NYC hired Rikers officers with gang ties, psychological issues – report

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A report into the recruiting and hiring practices of the New York Correction Department found that more than one-third of the people hired had problems – criminal histories, mental issues – that should have disqualified them from the job.

Conducted by New York City’s Department of Investigation (DOI), the review is the latest in a number of critical revelations about city jails including death, brutality, and drug smuggling.

The year-long review by city investigators evaluated department hiring and recruiting practices by looking at the applications of 153 people who were hired. Of these, 54 had significant red flags, including 10 correction officers (CO) that had been arrested more than once. Another 12 had been rejected by the New York Police Department – six for psychological reasons – while others had gang affiliations, criminal histories, and psychological problems. Seventy-nine hires had relatives or friends who were current or former inmates.

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“DOI’s latest investigation on Rikers Island exposes a shockingly inadequate screening system, which had led to the hiring of many officers that are under-qualified and unfit for duty,” said DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters in a statement. “Applicants with a history of violence or gang affiliations should not be patrolling our jails. Positions as law enforcement officers demand better.

Other findings showed that psychological exams raised some form of concern about 65 candidates’ abilities to perform their duties. One candidate who was hired was rejected by the director of the Applicant Investigation Unit because she was shown to have low personality development – but she was hired anyway because she was a “family friend” of the leader of the CO union.

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In 54 instances, applicants failed to demonstrate “good character and satisfactory background.” One applicant had a personal debt of over $400,000, while another candidate had multiple arrests and was previously employed at a strip club which was the target of prior criminal investigations.

The DOI concluded that hiring practices at Rikers are haphazard. The deputy commissioner who oversaw hiring couldn’t explain how the evaluation system worked, and the department lacks a recruitment unit. It does not participate in job fairs, feature a recruitment website, or inform the public about job opportunities. Overall, the Department of Corrections (DOC) lagged far behind the NYPD’s own recruiting capabilities.

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Without such a system in place, the report said: “DOC can only consider a limited number of quality applications to hire...Often, DOC applicants already have been rejected for hire by other city agencies, including the NYPD.”

The DOI’s investigation concluded that significant flaws in the department’s hiring system contributed to the hiring of corrupt COs.

The DOI has already arrested or referred for discipline 23 Rikers staff and 30 inmates for crimes related to violence, contraband smuggling, and falsification of documents and evidence.