Far too often, police who break the law are above the law.
This remains true in New York City despite the presence of a Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), whose ostensible mission is to exercise oversight on the police by investigating claims of misconduct and disciplining police officers who abuse those they are sworn to serve and protect.
In 2016, New York City residents filed 4,283 complaints against the NYPD. The CCRB investigated only 1,514 (35%) . In 344 of those cases, they determined police had mistreated someone and deserved discipline. And yet no officers were fired as a result. The most severe discipline meted out was the loss of vacation days.
Why is the CCRB so feckless?
First, its members are appointed by the Mayor, and thus serve his interests—stability and appeasement, usually—over the interests of the communities on whose behalf it allegedly functions. Making matters worse, three of these thirteen appointments in reality come from the Police Commissioner, whose "designations" the Mayor merely approves. In other words, the police are appointing themselves as police watchdogs—a farce of justice.
Second, when it determines that discipline is warranted, the CCRB is empowered merely to recommend disciplinary actions to the Police Commissioner, who is free to water down that recommendation or toss it out entirely. Unsurprisingly, that happens all the time! In the first half of 2018, the Police Commissioner watered down or tossed out 46% of all CCRB recommendations. In the same period, this rose to a stunning 74% in cases of the worst abuse, where the CCRB recommended its most severe class of discipline.
Third, cases so severe that they transcend the CCRB's jurisdiction, such as when a police officer kills someone without justification, simply pass to the District Attorney, who decides if and how to prosecute. But DAs and police are essentially colleagues, working together day-to-day and united in their mission of "law and order." History has shown how far DAs will go to protect police officers: in case after case, we have seen body cam footage of unambiguous murder, only to see DAs botch the case or decline to prosecute entirely.
Into this breach, enter the Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board. Whereas the CCRB is appointed, the ECRB would be elected. Whereas the CCRB merely recommends discipline, the ECRB would be empowered to administer discipline. And where the CCRB has no jurisdiction over the most heinous cases of abuse, the ECRB would come with a special elected prosecutor attached.
In the more than two years this Campaign has been active, we have organized ourselves effectively, won significant victories, and gained real traction in the halls of municipal power. To see our vision come to fruition, we will need to do more of the same—more bodies in the streets, more canvassers in new neighborhoods, and more and new connections between people organizing themselves to defend their communities.
To join us: