Can police police their own? NYPD as a case study.

In 1994, when Joseph Giacalone was just two years and change on the job with the New York Police Department, he found himself in the middle of a shootout at a warehouse in the Bronx. 

It would be the first and only time he’d fire his gun at a suspect.

After a decorated, two-decade career, the experience in that warehouse continues to shape his understanding of the issues surrounding police reform. That’s especially true, he says, after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 and the killing of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five Memphis police officers in January.

Why We Wrote This

The NYPD has been the nation’s foremost laboratory of police reform. So as the country wrestles with how best to find ways forward on policing, New York stands out as a crucial case study.

Wielding the power of the state and given the duty to enforce its laws, police officers have a responsibility like few others in society, he says. It’s one of the reasons he now teaches his students the fundamentals of criminal investigation and the use of force, emphasizing the importance of training, professionalism, and accountability. 

“When I look at the Derek Chauvin case [in Minneapolis], and now looking at the Memphis videos, the first thing that stands clear in my mind is: no supervision,” says Mr. Giacalone, now an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “There’s no supervisor on the scene in either case. Now, would a supervisor have prevented this? I believe so, because something went inherently wrong with these individuals.” 

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