ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

NYPD to Change How Police Use Nuisance Abatement Law

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said New York City is retreating from the practice of locking out tenants before they even see a judge.

New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. (John Lamparski/WireImage)

This story was co-published with the New York Daily News.

The NYPD is going to be “changing very quickly” a key part of its process initiating nuisance abatement actions after a Daily News and ProPublica investigation of the little-known tactic.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Wednesday that he’s taking a “fresh look” at the part of the process that allows the NYPD to get an order from a judge locking residents out of their homes before they’ve had a chance to tell their side of the story in court.

Judges approved the NYPD’s requests for such orders 75 percent of the time, according to the joint Daily News and ProPublica exposé that first ran online Friday.

“We have been very happy to work with all of our elected officials to take a look at other things that we might want to adjust,” Bratton said Wednesday, his first public response to the investigation since it was published.

“One of those areas that we have adjusted very quickly in conversations … is the issue of ex parte elements of this program, which we will be changing very quickly.”

Ex parte is a Latin term for a decision made by a judge without all parties present.

Zachary Carter, head of the city Law Department, said the agency will review the process to ensure such orders are “only sought in cases of appropriate urgency.”

The Law Department, which is tasked with reviewing the court filings and settlements in nuisance abatement actions as the NYPD’s co-counsel, has not yet clarified what constitutes “appropriate urgency.” But the Daily News/ProPublica found the NYPD’s requests for lockout orders were based on information that was, on average, six months old for residences, despite claiming illegal activity at the location was “ongoing.”

The NYPD Is Kicking People Out of Their Homes, Even If They Haven’t Committed a Crime

And it’s happening almost exclusively in minority neighborhoods. Read the story.

NYC Mayor Wants ‘Due Process,’ But Doesn’t Object to Secret Orders Tossing Tenants

The mayor’s office also said there would be a review of the NYPD’s nuisance abatement program, but later clarified it would be by the same agency that has been approving the filings. Read the story.

Mayor de Blasio defended the nuisance abatement program as a whole, calling it a vital part of the NYPD’s effort to keep the public safe.

"When we know a location is being used that endangers people’s lives, when we know a location is being used either for violent activities, drug dealing, etc… . We have to deal with [it],” the mayor said.

The NYPD’s deputy commissioner of legal matters, Lawrence Bryne, further defended the program. “Most of these cases, in terms of both the criminal and the nuisance abatement, originate with what we call ‘kites,’” he said, explaining that those are “complaints from people in the building that drugs are being sold out of apartment 2A, that shootings are taking place out of apartment 3C.”

Bratton also criticized the Daily News/ProPublica investigation as containing “a lot of misrepresentation, misinformation,” but he has not provided specifics despite repeated requests.

The Daily News had been sending the NYPD questions on specific cases highlighted in the story in a long series of emails dating to last May. The department has declined to comment on the cases.

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