Brazen is perhaps the best word to describe the latest threat to the already tenuous civilian oversight of the NYPD. Whatever the police department's intentions, its demand that the Civilian Complaint Review Board reporthow specific board members vote on misconduct cases will have a predictable result — intimidation.
CCRB votes have always been confidential, so the NYPD has had no idea which board members have voted for or against police officers under investigation for abusing civilians.
Under the NYPD’s request for CCRB voting sheets, the police department could quickly chart the voting patterns of each board member and identify those members more likely to find misconduct. It does not take an overactive imagination to envision the chart on a wall in police headquarters with the names and photos of NYPD friends and enemies on the CCRB.
This new tracking system would make "unfriendly" CCRB board members targets for pressure from the NYPD in the many ways — visible and invisible — that the police department can apply pressure. For instance, police abuse cases provide a rich opportunity for unflattering leaks to the press.
In addition, board members serve three-year terms, and you can bet the NYPD and police unions will be working hard behind the scenes to block reappointment of those they think vote against officers too often. Faced with the prospect of these types of tactics, board members understandingly will be more reluctant to vote to find misconduct and to recommend meaningful discipline.
As it is, the CCRB already has very little power, being limited merely to making recommendations to the NYPD in misconduct cases. While transparency is generally a good thing, this proposal would do little more than open the door to intimidation of individual board members. We need more independence, but this proposal would deliver less.
Christopher Dunn is the associate legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union.