WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
The City's Civilian Complaint Review Board, or CCRB, will be granted the power to prosecute cases of police misconduct it substantiates under the terms of an agreement brokered between City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the Bloomberg administration.
Prior to this agreement the CCRB could only refer their findings to the Police Commissioner who had total discretion over what, if any, penalty would be levied against an offending officer. The NYPD has its own internal trial process for police misconduct cases. But critics charged that officers the CCRB believed engaged in misconduct rarely got penalized by the NYPD.
"For quite sometime now New Yorkers have complained that the very important Civilian Complaint Review Board is a tooth less tiger, that they go there, they bring cases and they are substantiated by the CCRB and nothing happens," said Speaker Quinn. "Now that trial will be conducted by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, not by the police department."
In 2010 there were 6,476 civilian complaints lodged against the police compared to 7,660 in 2009, a 15 percent decline. But over the same period the number of substantiated instances of police misconduct jumped from 197 in 2009 to 260 in 2010, a 30 percent spike, according to CCRB figures.
Quinn said in very limited circumstances the police commissioner would have the discretion to suspend a CCRB trial on a substantiated case from going forward, but would have to offer a detailed explanation for that decision. Quinn said those circumstances would be limited to situations in which the actions of the officer under the scrutiny by the CCRB were already being criminally investigated or the officer had no prior disciplinary record or previously substantiated CCRB complaints.
"This is a good first step," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has been pushing for years for increased accountability for police misconduct. "But the Bloomberg-Kelly police department is out of control and our next mayor is going to have to make fundamental changes to end the massive stop-and-frisk abuse and racial profiling that has been the standard operating procedure the NYPD."
Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, thinks more oversight is needed. "This is a very good first step in establishing comprehensive civilian oversight of the NYPD. But, when the Mayor's Commission to Combat Police Corruption was established as an agency separate from the CCRB, there was implicit recognition that oversight was required beyond the narrow jurisdiction of the CCRB."
PBA President Patrick J. Lynch, an outspoken critic of the CCRB, was sharply critical of its new powers. “Our problem with the CCRB has always been first, their predisposition that police officers are always wrong. Second, their inexperienced investigators who conduct faulty investigations that arrive at improper conclusions and now those wrong conclusions will now be prosecuted at these kangaroo trials.”
Speaker Quinn said she expected the CCRB to operate under its new enhanced powers starting at least by the start of the next fiscal year July 1.
Under the deal, the CCRB will also receive additional funding for its new responsibilities.