Op-Ed in the New York Daily News
Sept. 15, 2014
Wanted: A CCRB that’s fair to cops
The police union president responds to the new chairman
BY PATRICK J. LYNCH
Richard Emery, the Civilian Complaint Review Board’s newly appointed chairman, seems to have a firm grasp of how his organization rates with New York City police officers. In his recent column in these pages, he noted that the CCRB “has not gained the respect or trust . . . of police officers, who view the CCRB as a kangaroo court.”
That is an understatement. Police officers who are summoned to the CCRB have little expectation that the allegations leveled against them will be “fairly and independently” investigated, as mandated by the City Charter.
For many years, the CCRB’s only apparent objectives have been to expand its own power and ratchet up the severity and frequency of the discipline handed down by the NYPD. It has functioned more as an advocate for complainants than an independent investigative body. This has been especially apparent in its recently assumed role in “prosecuting” disciplinary cases in the NYPD’s Trial Room.
If Emery is truly interested in transforming the CCRB into something more than a “kangaroo court,” his first goal should be to afford police officers elements of due process that have so far been lacking in CCRB investigations — not to collect as many accusations against police officers as possible, regardless of their merits. Unfortunately, some of the new initiatives he has proposed seem intended to do just that.
In the vast majority of cases that the CCRB reviews, there is little or no evidence of police misconduct. In the last five years, the board has found sufficient credible evidence of misconduct in only 6% of the allegations it investigated.
Among the remaining 94%, there were 11,325 instances in which the board determined that the officers’ actions were lawful and proper. In 4,406 other instances, the board not only determined that no misconduct occurred, but found “sufficient credible evidence to believe that the subject officer did not commit the alleged act.”
That is nearly 16,000 accusations leveled against police officers who did nothing wrong, a third of which were simply made up. While some false or baseless allegations may have been the result of honest mistakes, many are deliberate fabrications filed in retaliation for a necessary and appropriate police action.
Unfortunately, this is an effective tactic for anybody with an ax to grind against a police officer. There are currently no consequences of any kind for members of the public who lie to CCRB investigators, but every police officer faces the prospect of having his or her career derailed by a meritless accusation.
The mere filing of a CCRB complaint, even if it is eventually found to be unsubstantiated or untrue, can negatively impact an officer’s career. Unresolved disciplinary proceedings often hold up promotions and retirements.
Police officers are bound by their oath — and the threat of departmental discipline — to tell the truth to CCRB investigators. Basic fairness dictates that complainants should be held to the same standard. Civilian police oversight bodies in other jurisdictions in New York State require that all complaint forms be signed under penalty of perjury.
Why not here?
We understand that Emery wants to make his organization more accessible to the public it serves. But to police officers, roving complaint vans and smartphone apps look disturbingly like another invitation for criminals to seek quick, consequence-free “payback” against officers.
This is one of several items that I included in a recent letter to the CCRB. I hope to have the opportunity to sit down with Emery soon to discuss ways that he and his board can gain the respect and trust of our members and restore the CCRB to its proper role as a body that fairly and impartially investigates filed complaints.
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