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January 13, 2023, 6:11 PM

NYPD unions fire back at expanded reach of watchdog CCRB, file lawsuit challenging changes

By Thomas Tracy, Janon Fisher and Larry McShane

The NYPD’s largest union pointedly accused the watchdog Civilian Complaint Review Board of overstepping its boundaries in a new lawsuit seeking to curtail the agency’s recently-expanded investigative reach.

The union, in a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit filed Thursday, blasted the CCRB’s growing oversight as “another shameless power grab” in challenging the city agency’s new jurisdiction on policing issues including body-worn camera misuse, racial profiling and biased-based policing.

“The court should declare invalid CCRB’s use of a rule change adopted in 2022 to expand its jurisdiction in defiance of the plain language of the New York City Charter and years of past practice and interpretation,” said the Police Benevolent Association, which was joined by the Sergeants Benevolent Association in the lawsuit.

“With the rule changes, CCRB also violated the charter in several other respects and made changes that are blatantly prejudiced to officers,” the 45-page lawsuit contended. “... The rule changes at issue should be stricken.”

The PBA represents 24,000 members of the NYPD rank and file, while the SBA includes approximately 12,000 active and retired sergeants.

The CCRB’s new powers began in October, with the agency announcing the changes that also include the ability to self-initiate complaints rather than rely solely on public allegations. CCRB Interim Chair Arva Rice called the new guidelines “a key step forward into increasing accountability.”

A CCRB spokesperson responding to the lawsuit saw little merit in the union complaint.

“After following the formal rule making process, the CCRB Board voted to change the agency’s rules,” the spokesperson said. “We are confident that we will prevail in court as we have done before.”

PBA head Patrick Lynch fired back by ripping the CCRB as “anti-police activists” with an axe to grind.

“CCRB no longer even pretends to be fair and impartial in their investigations of police officers,” said Lynch. “They cannot even bring themselves to say the word ‘exonerated’ about a cop who has done nothing wrong.”

The union’s court filing cited two prior PBA court victories against the agency launched in 1993 to handle civilian complaints against police: The first after passing rules changes in 2018, the second three years later.

“In creating CCRB as an agency with limited jurisdiction, the City Council recognized that other police disciplinary matters are properly within the jurisdiction of other bodies, such as the Internal Affairs Bureau of the NYPD,” the union court papers said.

Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said in December that she overturned more than 70 disciplinary recommendations from the independent Civilian Complaint Review Board in 2022.

The union was particularly irked by the addition of the expansion of body-worn camera misuse to the CCRB’s role.

“Enforcement is already addressed through a comprehensive monitoring and disciplinary scheme established by the NYPD,” the lawsuit said. “... The vast majority of BWC non-compliance issues are unintentional and frequently arise from the officer trying in good faith to comply with the patrol guide’s procedures.”