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Testimony: Funding the Civilian Complaints Review Board

Testimony Of The New York Civil Liberties Union before New York City Council Committee On Public Safety About The Civilian Complaint Review Board

We are Donna Lieberman and Christopher Dunn, the Executive Director and Associate Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, respectively. We submit this written testimony in conjunction with the Public Safety’s Committee’s hearing concerning the funding of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board. In particular, we are concerned that the New York City Police Department is making concerted efforts to undermine the effectiveness and independence of the CCRB and that the CCRB is acquiescing in those efforts.

By way of background, the NYCLU was instrumental in the creation of the CCRB. Since the City Council legislatively mandated an independent CCRB in late 1992 and since the beginning of CCRB operations in July 1993, the NYCLU has been consistently and integrally involved efforts to assure that CCRB oversight of the New York City Police Department was vigorous and effective.

For several years, the CCRB has been telling the Council it needs substantial allocations because of the large and increasing number of complaints of police misconduct. While we fully support civilian oversight of the NYPD and while complaints indeed have risen dramatically in recent years, we believe the Council must take steps to assure its funding is in fact producing effective and independent oversight.

Though we have been concerned for many years about the effectiveness of the CCRB, those concerns have become much more pressing in light of actions taken by the NYPD and the CCRB following the Republican National Convention. First, shortly after the end of the Convention it surfaced that the NYPD had formed a special panel to re-investigate substantiated CCRB complaints coming out of the RNC. This practice – which the Department had abandoned many years ago in the face of complaints – is a direct threat to the independence of the CCRB and guaranteed to slow down and even thwart many investigations into alleged police misconduct. We wrote to CCRB Chairman Gonzalez and NYPD Commissioner Kelly on November 5, 2004 to object to this move by the NYPD. (We attach* to this testimony a copy of our letter, to which we never received a response.)

Then, we learned last fall that the Department had adopted a policy of not producing high-level officers for CCRB investigation interviews. Once again, we wrote to Commissioner Kelly to express our objections to this policy and to express our concern that it would impede CCRB investigations and even result in officers being immunized from discipline because the 18-month statute of limitations would expire. (We attach a copy of our September 14, 2005 letter to this testimony, to which we also received no response.). And as we predicted, many important investigations were not even completed until just before the expiration of the statute of limitations and some not until afterwards.

Given these developments, we believe the Council, before approving substantial funding for the CCRB, should inquire into the following areas as part of a larger effort to restore the effectiveness and independence of the CCRB:

  1. Why did the NYPD adopt a policy of re-investigating substantiated RNC cases? What role did Commissioner Kelly play in the adoption of that policy?
  2. When did the CCRB first learn from the Department it would be re-investigating substantiated RNC cases? How do such re-investigations affect the CCRB’s effectiveness? What did the CCRB do in response?
  3. Why did the NYPD adopt a policy of not producing high-level officers for investigations into RNC complaints? What role did Commissioner Kelly play in the adoption of that policy?
  4. When did the CCRB learn the Department would not produce high-level officers for investigations into RNC complaints? What did it do in response? Why did the CCRB not choose to use its subpoena authority?
  5. What conversations, if any, have the CCRB and Commissioner Kelly had about the Department’s cooperation with the CCRB? Was this discussed at the February 27, 2006, meeting Commissioner Kelly had with the NYPD?
  6. What steps must be taken to improve NYPD cooperation with the CCRB?

We look forward to working with the Public Safety Committee and the Council in this important area. As we have often stressed, effective civilian oversight is good both for the residents of New York City and for the NYPD.

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