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NYCLU To Call For Fundamental Reforms In Oversight Of New York Police Department

In testimony to be delivered tomorrow to the New York City Council, the New York Civil Liberties Union will call for sweeping reforms of the system by which New York City handles complaints of police misconduct.

The testimony will be based on findings from an NYCLU study, to be released in the coming weeks. The study critiques the city’s system for handling complaints of police misconduct, documents a range of problems thwarting efforts to address police misconduct, and offers recommendations for reform, many of which will be summarized in tomorrow’s testimony.

The NYCLU was instrumental in creation of the CCRB in 1992 and has closely monitored police misconduct for decades.

“The time is long past due that the City Council undertake a thorough review of the problem of police misconduct and the system of civilian oversight,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Complaints of police misconduct have surged more than 70 percent over the last five years, and the civilian oversight system is not working. The mayor and the City Council must undertake fundamental reform.”

On the basis of its findings and its decades of experience monitoring the police, the NYCLU will recommend that Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council appoint an independent commission on police accountability and charge that commission with conducting a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the civilian oversight system and why it is not working. The NYCLU will also offer the following specific recommendations to the mayor, the members of the City Council, and to the members of the proposed police accountability commission:

  • Create community CCRB offices. Currently the CCRB has a single office in downtown Manhattan, which makes it inaccessible to communities that frequently experience police misconduct and creates a major obstacle for people wishing to pursue complaints. The CCRB must establish offices in every borough, must be open evenings and weekends, and must institute a range of measures to increase community involvement.
  • Remove from the New York Police Department responsibility for prosecuting misconduct cases. Currently, when a CCRB investigation finds that an officer has engaged in misconduct, the agency sends the case to the NYPD for prosecution. The Department’s prosecution process, however, is hopelessly ineffective. As the Giuliani administration proposed several years ago, all misconduct cases should be prosecuted by the CCRB, and those prosecution should take place in the city’s regular administrative courts rather then in the NYPD.
  • Remove from the Police Commissioner authority to set punishment for officers guilty of police misconduct. Currently, the police commissioner has exclusive authority to set the penalty for police misconduct, and in most cases — even those including the improper use of force — the commissioner is imposing only minor discipline. Just as the City Council decided in 1992 when it established the CCRB that the NYPD could not be expected to investigate itself, it now is time to recognize that the NYPD cannot be expected to discipline itself when it comes to misconduct. In those cases where a police officer has been found guilty of misconduct, either the CCRB or some other agency independent of the NYPD should make the final decision about appropriate discipline.
  • Create a policy-reform unit in the CCRB.Independent oversight of the police department must include an examination of systemic practices that are generating misconduct complaints. Currently, the CCRB does not have the personnel or financial resources to seriously examine policy issues and recommend reforms. The NYCLU calls for the creation of and funding for such a unit.
  • Reinvigorate CCRB leadership. One of the greatest failures of civilian oversight of the NYPD lies in the fact that the CCRB has not been a strong and public voice for reform. If CCRB leaders are unwilling to become aggressive advocates for curbing police misconduct, they must be replaced.
  • Institute meaningful City Council oversight of the CCRB and NYPD. Though police misconduct complaints have soared since 2002, the City Council has done nothing to assure that the CCRB is fulfilling its obligations, thus contributing to the NYPD’s campaign to thwart civilian oversight. The Council should undertake regular police-misconduct oversight hearings.
  • Reinvigorate and increase resources for the CCRB’s investigative operation. The city must conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the financial and human resources that are needed to staff and administer an effective civilian oversight system. The CCRB’s budget has been calculated in relation to a baseline for which there is no sound rationale. The civilian oversight system must perform oversight effectively, and to do so it requires a budget commensurate with its mission.

“After nearly 15 years of monitoring the CCRB, it has become clear to us that civilian oversight of the NYPD is broken,” NYCLU Associate Legal Director Chris Dunn said. “New York City can no longer ignore this fact, and its Mayor and City Council must confront it by initiating reform.”

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