police unions, and the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI), which will serve as chair of the committee.

The committee will meet over three years on a regular basis to review the NYPD’s implementation of the terms of the agreement, including the effectiveness of the tiered approach in practice. DOI will review 12 protests — 10 chosen by the plaintiffs and two by the defendants — and file periodic progress reports with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, where the suits were originally filed. DOI will also issue reports at 18 months and 30 months, as well as a final report at month 36.


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