Police Misconduct Too Hard to Complain About

NEW YORK—Handling of complaints against police misconduct is too complicated and “too crazy,” according to Richard Emery, chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), a city agency dealing with the complaints.

Emery, a former civil rights lawyer, was appointed less than a month ago by Mayor Bill de Blasio and needs to improve the image of the board, which has been criticized as ineffective.

He met with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and his disciplinary staff Tuesday and they all agreed the complaint process is broken and “needs change and reform,” Emery said at the CCRB meeting Wednesday. 

So far this year the board received over 3,000 complaints that included over 10,000 allegations of police misconduct. Statistics show almost half of such allegations were scrapped because of an “unavailable” or “uncooperative” complainant. The rest get distilled to hundreds of “substantiated” charges. 

Although the CCRB has subpoena power, results of its investigations are not binding for the NYPD. Of the substantiated charges, the NYPD declines to prosecute about 20 percent. Another 10 percent expire, as the cases must be handled within 18 months. The rest result in disciplinary action by the NYPD— usually the mildest, such as compelling the officers to “receive instruction,” CCRB data shows.

In a few cases the officer would lose 1–20 days of vacation or be suspended for up to a month. Theoretically, the policeman can also be fired, though it happened only four times between 2009 and 2013.

Community Connection

During the meeting’s public comment period, several speakers complained the board is disconnected from communities that file the most complaints, such as the South Bronx, because its monthly meetings are held in downtown Manhattan during work hours.

Emery said he would prefer evening meetings, but didn’t make any specific promises. He said he would improve the board’s outreach. Staffers already started to attend community precinct meetings and Emery envisioned CCRB vans driving around the city soliciting complaints—if the budget allows.

He acknowledged though that there’s much to be done. “I haven’t figured out how it should work,” he said. “Because it’s so ridiculously complex.”

Ephraim Cruz, former auxiliary cop in the city and later federal Board Patrol agent, said Emery undermines the credibility of the board as he’s a friend of Commissioner Bratton, the head of the department Emery’s supposed to keep tabs on.

Emery said his relationship with Bratton is an advantage, since the CCRB needs to build a better relationship with the NYPD. He said the board needs to prove the quality of its investigations so the NYPD will “give much more deference to the processes of this agency.”

Update: The article was updated to clarify that the CCRB receives complaints that can include multiple allegations.

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