A pilot program that would allow attorneys with the Civilian Complaint Review Board to prosecute “a portion” of substantiated police-misconduct cases is not the serious effort needed to improve police accountability, the NYCLU said today.

“Given the NYPD’s history of obstruction and the utter lack of details in this announcement, the NYCLU is concerned that this could well be an empty gesture – or worse,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “This vague plan raises concerns that what is pitched as reform will only result in the CCRB being allowed to prosecute a small number of cases handpicked by the NYPD with no indication that the Department is prepared to change its policy and actually impose meaningful discipline.

“This ‘agreement in principle’ between the police commissioner and the CCRB’s chair looks like one more attempt to co-opt civilian oversight.”

A 1993 amendment to the City Charter established the CCRB as an independent oversight agency responsible for fielding and investigating complaints of police misconduct. A 2007 report by the NYCLU found that the CCRB is failing its mission to provide effective civilian oversight. Among its findings, the report showed that the NYPD has attempted to co-opt the civilian oversight system.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly decides whether to prosecute substantiated complaints and how to discipline officers found guilty of misconduct. Kelly often allows officers found guilty of misconduct to go unpunished.

During Kelly’s tenure, prosecution and discipline of officers found guilty by the CCRB has dramatically decreased. In 2007 and 2008, the NYPD decided not to prosecute nearly 35 percent of complaints the CCRB substantiated – a dramatic spike over the period from 2002 to 2006 when less than 4 percent of substantiated cases were dismissed without prosecution. These are not just cases involving minor misconduct. Excessive force cases – the most serious form of police misconduct – accounted for more than 10 percent of cases dropped in 2007 and nearly a quarter of cases dismissed in 2008.

When officers are prosecuted, the resulting discipline often amounts to a lecture or a slap on the wrist. From 2005 through 2008, about 75 percent of officers found guilty of misconduct received the most lenient disciplinary sanction – “instructions,” which amounts to a talking to. Between 2002 and 2004, however, about 50 percent of officers found guilty by the CCRB received punishment more severe than instructions.

The NYCLU and other advocates have recommended authorizing the CCRB to prosecute substantiated acts of police misconduct. This would eliminate the problem of cases being dropped by police department that may be protecting its own officers.

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The New York Civil Liberties Union is a state affiliate of the ACLU

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