Needed: NYC Elected Civilian Review Board with Real Power

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From New York to Chicago to Sacramento, daily reports of cop misconduct ranging from racist remarks and profiling to outright murder show evidence that policing policies and practice remain deeply flawed. The record shows the NYPD is unwilling to police themselves, and the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) has been ineffective in making a substantive change.

These are the conclusions that led the Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board to propose replacing the CCRB entirely. Steering Committee member Pamela Monroe explains that, “Even when the CCRB determines officers have made false arrests or abused their authority and should be disciplined, the police commissioner has the power to dismiss the charges or reduce the penalty, and routinely does just that!”  

Ms. Monroe cited the example of the recent report that of the 81 cases in which the CCRB determined police officers lied about evidence or acts by people they arrested, only two were upheld by the NYPD, with the other 79 charges reduced or dismissed. The newly proposed Elected Civilian Review Board (ECRB) would correct this limitation because its determinations—based on extensive investigation and due process for those accused—would be binding.

Against this context of low consequences within the NYPD is the fact that such acts as abuse of power and excessive force have cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade, indicating a pervasive and unsolved problem. However, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association wants to reduce the already limited oversight of the CCRB. In March, the union filed a hostile suit seeking to curb the Board’s powers after the CCRB decided to extend its scope to addressing complaints of sexual misconduct.

Regarding the problem of regulating police conduct, City Council Member Inez Barron observed that, “We are aware of the historic pattern of minimal consequences meted out to officers convicted of crimes, violation of rules and procedures and other acts of misconduct. In most instances, the more severe punishments meted out to officers found in violation of NYPD policies, has merely resulted in loss of vacation time. It is questionable that the Police Commissioner should singlehandedly enact the penalties for these dishonest and unprincipled officers.  I look forward to working with the ECRB team to examine a more appropriate process to provide meaningful consequences to those found in violation of NYPD policies”.

In addition to addressing discipline within the department, when police misconduct reaches criminal proportions, the proposed ECRB would refer the matter to a Special Prosecutor independent of the District Attorney’s office or the NYPD.

Accountability of police to the communities they serve is a key concern of the coalition of groups advocating an ECRB. Luis Tejada, a Bronx student and activist, explained that this is why board members as well as the Special Prosecutor would be elected rather than appointed, and would be subject to recall. “We are asking that the ECRB and its staff reflect and represent those who are most affected by police officers’ bad acts: Black and Latino youth, immigrants, women, people formerly incarcerated, and others.”

Mr. Tejada asked that those who would like more information or to work with the Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board learn more at their website, www.stoppoliceviolencenyc.org, or Facebook page, which also include date and location of monthly meetings and how to help one of the working groups.

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