A detailed 63-page report released Wednesday by the New York Civil Liberties Union concludes that the City’s civilian oversight system, which is intended to provide accountability for acts of police misconduct, is not performing the mission it is charged with in the City Charter.
"The establishment in 1993 of an independent civilian agency mandated with oversight of policing was heralded as a great accomplishment," said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. "Our analysis concludes that civilian oversight system has failed. As a consequence, there is little accountability for acts of police misconduct, for inadequate training, for flawed and dangerous police practices."
The report, Mission Failure: Civilian Review of Policing in New York City, 1994 – 2006, analyzes the investigation and review of police-misconduct complaints filed with New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, the role of the New York City Police Department in the oversight system and the NYPD’s disposition of complaints that have been substantiated by the CCRB and referred to the police commissioner for disciplinary action.
Citing data published by the CCRB, the report finds that even as complaints of police misconduct have increased sharply over the past five years, the CCRB has been closing more than half of all complaints without an investigation. And of those complaints the CCRB has substantiated (approximately 5 percent well below national averages), the police department has been rejecting the CCRB’s findings and recommendations with great frequency. When discipline is imposed, it is often strikingly lenient in light of the severity of the misconduct documented by the CCRB.
The report finds that the reasons for the CCRB’s failure are fundamental: lack of commitment to the principle of civilian review, obstructionism by the police department, little support from public officials and inadequate human and financial resources.
"I’ve seen the CCRB’s failure firsthand and up close. Civilian oversight is a formality at best," said Sheena Otto, a one-time veteran investigator at the CCRB. "We can do better, and the City certainly deserves better."
Joining members of the NYCLU staff at a news conference announcing the release of the report were Otto; representatives of Make the Road by Walking, a community advocacy organization in Brooklyn; and officials with three police organizations: the Guardians Association, the National Latino Officers Association and 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. All were highly critical of the CCRB’s failings and of the police department’s role in undermining the civilian oversight agency.
"As an officer, when you walk into the average Black or Latino community, there is always animosity toward the police. The CCRB does nothing to address that," said Charles Billups, chair of the Grand Council of Guardians. "These communities are suffering from unnecessary police hostility, and the CCRB is just looking the other way."
"When a cop abuses his authority and disrespects or injures a civilian, it diminishes respect for all cops," added Marq Claxton, a founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. "The CCRB is not working. As a result, the people of this city have lost confidence in and respect for the police."
Robert Gonzalez, president of the National Latino Officers Association, pointed to the need for complete reform. "Even after the CCRB has substantiated a complaint of serious misconduct against a police officer, the police department’s hearing officers often times dismiss the case or find the officer not guilty," Gonzalez said. "The CCRB should have its own prosecution unit. CCRB lawyers should prosecute serious misconduct cases in an independent forum not in the police department’s trial room. This would create transparency and fairness in handling CCRB cases."
The NYCLU report included the following additional recommendations:
Create greater accountability for policing in the office of the mayor and in the City Council.
Establish the Office of the Inspector General for Law Enforcement Integrity, which would conduct audits of the civilian oversight agency, mediate conflict between the NYPD and oversight entities and advocate for reform of policing policies and practices.
Allocate human and financial resources needed to make the CCRB productive and effective.
Establish CCRB units in every borough, staffed by in-take personnel and investigators who are available after business hours and on weekends.
Create a CCRB unit dedicated to analyzing patterns of police misconduct and to recommending reforms in policing policies and practices.
Develop a public education and outreach program that involves the public in improving police practices and police-community relations.