October 4, 2014

Same Old Same Old CCRB

Mayor Bill de Blasio just named two respected law professors to the City of New York's Civilian Complaint Review Board. This follows on the heels of his appointment of Richard Emery as Chairman. (Here). The new appointees, Deborah Archer and I. Bennett Capers, have impressive pedigrees (see here) and, theoretically, ought to help ensure greater public confidence in the CCRB.

Certainly, de Blasio must be hoping the appointments will foster the belief that the CCRB is more than just a weak-kneed, useless organization, whose only purpose is to falsely lead NY'ers to believe there's a place to complain when cops abuse their authority. But those of us who have been around understand that the CCRB is essentially nothing more than a complaint box hangin on a wall in the back of a store; a box that management periodically empties directly into the nearest garbage can.

I would like to be wrong. It would be nice if the CCRB were a truly independent organization.  It would be great if we had a real watchdog, an organization that was designed to do more prop up artificial notions about our ability control or discipline law enforcement. It would be a true step forward if New Yorkers could reasonably believe that there was an agency that actually cared the need to police the police. Unfortunately there is not and has not such an organization.

Many of my clients (and people who have called my office) describe complaints they have made about officers who have been exceptionally rude, nasty, and the like; officers who have written them summonses or seized them for no reason other than to demonstrate their authority. Routinely, the CCRB declines to substantiate these claims, stating that since the officer and claimant have two different versions of events, there's no way to know what actually happened. Of course this is true, but that's the problem; the CCRB will not take a position on credibility contests, rendering the entire process pointless.

Folks like PBA head Patrick Lynch, and other NYPD shills complain about the high cost of civil rights litigation, about the millions of dollars paid out every year to New Yorkers who were falsely arrested, beaten up, and otherwise had their rights violated. They are right, these lawsuits do cost the City tremendously. But what other avenues of relief are there for people who are mistreated by the NYPD? Particularly those in communities where such misconduct is the norm. The idea was that the CCRB would provide an outlet for people, a place where they could vent, and where officers who overstepped their bounds or misbehaved would get their knuckles rapped. But it is widely understood that the CCRB offers no such relief, that lawsuits are the only means of making one's grievance heard.

So will the new appointees to the CCRB make a difference? I am sure that they would like to think so, and I have no doubt that they were made all sorts of promises. But if history is our guide, these appointments are mere window dressing.

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